Sunday, December 4, 2016

10 Cheap and Free Ways to Entertain and Engage Babies

Being a parent is expensive! Further, marketers and stores know that parents will spend and spend to feel like they are being the best parents possible. They will try to make you feel guilty for not doing everything in your power to make your baby safe, smart, and well adjusted.

I won't get into the science of marketing (which does leverage every psychological hook possible to get you to spend money). Instead, I'll just show you some fun, easy, and CHEAP ways to engage your baby, helping them learn and grow.

In fact, I plan to make these money-saving posts a common feature in the future. Please leave feedback on topics you'd like to learn more about!

10 Inexpensive Ways to Play With, Engage, and Entertain Baby

  1. Sorting Laundry. It might be a couple years before they can productively help you sort laundry, but in the mean time, give them a stack of towels or clothes and let them put it in the basket and take it out. Babies love to imitate, so be sure to join them with their pile, or by working separately on your pile.
  2. Pillow Play. Stack up a bunch of pillows on the floor and let them role around, fall into them, and just have a good time. One word of caution - make sure you have a nice soft floor or put something soft down (like a sleeping bag) - they can sometimes get a little crazy!
  3. Pots and Pans. This is an age-old noise-making fun idea. Get a few old pots and a wooden spoon, and let them go to town exploring the noises. Join in with some beats of your own!
  4. Cardboard box houses. Cut a baby-sized hole and let them play like the box is a house.
  5. Cardboard box coloring. Our kids loved to sit inside the cardboard box and scribble crayons or markers. As they got older they started drawing windows and other house features.
  6. Mylar Balloons. Babies love to watch those shiny Mylar balloons - especially if they have fun characters on them. Even better, attach the balloon to something that moves or rotates (like the cage of a oscillating table fan) and they'll be entranced by the balloon. Some parents have told me that they will clip the balloon on babies pant leg near the ankle, and baby will kick and move the balloon. That makes me a bit nervous since the balloon has a string (choking hazard!), but under close supervision and while baby is not crawling or rolling, it might be OK for short durations.
  7. Watching leaves and trees. Take baby outside on their baby blanket (or in a Pack-n-Play) or even in the grass and lay them down so they can stare at the rustling trees. Mesmerizing for baby!
  8. Empty and Fill a box. There are many toys around the concept of emptying and filling, like this Piggy Bank. Our kids loved it! And you can make your own with an old coffee can or a Kleenex box. Just make sure the items you use are non-toxic and too big to be a choking hazard. 
  9. More fun with kitchen items. Use stacking/nesting plastic bowls so baby can stack and nest them, building dexterity. Use muffin tins or egg cartons for sorting items. Get creative - use plastic easter eggs for sorting, or toilet paper roles (you can cut them into threes to make them go further and fit better). The ideas are endless!
  10. Water Play. If you don't mind a bit of a mess and a wet baby, water play can't be beat. Put some water in a bowl, in a plastic pitcher, get some measuring cups or other plastic cups, and let baby go to town!
Of course, the options are almost infinite. Hopefully these get the ideas flowing, and you and baby will be off to a day full of fun and learning.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

10 Fun Gifts for New and Soon-to-Be Parents

Becoming a parent is (obviously) life changing. And no matter how much someone thinks they know how their life will change, it is always's deeper, more profound, more difficult than one can imagine.

If you know a new parent here are a few gift ideas to help soften the blow.

10 Great Gifts for New and Soon-to-be Parents

  1. Baby Safe Handling Tips. My favorite part is the "wheel of responsibility" on the front, but the contents are funny!
  2. Go the F**k to Sleep. Made famous by the Samuel L. Jackson reading, this book has been described as 'pitch perfect' for weary parents. Warning: language may offend.
  3. If You Give Mommy a Glass of Wine. This is another fun children book parody, sure to make wine-loving moms smile.
  4. My Quotable Kid. Kids say the funniest, most unexpected things. This journal book gives parents a reason to write it down before they forget it! 
  5. Mr Food Face Plate. Every parent knows how hard it can be to get your child to eat. Mr Food Face can be a special occasion plate or a frequent go-to to make meal time a fun time.
  6. Graphite and Snap-off Floor Nails. A great gag gift that is actually useful. Every parent knows the horror of finally getting baby to sleep only to have a squeaky floor or door wake them up! These useful tools will solve your sleep problems.
  7. A Woombie or a Sleep Sack. These are safe ways to keep your baby warm and secure - keys to a restful night. New parents will thank you!
  8. Dads - give Mom a spa day, a massage, or other relaxing gift like a movie with friends where she can spend a few moments on her own.
  9. Moms- give Dad some relaxing time away - let him go on a hike, spend time gaming, a movie with friends, or going to watch the big game.
  10. Of course, the best gift of all might be for friends and family to offer to baby sit for a day! As a parent PLEASE consider this option. :)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

