Happy Halloween!

Tonight is Halloween! Elliot is a bit too young to go trick or treating, although he will be wearing his bear hat. With the crazy pace of our lives since he’s been here, we haven’t had time to carve any pumpkin, which is really disappointing for Zak who usually carves one or two masterpieces every year. But we will still celebrate and we are planning on spending some fun time giving out candy to our little neighbours.

We had a hard time with that part, though. What candy to give out? I should even say, do we give out candy? Since last year, we have changed a lot of things in our lives, ditched a few bad habits (and no doubt made a few more), and we are now eating a lot better. We never buy desert, although we bake a lot of it. The candy you can buy in store is pure sugar, and we feel bad giving them away. I know, it’s not the end of the world if kids eat crap once a year, but I also feel uneasy about encouraging huge corporations like Nestlé, which certainly don’t need our money and are most certainly responsible for the renewed enthusiasm with which North America has been celebrating Halloween these past years.

But what is the alternative? We live in a close knit community, and quite selfishly, I don’t want to be known as the bitter lady who doesn’t give out candy, especially since I do think that dressing up is a lot of fun and I want to take part in the excitement of tonight. I’m not quite ready either to start giving out fruit (I don’t think I could live up to that reputation). I wish I could give out some of our home-made bars or cookies, which I’m sure the kids would like at least as much as store-bought candy, but in these days and ages, who would allow their children to eat home-made treats given by strangers?

We did see at Costco a huge pack of tiny sized play-doh containers, which I thought was a genius idea for Halloween. But there are not enough kids coming by our house, we would have had tons of leftovers. So what can people with similar values to ours do to share the fun of this holiday without feeling like they’re selling their soul? I’m open to any and all suggestions…

Sitting next to an office printer may be like sitting next to a smoker

A CBC sponsored investigation has echoed the results from an Australian study, by the Queensland University of Technology, that found breathing the air pollution created by some printers could be the same as breathing second hand smoke:

“These small particles remain airborne for much longer than the larger particles that tend to settle out, and also when you breathe them in, they tend to penetrate much deeper into your lung,” said Stephan van Eeden, an associate professor, department of internal medicine at the University of British Columbia.

“There’s also studies that some of these particles are so small that they can actually penetrate into the blood stream and affect blood vessels and the heart,” he told CBC News.

“Just per mass, the amount of small particles that you inhale if you sit anything from two to three feet from the printer is about the same as sitting next to a person that smokes.”

Suddenly becoming a secretary or network administrator – our network administrator at work sits about two feet from a massive printer – has become similar to working in a smoky bar….

The Baby Whisperer

There are tons of baby books on the market, and one that was recommended to us before Elliot’s birth was Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (en français, Les secrets d’une charmeuse de bébés). I started reading it and it made me feel uneasy for a few reasons, the main one being that the author is against feeding on demand. Feeding your baby whenever they seem hungry, whether they have had their last feeding 1 or 3 hours ago, is what most experts now recommend, and from everything I have read it is the best way to succeed in breastfeeding, as it helps build and maintain the mother’s milk supply. According to Jack Newman, Toronto pediatrician and North America’s foremost expert on breast-feeding, a lot of successful breast-feeding moms run into problems when they start trying to put their baby on a schedule. The Baby Whisperer, however, pretends that feeding on demand makes for demanding babies and that you should instead put babies on a routine (but not a schedule, as she carefully points out) of eating, followed by activity and sleep, repeated about every 3 hours. After reading her take on that I stopped reading her book.

I should have given up on it completely, but a friend told me she had really liked the book so a few weeks after Elliot’s birth I started reading it again. It made me so upset! I suddenly felt like a terrible mother who did pretty much everything wrong. I started panicking when Elliot had a bad night, thinking it must be because I didn’t put him to bed sleepy, but awake, like the author recommends. I was unable to do it back then, but now, he can fall asleep by himself at night, and it happened naturally when he reached 7 weeks. Elliot is also feeding on demand, but he’s gaining well and he’s happy and healthy. So maybe I’m not doing that bad after all. But with every chapter I read, I started second-guessing myself until I finally realized that I was being silly and came back to my senses.

I’m sure that this book contains some good advice that can work for a lot of people, or else she wouldn’t have sold that many. But the author presents it that way: sure you can do things your own way and not listen to me, but sooner or later you will find yourself overwhelmed and need my help to fix the damage you did. So when I tried to follow her advice and found myself unable to do it, I felt (unnecessarily) guilty and useless. The future will tell if I should have tried harder, but for now I’ll stick to my ways and to books to have a philosophy similar to mine. And I’ll look at Elliot’s smile and pat myself in the back a few times. He’s all right. I’m all right. It’s all good!

Clean your House, Develop Asthma

According to a recent study from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain, using household cleaning sprays and scented air fresheners as little as once a week can raise a person’s risk of developing adult asthma. CBC.ca reports:

Fifteen per cent, or one in seven, adult asthma cases could be attributed to use of cleaning and deodorizing sprays, according to the study.

As someone who has trouble breathing while walking past the cleaning section of the local drug store, this does not come as a great surprise. What is interesting is just how much your risk of developing asthma increases:

The risk of developing asthma increased with frequency of cleaning and number of different sprays used, but on average was about 30 to 50 per cent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others.

Cleaning sprays such as air fresheners, furniture cleaners and glass cleaners had a particularly strong effect.

The researchers theorize that chemicals in the products trigger an inflammatory response in the lungs when the particles are inhaled.

