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Free ABC Flashcards and Video Plus Tips and Tricks for Use

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Learning the letter names and sounds is the foundation for learning how to read. By starting young and using engaging materials, even babies can easily learn the alphabet. The problem I found while teaching my own five children was that the quality of materials available was sub par.

Sure, you can get a dollar store pack of alphabet flashcards, and it would be better than nothing, but I have personally hand crafted these flashcards and accompanying video in a way that is tailor made to engage children and help them to learn their ABCs easily and properly without any of the mistakes that these sub par materials inadvertently interweave into a growing child’s brain, and I am excited to share it with you!

What Makes My Flashcards Different

There are many different features that set my flashcards apart from anything else I have been able to find on the market. When I was a 3rd and 4th grade teacher, I found that many students with reading difficulties lacked phonemic awareness (the ability to distinguish and identify all of the letter sounds). As a parent, I wanted to create something that would accurately teach my children the letter names and sounds giving them a strong foundation for learning how to read. These are the features that make my flashcards unique.

  • They have both the upper and lower case letters on each card. This is so children can learn that they mean the same thing simultaneously.
  • Letters are shaped how we print them. I created my own font and made sure each letter was formed the way we teach children how to print them.
  • Each flashcard has a simple, interesting, and easily identifiable picture. Many flashcards use words like “ape” for “a” where kids might get confused thinking it was a monkey. I also try to keep the images related to things children would be familiar with.
  • The letter and sound combination makes sense. When flashcards use the word “eye” to teach the letter “e” or the word “shoe” (which has a digraph) to teach s, it can be very confusing for children. My flashcards do not do this.
  • Short vowels and the hard g and c are used. When children are just starting to learn their letters, these are the easiest versions to begin with, and it’s best to keep things as simple as possible in the beginning.
  • There is a printed word below each picture. I have found that it’s important for children to learn that letters come together to form words and that words have meaning. When children memorize the shape of the letters, the image, and a word it really solidifies their understanding of the alphabet.
ABC Flashcards

ABC Flashcards

Download a PDF of my flashcards here: ABCs Flashcards PDF

What Makes My Video Special

Because I use the same flashcards in my video that you can print out and use with your child, it REALLY helps with repetition and consistency. I also use video clips of my own children along with some stock footage to help children really understand what each word means. Not only does this help with the alphabet but with vocabulary too!

How to Use with Babies and Toddlers

Babies’ brains starts to explode with neural growth between 6-8 months. (Read more about children’s brain development here…it’s fascinating stuff!) This is the IDEAL time to start teaching them new things that will help them to connect with their world. Neural growth continues rapidly until the age of 2-3 when synaptic pruning starts happening (a use it or lose it occurrence where the pathways children use are strengthened and the pathways they don’t use wither away).

*You may not get started teaching the alphabet until your child is 12-18 months or even 2-3 years of age, and that’s okay! You may have to spend more time on task, but it’s not too late.

  1. A Little Bit Repeated Over a Long Period of Time is Best: I have started introducing the ABCs to all of my children somewhere between 6-10 months depending on their personalities and interests. By starting this young, I don’t have to think about trying to teach them every day, just little bits here and there when the timing is right.
  2. Repetition is Key: The pathways between neurons is covered with a myelin sheath. Every time children learn the same thing, this myelin sheath gets thicker and thicker which increases the speed. After about 40 repetitions, the knowledge becomes automatic and it is committed to long term memory.
  3. Use During Routines: When my babies start to eat solid food, I like to show my ABC Video. I also like to show them the flashcards when they are slightly sleepy and want to cuddle on my lap.
  4. Make it Full of Love: Make sure you are introducing the flashcards and video in way that is full of cuddles and joy so there are positive associations.
  5. Slowly Build Stamina: When you first start showing children these flashcards and video, they won’t be interested because it is something NEW, but once they have seen them both several times and start to recognize them, you will be delighted to see their eyes light up and their bodies dance in recognition. When you first get started, you may only get through the first few letters, or you may just play the video in the background without much interest. But rest assured that slowly over time, your baby will love flipping through all of the flashcards and enjoy the whole video from beginning to end!
  6. ABC Chant: In my ABC Video, you’ll hear me say a little chant, “A is for apple, /ah/, /ah/, apple, B is for ball, /buh/, /buh/, ball…” My children always love it when I do the same chant when reading the flashcards.
  7. Wait Time: Once we’ve gone through the flashcards enough for them to know a few of the letter names, sounds, or object names (which may take 6 months or so), I will say, “What’s that?” and pause. I also like to pause and wait while singing the alphabet to give them time to say the letters.
  8. Praise Right Answers: When my children are first learning their letters, I praise them for saying the letter name, sound, or word associated with the letter. Keep in mind that as children are just starting to form sounds and words, they may only say the beginning sound of a word or letter. Listen for these sounds and words so that you can model the correct way of saying it. If they are interested, really slow down and exaggerate your mouth movements so that they can study how you form the word.
  9. Keep Flashcards Accessible: I like to prop up the flashcards and leave them laying around. Because they are so familiar, my children love finding them and flipping through them independently. My older ones also love teaching my younger ones. (I also have other ABC toys and activities stashed just about everywhere throughout the house so that my children are completely immersed in it.)

Note: In this video, Ophelia is using my ABC Book which you can get here: ABC Printable Book *To print, select Print on Both Sides and Flip Sheets on Short Edge. You’ll also need a long arm stapler.

How to Use with Preschoolers and Older Children

The older kids are, the more creative and novel you’ll have to be to make the concept of learning the ABCs exciting. Here are some things I have enjoyed doing with my older children to reinforce their knowledge of the ABCs using these flashcards.

  • Loose Cards: With the child sitting on your lap or nearby, hand him or her one card at a time. You can say, “What’s this?” or say the letter and ask him for the name of the object. He can either collect the cards in a stack in his hand, he can pile them up on the floor, your you can suggest that he makes a pile of his favorite letters.
  • Spread Out the Cards: Spread all of the cards out on the floor and ask your child to either retrieve a certain letter or say, “Can you bring me a letter? What letters do you see?” You can also place them upside down so that only the colored side is facing up, sort them by color, or try to guess what letter it is before flipping it over.
  • Make a Path: You can spread out the letters alphabetically or just spread them out in a long line in any order. Then pretend that the floor is lava and tell your child that the letters are stones that will save her from the lava. As she hops from letter to letter ask her, “What letter are you on now? or What sound does the __ make?”
  • Pocket Chart: Get a pocket chart like this, give your child one letter at a time and have him put them into the pocket chart. You can arrange them in alphabetical or random order. You can also reverse this activity by starting with the letters in the chart and then having your child retrieve them one at a time.
  • Sticky Letters: Put a piece of masking tape on the back of each letter. You can then give your child one letter at a time to put on the wall or herself, or you can start with them on the wall and have your child retrieve them and put them on your body, her body, the wall, around the house, where ever!
  • Get Creative: If you’re being silly and having fun with it, you can do a lot of creative things that will really engage your child. Use your imagination and have some fun!

Materials to Make These Flashcards

You can certainly just print these flashcards out and use them as is, but babies love to chew on things, and laminating them and putting them together with some rings will ensure their durability.

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.

In Conclusion

It has taken me four years to put together the final version of these flashcards and this video, and I am excited to share it with you! By teaching your baby, toddler, preschooler, or child of any age the letter names and sounds, he or she will have a strong foundation to build reading skills. So have fun, learn the ABCs, and get ready for a learning journey that will never end!

Check out my favorite resources for teaching the ABCs here and read more about how children learn to read in my Teach Your Child to Read blog series here.

Amber Teething Necklaces: Are They Just for Teething Babies?

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By Guest Blogger: Jenn Sanders

Author Bio: Jenn Sanders currently works as a marketing assistant at a company dedicated to the health and well-being of infants. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family and outdoor adventures.

Amber Teething Necklaces: Are They Just for Teething Babies?

Baltic amber has had an influence on civilizations long before the dawn of the modern age. Ancient healers and mystics would use the gemstone’s “powers” to, not only heal people of their illnesses, but to also ward off bad energy and negative influences.

The modern world has just recently started to understand the natural healing properties of the stone and how important it can become to help them alleviate a variety of ailments. Through both word of mouth and the internet, people are getting familiar with the fossilized tree resin that can help heal wounds and alleviate chronic pain. It is no wonder our ancestors thought the stone contained metaphysical powers.

Baltic amber is a completely natural remedy that has many health benefits. It consists of a special chemical known as “succinic acid,” which is released into the body when the gem comes into contact with one’s skin. The warmth of the body releases the acid, and allows it to be absorbed through the skin and into our bloodstream where it travels all around the body acting as an analgesic. Furthermore, the  anti-inflammatory properties of the succinic acid in Baltic amber is of particular interest to those researching the medical aspects of amber.

Why Wear It?

Tree resin is a natural antibiotic that a tree produces to heal itself and ward off infections by sliding down the trunk of said tree, closing off any opening that could allow bad bacteria to enter. Once the tree resin of the now-extinct coniferous trees that amber came from hit the ground it hardened over millions of years. Amber, therefore, resembles a gemstone and can be worn as jewelry that also heals as it is worn. Baltic amber specifically has been known to work wonders on the body’s immune system and many scientific studies suggest that wearing it is a on one’s wrists, neck, ears or even ankles are all great options.

Why is Amber Great for Teething Babies?

Baltic amber is also widely used for pain relief when your child starts his teething. This is also why Baltic amber necklaces are given as gifts at baby showers. The round beads release succinic acid, which makes its way into the bloodstream, providing anti-inflammatory effects, helping the baby sleep comfortably.

Having a child is one of the greatest gifts life can give you. As a parent, you would do anything to protect your child. However, you might feel powerless when your baby begins teething. When your child’s teeth begin to sprout they may experience a lot of pain or discomfort. Having your baby wear an amber necklace is perhaps the best way to ensure that they are pain-free. All you have to do is put the necklace on them while they are under your supervision, and remove it during bath time and bedtime. Fortunately, the effects of the Baltic amber last long after the necklace is removed.

Thousands of people benefit each year from wearing amber necklaces that protect them against inflammatory diseases that normally cause a lot of pain. Here are some of the other benefits:

1. Protection Against Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can last for weeks and the discomfort leads to you not being able to sleep, not being able to properly communicate or worse. This pain occurs normally after serious injuries or disorders. Mothers may face this kind of pain after giving birth to a child, which can become serious if not given proper attention.

Frequent migraines are also probable, which is why amber necklaces are so important. Amber necklaces can both reduce that pain because of its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as replenish your energy. It can be especially beneficial for a mother who has recently given birth.

2. Helps with Arthritis

The Succinic acid that amber beads contain is released into the body as soon as it comes in contact with the warmth of your body. The acid then enters into the bloodstream and travels around the body. Arthritis causes the joins to inflame, which is why wearing the necklace can be advantageous. The necklace can help with joint swelling. Arthritis mainly affects senior citizens, which is why amber jewelry is a necessity in old age.