10 Tips for Choosing a Car Seat for Your Child

Being a new parent can be so difficult. You operate on a sleep deficit, face new challenges on a daily basis, worry about every little item, have to fit in tons of pediatrician appointments, and make decisions on a continual basis.

One of the major decisions you can make before your little one arrives is the car seat that works best for you. There are many options, but the selection and options reduce when you consider your child's age and weight.

There are still considerations, so here's a checklist to help you choose the best car seat for your situation.

  1. Read your car owners manual to see how car seats can be attached. You'll find there are two options: LATCH and the seat belt method. LATCH is intended to be easier, and thus, some think it is safer because the chance of making a mistake is reduced. However, LATCH systems always have weight limits, so many parents just default to using seat belts to avoid the chance of forgetting to change later. A properly installed seat using a seat belt is just as safe. Find more at the "car seat detective".
  2. Newborns and Infants must be in rear-facing seats. In fact, read-facing is always safer, and you should keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.
  3. Decide if you want your seat to attach to a stroller (sometimes called travel systems). Graco, Britax, and others make "quick connect" systems that allow you to easily remove your baby from the stroller and connect them to the car seat base.
  4. Decide if you want an "all in one" seat that can mount read and forward. These are good values, but won't connect to a stroller (at least I haven't seen any that do). My wife and I ended up choosing a 'travel system' for the first several months, then transitioned to an "all-in-one" for the next couple of years.
  5. Consider the space you have in your car. It's best to place baby in the rear middle seat - will the seat encroach on other passengers? You can usually find the specifications of the seat, and try googling various forums to see what others have experienced with your seat and/or car. And if you already have a car seat and are shopping around for a car, test fit the car seat in the cars you look at.
  6. Make sure the harness is a 5-point harness (this is pretty much standard these days) and make sure it is adjustable.
  7. Make sure it is easy to clean. You WILL have to clean it...a lot...and often it will be gross messes that you want to clean well. Some "luxury" seats are actually more difficult to clean with more easily stained fabrics. Sometimes mid-tier IS better.
  8. Check for any safety recalls. Stores are usually good about pulling products from their shelves when recalls are issued, but it is always better to double check. is an excellent resource to keep up with safety recalls on all kinds of children products.
  9. Get physical when installing your seat. We used the seat belt installation method, and I'll tell you - I'd get very physical to attach that belt as tight as possible. Don't worry - you can't break your seat belt, so get in the car, use your feet to anchor the seat down, and PULL on that belt as hard as you can. Of course, follow the install instructions of your car and the seat, but make sure you give it every once of muscle you have.
  10. Consider a car seat protector. Children spill things, spit up, and the pressure of the seat itself can damage your car, so you may want to consider a seat protector. However, make sure it doesn't affect the integrity of your installation of seat safety. They should also attach to the seat securely.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

10 Steps to Baby Proofing Your House

It's easy to baby-proof for a newborn - you pretty much just need to worry about where they sleep.

But before you hardly blink, your baby is scooting, then crawling, then pulling themselves up, then walking! All sorts of trouble ensues. Simple everyday things become choking hazards, pinching hazards, crushing hazards, a source for cuts and other wounds. It's quite scary!

Never fear - the key is to 'stay ahead of the curve'. When baby starts to crawl, you'll want to contain them to safe spaces and remove choking hazards from their reach. When they start to pull themselves up and gain dexterity, you'll want to watch for sharp corners, reduce pinching hazards, protect electrical outlets, and make sure there are no crushing hazards (tall bookcases, for example, should be attached to the wall).

copyright Michael Hawk
And when they suddenly walk - look out! Actually, by this stage you should be in pretty good shape if you've kept up.

