Things we love
It must come down to control. At least I think it did for me. With babies and birth, a great deal is unknown and unforeseeable. There is only so much you can prepare for and even less you can plan, and they'll still surprise you and come out bottom first. And even though parents-to-be know this, that we really have no idea what is in store, before our babies are born many of us spend a huge amount of time researching and organising, doing our best to prepare for this new life we are about to find ourselves living. I don't want to ever know how many hours I actually spent looking up cots and bedding and organic mattresses, because Joan slept in her cot all of three times. In hindsight, I wish I had just bought an IKEA cot and called it a day, but that's easy to say now, isn't it? At the time, "non-toxic finishings" and organic mattresses felt exceedingly important. And perhaps it was, for my peace of mind. I certainly don't mean to patronise my past self or any parents-to-be out there who may be doing as I did. As I said, so much about this baby stuff is unpredictable that I think there's some comfort in making sure you get a pram that ticks all your boxes and a cot that is safe and secure. It makes you feel safe and secure.
The thing is, and this is something Ben and I didn't even consider while I was pregnant (though I wish we did), so much of what you find useful when your baby comes will depend on their personality, as well as your parenting style. And these are things you cannot possibly know before they arrive. Cots and prams were not really Joan's thing, while baby carriers and a high chair that let her sit at the table were. And had we borrowed before buying, we would have saved a little money and our rooms would be less cluttered. So as I write this post on the things that we love and the things wehave found most useful as first-time parents from birth-12 months old, keep in mind that this is a very personal thing and what helped us may not help you (and may not even help my next child!). In fact, I encourage you to do as many of my wise friends have done, and wait until after bubba gets here before you make some key purchases (ones that aren't immediately important, like a car seat and some clothes) and borrow what you can. At least until you find your groove and know your baby. Now, having said all this, does anyone want to buy a cot? I'm not even kidding...
THINGS WE LOVE
I adored our Ergo carrier and wrap. Baby wearing was totally our jam and we still do it daily. A friend lent me the Hugabub wrap and Joan spent a lot of time in that initially, before moving onto the Ergo 360 carrier.
I am a big fan of baby-wearing for a few reasons. Joan (like most babies) preferred to be held in the early days (she still does, really), and baby-wearing allowed me to hold her while still having "me time". I love that it kept bub close to my chest, where she could hear my heartbeat and breath and benefit from all that skin-to-skin goodness. It was a comfort for her and she would sleep peacefully while I ate a snack, unloaded the dishwasher, folded laundry or sat and read a book with two hands. Using two hands is a novelty in the early days. Baby-wearing also helped keep Joan's legs in the frog-legged position that was necessary during the first three months (bub was put in a brace for the first three months of her life after being found to have Hip Dysplasia. Note: the International Hip Dysplasia Institute recommends certain types of carriers for healthy hip development regardless of a diagnosis). I should note that in the beginning, Joan didn't like the carriers. I would have to "suit up", then rock her to sleep and once she was peaceful in my arms I would smoothly transition her into the carrier. Initially Ben helped me but after a short while I was doing this easily and safely myself. Eventually, perhaps at the 5 month mark she became more accepting of the carrier and would allow me to have her inside before falling asleep. She LOVED facing outward once she was big enough, which is why we adore the Ergo 360 carrier (note: we were kindly gifted a Pognae and that is fantastic too, it's more spacious and Ben finds it more comfortable than the Ergo). Joan continues to front-face for our walks and when we go to the shops, and for her morning nap she faces inward, feeds and sleeps. We love it. I hope my next baby (fingers crossed I have one) enjoys baby wearing too, because I cannot imagine not doing it and I plan on treating myself to this beautiful wrap.
Oh man, Ben and I LIVED on this ball in the early days. He'd come home from work and find me sitting on it, holding Joan and singing while bouncing. Wherever we went, on holidays or sleepovers we took the ball. I still sit on the balance ball when rocking Joan to sleep and working on the computer during her morning nap. Yep, I highly recommend getting one. It serves other purposes, too. While I didn't use it during birth, many people find the ball helpful during labour and it can be useful when doing exercises post-birth too.