3. Helps with Anxiety and Depression

The mystical aspects of the amber stone include the effect it has on a person’s energy, namely their chakras. Chakras are described as the gates to the pools of energy inside our body. Amber helps to replenish these pools and allow for more positive emotions and a positive outlook to life. A mother wearing an amber necklace will be better prepared to care for a baby than one without it since her mental state will be continuously rejuvenated by the release of Succinic acid inside her body. Furthermore, some superstitious beliefs also proclaim that the amber crystal helps to “ward off evil spirits.”

4. Amber Oils

Another method of pain alleviation is rubbing or gently massaging amber oil onto the body. Everyday hassles can stress out anyone, which is why you must give your body some time to cope with it. Going to a spa might be the thing to do. A gentle rub against the body can free you of several bone aches and muscle pains. Mothers can use this technique on their babies to help them sleep better at night. They themselves can use the amber oil to reduce joint pains and back pains that many mothers experience.

5. Helps with Eczema

Eczema is a severe skin condition whose symptoms include long term swelling and continuous itching. Many people confuse it with an allergic reaction, which is why they are unaware of the medicinal properties amber has for it. Baltic amber combined with Hazelwood can help heal extremely dry and cracked skin. The amber necklace can then be worn to prevent eczema outbreak from occurring.

Bottom Line

As was with our ancestors, Baltic amber is starting to play a huge role in the medical industry, and there are different products people use to help rid their ailments. Without any side effects, it is quickly becoming the best choice for mothers who are concerned about their baby’s health and well-being. It is a smart purchase to make and the best suited to aid you, your baby, or anyone who is suffering from chronic pain or inflammation.

Jack’s Hair Tourniquet: One of the Most Traumatic Nights of my Life

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Last night while we were sitting around the campfire with some friends, I started digging out lint from my 4 month old son Jack’s toes. After one of my friends had a hair tourniquet around her son’s toes recently, I have been a bit paranoid about this happening, so whenever I hold him I pick the lint out of his toes and do a quick check.

When I looked down to check his little piggies, I was astounded to see a tightly wrapped hair around his middle toe. As luck would have it, my friend (the one who previously experienced the hair tourniquet on her son and is also studying to be a midwife) was sitting beside me, and we both quickly rushed inside to get some tools.

Once inside, she held Jack and armed with a needle, tweezers, and scissors, I attempted to free him from this invisible constriction. My first thought was to cut it with a pair of scissors or a knife if the hair was over the nail, but it was just at the cuticle line. Next, I tried to press down on the area below the hair with a needle hoping to slide it under and break the hair. When I did this, blood started to spill around the entire length of the hair.

I started to panic at this point realizing the seriousness of this infliction. Just then Scott came in, realized what was going on, and tried to see if there was a way that he could get at the hair. Thankfully at this point, Jack did not seem to be bothered, but I was already starting to panic when I said,

“We need to take him to the ER.”

We had hoped to stay up past dark and do some of our 4th of July fireworks early, so it was 8:30 and a bit past bedtime by the time we started pulling out of the driveway at our friend’s house. I dropped Scott off at home with the four older kids (10 minutes away) and took Jack to the ER (3 minutes away).

When I checked in, I was in a bit of a panic, but relieved that we would be in good hands, have some kind of anesthesia, and be able to get it taken care of. The nurse that assisted me in getting Jack’s vitals (a mother I knew from one of my son’s field trips) recalled her brother getting a hair tourniquet around his penis, which made the toe seem practically benign!

Being the researcher that I am, I read a medical article about removing hair tourniquets when Scott was driving us home so I knew our options would be dissolving the hair (although not really a possibility since his skin was broken), trying to get at it with more delicate instruments than I had access to, or giving him a local anesthetic and making a perpendicular incision.

When the doctor came in to check (about 9:00 p.m.), he decided that his first course of action would be to put a topical numbing agent on the toe and try to work it out with tweezers and small pliers. I had to hold Jack for about an hour (which was good because I was able to nurse him and get him to sleep) while they waited for the area to get numb.

I was hoping that Jack would be able to sleep through the procedure and that it would be done quickly. As I sat on the exam table holding Jack, his foot resting on the bed and held down my one of the nurses, I thought that this might be a possibility, but this was not quite the case. While his eyes remained closed and a pacifier hung from his mouth, he started to cry every time the pliers were used, and it was clear that the area was not very numb.

I tried to remain calm and hold my tongue for as long as I could, but after about 10 minutes of holding him down while he writhed in pain, I asked,

“Is there something else we can do?”

The doctor sat back, and I could tell this was traumatic for him too, but his mind was buzzing with protocol and logic knowing that now it was time to move on to phase two. He calmly explained what was going to happen next, and we prepared for the next phase.

As I’m writing this now, I don’t know if I can relive this memory again. My eyes are already welling with tears and I can feel myself starting to tremble. The next five hours was one of the most traumatic times of my entire life.

The entire time this is happening, I’m posting on FaceBook and texting my mom and husband to keep everyone in the loop. The support I was receiving really helped me to keep things under control, and I put myself in the mindset that this doctor knew what he was doing, and was going to do everything necessary to help Jack.

I didn’t know if I could look once I saw the needles and scalpels, but I wanted to be a voice for Jack, so while soothing him the best I could, I looked, and I saw everything.

Cutting Jack's Toe

Cutting Jack’s Toe

He was asleep when they started, but once the needle with the local anesthetic had to be injected into his toe numerous times, he woke up screaming bloody murder. After more pokes than I could count, I whisked him up to rock, bounce, and calm him down again knowing that if he was calm and numb it would be the best for everyone.

At this point, it’s about 10:30 p.m., and the small town hospital ER is a ghost town except for the doctor and three nurses in our room. As I prepared Jack in my lap and sat on the bed, I started thinking about the research that I had read on the way over and knew that now there would be an incision. I held onto Jack’s torso and when the doctor asked me to also hold onto his leg, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle that, so asked one of the nurses to do so.

“Can we get another pair of hands here?”

I asked, knowing how important a still baby would be (especially as I recalled the tongue tie procedure I had to go through with Julian…right up there with top traumatic experiences). The doctor said, “Yes, let’s get another pair of hands in here.”

Honestly, I can’t write about what happened in the next 20-30 minutes with much detail, but let’s just say there were several cuts with a scalpel, digging with a needle, more cuts, more digging, me seeing Jack flinch when they cut him, asking if the area was really numb, more shots of local anesthetic right in the cuticle, a few more incisions going deeper this time, more digging, Jack screaming bloody murder the ENTIRE time, lots of blood that the doctor had to wipe up himself in between cuts, and finally me knowing that he had been put through enough and saying again,

“Okay, what needs to happen now,”

The doctor tipped back in his chair and pulled the magnifying glasses to the top of his head sighing and said,

“I feel like I’ve done all I can here, and I don’t feel comfortable going any deeper. At this point, with my limited tools, I have no way of knowing if I actually got the hair.”

I asked if we would be going to the Devos Children’s Hospital (in Grand Rapids, about an hour away), and he said probably yes, and that he was going to make some calls. The entire time he’s telling me this, Jack is still screaming. Nothing is calming him down.

Finally everyone leaves the room, Jack nurses, and as he’s perched calmly on my shoulder, I FaceTime with Scott and tell him what’s going on. Thinking that I would be home anytime, he was up doing fireworks with the kids, but knew then that he would have to put everyone to bed by himself. Next, I FaceTimed with my mom to see if she could meet me at Devos because I didn’t want to be alone.

As I started filling her in on what was going on, it suddenly hit me what they were going to have to do at the Children’s Hospital to get the hair off. I saw images of me holding him down again while they gave him more shots with more blood and scalpels or of him having to go under (which JUST happened with Ruby only the day before for a tooth extraction and was a very traumatic experience as well), and I felt myself slipping into what I can only imagine is a panic attack.

My heart raced, my limbs felt numb, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I could feel myself slipping into darkness like I might pass out or go absolutely crazy. I was silent with my mom for several long seconds as I tried to breathe deeply to get the feeling to pass. It was 11:20 at that point, and my mom bolted up in bed and said,

“I’m coming to you honey.”

“Okay mom,” I replied with tears in my eyes. At that point a nurse came in to get something, and I asked her if she could find out for sure if we needed to go to Devos, and she said she would check.

I started to feel like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs and followed her out as she went to get the doctor. I followed her right through the door into the central nurses station and blurted, “I need to get some air, I think I’m having a panic attack.” They saw the crazy look in my eyes and one of the nurses quickly bolted up saying, “Here, give me your baby and you go get some fresh air.” I was so happy to have her take him because I felt like I might pass out at any moment and drop him.

The doctor followed me outside and explained again what he had done and why. He said I did a remarkable job of staying calm while he did the procedure, and I thanked him profusely for his steady hand and for doing everything he could.

When I came back in, all of the nurses were playing with a happy Jack, and I kept telling myself that he was screaming bloody murder before because he didn’t like being held down, not because he was feeling every incision.

Nurses Holding Jack

Nurses Holding Jack

At this point, I asked for a phone charger because my phone was about to die, and they let me plug in using one of their personal chargers. I made a comment about how this was right up my husband’s alley since he was the IT guy at the hospital. Even though Scott works first shift mainly, he has gotten called in at all hours of the night, and everyone was like, “I thought your name sounded familiar!” I showed everyone Scott’s picture, and not that they weren’t super sweet before, but they warmed to us even more after that.

The Wonderful Nurses at Reed City Hospital

The Wonderful Nurses at Reed City Hospital

One of the nurses suggested going to the cafeteria to get me some food, and I realized that my blood sugar was probably low which was why I was feeling so faint. I didn’t feel comfortable holding Jack in case I passed out, so one of the nurses carried him for me while we went to the cafeteria. I heard them making a call to the cafeteria as we left saying to put anything I wanted on their account.

After eating some yogurt and apple pie, I felt a bit better. Once we got back to the nurses station, the doctor said that they were ready for us at Devos and that we could drive there when I was ready. I didn’t feel safe driving in the state I was in, so I told my mom to come get me. Just then, Scott called and said he’d be there in 90 seconds. He had gotten one of our friends to watch over our sleeping kids and came to be my night in shining armor!

When I saw him, I collapsed into his arms knowing that he could take over from there. My mom continued driving to relieve our friend and watch the kids. After I nursed Jack, we hopped in the car and headed to Devos.

My mind kept slipping into near panic mode as I thought about what they were going to do to my sweet little Jack, and I tried everything I could to stay sane. I even looked in the mirror and talked to myself about how it was going to be okay. I also prayed…a lot.

It was 2:00 a.m. at this point, and I was exhausted, so I closed my eyes and tried my best to sleep until we got there. After they valeted our van and checked us in, I felt myself slipping back into momma bear mode and knew that I would have to be ready to face whatever happened next.

As the doctor examined his foot, I almost crumpled to the ground in relief when he said,

“Well, I think he got it! The hair is gone.”

He went on to explain how the line on Jack’s foot would still be there for a bit but that there was no constriction anymore. He also looked at the incisions the other doctor had made and remarked on what a fine job he had done. I wept tears of happiness, and felt the greatest sense of relief a mother can feel. It was as life itself had stopped, and I lost everything, but was now getting another chance to have it back.