When you go to the baby stores you'll find all sorts of crazy baby safety items. They market to our fears - if there is something you *can* do to protect your baby, you should - just imagine how you'd feel if something tragic did happen?

Of course, there is a happy medium - and nothing replaces watchful, vigilant adult supervision.

But remember - every house is different. For example, we were able to easily gate off the kitchen - one of the most dangerous areas of a house. But this can be difficult with some floorplans, meaning you'll need other precautions.

Anyway, here we go...

10 Steps to Babyproof Your House

  1. Remove choking hazards. Babies love to stick things in their mouth - this is a basic way babies start to learn about the world. Make sure you don't have cat toys, older children's toys, knick-knacks sitting on tables. Crawl around on your hands and knees and see what you can find. And don't forget to check any drawers that may be within reach of baby.
  2. Remove pinching hazards. This is a hard one because there are so many! For example, spring-type door stops should be replaced with solid ones. We had a coffee table with lots of drawers - I simply removed the handles to make it difficult to open. Step trashcans are very dangerous - move them. The step is a major pinching hazard, and if they are stainless steel they are baby magnets - they love to see their reflection.
  3. Contain the chaos with gates. Baby gates are a great investment - just make sure you can install them securely! Some are pressure-mounted, others can be mounted with screws. The choice really depends on the surface you are mounting them to. For example, if you are mounting to a slick surface like polished wood, pressure mount probably won't hold.
  4. Protect Electrical Outlets. There are lots of different styles of outlet plugs. Some are just basic plastic plugs, others have a small button you must push to release them. My experience is that the basic ones are good enough.
  5. Cover plugged in items. Blocking unused electrical outlets is easy - but what if you are actually using them? First, hide electrical cords (and any other wires) as best as possible. Get a cover such as the one pictured below. And if you can cover power strips, too.
  6. Contain the chaos with door knob covers. Door knob covers can help keep baby from getting into closets, bathrooms, or out the front door! 
  7. Prevent tipping/crushing hazards. Babies love to pull themselves up on anything they can reach - bookshelves, TV stands, etc. Often, these items are top-heavy and even the weight of a baby can pull them over. Attach them to the walls with safety straps - a double good idea in earthquake country. Make sure to secure your TV, too.
  8. Secure your kitchen. If you can't keep baby out with a baby gate, or if you want an extra layer of security, consider cabinet locks and . You can get magnetic key cabinet locks, or cheaper but harder to install plastic ones. An oven lock may also be a good idea. And always keep panhandles pointed in (away from where a toddler may grab it). Consider a lock for the refrigerator as well.
  9. Soften those corners. When baby starts to pull herself up and walk, you'll want to be extra careful with hard, sharp corners on furniture. There are many corner protectors for different applications. 
  10. And all of the other things. Even with protection in place you want to make sure you reduce risk. Move cleaning chemicals out of reach of baby - don't just rely on a cabinet lock. Move glass items elsewhere. Keep tall lamps or other items out of reach - behind furniture or in other rooms. Keep dangling chords on curtains or blinds tied up and out of reach. Consider a 'defense in depth' strategy. For example, even if you bathroom door has a handle cover on it, someone may forget, so lock those cabinets as well, and consider a toilet lid lock.

Remember the old saying - security is the inverse of convenience. Keep this in mind, and remind yourself that it is only for a short while.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

10 Safety Tips to Avoid SIDS

It is every parent's worst nightmare - SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS is an unexplained death of an otherwise healthy baby - usually during sleep. Following certain practices can reduce the risk and help you rest easier as well.

To be technically accurate, a case is not considered SIDS if a cause of death can be determined. For example, if a baby monitor or autopsy shows suffocation to be the cause, the case would not be considered SIDS, but rather, a SUID - Sudden Unexpected Infant Death. I mention this because you will find the terms interchanged, used loosely, and find conflicting statistics since some people continue to lump known causes into the SIDS bucket.

When suffocation is eliminated from the picture, the leading theories on truly unknown death causes have to do with brain development and illness. For that reason, general healthy practices are shown to reduce risk (no smoking or drinking during pregnancy; no smoking in a house with babies; breast feeding, etc).