NAPPIES AND WIPES AND STUFF
I had in my mind that when my baby turned one I'd consider using cloth nappies. Well, she's now 14 months and I haven't made the transition. I'm thinking about it, however despite the incredible waste disposable nappies creates I still love the convenience. I try to make better choices for the environment and Joan's skin by going for the nappies that are more biodegradable/made of more natural fibres (they're more expensive, but we buy in bulk to help manage that cost). Really, the best thing is to go nappy-free as much as possible around the house, so we try to do that, but when we need to cover up, these are what we use - Tooshies and Naty. They are our favourite brands based on performance (i.e. leakage and comfort!) and what suits Joan's body shape). We LOVE this bott-bott balm, as we call it, and find it works to reduce any redness (but again, nappy free is best when it's a bit red). And we favour water wipes for big, stinky situations (again, we buy in bulk to manage that cost and I try to ration them as much as possible!) and a cloth with water if she's just wet. Early on, when bubba was being wiped so often, we used organic cotton pads and water instead of wipes (we learnt the hard way that their skin is super sensitive and wipes are not necessary most of the time). And in the newborn days I used Huggies Newborn nappies - they are really great with stopping leakages and because bubba was in a brace that we couldn't remove, we had to be very careful for poo explosions. Though next time around I'd be keen to try some of the more "natural" varieties on my newborn. These days there seems to be more and more "eco" options that actually work and aren't outrageously expensive. Oh, and we bought this change table and it was affordable (we snagged it on sale for $90) and sturdy. It was used until bubba was too active, then we moved to the floor. In terms of nappy bins, I wasn't going to fork out the money but then my mum (or my mum's friend, I'm not sure who found us this one) got us this nappy bin at the op shop for $5 and it is awesome! It really contains the stink. We started using it when Joan began solid foods at around 6 months.
In terms of soap, we use Dr Bronner's if Joan is dirty and needs more than water (which isn't all that often). It is so gentle and effective, and a little goes a long way. Ben and I use this stuff too. After Joan's bath we use a small amount of Ecology cream on her body to keep her skin happy. This cream is magical stuff. It's made locally and again, a little goes a long way so we don't mind spending a lot on it. Babies skin is so sensitive, we learnt this after the eczema issue (more on that in this post), and Ecology was one of the creams that helped clear it up. If Joan has a runny or blocked nose or some chesty business going on, we use Badger aromatic chest rub and for suncream we use Eco brand - it's natural but has important, active ingredients and actually work.
For home cleaning products we use Eco Store brand - laundry, shower cleaning and dishwashing, they are all really gentle yet effective. No strong chemical stuff on the floors, just water and vinegar or a tiny amount of essential oils. And we use Bondi Wash bench spray - love that stuff. As I say next though, I plan on making my own sprays using essential oils.
I was introduced to essential oils via Instagram. Lovely Lisa very kindly sent me some to try when Joan had eczema, and then a few months ago when we were visiting Sydney I got to see my gorgeous friend Elise, and she talked me through using oils in person. This gave me heaps of confidence to go forth and experiment in our home. Initially I wanted to use them for night-time, diffusing a bit of lavender oil and enjoying the smell and calming effect. We are big candle people, however they are expensive and so I thought why not try oils - they will smell great and may also have a relaxing benefit? Elise helped me order lavender and a few others than sounded good, and I tried them in a diffuser I borrowed from my mum. One go and I was hooked! I loved how lavender oil made the room smell before bed and I found the citrusy "On Guard" blend to be incredibly uplifting. Eucalyptus was lovely too. Eventually I purchased a really great diffuser that I love and I now always have lavender going at night and sometimes On Guard during the day. I also love this blend (which I call my "lady blend") as a perfume and have been using diluted lavender oil and Frankincense on my face (after scoring it free in one of their monthly deal things). I am about to start making my own cleaning sprays using lemon and tea tree, which is super exciting, and I bought some peppermint to make homemade choc mint truffles. Yep, I LOVE essential oils now. And I have been very impressed with how long they last, you really only need a small amount, so I've happily rationalised the cost in my head and incorporated them into our budget.