Getting Checked Out at Devos Children's Hospital

Getting Checked Out at Devos Children’s Hospital

By 5:00 a.m., Jack and I were snuggled into our bed nursing to sleep, and I felt such a great sense of appreciation and thankfulness for the outcome of these events. After only three hours of sleep, I knew I needed to write this story down a) because I wanted to share it with everyone that had been so wonderful, supportive, and concerned and b) to help myself process and accept the events that had taken place. At some point in the near future, I am going to write a thank you card to the wonderful staff at the Reed City Hospital, and I am also going to buy myself a bottle of Nair to keep on hand should this ever happen again.

 

#2-It All Begins with the ABCS

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Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the ABCs is absolutely the foundation for learning how to read. It is where reading begins, and it is where reading can fall apart at a later age if it isn’t taught correctly. By working with children from a young age on the alphabet, they will have a solid foundation in reading skills that will make learning how to read a breeze.

Learning the ABCs means learning the letter names (both capital and lower case letters) and the letter sounds. In the first introduction to the alphabet, it’s important to keep it simple and start with the short vowels as well as the hard c and g. Later on, using my Phonemic Awareness resources, children will learn about the remaining sounds that make up the 44 sounds in the English language.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children the alphabet is between 6-8 months of age. Are you thinking, “Really? Why so young?” Well, I’ll tell you, children’s brains start EXPLODING with growth at this age (read more about the brain development of children here), and if you can add input to the framework while it’s being built, it makes learning to read SO EASY.

When I was an elementary school teacher, I thought that preschool was the time to introduce the alphabet to children. But then when I applied what I had learned as an elementary school teacher (and while getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition) with my own children, I was BLOWN AWAY when our first daughter knew all of her letter names and sounds by 15 months and was READING by the age of three.

What I learned was that if I started young, I only had to teach my daughter the ABCs for few minutes here and there. You can certainly start with children at any age, however, and learning how to read will still follow the same progression. But if you wait until the child is older, learning the ABCs can be pretty boring so you’ll need to make it more exciting with fun, hands on, kinesthetic, and engaging activities. (Think Pinterest.)  You’ll also need to do longer and more consistent lessons because instead of building neural connections, you’re rewiring them, and that’s harder to do.

How to Teach

I have found that it’s best to teach the letter names, letter sounds, word, and picture simultaneously. When I start teaching my children the ABCs, I’ll make a couple sets of my flashcards and keep them in places where we have routines, like in my rocking chair and at the breakfast table.

If you can find a few minutes to do use the flashcards a week and show the ABC video a few times per week, in addition to using the other resources I’ve made and link to later, then your child should learn their ABCs in about 6-8 months. All of my children knew their ABCs by 15 months.

When I start using the flashcards with my children for the first time, I read through them rather quickly and show the video for as long as I can hold their interest. I like to chant (you’ll hear it in my ABC video), “A is for apple, a, a, apple” and do this for each letter. (Here is a video of me doing the chant with 14 month old Ophelia. You’ll also get to see what the first draft of my flashcards looked like!) I also put up posters (especially near the diaper changing table), read ABC books, play with ABC toys, and watch other ABC videos. Immersion is the best way to learn!

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Learning the ABC song is also a key part of learning the alphabet because it helps to teach the order of the letters and gives children a way to remember all of the letters at once. I love going to YouTube and finding ABC song videos that my children enjoy to add to my playlist. You can check out my extensive ABC collection here. At the end of my ABC video, my children sing the ABC song several times.

As my children get older and more familiar with the flashcards, I will start to ask them, “What is this?” for each card, and whether they say the letter name, letter sound, or word associated with the letter, I praise them equally because each answer is correct. If they don’t say anything after about three seconds, I’ll say it. Once my children are familiar with the letter names and sounds, and word associated with each letter, I’ll start to introduce more words that start with each letter and point out words they know while reading.

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

1. ABC Flashcards

I created these ABC flashcards because I was pretty disappointed with the flashcards that are out there. First of all, many cards confuse children by using things like ape for a where children may think it’s actually a monkey, or they’ll use digraphs for words (like cheese for c). My flashcards have an easily recognizable image, feature only short vowels, the hard c and g, and have no confusing digraphs, diphthongs, or r-controlled vowels. It was also hard to find ABC flashcards that had the upper and lowercase letters, picture, and word all in one space. I also created my own font because many fonts used in flashcards on the market today use archaic old-style typefaces that don’t accurately depict how children are taught to write letters.

ABC Flashcards First Page

ABC Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here:  ABCs Flashcards PDF

2. ABC Video

This ABC video is designed to bring my flashcards to life! After a brief intro, this 22 minute ABC Video shows the flashcards while I say the letter chant. This is followed by images and videos of my children that bring the words to life. Not only will children be engaged while learning the letter names and sounds, but they will be building vocabulary as well.

Don’t just stick your child in front of this video and walk away! Watch it WITH your child. Say the words along with the video, and praise your child when they get a word right. Eventually, your child will become extremely familiar with the video, and then you can use it as a babysitter from time to time, just don’t do so initially.

3. ABC Picture Poster

This alphabet poster combines all of the graphics from my alphabet flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this poster and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

ABC Poster

ABC Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Poster Full Page

4. Android Alphabet Explorer App

My husband brought my ABC Video to life in a new format. Children can click on a menu featuring each letter of the alphabet to see its letter chant, images, and video. They can also go directly to the ABC songs. This is for Android devices only.

Alphabet Explorer App

Alphabet Explorer App

Get the Alphabet Explorer App here.

Additional Resources

In addition to my homemade resources, these are the things I have purchased that have made a HUGE impact on my children’s learning. I recommend the first three at least as MUST HAVES. If you use these resources often, your child will learn the ABCs so fast it will make your head spin!

  • *Preschool Prep – This company makes REMARKABLE videos and I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the whole pack. They have a wonderful letter name video and a letter sound video that is highly engaging for little ones and really enforces learning all of the letter names and letter sounds.
  • *ABC Bath Letters – Making the letters a toy is a great idea! During bath time you can talk to your little ones about letter names and letter sounds in a fun and silly way. (For example, “Look at my dancing A, she likes to stand on my head!”)
  • *Starfall – This amazing online resource has everything you need to teach your child pretty much everything he or she needs to learn pertaining to reading and math through grade 2. I love starting out with the interactive ABCs that are great for teaching letter names, letter sounds, and vocabulary. This part is free, the rest of the site is $35/year, and SOOOOOOOOO worth it. Here’s a video of Ophelia using Starfall. They also have numerous apps.
  • Leapfrog Fridge Magnet Set – This is great for children starting at about 12-18 months, or whenever they are walking and developing fine motor skills. Here’s a video of our 21 month old daughter, Ophelia, using them.
  • Leapfrog Tablet – I look for tablets like these at garage sales and thrift stores. They are a fun way for young children to reinforce learning the letter names and sounds in a way that makes them feel like they have their own computer. Here’s a video of Ophelia using a Leapfrog tablet.
  • Robot Letters – If you are teaching an older child the ABCs, especially one who likes robots and transformers, this is a great resource!
  • Dr. Suess’s ABC – This book has been an absolute favorite with each of our kids (probably because I love it so much). Find whatever ABC books YOU love to read, like Chica Chica Boom Boom, Elmo’s ABC Book, this textured ABC Alphabet Fun book, Sandra Boynton’s A to ZThe Alphabet Book, or anything else you can find at garage sales, thrift stores, and hand-me-downs.
  • Endless Alphabet App – I would say that this app is best for children 2 and older and is a GREAT way to reinforce letter names and sounds.
  • Storybots – My kids LOVE these videos! They are great for older children and reinforcing letter names and words that start with that letter. They have a great ABC app and tons of other great learning videos.

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

  • Alfie and Bet’s ABC – Children will love this colorful ABC pop-up book.
  • Very First ABC – The cute board book is a great introduction to the ABCs.
  • Alphabet Picture Book – This is a great book to “read” together as you look for the pictures that go with each letter.
  • B is for Bedtime – This rhyming A – Z bedtime routine book is a great book for a bedtime routine.
  • Illustrated Alphabet – This cloth bound foil book with slip case is simply beautiful and features a funny zoo animal and rhyming story for each letter. This is great for a read aloud/read together.
  • ABC Sticker Book – Children affix letter picture stickers over the letters in this book.
  • Alphabet Sticker Book – This would really be for an older child reinforcing beginning sounds, but the word matching for each letter is a great review.
  • Alphabet Beginning Level – This is the type of resource you would want to use with an older child learning the ABCs to make it more fun and engaging. It is basically a system of matching and self correcting cards. It requires this base plate that can be used with several other learning packs as well. Click here to see an animated demo (you need flash player).

In Conclusion

Teaching your children the ABCs at a young age is one of the best gifts you can give to them. In doing so, they will have a solid foundation in the skill of reading which will make it that much easier to develop a love of reading. Children who love reading can access the entire world, follow their passions, and unlock the doors to their destiny.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

#1-Introduce Your Baby to Reading

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How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

When should you start reading to your child? The answer is…right now! I mean really, you can start reading while your baby is still in the womb. Babies develop their sense of hearing at 18 weeks and can respond to noise at 25 weeks. The cadence (the flow of language) and prosody (tune and rhythm) of reading sounds are different than normal speech and children can become attuned to them in the womb. It’s easy for your baby to pick this up when you have other children that you’re reading to, but if you don’t, don’t be embarrassed to read to your belly! (This is the best book to read in utero.)

I like to start reading regularly with my babies when they are about 3-4 months old. At this point, they can hold their heads up, grab things, follow a moving object, and are more interested in shapes and patterns. The neural brain explosion occurs when babies are 6 months old, so you definitely want to make sure you’re reading by then.

What You’re Teaching

Here are some of the things babies are learning when you start reading with them.

  • What books are
  • How to hold a book
  • How to turn pages
  • Reading happens from left to right
  • Books have words and pictures
  • How to interact with books (get interactive books)
  • What a reading voice sounds like (the cadence and prosody of reading)
  • That reading is special and fun

How to Read with Your Baby

First of all, you need to make reading special. Get stacks of really good books that your baby will love, and put them near your rocking chair, the couch, and your arm chair. (I like keeping my books in baskets like this.) Make sure your baby is fed, rested, and happy, and then introduce a book. At first, babies will interact with a new book as they would any other toy, but after reading it over and over and over again, you will be completely blown away when your baby starts to recognize it. With some books, I also enjoy turning it into a song.

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

 

My Favorite Cloth Books

Board books are great, but for babies 3-6 months of age, I really love cloth books…especially when they start chewing on everything! There are so many different cloth books out there, but these are the ones that have stood the test of time for all five children.