Whatever the cause, over the years much has been learned. For this article, we'll consider suffocation and strangulation risk in the SIDS bucket.

10 Safety Tips to Reduce SIDS Risks

  1. Place baby on their back when sleeping. "Back to Sleep" is the mantra to remember this. Infants can't role over, and have very heavy heads, so if they end up face-down, it can impair their breathing or lead to suffocation. Don't place baby on her side, either. It is too easy for momentum from a movement to cause her to role over. The graph below shows the correlation of the 'back to sleep' campaign and awareness with the drop in SIDS cases.
  2. Use firm mattresses only. In a worst-case where baby ends up face-down while sleeping, a firm mattress will allow some airflow. Note - this is a good reason not to put baby into the parents or siblings bed - often these mattresses are too soft, and have other suffocation risks.
  3. Remove loose blankets from the crib or bassinet. You might be thinking "my baby can't role over yet, so I'll put a blanket on her". Don't. The risk is too high. Some day your baby will role over, and regardless, one mistake where you leave a blanket too close to the babies face would be one mistake too many. Use a sleep sack to keep baby warm.
  4. Don't Smoke. Causation has not been entirely established, but there is a correlation of SIDS with both households that have smokers, and with mothers who smoked during pregnancy. 
  5. Breast Feed. Another correlation seems to be a reduced risk of SIDS for breast fed babies.
  6. Never Let Baby Sleep in Adult or Sibling Beds. There are too many risks - soft surfaces and blankets lead to suffocation risks. Many parents use sleep positioners thinking this helps - but they have their own risks. Headboards can cause babies to get trapped or injured. Older siblings may not remember baby is there and injure them. Bottom line - keep babies in bare cribs and on mattresses designed for baby
  7. Pacifiers May Help. According to WebMD, sucking on pacifiers is correlated to reduced SIDS risk - but if you are breast feeding wait a few weeks to establish a nursing routine. 
  8. Don't Keep Your Baby TOO Warm. This falls inline with avoiding blankets, but also, there seems to be some hypothesis that overheating can lead to breathing or other regulatory disruption. Again, a sleep sack is a good way to keep baby covered and warm enough.
  9. Have Baby Sleep Next To Your Bed. For the first several months use a bassinet or crib so baby can be in your room, next to you. Again, NOT in your bed, however. Having baby in your room is convenient for night time feedings and soothings, too.
  10. No Canopies on Cribs or Bassinets. These items can fall or get knocked over, leading to strangulation or suffocation hazards. As baby grows, she may start exploring and pull it down on her own; or your pet cat could knock it loose. Just save your money and avoid the canopies.

References for more information on SIDS
  • WebMD
  • CDC
  • - a nonprofit dedicated to the reduction of SIDS through research, education, and support.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Top 10 Board Books For Your Baby

Board books are a staple of baby development. They introduce the idea of books and reading, stimulate the mind, and provide an excellent avenue for parents to talk (or sing) to their baby.

Given the age, board books are sturdy, hard to tear, and can withstand an occasional chew as your baby's teeth come in.

When buying books, get a variety. Goodnight Moon helps put children at ease at night; some of the books below teach vocabulary with excellent photos; others teach about baby's body. Get a book with textures, a book with rhymes, and books that are just plan fun. Try to fill each category with at least one option - and most of all - read everyday to your baby!

The list below tries to hit most of those categories, and includes classics and a few other fun ones that our children really enjoyed.

Top 10 Board Books for Baby

  1. Goodnight Moon. This is a classic that helps build vocabulary and give your baby or toddler comfort in knowing what is around the room at night.
  2. First 100 Words. Our kids wore this book out! Lots of fun pictures, and great vocabulary practice! You can also get the First 100 Animals - same author and format, and also lots of fun.
  3. Baby Animals. A Little Golden Book classic in board book format.
  4. Guess How Much I Love You. An enduring classic - my five year old still sometimes likes to read this book! 
  5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - The Eric Carle classic. As a kid I loved the holes the caterpillar chewed into the pages, and I'm certain it helped me learn my numbers and days of the week much sooner.
  6. Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed. Full of rhyming and fun illustrations, kids love this one.
  7. Good Dog Carl - A wordless board book about a dog and a baby - wonderful illustrations and it creates a lot to talk about with your baby.
  8. From Head to Toe - Eric Carle has three books on this list for a reason. This is another fun book, helping children learn and interacting and learning their body. 
  9. The Wheels on the Bus - this is a very small board book - thus inexpensive and very portable. Based on the classic song, it makes this book a can't miss.
  10. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? - Another classic from Eric Carle, with lots of repetition that babies and toddlers love.