I also use a VERRRRRY diluted mix of fractionated coconut oil and lavender oil on Joan's jawline when she's teething, as well as rubbing a little on her feet before bed. I find it helps relax her and she enjoys the ritual of applying her "special cream". (note: I am not instructing you to do the same, when using essential oils you need to be careful, especially with little ones. Do lots of research first!) Ahhhh teething. Such fun, hey? Besides a couple of occasions when we gave baby Panadol a go (which honestly didn't seem to help) and once trying baby Nurofen (which did help but I don't love the idea of giving it a lot), we stick to the "special cream" for the times when teeth are cutting through the gum. We have also sporadically used Weleda's teething powder, and this may have worked but it may also be a placebo, who knows. I find it varies so much how they handle the teeth business (and which teeth are coming through), you just gotta roll with it and trust your gut with what they need and find the strength to get up in the night and be there for them. I know that when a tooth is cutting through Joan will be attached to me feeding most of the night, and that's cool. On those days we have "special cream" for her and extra coffee for me.
PLAYMAT AND PLAYPEN It sounds insane to spend $300 on a playmat, but we did. Well, we spent something like $250, snagging it slightly cheaper with some other online store. After research we decided to go with the expensive option in the hope that it was durable and would mean that we don't end up buying five different playmats at $50 a pop over the years. So far it looks like we made a good decision. Our playmat is SO easy to clean and is very comfortable and cushy. Joan by nature is incredibly rough and tumble, and rarely ever cries or fusses when she falls. I wonder if this is because when she was learning to sit and crawl, and tumbling in the process, she was largely on this mat. Her landing was always soft, so when she fell she never found it to be a bad thing. I wonder... Seriously, baby girl continues to run and fall down ALL THE TIME and it never worries her. I also don't react to her falling, which helps, I know, but she's so tough and I wonder if the playmat helped. Or she's just super human. Probably that.
Joan has always been determined to move. Maybe being locked in the leg/hip brace for 3 months encouraged this drive... Either way, she would NEVER sit still in those Bumbo chairs. Being restrained was highly offensive to her and continues to be. Though I must say, she would tolerate being in this bouncer that we were kindly gifted from a friend who snagged it cheap (it's amazing!!). And Joan is now more accepting of car rides, thank goodness - she'll get over the fact that she isn't free to run around and will read a book or play with a drink bottle, stopping to let me know from time to time that she's displeased with the current situation, but then I distract her and she's over it again (a far cry from non-stop screaming practically every time we were in the car from 10 weeks until ~6 months). Anyway, as she grew her main goal was to move - first to master rolling over, then crawling, then sitting, then walking. And now, climbing. Once she started showing signs of almost crawling between 5-6 months I knew I needed a playpen, and I knew I needed to set it up so she got used to it and didn't feel like it was an immediate prison once she started crawling. I also knew that I needed a BIG one, otherwise there would be no way she would tolerate it and I would not be able to take a shower or pee alone. So we ordered this beauty. It's HIGE and takes up a lot of lounge room space, but we were super happy with it. And for a good couple of months, Joan accepted being in her prison (most of the time) for 10 or so minutes, a few times throughout the day. It doesn't sound like a lot of time but you can get SO much done in those baby-free moments. I would shower, prep dinner, scrub clothes or just sit and eat lunch in peace while she played. Money well spent.