  • Discovery Farm – This cloth book has many moving parts and is very engaging. I bought this for Ruby and still have it for baby #5!
  • Peek-a-Boo Forest – Lamaze always has great toys and books. This cute little cloth book about an owl is wonderful.
  • Fuzzy Bee – This cloth book is another favorite that we have used with all five kids. I love the little animals and interactive parts and so do our babies!
  • Sunny Day Come and Play – This is another family favorite cloth book with great interactive pages. It’s made by Manhattan Toy, and I love pretty much everything they make.
  • Peekaboo, I Love You – This is another Lamaze cloth book that I LOVE. Peekaboo is such a fun baby game and incorporating it into reading is just a wonderful idea. My babies love this book!

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

  • Home Library Starter – This is a great collection to start your library for a baby. It has a little bit of everything and will get your baby on the right track towards reading.
  • Baby’s Very First Black and White Library – The contrast of this black and white set makes these books perfect for newborns. Get the boxed set here.
  • Fold Out Books – These books are visually striking, and I like how they can create a scene that stands upright.
  • Baby’s Very First Stroller Books – These sturdy brightly colored books include an elastic attachment to affix the book to a stroller or baby gym.
  • Baby’s First Noisy Books – These engaging board books have a sound panel to the right that makes the book come to life.
  • Baby’s First Slide and See – These interactive books have a simple slide mechanism that adds an interesting motion to each book. They are very sturdy and can withstand inquisitive little fingers.
  • Baby’s First Playbook – These books have bright and interesting pictures with interactive elements like texture and lift the flap. They are very sturdy.
  • Baby’s First Bus Book – I love the thick cardboard wheels on this bus that actually turn and help the book stand up plus the bright and colorful illustrations.
  • Touchy Feely Board Books (That’s not my..) – These board books are very cute and simple with lots of interesting texture and repeated patterns. My older children even love them! This boxed set about zoo animals is a great collection.

In Conclusion

Reading with your baby shouldn’t be something you have to schedule in or even feel guilty about if you haven’t done it in awhile. If you set up an environment that is full of language rich experiences and lots of books, it will be easy to find moments here and there that are just right to snuggle up with a good book. If your baby is sitting on your lap, fed and content, and you’re wondering what to do beside having those wonderful face to face baby conversations, pick up a book and read it together!

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

#4-Build Vocabulary with Numbers, Colors, and Shapes

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Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning how to read depends heavily on a child’s background knowledge. Also called schema, prior knowledge, or just plain experience; basically it’s what happens when children make connections to what they are reading. This greatly increases their reading comprehension. Reading isn’t just sounding out letters on a page, it is finding meaning in written words. By teaching children numbers, colors, and shapes, it will give them the basic vocabulary to start understanding written text. I have chosen to focus my initial vocabulary development on these categories because they are EVERYWHERE in a child’s environment.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children about numbers, colors, and shapes is between 8-12 months of age. At this time, the neurons in their brains are exploding with growth! If you’re following my program, I recommend starting with the ABCs first, then introduce memorizing words, and when you feel like your child is ready (don’t overwhelm him or her), start adding numbers, colors, and shapes one at a time.

How to Teach

The way something becomes committed to long term memory is consistent repetition over a long period of time. The reason I love starting to teach my children how to read when they are super young is that it really doesn’t take much effort at all. By spending a few minutes here and there throughout the day teaching your child about numbers, colors, and shapes, after about 6-8 months, they should know them really well.

I like keeping several sets of my flashcards around the house and incorporate them into my daily routines. When my little ones start eating solid food, I find that this is a great time to watch videos and do flashcards. I love using  the videos on KidsTV123 and Busy Beavers to teach numbers, colors, and shapes. I also link to several other resources at the end of this article that will make teaching fun and easy.

Ophelia Counting Bears in a Mini Muffin Tin

Ophelia Counting Bears in a Mini Muffin Tin

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

Numbers

Learning that one object represents one thing (one to one principal) is the KEY to understanding all future math. When using these flashcards, practice pointing to each object as you count them.

1. Numbers Flashcards

These numbers flashcards only go to ten, but I HIGHLY recommend continuously adding on to that. Once children reach 10, go to 20, then 100. Have them practice counting by 10s and talking about even and odd as well. This will help them to really excel in math as they get older.

Numbers Flashcards First Page

Numbers Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Numbers Flashcards PDF

2. Numbers Poster

This Numbers Poster combines all of my Numbers Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Numbers Poster

Numbers Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Numbers Poster

Shapes

Learning about shapes lays the foundation for geometry. First, children should learn the names of the shapes and then they can learn about their attributes. Once children are familiar with the names of the shapes, you can start talking about their attributes by asking questions like: How many sides does this shape have? Are all of the sides equal in length? How many corners (vertices) are there? Are the sides across from each other going the same way (parallel)? Do you see any right angles? The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is a great resource for young children who are ready to learn more. Just check out their geometry section.

1. Shapes Flashcards

These shapes flashcards cover the basic shapes that children will encounter at a young age. Yes, there are sooooooo many more shapes to learn, and you should talk to your child about those once they master these, but these shapes are a GREAT place to start.

Shapes Flashcards First Page

Shapes Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Shapes Flashcards PDF

2. Shapes Poster

This Shapes Poster combines all of my Shapes Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Shapes Poster

Shapes Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Shapes Poster

Colors

Colors are a very easy attribute that children can readily recognize. As children are developing their vocabulary, describing the colors of things is a very easy thing for them to do that will build their confidence in language development. When children are familiar with the color words, start asking them what things are that color. “What things are red?” When children are holding an object, ask them what color it is. If they don’t know or say the wrong thing, tell them right away what it is.

1. Colors Flashcards

These color flashcards cover the basic colors that children will encounter in their environment. Once your child has mastered these colors, I definitely recommend teaching more. Using crayon labels is a great way to learn the names of more colors!

Colors Flashcards First Page

Colors Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the poster here: Colors Flashcards PDF

3. Colors Poster

This Colors Poster combines all of my Colors Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Colors Poster

Colors Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Colors Poster

Additional Resources

Most of these resources are things I have used and loved with my own children, but I did have to throw in a few other things that are on my wish list.

Numbers Resources

  • Meet the Numbers – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn numbers. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little one’s attention.
  • Ten Little Ladybugs – The raised ladybugs and the holes in the pages make it irresistible for little fingers. The rhyming text makes it very predictable to say the next number
  • First Numbers – Of all the number books we have in the house, this has been a favorite with every single one of our children. I love how it uses interesting images for each number and how it also shows larger numbers like 20, 50, and 100.
  • Magnetic Numbers – These magnetic numbers are a great way to teach numbers using a hands on resource. You’ll want a magnetic white board or some muffin tins with these.
  • 1-100 Numbers Poster – My kids LOVE this poster! It’s a great tool to teach children numbers up to 100. Make sure to hang it at their eye level.
  • Counting Car – This counting car from Lakeshore Learning is a GREAT way to teach children how to count.
  • Number Robots – This is for more for an older child, and is a great resource for reinforcing number with transforming robots.
  • Number Peg Boards – Peg boards are super fun as is, and these peg boards are a great way to learn about numbers and counting.

Shapes Resources

  • Meet the Shapes – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn colors. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little ones attention.
  • Shape by Shape – This book uses die-cut shapes to teach basic shapes like a triangle, crescent, semicircle, oval, and diamond by posing a simple question, “Do you know who I am?” Each page is vibrant with a minimal amount of text that allows the focus to be on the shape.
  • My Very First Book of Shapes (by Eric Carl) – This book uses Eric Carl’s chunky painting style to teach shapes if a very bright and colorful way.
  • Shape Sorting Center – Children can sort real life examples of shapes on to these shape sorting mats.
  • Pattern Blocks – Not only will children love playing with these shapes making beautiful patterns, but they will learn about shapes and their attributes through play.
  • 3-D Geometric Shapes Tub – These colorful solid plastic shapes are a fun hands-on way for children to learn about 3-D shapes.

Colors Resources

  • Meet the Colors – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn colors. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little ones attention.
  • Flaptastic Colors – This is the type of book you’ll want to have multiple copies of around the house! It is great for teaching little ones about colors and the interactive nature and extensive examples make it very engaging.
  • Curious Kittens: A Colors Book – The yarn that runs across each page is a true delight for babies to play with and a great way to learn colors.
  • My First Sorting Bears – Children can sort these cute little bears onto the color mats. I’m sure that children will like playing imagination games with these critters too!
  • Color Discovery Boxes – These color boxes come with a bunch of really cool objects that can be sorted by color.

Usborne books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

Numbers Resources

  • Learn Numbers with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book where they lift the flaps to learn about numbers 1-10.
  • 123 Counting – Designed for babies, this fold out/stand up book has high-contrast black and white images and patterns that are easily recognizable for babies.
  • Usborne Very First 1 2 3 – This book only goes up to number five, but is a great introduction for little ones to numbers.
  • Count to 100 – I LOVE this book! Teaching children to count to 10 is great, but showing them what 100 means is AMAZING!
  • How Big is a Million? – Showing young children the concept of one million is phenomenal, and this cute book with a penguin does a wonderful job! It also comes with a poster.
  • First Numbers Sticker Book – This would be a resource for a bit of an older child to use independently. Using stickers is a great way to reinforce skills.

Shapes Resources

Colors Resources

  • Learn Colors with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book while they lift the flaps to learn about colors.
  • Lift the Flap Colors – This bright lift the flap book gives children lots of practice naming basic colors in a fun and engaging way.
  • Usborne Very First Colors – This beautifully illustrated book is not only good at teaching colors using basic images, but is great at teaching vocabulary as well.
  • Big Book of Colors – I love how this book introduces children to many different color variations such as turquoise, vermillion, and magenta.
  • First Colors Sticker Book – The sticker books are for a bit of an older child, but I love how this book helps to reinforce color recognition.

In Conclusion

Oral language development is tied into reading more than people would think. As children interact with their environment, they need a guide (you) to help them provide them with the names of everything and to explain the world they are just learning about. Teaching numbers, colors, and shapes will give children some really basic descriptors that will help immensely with oral language development and will build background knowledge to create strong readers.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

12 Ways to Start a Good Breastfeeding Relationship with Your New Baby

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While it is true that breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t mean that it will come naturally to every mother. After having five children, I feel like I have experienced just about every breastfeeding obstacle imaginable, and yet somehow, each time I was able to overcome these difficulties and successfully breastfeed all of my children thanks to a wealth of support and resources.

Now, as I begin another breastfeeding relationship with our fifth baby, I feel confident knowing that I have a plethora of resources at my fingertips to help with any challenges I may have along the way.

I am hoping that I can share what I have learned and what has worked for me over the years so that other mothers can also feel like they have a bag of tricks to reach into and to know that whatever they are going through, there are resources available, and they are not alone.

1. Knowledge is Power

By educating yourself about breastfeeding before your little one is born, you will be better equipped to deal with any troubles if and when they arise.

