Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thoughts from the Nursing Room at Disneyland: The Breastfeeding Post

I just spent the past week at Disneyland, celebrating my 30th birthday. It was such a nice way to spend my birthday and the park was as magical and fun as ever.  Even though I've been to Disneyland many times, I've never been with a baby. As a result, I visited the baby care center a more than a few times while we were there.

It's a sweet little place, complete with padded changing tables, a room full of baby supplies to buy if you need them, and there's a private area for nursing mothers. I snapped the picture at the left with my iPod while I was nursing the baby, trying my best to be quick and discreet, even though I knew the picture wouldn't turn out that well. (Can you imagine what all the other moms behind me would have thought if I pulled out my big SLR camera?) But I couldn't resist snapping some kind of picture of this peaceful place that was so different from the hustle and bustle everywhere else in the park.

So as I was sitting there with my baby, feeding him and listening to all the sweet little nursing sounds of smaller babies around me, I was thinking about this blog and I realized that I've never done a post about breastfeeding on this blog. Oops.  I mean, is there anything more frugal than breastfeeding? It's a huge money-saver. It's free food!

But what to write on here that mothers don't already know?  The benefits of breastfeeding are well known. Plus, everyone's situation is different. I know mothers who, despite their very best efforts, struggle to make breastfeeding work for them. I know other mothers who, for personal reasons, have decided not to breastfeed at all. It's such a personal thing and I would never want to make anyone feel bad. Heaven knows, we mothers have plenty to worry about; who needs to feel judged about how we feed our babies?

That said, I'm an unabashed advocate of breastfeeding. I've loved nursing my babies. I nursed my first until he was 13 months old; my second baby is 11 months right now.  Here are some of my suggestions to help you be successful at nursing...

1. Take a class.
Most people think that breastfeeding will come naturally once the baby arrives. This isn't necessarily so. It takes some practice and guidance to get it right. One piece of advice I give to family and friends who are expecting is to take a class before they have the baby. It was so helpful for me. I took a class the month before I had my first baby -- it was at the hospital I was delivering at. For $20, I got two hours of instruction from a certified lactation consultant who answered all of my questions. I just found this great article about how to tell if you're taking a good breastfeeding class -- check it out. If you need help finding a class, your doctor or midwife can be a great source; also check with the hospital where you'll be delivering your baby.

2. Visit with a lactation consultant once (or more, if needed) your baby arrives.
Those moments after birth are beautiful and tender. The baby wants to nurse. You want to nurse. Trouble is, both of you might not totally know what you're doing. Even after I took the class and read the books, I still needed a little help and assurance that I was doing it right. Those lactation consultants are a treasure trove of knowledge. They know all the tricks and ways to get babies latched on and how to make mothers feel confident. Even though I'd nursed my first baby, I still appreciated their help when I had my second. It'd been a few years since I'd nursed a baby and they gave me a great refresher course in what to do. Plus, every baby is different and each may need help in different ways. Every lactation consultant I've met has been nothing but sweet and encouraging, making me feel completely comfortable.  Trust them, they know exactly what they're doing.

3.  Find a good breastfeeding reference book.
Read a good breastfeeding book before and after baby's arrival. I can't tell you how many times I've turned to my go-to reference while nursing both of my babies. My choice: The Breastfeeding Book by William and Martha Sears.

I have turned to this book so many times. Why is he so gassy? Is it safe to take an antibiotic while nursing? How do I get this baby to stop biting me (ouch)? Why is he on a nursing strike?  This book answered every question clearly and concisely. When I was pregnant with my first baby, this book explained the whole process so well for me -- the tip about the "lower lip flip" alone was worth buying the book for! My copy of this book is worn-out from use (and a bit wavy because I dropped it while reading in the bathtub when I was nine months along last year).  I love the format of this book -- it's mostly written in a question/answer format. It's very approachable, readable, and a fantastic (and quick) reference.

One complaint that some people have had about the book (at least from what I gathered in reading the reviews on Amazon) is that the authors make no attempt to hide their personal opinions about breastfeeding. They say flat-out how they feel about bottle-feeding. Some people find that off-putting. It didn't bother me. If anything, it made me even more enthusiastic and more determined to make breastfeeding work for me. If you're familiar with the Sears, then you'll know they're also very into attachment parenting, which some people don't like either. To each her own, I say. That said, I don't agree with everything in the book. They're big into extended nursing (meaning past a year, even into the toddler years. I'm not saying it's bad or anything, it's just not for me.). My one complaint about it is that it has next to no information on weaning (again, they lean toward toddler nursing and letting kids wean themselves).  Even with that complaint, I would still highly recommend it. It has helped me many, many times, especially in those first few days and weeks. I credit much of my success in breastfeeding to this book!