STOKKE HIGH CHAIR
We ummed and ahhhed about this purchase, as it was another massive, seemingly unnecessary spend. Why not just get an IKEA high chair and call it a day? We did have one similar to the popular IKEA one, but it was fiddly, I hated cleaning the tray/seat/straps, Joan would try to slip out of it and she could never sit right at the table with us. Ben and I always liked the idea of the Stokke and eventually we caved and got the fancy Stokke high chair. On a related note: I've come to learn that I'm a tired shopper. When I'm exhausted, my resolve to save money goes out the window. Anyway, we LOVE the Stokke. Joan is SO comfortable when eating and doesn't try to wriggle out like she did with other high chairs, instead she just yells "UPPPP" when she wants in/out. And importantly it means Joan can sit at the table with us, which I feel has helped her learn what family meals are all about. Joan, like many babies, is quite perceptive if things are different - if she's got a baby spoon, if she's not eating the same thing, etc - and I find she's much more agreeable to sitting at the table and eating dinner if she's treated like everyone else. Fair enough! You don't need to buy the Stokke to eat this way, you can get others that sit at the table, but I have to say that I love the idea of babies being at the table for meals. I think it has encouraged really great eating behaviour from Joan. Oh, and the Stokke lasts well and grows with bubba, which made us feel more comfortable with forking out the big bucks.
EATING AND DRINKING
I think it's best to do a separate post on food. This one is already very long and there's too much to say on the topic of babies and eating. So, here are some of Joan's favourites, followed by just a few thoughts. Baby girl consistently goes nuts for slow-cooked beef cheeks and any slow-cooked meaty/tomatoey/carroty casserole, pumpkin pancakes, banana pancakes, pasta (I use buckwheat or quinoa pasta for her at the moment) with tomato-based ragu (with or without meat), scrambled eggs, yoghurt with tahini and these raspberries (specifically those ones, she isn't fussed with other berries. Baby has expensive taste), and bananas.
We try to serve Joan food on plates that look similar to ours but are smaller and not breakable. We give her teaspoons to eat with but she mostly plays with them and eats with her hands. She's getting better at drinking from a real cup, but mostly she uses these awesome drink bottles. We also have a placemat at the table and butchers paper under her high chair to make clean up easier. Lastly, playing classical music during meals seems to help Joan calm down and finish her meal (she tends to be of the nibble, nibble, "UPPPP!" disposition).
Joan never had a bottle, but if she did I would have tried the Minbie first up. I even had one ready to go, as our friend is the creator and kindly gifted us a bottle. So, I suppose I'm biased, but just by looking at the reviews you can see why I feel the need to share it with you (it mimics the breast in terms of how it makes the baby work for the milk). In the early days and months I didn't make it a priority to teach Joan to have a bottle instead of the breast, and then when I did think about it, she was already quite old and I felt it was probably too late to start. If she did take a bottle it would have been easier to go on a date night with Ben, but to be honest we weren't missing that anyway - we were so tired and wanted early nights. If I was needing to go back to a job that wasn't as flexible as mine (working from home!), then I would have needed to think about bottles. Perhaps next time around I will introduce one, we will see. Oh, and in the early days while my nipples got used to everything, this was helpful. I also purchased this feeding pillow for $20 off Gumtree from a lady who used it only a handful of times, and it was AMAZING, so supportive for my back. Money well spent, I wouldn't hesitate even purchasing it full-price.
Initially I was dubious that reading books to Joan as a teeny bub would matter as much as they say it does. I knew that hearing people talk and language was important, but when reading together she would sit for one, maybe two pages, then be on to the next thing. But then I read somewhere that what babies are also learning, besides hearing words etc, was that reading books was something special and lovely...and that they'd come to associate books with sitting in your lap, getting cuddles, hearing mumma's voice and one-one-one attention, all of which would increase the likelihood that later on they will love sitting and reading. This made a lot of sense and gave me encouragement to continue with our morning, afternoon and evening story time, even if they lasted but a brief moment. Eventually Joan sat still for THREE WHOLE PAGES, and a little while after that we got through a whole book. Woohoo! Now Joan insists we read books over and over once the final page turns. So I do encourage you to read books. They make wonderful gifts and are really something special. Make sure you have a lot of board books when they're young, as they'll just rip out paper pages. Joan even managed to demolish her board books, but I like to think that was just her way of showing affection to "We're Going On A Bear Hunt". Here are our favourites:
• Each Peach Pear Plum. Best. Hands down. I could read it over and over again myself. You will end up with a massive pie craving, it's so good. • Corduroy (this one too). Mainly because it was my favourite as a child. Sometimes/always Joan would run off after a page and I'd continue reading the book (I catch Ben doing the same thing. • We're Going On A Bear Hunt - this is great as you read it in a musical way, which gets them excited. When reading it to Joan, my mum would always scream "AHHHH, IT'S A BEAR!", and then Joan started squealing whenever we got to the bear page. SO CUTE. Bless mum and her early childhood education skills. • The old nursery rhyme books my mum kept from when I was a child. • An interactive Wheels on the Bus book my MIL got from Big W (I cannot find the link but you move the wheels round and round). • Flip Flap Jungle book.