And as a bonus:

  • Animals - Baby Touch and Feel - babies love texture books, and this one has plenty!
  • Farm Faces - it's a book of masks! Each page has an animal face, with holes drilled through where the eyes would be so you and baby can hold it up to your face like a mask! Tons of fun! You can also consider Zoo Faces and Goodnight Faces from the same company.
  • Where is Baby's Belly Button - this is a lift-a-flap style book, so be prepared for baby trying to tear the flaps. That said, it was one of both of my children's favorites!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

How to Transition Your Baby to Solid Foods in 10 Steps

When I was a new parent, I was surprised to learn that solid foods included pureed and blended 'mushed' food. But yes, we all start somewhere, and even semi-liquid mushy food is no longer purely liquid - and thus, considered solid.

This all becomes very evident the first time you feed your baby a jar of baby food. Make sure you have your camera ready - the reaction will be priceless!

Before you jump to a jar of baby food, there are transition steps. Here's your list of steps to take to make the transition a smooth and spit-up free as possible.

How to Transition Your Baby to Solid Foods in 10 Steps

  1. First, is your baby 4 - 6 months old? If so, this is usually when they are ready to start - the reflex of pushing food out with their tongues begins to relax at this age. BUT...check for other signs they are progressing. Some babies just take longer.
  2. Aside from the 4 - 6 month age, other indicators are - is your baby acting interested in what you eat? Can they sit up (supported) and hold their head up and still? If they can't do that, they are not ready.
  3. If you think they are ready, start by mixing baby cereal into their formula or breast milk. Your pediatrician should give you their recommendation, but often you start by introducing this in just one feeding a day.
  4. When you feed solids (i.e. cereal when you start) - feed from a bowl with infant spoons. This makes sure your baby understands the difference and learns the process of taking food and swallowing. Note, however, some pediatricians do recommend mixing small amounts of cereal in the baby bottle first - especially in the last feeding before bed. The logic is that the baby will remain full longer, and you'll be able to introduce this new food as well. There is mixed opinion on this - we did it, but I'd recommend you consult your pediatrician first.
  5. If your baby doesn't want solids, that's OK. Simply wait a week and try again. This is true throughout the process - when you introduce jar foods later in the process, your baby may reject that as well.
  6. Always wait 5-7 days between introducing new foods. Your baby may be allergic to, or simply not ready for certain types of foods. If you introduce too many new things too quickly, you won't know which one caused the problem. So, introduce one at a time (make sure each one is a SINGLE ingredient), pay close attention to their poop, spit-up frequency, and wait 5-7 days before moving to something new.
  7. Add pureed vegetables, one at a time. Your baby might reject certain flavors - be prepared for that. For example, one of ours loved carrots, the other would NEVER eat them. Sweet potatoes and peas were favorites for both of ours. By the way, different companies make different levels of puree. You can start with very liquid purees and gradually work your way up to chunky purees. More on that below.
  8. Add pureed fruits, one at a time.
  9. Add pureed meat, one at a time. If you want your baby to be a vegetarian, consult with your pediatrician to ensure baby is getting all the essential nutrients for cognitive development.
  10. Around 8-9 months, offer combinations. Around 9 - 10 months you can move beyond puree and start to introduce chopped soft foods (small, finely copped, that is). Of course, every baby is different - yours may be ready at 8 months, or need to wait until 12 months. These are rough guidelines.
After this, you can start to introduce puffs, and then foods like cheerios. Ah, life gets easier and cheaper. :)

There are a ton of great references for transitioning your baby to solids. Here are a few good ones:

Momtastic has a nice chart.
And of course, BabyCenter always has good information.