  • It Will Hurt at First – Especially if this is your first, breastfeeding is going to hurt a bit for the first couple of weeks, and then like some sort of magic, the pain will fade, and you’ll become a seasoned pro! The pain after latching shouldn’t hurt for more than about 5-10 seconds though. If it does, you may be dealing with a bad latch, thrush, or some other issue. (More on this later.)
  • Benefits of Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding has so many amazing benefits such as the transfer of antibodies from mother to baby (so less illness), the decreased likelihood of allergies and dental caries, and the appropriate jaw, teeth, speech, and overall facial development to name a few. Mothers will benefit from reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer in addition to saving time by always having a perfect food source warm and ready to go. (Read about more benefits at the La Leche League website.)
  • It’s Not as Common as You Would Think – I think there’s an overall misconception that breastfeeding will come naturally, easily, without complications, and that everyone is doing it. The reality is that 21% of women in the U.S. will not breastfeed at birth and that only 49% of women are still breastfeeding after 6 months (according to 2014 CDC data).

2. Nursing a Newborn

The first 24 hours after your baby is born are crazy! Here you are reveling in the miracle of the birth process…sweaty, bloody, possibly still having yet to deliver the placenta, and here is this tiny creature placed upon your chest, covered with vernix, blood, and breathing oxygen for the first time.

  • Skin to Skin – The first hour of life is a very precious time, and if a baby is put on its mother’s chest right away there are numerous observable benefits including better respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability, decreased stress and less crying, and most importantly, the ability for the baby to find the breast and self attach. With midwifery care, this is standard practice, but if you’re having a hospital birth, you may want to put this into your birth plan.
  • Rooting and Sucking Reflexes – Babies are born with the natural ability to root, which means they will open their mouths if you touch their chin or cheek as they look for the nipple. The sucking reflex is also primitive and allows babies to express milk out of whatever touches the roof of their mouths.
  • Breast Crawl – Babies are born with an instinctual reflex called the breast crawl, where if you put a newborn on his stomach, he will scoot himself up to the breast and latch on by himself. I heard about the breast crawl before my fourth birth, and I kind of tried it, but I just wanted to cuddle him close rather than make him work to find me. Needless to say, it’s pretty cool how babies are perfectly designed so that their needs met.
  • Pumping and a Dropper – Even though we were able to get Ruby to latch on at the birth center, I couldn’t get her to latch on once we got home for what seemed like an eternity. So in a moment of desperation (and brilliance), I pumped my colostrom into a bottle and fed it to her with a dropper until she was able to latch. (This is a good way to avoid the introduction of formula if you’re having a bit of a rough start.)
  • Stomach Size – Newborn babies have VERY tiny stomachs (the size of a marble for the first few days), and do not need an abundance of food. By day three or so when your milk comes in, their stomachs will be about the size of a walnut and ready for increasingly more milk.

3. Best Position to Nurse

By the time my babies are about 3 months old, I feel like an old nursing pro. I can get them to latch on without looking, even while lying down and half asleep. But when we are just beginning our breastfeeding relationship, I need to keep these things in mind.

  • Get in Position – By sitting on the edge of my bed or in a rocking chair with a nursing stool, I will lean forward slightly to get in the best position to feed my baby.
  • Cradle Hold – This is the easiest hold to master. In order to do it correctly, make sure that your baby’s chest is lined up with yours and that his or her feet are stacked up on top of each other. His or her head should be nestled in the crook of your arm, and his or her lower arm should be tucked behind your back. I LOVE using My Breast Friend to support this position. A bobby can work too.
    • Other Holds – You might also find success with the crossover hold (same as cradle but with arms reversing jobs and the hand cradling the head), the football hold (where you tuck the baby under your arm like a football with its legs sticking out towards your back), or the reclining position (where you nurse lying down).
  • Room to Breath – Make sure that your baby’s nasal passages are free from boogers (I love using a rolled up tissue to pull boogers out or a saline mist and the Nosefrida for congestion) and that your breast isn’t covering up your baby’s nostrils as you begin feeding.
  • A Comfortable Head Rest – I have found that if I just put the baby’s head in the crook of my arm it gets all sweaty and uncomfortable, but if I tuck a soft blanket under the head, they are much more comfortable. I also like to use the blanket as a way to cover myself if I’m nursing in public and to shade my little one’s eyes if they are falling asleep.

4. How to Get a Good Latch

Once you’re in a good position, the next thing to think about is establishing a good latch. A good latch will be both comfortable and effective. Sometimes when a baby first latches on there is a bit of discomfort, but the pain shouldn’t linger and it shouldn’t be excruciating. If it is, you may have a bad latch.

  • Open Wide: Make sure the baby’s mouth is wide open. You can stimulate this reflex by rubbing your nipple on his or her upper lip.
  • Nipple Flip: Flip the nipple into the baby’s mouth for a deep latch.
  • Roll the Nipple: If the nipple is flat, roll it until it becomes hard.
  • Pinkie Trick: If the baby is having difficulty latching on, put your pinkie into his or her mouth (nail side down) until he or she establishes a good sucking motion. Then, do the old bait and switch by pulling out your pinkie and quickly inserting your nipple.
  • Break the Latch: There might be a bit of pain initially as you get used to the feeling of breastfeeding, but if the pain persists, break the latch by inserting your finger in between your nipple and the baby’s mouth and start over.
  • Keep Trying: If the two of you are not getting a good latch right away, don’t stress out about it. Just keep switching sides, taking breaks, and trying again. You’ll get it eventually. If it’s really taking awhile, you can pump some colostrum and feed it to your baby with a dropper. Their stomachs are the size of marbles at this point, so they don’t need much.
  • Avoid Nipple Confusion: I would avoid using nipple shields. They might work in the short term, but it will be even hard to get your baby to latch on to your nipple after successfully latching on to the nipple shield. I would also avoid all pacifiers and bottles for the first few weeks (or until nursing is established) to avoid nipple confusion.
5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

5. Feeding on Demand

Even though newborns need to eat every 1.5-3 hours (with never more than 4 hours in between feedings), I have never felt like I was on a feeding schedule or had to wake my babies up to feed them. Sometimes my babies cluster feed (typically in the evenings), and other times they go long periods just sleeping without eating at all.

I typically nurse on my left side first because it doesn’t produce as much milk and then switch to my right side that produces a LOT more milk. If my right side isn’t fully drained, I’ll start there at the next feeding. (Draining the breast helps to ensure that the baby gets the fatty “hind milk” and prevents you from getting plugged ducts and mastitis.)

When I feed my babies on demand, they always get really chubby. I love the rolls upon rolls and the squishy little cheeks! Some people worry that fat babies will lead to obesity down the road, but studies actually show that the fatter the baby, the skinnier the adult. So feed those babies!

Signs Your Baby is Hungry:

  • Getting a little fussy
  • Opening and closing mouth
  • Rooting around your chest
  • Sucking on objects
  • It’s been a couple of hours since the last feeding

6. Setting Up Nursing Stations

You will want to have at least one primary nursing station set up in your home stocked with everything you’ll need while nursing. As our family and our home has grown, I now actually have three separate nursing stations set up.

My main nursing station is in our mini living room and not only does it have everything I’ll need while nursing, but around it are things to keep my little ones entertained while I’m sitting down to nurse. My 2 year old, Julian, LOVES playing with cars, so I have boxes of cars and ramps for him to play with and my 3 year old, Ophelia, loves doing puzzles and reading books so I have a rack of puzzles and baskets of books for her.

The View From My Nursing Chair

The View From My Nursing Chair

Everything You Need for a Nursing Station

  • Rocking Chair – Each type of rocking chair serves a different purpose.
    • Gliding Rocker – This is the most comfortable day time chair for me. I use this type of chair in our mini living room where I spend most of my time during the day. I love the way it glides back and forth and the arm rests are great for nursing.
    • Old Fashioned Wicker Rocker – I found mine at a garage sale, otherwise these are kind of hard to come by. I LOVE the sweeping up and down motion of this rocker. It is really good for calming a fussy baby.
    • Rocking and Reclining Arm Chair – This chair is soooooooo comfortable, and I am so sad that I waited until baby #5 to get one. I love snuggling up in it at the end of the day to cluster feed before bed time.
  • Nursing Stool – This will help you to get into the best position possible for nursing in any rocking chair.
  • My Breast Friend – I have tried the Boppy, but this is way more comfortable. It’s a little tricky to put on if you’re holding your little one, so try to get it clicked before you pick him or her up.
  • Manual Breast Pump – Having a double duty battery operated breast pump like this is really great, but having a noiseless hand pump has helped me on numerous occasions as well. It’s also nice to have a dropper in case you’re having a hard time nursing at first.
  • Water Bottle – I always like to drink lots of water whenever I nurse. I usually just fill up mason jars and use lids like these.
  • Nose Frida with Saline Spray– I like to use this snot sucker with saline spray to get the boogers out.
My Living Room Nursing Station

My Living Room Nursing Station

8. Take Care of Your Nipples

The first two weeks of breastfeeding are the toughest. As a first time mom, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could, but I was a bit discouraged during my first two weeks because of how much it hurt. After two weeks, however, my nipples weren’t as sensitive, we were figuring out the whole latch thing, and it suddenly became much much easier. After a month, I felt like an old pro, and after 3 months, I was nursing in my sleep. Here are some tips for dealing with sensitive nipples.

  • Use a Nipple Cream: If your nipples get sore or cracked, this stuff is great. Just keep in mind that whatever cream you start using, your baby will get used to and won’t like it if you switch!
  • Use Breast Milk: If your nipples are just a little dry or sensitive, give them a little milk bath. It’s very healing.
  • Let Them Air Out: Walk around the house with your shirt off or just cover up loosely with a robe. Your husband will love it and so will your nipples.
  • Cover Them Tightly: I have always been a sleep in a t-shirt kind of girl, but when I’m nursing, I hate the feeling of fabric rubbing against my nipples. I like to bind them up with a bellaband or nighttime nursing bra. The pressure feels great, and it prevents them from leaking all over the place.

9. Avoid Coffee

Even though only a small amount of caffeine is passed to the baby, the half life (meaning the time it takes for the caffeine to be at half of its potency) of coffee in newborns is 97.5 hours (versus 4.9 hours in an adult, 14 hours in a 3-6 month old, and 2.6 hours in a 6+ month old baby). With Ruby, our firstborn, I would drink coffee after nursing each morning, and then like clockwork, she would experience a “witching hour” for four hours every night where she was inconsolable. By the time we started experiencing this with our third child, Ophelia, our midwife told us about the half life of coffee and how it affects babies. I stopped drinking coffee and noticed that Ophelia no longer had any inconsolable fussy times anymore.

Read more about caffeine and breastfeeding here.

Alternatives to Coffee

  • Teeccino  – If you add cream to this it tastes very much like coffee.
  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Although it is most beneficial during pregnancy, red raspberry leaf tea can help to decrease post natal bleeding and increase milk supply. (Source)
  • Mother’s Milk Tea – This contains many herbs (like fenugreek) that help to stimulate milk production.
  • Kombucha – Kombucha is a great alternative to soda and beer and is full of healthy probiotics. If you don’t want to buy it, you can make your own.
  • Glass Water Bottle – Drinking lots and lots of water is very important so that you have enough fluids to make all of that milk.

10. Best Diet for Nursing Mothers

I feel like I am at my hungriest when I’m nursing, especially when they start to get closer to that 6 month mark. The time right before they are introduced to solid foods, but still somehow gain tremendous amounts of weight…all from my milk! I love it!