My baby is getting so big -- time goes by so fast. I can't believe he's almost a year old and that I won't be nursing him much longer. Even though I'm starting to feel ready to be done nursing this baby, I've loved the experience. Breastfeeding is a pretty incredible thing -- it's one of my favorite ways to be frugal! Whether you do it for just a few weeks, months, or even years, you will definitely reap plenty of the benefits that come with breastfeeding.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Off the Needles: Wintry Weather Cowl

I've been going back and forth all week on whether I should do another knitting post. On one hand, I don't know how many of you, my wonderful readers, actually knit, so I don't want to be exclusive. On the other hand, the winter months are coming to an end and if I wait any longer, it won't really be practical. Decisions, decisions...

I hope you don't mind if I do two knitting posts in one week.

My very first knitting project was a matching scarf and hat for my five-year-old. As I mentioned in a previous post, the hat turned out terribly; the scarf was just okay. Not great, but not the train wreck that the hat was. Max was excited to wear it, but I soon learned that scarves for little boys are not the most practical of things. He was out shoveling snow one morning and the thing kept slipping off and falling into the snow. Before long, he dumped the scarf on the porch with a "Sorry, Mom."  Lesson learned.

Soon after, I came across a great pattern in Amanda Soule's lovely book, The Rhythm of Family, for her "Wintry Weather Cowl". A cowl was the perfect solution for my little boy because it's a scarf that stays on! He just slips it over his head and is ready to go.

This was my first time knitting in the round and I had no trouble. It's a simple, straightforward project and doesn't take much time to knit up. I used 16-inch US size 10 circular needles and one skein of bulky yarn (nothing fancy -- Max picked out this washable Lion Brand Yarn at good ol' Hobby Lobby). As I mentioned before, the pattern can be found in Rhythm of Family. (In case you're wondering, it's not just a knitting book. It has lots of wonderful and resourceful projects, recipes, and essays in it. I definitely recommend getting a copy.) You can also find my Ravelry notes for the project here.

The thing I love about this project is its practicality. Not only does it stay on and keep little necks toasty, it also fits a wide range of kids, from ages 2-12 (according to the pattern). One thing I would suggest is to be sure to bind it off loosely -- I did it too tightly the first time and it didn't even fit over Max's head. But it fits now and  he loves it. Now if only we could get at least one more snowy day before spring starts. Or maybe we'll just have to head up into the mountains and find a patch of snow to play in.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Off the Needles: Easy Mistake Stitch Scarf

{Introducing my newest feature on this blog -- "Off the Needles". In these posts I'll be sharing my latest knitted creations, links to the patterns I followed (which are, more often than not, free), along with things I've learned.  As with most hobbies, there is some expense with knitting, but I think it's a fun, useful skill and it definitely can save money (note the word can). Plus, you can't beat the quality and sentiment that goes along with things homemade, in my ever-so-humble opinion.}

I don't know what winter has been like for you, but it has been super, super wimpy where I live. We've missed the snow. My son still hasn't been able to go sledding yet, and those snow boots he got for Christmas are just waiting to be used. I keep joking with my husband that it figures that the one winter when I finally know how to knit hats, mittens, cowls, and scarves, we haven't needed them much!

However, there have been a few windy and cold days this winter, hence my husband's request for a cozy, thick scarf, something he could bundle up in the mornings before work and in the chilly evenings when he comes home.

I found the pattern for this easy yet good-looking scarf on one of my new favorite places on the Internet, The Purl Bee. I love the site for so many reasons, but my main reason is that it's such a great source for beautiful and free knitting patterns.

The Purl Bee's Easy Mistake Stitch Scarf really couldn't be simpler, a fantastic project for a beginner like myself. It looks harder to make than it is. I started the scarf back in December and finished it during the first week of January.  It was my first real knitting project (everything before was a sort of practice/experiment). I know that if I knitted it now, it wouldn't take me nearly so long. (My Ravelry notes can be found here.)

The pattern uses cashmere yarn (I can't even imagine knitting with cashmere. I'd be too afraid!), but I used a bulky wool-blend yarn (two skeins) for this scarf. It seemed more practical and masculine that way.  I used US size 11 needles and followed the simple instructions after casting on 39 stitches:  k2 p2, repeat until last three stitches, k2 p1.  I followed that simple pattern until the scarf was as long as he wanted and then did a simple cast off. I haven't blocked it yet, but it really doesn't need it.