TOYS AND TV
I'm not a fan of toys with buttons that beep and flash lights and sing songs loudly. Ben hates them too. At first I thought it was just us being typical, uptight new parents. "Oh, my child doesn't play with that", kinda stuff. But I've realised that, my preferences and projections aside, they're not the best toys for Joan. She may recognise a word they're saying but really, they're just overly stimulating tools of distraction (granted, distractions tools do have their place!). We are blessed to have been kindly gifted some of these toys, so I realise I sound ungrateful, but I just don't think they're all that great, as harsh as that may be. Joan is mesmerised by the lights and sound and seems to enjoy them to an extent, but (with a few exceptions) her "play" with them does not seem as enriching, nor as encouraging of imaginative play as her toys that don't scream things at her...and in fact when the sound is turned off and she's doing her own, self-guided play, bubba is much calmer and plays for longer with them. I read up some Montessori stuff later than confirmed my inclination to avoid that stuff and it made me feel less like a controlling and fussy first-time parent. The same goes for screen time, with cartoons and flashy go go go content - it drives me nuts and I don't think she needs it yet. There's some good programs, I totally know this, and as much as I want to watch Sesame Street myself (because I LOVE that show and I think a lot of good can be gained from it) she doesn't react all that well to it at the moment. It's a lot for young kids, you know? Playschool is alright, that's slower and more calming, so I've started to use that for 10 or so minutes on the days that Ben is away for work and I need Joan to sit still so I can take a shower before bed or finish cooking dinner and keep her away from the hot oven without her grabbing at my legs. I also kinda love watching Eddie Perfect sing and dance.
So, clearly I'm not a fan of flashy toys. Here are some that Joan has received as gifts or mum has found at the op shop that she seems to most enjoy and continue to entertain her in different ways as she grows: • When she was very young - Sophie (of course), this mermaid toy (she went nuts for this gift), lamaze toys with crinkly bits and mirrors and stuff, and teething rings (like these) for her to chew and practice grabbing and holding. • Wooden blocks and stacking toys (including her Twoodie she was sweetly gifted) • Duplo - these are the best thing for those pre-leggo days! Joan is obsessed with her little duplo people and her mini Duplo farm house (see pic below). • Soccer ball and other balls • Mini rake, shovel set (for beach or garden) • Mini wheelbarrow - I'm going to start Joan early in the garden! • Books, of course! • Mini tea cup set • A little Santa Babushka doll. She holds the littlest Santa so tight and won't let him go, especially when it's time for bed. • Trike (mum found this at the op shop and it's fantastic!) • Maracas and drums • Cups with holes to use with water (the bath or outside) • And of course, toys that aren't toys, like cardboard boxes and an old wallet of mine with cards I don't use anymore. • Lastly, this isn't a toy but it's "play" all the same...we are big fans of involving Joan in everyday activities. She helps out with the laundry by shaking the clothes and handing them to me (or handing me pegs if we're outside), she passes me the shopping from the bag and then I put it away, and she tastes ingredients and nibbles on veggies with me as we cook (i.e. when making smoothies, hummus, pesto, etc I stop blending and we taste-test, then I adjust anything, blitz it and taste again). She follows me around as I vacuum and "helps" by pressing the buttons for me, she presses the buttons for the washing machine and we watch it go round and round, and she sweeps with a little broom outside. It's really fun to have a little helper.