When babies are in the womb, they have our bodies and the placenta to help them filter through whatever food we’re eating, but when they are nursing, they have to go through digestion alone. This is why it is even more important to eat a healthy diet and stay well hydrated. A healthy diet for pregnant and nursing moms should include plenty of raw milk, pastured eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, grass fed beef, wild caught fish (like salmon), bone broth soup, organic soaked grains, and organic fruits and vegetables.

The important thing is to have healthy meals prepared ahead of time so that you’re not reaching for a bag of chips or tempted by fast food. I like making a making a big pot roast, rotisserie chicken, or healthy soup so that there is always something nourishing that I can grab from the fridge. Things like hard boiled eggs, chunks of cheese, cut up veggies, sourdough muffins, and fresh fruit make good snacks to keep around.

11. Things That Can Make Breastfeeding Challenging

For some women, breastfeeding is easy, for others it is more of a challenge. I highly recommend contacting your local La Leche League (an incredibly helpful breastfeeding organization) before you give birth so that you will a nursing support resource ready to go. Also, if you are a first time mom, I highly recommend taking any classes that are offered and talk to your doctor or midwife about what breastfeeding support they offer.

  • Epidural – The effects of anesthesia or an epidural make both the mother and the baby tired and sluggish which can make breastfeeding difficult at first.
  • Traumatic Birth Experience – If you had a traumatic birth experience, it can have a negative effect on both you and your baby in terms of breastfeeding. Read more about healing from a traumatic birth here.
  • Lip Tie/Tongue Tie – You can see if your baby has a lip tie by trying to flip his or her upper lip to see if it’s tethered by a flap of skin. Babies with lip ties will have difficulty forming a good latch and you may notice a lip blister from the top lip not flaying out while nursing. You can see if your baby has a tongue tie by looking under the tongue to see if it’s tethered to the bottom of the mouth by a flap of skin. Babies who are tongue tied have difficulty forming a good latch. Read more about identifying and dealing with tongue and lip tie here.
  • Thrush – If you had a yeast infection when you had a vaginal birth, the candida can transfer to the baby and cause thrush. Thrush will present itself in a baby as white patches in the mouth that will bleed if you try to scrape them away. It also makes nursing extremely painful for the mother if she gets the thrush in her nipples. Read more about thrush here.
  • Nursing Strike – Maybe you introduced a pacifier or bottle too soon and now your baby isn’t interested in your breast, or maybe there is some other external factor that is making your baby not want to nurse. In order to overcome a nursing strike, you just have to keep trying different ways to establish closeness with your baby. I have had success taking a warm bath with my little one to reestablish nursing after a nursing strike.
  • Plugged Ducts and/or Mastitis – If you don’t fully drain each breast after nursing, the ducts can become plugged and eventually lead to mastitis (which is VERY painful). When you’re nursing, make sure you are draining each breast fully and switch sides in a regular pattern so that both breasts are getting the chance to be drained. It may also be helpful to massage your breast as you are nursing to help express all of the milk.

12. What to Do if You Can’t Nurse

  • Warm Bath – When nothing else seems to work, taking a warm bath with my little one has always helped to improve things. This is a very womb like experience for your baby that is quite relaxing.
  • Get Support – Contact your local La Leche League for support, let your midwife or doctor know what is going on, talk to a friend, talk to your spouse, and get as much support as you can to continue your breastfeeding relationship. It is very helpful to have someone to talk to when things aren’t going very well.
  • CranioSacral Therapy – CranioSacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, noninvasive form of bodywork that addresses the bones of the head, spinal column, and sacrum with the goal of releasing compression in those areas to alleviate pain. It is especially helpful for babies who seem unwilling or unable to nurse properly.
  • Chiropractor – Going through the birth canal or being delivered by cesarean can misalign a baby’s delicate structure that can lead to problems nursing. A chiropractor can gently work on an infant as soon as they are born to get everything back into place.
  • Supplement – If for whatever reason, nursing is just not working out for you or you are in need of supplementation, you don’t have to go straight to formula. On the Weston Price website, Sally Fallon explains how to make raw milk baby formula. Using clean whole raw milk from cows certified free of disease and fed on green pastures with ingredients like gelatin and expeller-expressed oils (making it more digestible for the infant) added is the next best thing to breast milk. For sources of good quality milk, see www.realmilk.com or contact a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

In Conclusion

I will always treasure the special time I’ve had with each of my children as I’ve nursed them. In the first few months when everything is new and my little one is attached to my breast 24/7, I cherish these times more than anything in the world. It is an honor to bring life into this world, and it is an honor to be able to sustain the life that I delivered with nourishment from my own body. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Setting Up an Outdoor Play Tent Sanctuary 

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Setting up a tent outdoors isn’t just for camping! Every spring, we set up a tent in our backyard to use as a sanctuary and a holding tank, and it has been a very beloved location, especially when we have little babies.

In Michigan, we get REALLY excited when spring arrives! The problem is that even though the snow thaws, it’s still pretty chilly (and windy) until June. Having this permanent tent set up ensures that we always have a warm place to play that will allow us to enjoy the fresh outdoor air while staying protected from the elements.

Materials Needed

  • Tent – We usually just go to the nearest box store and pick up whatever is cheapest. (We learned the hard way this year, however, that it’s very important to make sure the tent has a window so you can get a cross breeze.) We’ve been setting up outdoor tents for the past 4 years and have never had a tent that lasts more than one year. By the time snow falls, the walls of the tent are so worn, they just rip apart. Because of this, we usually go with a cheap tent like this. This tent would be a a bit more luxurious and if you’re looking for a really permanent tent, you can go with one of these canvas tents.
  • Padding – Some foam padding like this 1-inch king size mattress topper (or this 4-inch mattress topper) will turn your tent into one big comfy bed!
  • Waterproof Cover – There is always a bit of water getting into the tent for one reason or another, so it’s a good idea to cover your foam padding with something like this.
  • Sheet – I like to put a fitted king size sheet over the waterproof cover.
  • Blankets – I don’t think we can ever have enough blankets in this household, so I am always on the lookout for good blankets like this at garage sales and thrift stores. I put one blanket down under the pillows and baskets of books and another blanket loosely on top. This second blanket can easily be taken out and shaken if it gets covered in sand and debris. This is also the blanket I’ll use if I want to have a blanket on the grass.
  • Pillows – Having about 3-4 pillows makes it really nice to stretch out for a little snooze.
  • BasketsWicker baskets like these are really nice for holding books and a shallow basket like this is really nice for holding toys.
  • Books – I love having a wide assortment of books, but I don’t keep my best out here in case of water or other damage.
  • Coloring Supplies – This is the first time I’ve included coloring supplies like coloring books, workbooks, blank notebooks, pencil boxes with pencils and crayons, and the bigger kids really enjoy it!
  • Toys – Because I have kids ranging from newborn to elementary school age, I have a variety of different toys that everyone can enjoy.
  • Little Chair – The kids especially love this little chair when I put it out on a blanket in the grass. Reading is always more fun when you’re in a little chair!
  • Diapers and Wipes – Because our tent is a little ways from the house, it’s nice to be able to change a diaper without having to go inside.
Outdoor Tent in Use

Outdoor Tent in Use

Directions

  1. Find a good location. It’s nice to have something that can be in shade or partial shade so it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. It’s also nice to have the opening of the tent facing an area of high activity so that you can see what’s going on when you’re in the tent and vice versa.
  2. Set up the tent. We keep our tent in the same spot every year, so after the grass died and it was all dirt, we leveled it with a rake to make it flat.
  3. Put some sheets of wood in front of the tent. You could also use a big rug or Astro turf, but basically you want something to keep grass and dirt out of the tent.
  4. Fill it with fun stuff. Based on the ages of your children, location of the tent, and the purpose of the tent, you will want to fill the tent with things to suit your needs. I like filling my tent with books, coloring supplies, toys, and pillows and blankets.
  5. Play inside the tent. I like to keep the tent closed if it’s going to rain, but as soon as we head out to play I like to open it up and let the kids come and go as they please.
  6. Use the tent as a holding tank. If we want to hang out outside with babies, I like taking a blanket out of the tent and putting toys, books, and the little chair on it.
  7. Keep it clean. When our tent gets full of sand, dirt, grass, and leaves, I am so happy that I keep my extra blanket nestled lightly on top so that I can easily shake it out. If it gets really dirty, I’ll take everything out and either sweep or use the leaf blower.

In Conclusion

We enjoy setting up our tent as soon as the snow is gone and leave it up until snow threatens to fall again. We have enjoyed having a tent every year for the past four years and will probably continue to enjoy one for many years to come.

*Update: We had a big windstorm that ripped our tent to shreds, so we opted for a bigger more expensive tent, and boy am I glad we did! My husband recently spent the night out here with our two older children, and they all loved it!

Our New and Improved Tent

Our New and Improved Tent

26 Ways to Calm a Fussy Newborn

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Trying to calm a fussy, or inconsolable, or screaming newborn can be a very stressful time for parents. Throughout the pregnancy, the focus is most likely on the growth of the baby, preparations for birth, and setting up the nursery. Being up in the night with a fussy and inconsolable baby is probably not something a new parent thinks to plan for…but it should be.

With our first born, Ruby, we were blindsided by her fussiness and felt like we didn’t have enough tricks up our sleeves to calm her down.

I remember one night, after she had been screaming and inconsolable for hours and hours, we called 9-1-1 (after trying the pediatrician first). When the firefighters came stomping up our three flights of stairs and barged into our little condo, Ruby was instantly mesmerized and of course stopped crying. I saw the firefighter chuckle to themselves and heard them make some comments to each other about new parents. It’s funny now, but I was sleep deprived and terrified then that something might be dreadfully wrong.

After Ruby, we learned many more ways to calm fussy babies besides going for long walks or drives, but it wasn’t until after baby number five that I’ve finally feel like I have a full arsenal of ways to calm fussy babies at my fingertips.

One of the most important pieces of advice I have is to be proactive. Many of the tips and tricks I’ll share have to do with preventing fussiness and the rest will give you a bag of tricks to pull from if and when your baby is fussy.

1. Avoid Coffee

I’ve never completely eliminated coffee while breastfeeding until Jack, and let me tell you it has made a WORLD of difference. When I learned that the half life of caffeine elimination in a newborn was 97.5 hours, I was finally convinced to give up the java. With every other baby, I just expected that being up in the night was a normal part of caring for a new baby. Jack is almost two months old now, and I haven’t been up in the night even once with him. If you’re looking for a good coffee substitute, I recommend teeccino.

2. Chiropractic Care

The other reason why I think Jack is so calm is because we took him to a chiropractor shortly after he was born. I was having trouble nursing him on the left side, and apparently it was due to a misalignment in his neck. (During birth he was posterior, turned into the correct position right as I was about to push, and was born very quickly – all of which probably contributed to the misalignment.)

For the procedure, the chiropractor laid him on his back for the adjustment (which was basically like a massage), and he was very calm and happy during the whole thing. Afterwards, he nursed like a champ on both sides. When looking for a chiropractor, I advise looking for a holistic one who specializes in working with infants.