The moral of the story is, if you need an air freshener, don’t use a spray: get up and bake some cookies, a cake or a pie. And if you need cleaners, make sure that you are using one of the increasing number of scent-free, less-toxic products on the market. Finally, if you need a cleaner that is sold as a spray, you can easily replace the spray top with a normal squirt top and just squirt a little bit of the cleaner on a cloth. We have been doing that lately and it works just as well without hurting the lungs. As an added bonus, you use a lot less. And with the money you save, you can cook another batch of cookies!

Fit 4 Two

I discovered Fit 4 Two when I was pregnant. The company, created by a Mompreneur from Vancouver, offers a wide variety of fitness classes for pregnant women as well as parents of young children. I took their prenatal fitness class with Melanie Osmack, the founder of the company, who proved to be an invaluable source of information, an indefatigable motivator as well as an amazing and highly energetic trainer. The two other trainers who substituted for Melanie before she came back from her maternity leave were just as knowledgeable and fun. I have now started taking a Mommy and Baby Fitness class and I am just as happy with my experience.

I thought Elliot would be upset when I put him down on the mattresses that Melanie sets out for that purpose in the middle of the gym. But no! As soon as the music goes on and the moms start exercising around the mats, he stops fussing and takes in the sights, smiling at whoever will pay him attention. I can enjoy a good workout (adapted to be as strenuous or as light as you need it to be on that specific day), as well as some time out of the house and a good chat with other moms.

Good for your body and good for sanity! I highly recommend it!

Roots of Empathy

Elliot and I are participating to the Roots of Empathy program. This program uses the relationship between a parent and a developing baby to teach classrooms about empathy. More specifically, Elliot and I will be visiting the same Grade 1 classroom every month for the whole school year; the children in the class will learn what a baby can do at what age, watch him grow and change, sing him songs, make drawings for him, etc. But our visits will really serve as excuses for them to learn about emotions and acquire a vocabulary to talk about them: why is the baby crying? What is his mother doing to calm him? What can YOU do when YOUR friend is crying… You see the picture.

This program, created in 2000, has now been implemented in schools throughout Canada as well as in Australia and New Zealand with children from kindergarten to grade 8 (of course, the activities vary with each age group). It has been shown to reduce bullying issues by teaching kids to put themselves in the shoes of a smaller, much more vulnerable person. With teenagers, it has also reduced unplanned pregnancies by showing them what it really is like to take care of a baby. Teachers love it because it fits within the curriculum. Kids love it and get really attached to “their” baby. And I love it because I feel like I am doing something great for these children, great for Elliot (by exposing him to different experiences and a bunch of new people) and great for society, working to make a better world. Oh, and also because it is just plain fun!

We went for our first visit at the beginning of October. Of course, at 2 months old, Elliot couldn’t do much yet: he barely gave any attention to the toys he was shown, but he loved looking at the faces of all those children. He even gave them a few bright smiles. The questions the kids asked were sometimes funny, but often touching – like when Elliot got fussy and I had to breast-feed him, and two or three girls lifted their hands to say with much delight that their mother “did that to them”, one even adding: “My mother’s milk is sweet”…

Oh, and they already gave us a present.

I’m really looking forward to our next visit… I’ll keep you posted!

To Pacify or not to Pacify

There is no doubt that babies need to suck. The question is: what should they be allowed to suck on? Arguments for and against the use of a pacifier are sometimes contradictory, and it’s hard for parents to make up their mind.

For the pacifier is the fact that studies have shown its use at night reduces the incidence of SIDS. A pacifier is also something you can control and remove from a baby, unlike their thumb. Because of that, it is believed that babies stop using a pacifier earlier than babies give up on sucking their thumb. Some people also claim that sucking a thumb makes more damage to the teeth alignment than a pacifier, so it’s good to use one to prevent thumb-sucking. And finally, some breastfeeding mothers get sick of feeling like a human pacifier when their babies want to keep sucking even though they are not hungry and not drinking milk anymore.

Against the pacifier is the fact that it shouldn’t be used for the first 6 weeks of a breastfed baby’s life to avoid nipple confusion until breastfeeding is well established. Babies who use a pacifier at night tend to wake up more because they drop it and need a parent to plop it back into their mouth. Also, some people believe that toddlers tend to give up on the thumb more naturally since you can’t crawl or walk on all fours or explore the world as easily with a thumb in your mouth, whereas you can with a pacifier. Finally, a lot of people think that a pacifier just makes a baby look dumb, especially when they get to older toddle age.

As for us, we were mostly against the use of a pacifier, mostly because it is most unnatural. We didn’t buy one… Until yesterday. We finally gave up for one reason only: Elliot cries non-stop in the car. I can’t breastfeed in the car! And after a 30-minutes trip with his thumb in Elliot’s mouth, Zak’s skin was shriveled and painful, so we started to wonder. We bought a pacifier and after spending a few minutes trying to figure out what that thing was in his mouth, our 2-month old started sucking happily away and forgot to cry. Since we rarely use a car, we figured that using a pacifier ONLY for that use wouldn’t do much damage, much less than crying for 30 minutes straight.

Hopefully we’ll manage to limit the use of the pacifier to the car and not start slipping down this slippery slope!

P.S. It’s amazing the number of latex or rubber pacifiers for sale out there. Don’t buy them! Silicone is the best choice as it is hypo-allergenic, stable and easy to sterilize.