Except for one row where I did an extra purl when I should have knitted (I can always spot it and it drives me nuts!), the scarf turned out really well and it is so, so warm. Too bad he hasn't had to wear it once this month. There's still one month of winter left (and the weather here is known to be fickle), so maybe he'll need it at least one more time this season.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gardening Without Soil: How to Grow Sprouts in Your Kitchen

Random fact about me: My first job (other than babysitting) was at a sprout factory.  I was thirteen and willing to do menial tasks for a paycheck (I believe my first paycheck was for around $30, which seemed like a lot at the time).  It was a fairly small factory, a damp place, dimly lit in spots, and it smelled strongly of Clorox and, you guessed it, sprouts. I assembled cardboard boxes for shipping, stuck stickers on the domed lids of the plastic containers, hefted bags of alfalfa seeds, and rotated soaking wet bags of sprouts. Despite my time spent at the sprout factory in the 1990s, I claim no special expertise in the matter. I just thought I'd mention it since this post is sprout-centered. Okay, moving on...

I'm glad that I haven't been buying sprouts at the store for years because I would be pretty mad at myself for not just growing them at home. It's really, really easy and much cheaper to grow your own sprouts. Sprouts are not only super healthy and tasty, but they're great for food storage. If you have some sprouting seeds on hand, you can produce fresh and nutritious greens in a matter of days, whenever you want or need them.

I thought sprouting at home would be complicated or require special equipment. Not at all. With some gentle encouragement from Amanda Soule's newest book, The Rhythm of Familyand a few supplies (most of which we already had), our family was piling homegrown sprouts on our sandwiches in no time.

The Supply List
  • Sprouting seeds (I got ours at local health food store. We used Life Sprouts Alfa-Plus Mix - a blend of  alfalfa, radish, cabbage, and clover sprouts. A bottle of sprout seeds, while might seem a little spendy at first, will go a long way. Two tablespoons of seeds yields about four cups of sprouts.)
  • A quart-size wide-mouth canning jar 
  • Cheesecloth, jar ring, and a rubber band -- OR -- a sprouting lid (more on this later) 
The How-To

Pour two tablespoons of seeds in the glass jar. Fill jar with enough warm water to cover the seeds then add an inch or two of more water. Cut a square of cheesecloth big enough to cover the mouth of your jar. You may have to layer the cheesecloth a couple times depending on the thickness of the cloth you're using. Secure in place with the rubber band and screw on the ring. If you're going to use a sprouting lid, skip the cheesecloth, rubber band, and ring --  just put the sprouting lid on the jar (sprouting lids are inexpensive -- I got mine for less than $2. If you're going to grow sprouts regularly, I would highly recommend getting a sprouting lid.).

Let the seeds soak for about 12 hours in a dark place. I put our jar in the cupboard, under the guard of Han Solo. Quick note: you're going to be rinsing and draining your sprouts in 12-hour increments, so I'd suggest starting your seeds at a time that makes sense. For example, I didn't read ahead and I started soaking my sprouts around noon the first time, only to realize later that would mean draining them at midnight. Oops.

After the 12-hour soak, drain the water from the jar. You do not need to remove the cheesecloth or sprouting lid to do this. Rinse the seeds. Drain. Put the jar back in a dark place for another 12 hours.

Rinse and drain again. You should see little sprouts popping out of the seeds. Aren't they cute?  Once you've drained the seeds, put them back in the dark.

You're going to be rinsing and draining your sprouts every 12 hours until they reach the length you want. 

Once they've reached the length you want (it took about 3-4 days to get to the length in this picture), put the jar in sunlight. This will help them develop green leaves (This mostly applies to small sprouts like alfalfa, radish, and clover; larger beans, like mung bean sprouts, are not placed in the sunlight for greening). 

Once the sprouts have greened, empty them into a colander and rinse thoroughly.

Spread the rinsed sprouts on a dishtowel to absorb the excess water.

Ta-da! Homegrown sprouts! It truly is gardening without soil, food grown in just a matter of days. It still amazes me. 

Store your sprouts in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They should last about a week. It's a good idea to rinse them from time to time so they don't get all gross and slimy. 

We've mostly been enjoying sprouts on sandwiches and salads. I love how fresh they taste and how just a simple handful of them can liven up a dish. Homegrown greens in the wintertime? Yes, please.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 
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