Check out this amazing video of an infant getting immediate relief after chiropractic care.

3. CranioSacral Therapy

CranioSacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, noninvasive form of bodywork that addresses the bones of the head, spinal column, and sacrum with the goal of releasing compression in those areas to alleviate pain. It is especially helpful for babies who seem unwilling or unable to nurse properly. When Julian was a newborn, we took him to a CranioSacral practitioner to help him with his tongue tie. It didn’t really help with the tongue tie, but we noticed a huge difference in how calm he was afterwards.

Going through the birth canal or being delivered by cesarean can misalign a baby’s delicate structure and cranial sacral therapy helps to realign everything.

4. Honor the 4th Trimester

After spending nine months in the womb, the outside world must be a real shock for a new baby. By making the outside environment as “womb-like” as possible, it will help to prevent fussiness and create a smooth transition.

  • Skin to Skin: I love doing skin to skin as much as possible after birth until my babies are adjusted. It helps with nursing, bonding, and maintains the same comforts as the womb.
  • Feeding on Demand: There is no need to worry about a feeding schedule, just nurse whenever your baby is hungry. Newborns generally need to nurse about every two hours, but may cluster feed at certain times and sleep longer and not eat for longer times.
  • Baby Wearing: Using a baby sling or carrier is a great way to keep your baby close so he or she can be close to your skin, beating heart, the sound of your voice, and the gentle swaying of your motions. My favorite carriers are the Moby Wrap, a ring sling, and an Ergo Carrier with an infant insert.
  • Co-Sleeping: Feeding on demand is made much easier by co-sleeping. In most parts of the world (except the United States), co-sleeping is the norm. New research shows how it’s actually safer than putting a baby in a separate room and bed.

I find it fascinating that in other more primitive cultures, fussy and crying babies are a rarity. This is because babies in these cultures are treated like an attachment to the mother and aren’t “trained” in any way. (Source)

5. Check Basic Needs

Whenever my babies get fussy, the first thing I do is cycle through the basics. Does he need a diaper change? Does he need to burp? What about nursing? Maybe he’s tired? As a mom, my sixth sense sometimes just knows what my babies need, but this amazing woman, Priscilla Dunstan, figured out how to decipher the meaning of a baby’s cries.

The five sounds in the Dunstan Baby Language are:

• “Neh” – meaning, “I’m hungry”
• “Owh” – meaning, “I’m tired”
• “Heh” – meaning, “I’m uncomfortable”
• “Eairh” – meaning, “I have lower gas”
• “Eh” – meaning, “I need to burp”

6. Warm Bath

Being naked in a warm bath with you is as close to a womb experience as you can create. Within the first few hours after birth, I always like taking a nice healing herbal bath with my newborns. This is a great time for us to relax and bond after birth, and my little ones always enjoy nursing in the water. When I was having trouble getting Ophelia to latch when she was three days old (I tried a pacifier with her too early, and it created nipple confusion.), we took a bath together it she latched on right away. My babies love it when I hold their heads so they can move their arms and legs freely in the water.

7. Don’t Keep a Baby Awake

When our firstborn, Ruby, was an infant, I had this crazy idea that if I kept her awake more during the day, she would sleep better at night. But then she would get overtired, and getting an overtired baby to go to sleep is not an easy task.

The best rule of thumb to remember with babies and sleep is that the more they sleep, the better they’ll sleep. Trying to get a newborn on any type of schedule or predictable routine is just not going to work. The best thing to do is to just go with the flow and let our little ones sleep whenever they’d like and for as long as they’d like.

8. Red Light at Night

As for lighting, red lights are the best because they keep the pupils from dilating which allows your baby to remain in a sleepy state while allowing you to see during late night nursing sessions. Something like this salt lamp or this tree lamp (we unscrew the other bulbs so only the reddish lights are on) would be perfect. The soft glow of a fireplace in the winter is great too!

9. Not Too Hot or Cold

Newborns don’t have a lot of body fat to keep them warm and struggle to maintain their body temperature if the environment is too cold. That is why it’s best to dress babies in one more layer than we do to keep warm. So if you’re hanging out in a t-shirt, your baby will probably want to put your baby in a footed sleeper with long sleeves. I typically like to keep my babies a little under-dressed, however, so that I can wrap them up in one of my homemade silky blankets! But beware of overdoing it as well. A little bit of sweat is normal, but if your baby is in pools of sweat, he or she is too hot! Babies dressed in too many layers are at a greater risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

10. Swaddle

Swaddling helps to recreate the tight environment of the womb. Some of our babies have totally loved this and others didn’t much care for it. These aden + anais cloths are great for swaddling and so are these summer swaddlers, but really any receiving blanket will do. Just make sure that you are following the guidelines for the new swaddle that keep the legs more free so that your baby doesn’t get hip dysplasia. Watch this video to see the proper way to swaddle.

11. Sucking

Sucking releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) in both the mother and the baby, which is nature’s way of rewarding them both for breastfeeding. 🙂 In between feedings, newborns might also enjoy sucking on your pinkie (nail side down).

I would avoid using a pacifier for the first few weeks because it can create nipple confusion and make breastfeeding more difficult, but once breastfeeding is established, pacifiers are just fine. There is no evidence that pacifiers affect baby teeth and they have actually been proven to reduce SIDS. Just look for some that are BPA free.

12. Get the Boogers Out

Babies can get really fussy if they can’t breathe because boogers are blocking their nasal passages. When they are first born, babies have this white sticky boogers that you’ll need to pull out. I like to take a kleenex and twist a piece of it into a little swirl. Then I spin it into the nostril and spin it out. This usually catches the booger and drags it out.

If there’s any congestion or lots of boogers, I like using saline and a Nose Frida. My babies always HATE this, so I have to hold them snugly, give a quick squirt up each nostril, and gently use the Nose Frida to suck out the boogers. I also keep a kleenex close by to wipe the nose and then I use it to catch the boogers as I blow them out from the Nose Frida.

13. Nose Rub

Every single one of my babies (and even toddlers) love the nose rub. When they are tired, but not wanting to go sleep, I gently run my fingers down the bridge of their nose in a way that also lets my fingers shadow their eyes. Every time my fingers go over their eyes, they close for a bit, then close for a bit longer, and then finally shut. If I stop and they open their eyes, I keep going. Sometimes I’ll also rub their head and cheeks.

I love this video that shows a little baby falling asleep as a light cloth is repeatedly swiped over its face.

14. Shushing

A harsh shushing sound mimics the sound of the mother’s blood flow that babies hear in the womb. This is why using a box fan for white noise is so great, but if you need to take things to the next level, this shushing technique is really effective. Basically, you get really close to the baby’s ear and make a shushing sound as loud as you can and for as long as you can.

In his book and videoThe Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Harvey Karp explains how the best way to calm your newborn and get him or her to sleep is by re-creating the noises, movement, and snug environment of the womb.

15. Calm Music

Calming music can also provide a very soothing type of white noise. With every baby, I’ve enjoyed listening to something new. Sometimes I’ll get into Enya on Pandora, other times I like Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions with the itunes visualizer turned on, and right now, I’m really liking this lullaby mix on YouTube that has some great visuals which are mesmerizing for me as well as Jack.

16. Mother’s Voice

Starting at 23 weeks gestation, babies can hear sounds in the outside world – including the sounds of voices. During the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, research has proven that babies can actually distinguish the sound of their mother’s voice. At birth, babies recognize and prefer the sound of their mother’s voice.

I love talking to my babies, singing to them, and whispering in their ears telling them how much I love them. Jack is 7 weeks old now and we’re enjoying the best conversations with each other while I hold him close and gaze into his eyes. He is completely transfixed. If someone else is holding him and he hears my voice, he’ll quickly turn his head to see me. If he gets a little fussy, I’ll sing him a little song and all of the troubles in the world melt away.

17. Bounce and Pat

For this maneuver, place the baby in an upright position with its head resting on your shoulder and bounce while gently patting the baby on his or her back or bottom. This position is particularly good if the baby is gassy. While holding the baby, you can bounce on an exercise ball, walk around, dance, or sway back and forth.

18. Rocking

I highly recommend investing in at least one good rocking chair. I currently have three set up and Jack loves the rocking motion while I nurse. First of all, I have an old fashioned wicker rocker (that I got at a garage sale) in our bedroom that Scott and I take turns using while holding Jack (primarily during our bedtime routine with the older kids). This type of rocking chair has a great sweeping up and down rock that is very calming for a fussy baby.

In our mini living room, I have a gliding rocker (I call this one my throne because I spend the most time here). The gliding motion is mostly back and forth, not up and down, so it’s not as soothing, but it’s very comfortable. Then in our main living room (where Scott and I hang out after the kids go to bed), we have the most luxurious rocking and reclining arm chair (we just found one at a thrift store, but I linked to one that looks really special). This is the kind of chair that I love to criss cross my legs and snuggle into at the end of the day.

With all three I like using this nursing stool and My Breast Friend.

19. Swinging

There are times when I’m just too tired to rock and bounce and dance, and a nice swing has been a life saver. I really like this small portable swing the best. I can easily carry it from room to room, it’s not a battery hog, the swinging is silent, and the motion is subtle and gentle. I also really like this Fisher-Price Cradle ‘n Swing. It takes up a bit of room and has a bit more noise, but it offers many different swinging options and the mobile is very distracting as well. And while not technically a swing, I LOVE putting my little babies to sleep in this vibrating bassinet.

20. Tummy to Chest

Little babies love sleeping on their tummies with their heads nestled near your neck and little legs tucked up on your chest. This is a great way to do skin to skin as well. In this position, the baby is near your heart beat and voice, and you can gently pat his or her back to help get out any gas. I think the pressure of being on their tummies feels good if they have a little gas.

If you’re looking for a way to recreate this with a machine, check out this video of a fussy baby being settled with the Babo Cush. You can buy both the rocker and the cushion at the Babo Cush website here.

21. Tummy Rub

I can tell when Jack has to poop or pass gas because he’ll start grunting and squirming. When I put my hand on his stomach for a gentle massage, it really calms him down. I will rub my hands in a downward motion, rub in a circular pattern, or just leave my hand there to gently apply pressure to his tummy.

I can only imagine what it must be like to have to learn how to poop, and even though babies have an uncontrolled stooling reflex, sometimes the muscles of the anus don’t relax at the proper time so your baby will push hard with the diaphragm and belly muscles while holding the anus tightly closed.

When this happens, you can rub their tummy, pump their legs in a bicycle motions, hold them upright on your shoulder, or lay them down to let nature take it’s course.

22. Colic Calm

Colic is technically defined as a baby who cries for more than 3 hours a day and for more than 3 days a week. Although the cause is unknown, it is believed to be due to some sort of intestinal cramping. Dr. Harvey Karp believes colic is a myth and that newborns really need a 4th trimester to develop with conditions similar to those in the womb. In any case, when my babies have been really fussy and I suspect intestinal troubles, I love using Colic Calm. It is a natural homeopathic oral remedy designed to help with colic, stomach pains, reflux, and gas. It is made with charcoal, so don’t be surprised by the black color (or your baby’s black poop).