Every baby has a unique body shape (how cute does that sound? If only we gave ourselves the same grace), and this can dictate what brands you go for. Joan wasn't really a Bonds baby - she wasn't long and lean. Initially this was because she was frog-legged in the hip brace and we had to stick to button suits by Marquise, who cater for the short & stout bubs (I spoke more about clothes and things for Hip Dysplasia in this post). We never bought much for Joan, which was helpful for the wallet because MAN, baby clothes are SO CUTE and I could have spent heaps if I let myself. We were gifted a lot and lent a bunch of clothes from one gorgeous family, however there were a few key things we did buy regularly as Joan grew. Here they are: • Pure baby singlets (you can snag them super cheap at outlets!) • Marquise leggings • Marquise white cotton body suits (they last really well compared to other brands)• Marquise growsuits when she was young - they suited her body shape and also they cover the feet, which was great when she wasn't walking.• Bonds wondersuits once she was bigger (and walking - you need a feet-free option when they're walking unless you have carpet) • Pure baby sleeping bag suit thing (I bought this as a gift but decided to use it once Joan was co sleeping with us and often kicking the blanket off) • Bonds socks • Joan was fitted for a pair of proper shoes soon after she started walking as she was rolling her ankles. We got her Balducci Italian leather boots on sale in her teeny tiny size and they were AMAZING. We also loved these Pure Baby sandals. We initially were buying cheaper pairs of shoes but they don't last and you end up spending more, so we now fork out for a quality pair each season. I've just ordered these in white for Summer.
In terms of what helps me feel good (because happy mumma = happy baby), my self-care post still rings true. I make sure to shower, eat good food and go for a walk with Joan every single day. I also now try to read a book at night in bed (even if I've watched a show, I always switch to a book before I turn the lights out), as this helps my brain wind down and improves my sleep quality. And I also listen to podcasts throughout the day, whether on a walk or in the car. Being home with Joan means I don't get as much adult interaction and conversation as I'd like, and podcasts help satisfy that need. These days I have introduced 2-3 workouts a week - quick dance videos like this one that I do in the morning while Joan plays and eats breakfast. Prioritising my workouts and getting them done, as short as they are, helps me feel strong and energised. Getting out of the house is something we both love and crave. It helps us feel centred and energised, so we make sure to do that, even when it is raining and even when (especially, when!) we are tired. That is something we love. My girl and I.
I am lucky to have such good family support around me - generous, non-judgemental, unconditional love and support. This allows me to work from home and when that is all done, whiz around and clean, go to the shops, shower in peace, etc. We're not yet at the stage of Joan sleeping independently, so I don't get to do those things in her naps or at night. It also helps to just know that they're there, that if I ever needed another set of hands they would show up. My parents and in-laws would do anything for Ben, Joan and I, not to mention my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my brother... we are incredibly lucky. I also have wonderful friends, both with and without babies, who are there when we need to get out of the house. As Joan gets older, I'm finding play dates to be more and more important for us both. It's a treat to sit back with a cup of coffee and have a conversation, even a greatly interrupted one, while she plays.
Lastly, I love getting up before Joan. This almost never happens, because she is still co-sleeping with us and is an early riser, but when I do wake up first (and can sneak out without disturbing her), it really helps set me up for the day splendidly. I LOVE being able to go to use the bathroom, shower, stretch, dress and sip a hot cup of comfort before she wakes. I like the way it makes me feel on top of things. It's hard work, this parenting stuff. It never stops, and it takes a lot from you, particularly in the early days when you're sleep deprived and if you're breastfeeding. But at the same time, it gives you so much back. When you think about it, it's pretty cool in the way it depletes you and then fills you up with even better stuff. Each struggle and each giggle helps you grow and makes you a richer person. And makes you want to do it all again, and again, and again...