23. Water Dropper

I learned this little trick from my midwife, Laurie Zoyiopoulos, who learned it from some of her Amish clients. When the Amish are dealing with a fussy newborn, they simply give him or her a little bit of water, and it calms the baby down right away. Maybe it’s because the colostrum just isn’t satisfying enough, or maybe it helps to soothe an upset tummy, but for whatever reason, this trick really really works! When Julian would get really fussy and nothing else would soothe him, I would give him a little dropper of water, and he would calm right down. My husband really appreciated knowing this trick as well!

24. Hair Tourniquet

In rare occasions, an adult hair can become wrapped around a finger or toe and cut off circulation. (Read more here.) I always like to give my babies a physical once over to see if I can spot something that is causing them pain. Maybe a cookie crumb is lodged in the crook of their neck, maybe a fold of skin has some gunk in it that’s turning into a rash, or perhaps a hair has become wrapped around one of their extremities and is causing pain. It can be quite a guessing game!

25. Tongue or Lip Tie

If a baby is tongue tied or lip tied, it means that there is an extra flap of skin that makes it hard to nurse properly. Julian had a pretty severe tongue tie and as a result he had a hard time latching correctly which made him take in a lot of air. This caused him to be gassy, very fussy, and up in the night every 45 minutes to eat. A lip tie can have the same effect. If you suspect a lip tie or tongue tie, check out my blog here for more information.

26. Thrush

For the mother, thrush can mean sore nipples and painful nursing, for a baby thrush can mean white patches of painful sores in the mouth. If your baby has thrush, it means that you probably had a yeast infection during a vaginal birth. Milk spots in the mouth will go away on their own, but white spots from thrush will remain. If you want to learn more about remedies for thrush, check out my blog here. (And if you’re still pregnant and reading this, check out my blog about curing a yeast infection while you’re pregnant so you can avoid thrush.)

In Conclusion

You are not a bad parent if your newborn cries. Yes, they cry as a way to communicate and it’s our job to figure out what they’re trying to say, but it’s a big adjustment moving to the outside world from the womb and there are going to be a few tears shed. The best things you can do are to: 1) be proactive by taking measures to prevent fussiness in the first place, 2) be prepared with a variety of tricks up your sleeve to use when your baby does get fussy, 3) stay calm, and 4) be patient. If you keep rotating through a variety of strategies, you will eventually find something that works. Then, when you know what has been troubling your little guy or girl, you can make a plan so that things will get better in the future.

Time goes by fast, so enjoy these precious moments with your newborn and know that by the time they are 3 months old, they will finally be settled into their new world and things will be a lot easier. You’ve got this!

Why I Won’t Drink Coffee While Breastfeeding

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Why I Won't Drink Coffee While Breastfeeding

After being up in the night with my little ones, I used to feel like the only thing that could get me through the next day was coffee. I knew that I shouldn’t consume too much caffeine while breastfeeding, but every resource I read said that it was okay to drink coffee moderately while breastfeeding. So I did.

While breastfeeding my first two children (Ruby and Elliot), I drank coffee in the morning, but then after Ophelia, I quit upon the recommendation of my midwife. When Ophelia’s fussiness completely stopped and she began sleeping through the night, I learned then and there that the cause of so many sleepless nights and so many fussy evenings were the result of me drinking coffee.

Now, after the birth of my fifth baby, I did some eye opening research that has made it easy for me to completely give up coffee and to be vigilant about avoiding all products containing caffeine including black tea kombucha and chocolate. It may seem like a lot to give up, but Jack is almost two months old, and I have never once been up in the night with him. He also naps wonderfully and has the best temperament of any baby I’ve ever had.

How Coffee Works

When you understand how coffee works, it’s easy to see why new mothers would be tempted by this delicious beverage. There are three tiers to how caffeine gives you more energy.

  1. Caffeine prevents you from feeling tired. The caffeine molecule is very similar to the adenosine molecule in the brain. Adenosine plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle. When it binds to enough receptors, it signals to the brain that it is time for rest or sleep. When caffeine is present, it binds to the adenosine receptors in the brain cells and blocks them from binding to other cells. So basically, caffeine prevents you from feeling tired. Also, when the caffeine is gone, you will feel a big crash as all of the adenosine receptors bind at once signaling the need to rest or sleep.
  2. Caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline. Elevated levels of adenosine in the blood cause the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. The release of adrenaline will further add to the feelings of alertness and energy.
  3. Caffeine makes you feel good. When adenosine is blocked by caffeine, the dopamine system works more efficiently. Dopamine is the feel good transmitter of the brain, and so it makes us very euphoric when we drink coffee. This is also what makes it addictive and so very hard to quit (Source).

Half Life of Caffeine in Adults

Half life is a term used to explain the time when half of the atoms in a certain element have been eliminated.

The half life of caffeine from drinking one 8 oz. cup of coffee for an adult is about 4-6 hours. This means that if an 8 oz. cup of coffee contained 100 mg of caffeine at 8 a.m., 50 mg would still remain by about 2:00 p.m. and the remainder should be metabolized by about 8:00 p.m.

There are many different factors that affect how people metabolize caffeine. Some people can drink coffee right before going to bed and not feel restless at all and others can feel jittery from eating a piece of chocolate. How sensitive to caffeine you are depends on several genetic factors which is different from a person’s caffeine tolerance that is built up over time.

Half Life of Caffeine in Babies

Yes, caffeine passes into breast milk, and even though the nursing baby only gets 1.5% of the caffeine the mom gets, a baby cannot metabolize it the same way as the mother. Adults metabolize caffeine primarily in the liver, but a child’s liver isn’t fully formed until they are two, so they are very inefficient at metabolizing caffeine.

  • Newborn: The half life of caffeine in a newborn is 97.5 hours. So that means if you have one cup of coffee, it will take about 8 days for the caffeine in that coffee to be out of your baby’s system.
  • 3-5 Months: When a baby is between 3-5 months of age, the half life of caffeine is 14 hours. So that means if you have one cup of coffee, it will take about 28 hours for the caffeine in that coffee to be eliminated from the baby’s system.
  • 6+ Months: Babies older than 6 months old have a half like of 2.6 hours for caffeine, so it will take 5.2 hours for one cup of coffee that you had to be out of your baby’s system (Source).

Once I learned that it would take my newborn 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, I knew it wouldn’t be worth it for me to even have one cup. Now, once a baby is over 6 months old, a cup of coffee in the morning shouldn’t be a problem. But seriously, what mom only has one cup of coffee in the morning???

Caffeine Accumulates

Because babies are inefficient at metabolizing caffeine, a small amount can have a huge effect. On the La Leche League website, they explain how caffeine accumulates in infants. So, if it takes an infant 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, imagine what kind of caffeine build up your new baby has after you’ve been drinking coffee every day for two weeks straight. No wonder why so many babies are up in the night!

Signs Your Baby is Getting Too Much Caffeiene

Just like when you drink too much coffee and get jittery, so can your baby. Babies can be fussy for a number of reasons (hungry, need a diaper change, too hot or cold, tired, etc.), and so it may be hard to say for certain that a baby is reacting to the caffeine, but these are some of the signs I have noticed with my own babies when I drank too much coffee.

  • Flailing arms
  • Scratching face
  • Won’t nap during the day
  • Awake for long periods in the night
  • Overtired but can’t fall asleep
  • Falls asleep in your arms but wakes up when laid down
  • Has a “witching hour” where he or she is inconsolable at the same time every night

Making the Decision to Quit

I think it’s best to never start drinking coffee after your little one is born, but if it’s too late for that and you’re looking to quit now, here are some things to keep in mind. If you quit cold turkey, you are going to feel the barrage of withdrawl side effects all at once. The headaches, brain fog, tiredness, and worst of all – the depression over having to give up one more thing are not easy to deal with. It may be best to quit gradually, and as you do, remember to drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest.

If your baby is less than 3 months old, keep in mind that it could take over a week for him or her to eliminate the caffeine and for you to notice a difference in behavior and sleep.

Remember that this will not only benefit your baby but you will stop a vicious cycle that is forcing you to feel awake when you’re really tired.

Do I love coffee? YES! I love, love, LOVE coffee and even drank it during my pregnancies (which in hindsight was probably not a good idea seeing as how it can lead to low birth weight babies). Giving up coffee after I had already been drinking it was REALLY hard at first, but after awhile I didn’t even miss it at all. Instead of drinking coffee, I have really enjoyed drinking teeccino as a substitute. Mixed with hazelnut cream, I can hardly tell the difference. It also gives me an energy lift and contains chicory root that is a prebiotic that feeds probiotics in the gut.

My Stories

When Ruby and Elliot were born, I was working full time and coffee was a regular part of my morning. Looking back at it now, I can see that Ruby’s witching hour (where every night for four hours she was inconsolable, wouldn’t sleep, got overtired, and was very very upset) and Elliot’s constant flailing arms and fussiness were very much the result of my coffee drinking.

When Ophelia was born, I was staying at home and not drinking as much coffee, but still some. When I learned from our midwife about the half life of coffee. I quit drinking it and noticed a dramatic difference. But still, I had a hard time giving it up for good, and a cup here and there eventually turned into regular coffee drinking. When Julian was born, I cautiously had some once he was older, but after doing this research before Jack was born, I have been convinced to completely eliminate it.

I have never ONCE been up in the night with Jack (he’s almost 2 months old), and I attribute this to my complete elimination of caffeine.

Something happened recently that even further convinced me of the negative effects of caffeine on babies. Even though Jack has consistently slept during the night (I still get up to nurse him frequently, but he always stays asleep.)

It started out gradually, the flailing arms, the lack of naps during the day, the more wakings during the night, etc., and I thought to myself, “He’s displaying all of the signs of caffeine consumption…but I’m not drinking coffee…where else could I – Oh….” Then I suddenly remembered that when making my kombucha tea, I had been brewing my red raspberry leaves with the leftover black tea from Scott’s tea. I had assumed that what little caffeine was there was being broken down by the kombucha scoby, but apparently not.

On the FIRST day that I stopped drinking kombucha, I noticed a difference. He started napping during the day for long stretches of time again, he stayed asleep longer when he fell asleep, and he stopped flailing his arms.

In Conclusion

Knowing what I know now about the half life of caffeine in babies, I have no problem completely eliminating caffeine for the first 3 months especially. I mean, if it takes a newborn 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, I am quite shocked that the majority of resources on the internet say that drinking coffee moderately is no problem. Drinking coffee moderately when your baby is over 6 months old seems fairly safe, but to be honest, I feel like it just creates a vicious cycle of false awakeness that would best be remedied from taking a quick nap, going to bed earlier, drinking more water, etc.

I know that there will be a time when I can drink coffee freely again, and in the meantime I have a sweet little bundle that is only going to need me like this for a very short period of time. What initially seemed like a sacrifice is now just part of what I call being a mom, and it is a greater reward than anything that could be found in a cup.