Risky Play

Have you ever found yourself enjoying a nice cup of tea and watching the morning news in peace when suddenly a pint-sized person jumps from the arm of the couch into your unsuspecting face?

Children love risky play, especially my children. They are constantly looking for ways to increase the thrill of the game, even if it means sacrificing safety. The purpose (other than to give me a heart attack) is to increase the fun and explore the rules of their environment.

 

A Learning Technique

Risky play is a learning technique – what I mean by this is that when children are engaging in risky play, they are conducting a science experiment (without knowing it). They are using reasoning and chance, as scary as it is, to determine what they are comfortable with, and what their bodies and environment will allow.

 

Benefits of Risk

Risk management skills, along with self-confidence, resilience, and reducing the chance of injury, are all learnings a child gains from engaging in risky play.

I know what you are about to ask; how can risky play reduce the chance of injury? The science tells us that those children who engage is risky play have a much greater understanding of what is likely to cause injury. A child that has continually experimented with tree climbing knows the best routes to take, which trees are safe to climb, and how to go back the way they came.

If you had never climbed a tree as a small child and then are asked to climb one as an adult, your body, being longer and stronger, would allow you to climb to the top without difficulty. But now you’re in a pickle because you’re at the top of a tree and don’t know how to get down. A child can only climb as high as his or her body and environment allows, not to the top. They take small steps as they mature, pushing themselves just as much as is allowable.

 

A Young Life Without Risk

Risky play certainly seems dangerous and it can result in injury, so why hasn’t natural selection weeded it out?

Experiments have been done on rats to deprive them of risky play and the outcome was less than appealing. The researchers did not deprive them of other types of socializing, just risky play, and they found that the rats grew up emotionally crippled. When faced with the unknown, instead of showing curiosity and adaptability like their risky play counterparts, the emotionally crippled rats would seize up in fear or lash out with aggression (click here). Not a rat-ical way to grow up.

On the flipside, the science has shown that risky play has quite the evolutionary advantage. I’m sure everyone can recall their puppy or kitten play wrestling with them or another animal. Perhaps to wolf cubs, this is practice for later squabbles over meals. Monkeys will leap for branches that are just within reach, pushing themselves further and further each time. This experience will certainly come in handy when leaping away from challengers. Certainly one of the most perilous types of risky play can be seen in mountain goats (kids) that frolic on incredibly steep, rocky slopes. Undoubtedly this will make them hard prey to catch. All animals engage in risky play and it benefits them tremendously.

Freedom + Fear = Thrill (Danger)

So now that we are all aware that risky play is a benefitting activity to engage in, should we just let our youngsters have at it – absolutely not. There are still real dangers in hazardous play (which often accompanies risky play), so parents have to be vigilant in identifying and removing the hazards.

Risk – The possibility of something happening

Hazard – A potential source of danger

Hazards are often beyond a child’s ability to recognize. Risks are uncertainties that a child often recognizes and challenges (click here).

Back to our lovely tree example, the child sees a challenge and is uncertain about what will happen if they climb to a certain branch. What the child does not recognize is that the branch they’ve chosen to climb to has rotted out – a hazard the parent needs to control. Removing the hazard can be done by removing the branch, or, even better, teaching the child how to recognize rotted branches. By controlling the hazards, the child is still able to engage in risky play without an increase in the chance of injury.

Risk now equals hazards divided by parental safeguards.

 

Risky Play in Your Community

I love the tree examples I’ve shared with you but when I look around the current area where I’ve chosen to raise my family, not many trees pop out to say “climb me.”

Living in a city rather than countryside can seem a little challenging when it comes to engaging in risky play, but it’s important to note that risky play hotspots can be found anywhere! Your local park, your backyard, your living room – anywhere! When it was too cold and slippery outside for hazardless risky play, my family and I set up an obstacle course throughout the house. My preschooler would run and jump from chair to chair and my toddler would bound into piles of pillows. When we play in the backyard, my kids love to use the short beam surrounding my yard to perfect their gymnastic skills. The chance of a small drop to the grassy lawn below certainly livens up the game! And local parks encourage plenty of risky play activities with its monkey bars, twisty slides, and swings. All you have to do to be a vigilant parent in these scenarios is to remove debris, check for the correct signage for safety standards, and be a helping hand when your child needs it!

To find out more on how Canada is improving your child’s access to independent and unstructured outdoor play, click here.

 

Last Note on Inspiring Yourself

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

 

Please feel free to leave a comment or story about the risks you and your child take together!

Sports for Kids

Coming out of the winter coma are the bright and fresh faces that perk up in the new light of spring! If your kids are like mine, just coming to terms that Mom was right, that the world really does have seasons, you would also laugh at their astonished faces as you push them into the year’s first muddy puddle!

And now that my spring babies are another year older, what does it mean for new activities this year? Of course I had this planned since they started walking – sports!

Every parent loves watching their child grow and master new skills. For preschoolers playing sports, these skills can include better coordination, increased stamina, healthier lungs and hearts, stress reduction and improved sportsmanship. For the family as a whole, it promotes bonding and healthy living! A home run for everyone!

What’s Holding You Back?

For our family, sports can be a huge undertaking. They can be pretty expensive as they usually require gear in addition to registration fees. They are usually held on weeknights, which can be exhausting. Plus, there are so many kinds to choose from – a hurdle on its own! But these red flags shouldn’t hold you back! After all, raising children is a lot like building a recreation centre. The first five years can be likened to laying the foundation, the most crucial part as it sets the pretense for the rest of the structure. A strong foundation with core morals and values will enable your child to grow into a beautiful building, I mean person.

And sports have the power to help build that strong foundation because they teach leadership, trust, patience, discipline, respect, and sportsmanship!

 

Just Do It

The Frontrunners of Funding

There are a few organizations out there that can help low income families pay registration fees and/or provide funding for equipment. One of these programs is called KidSport, a local non-profit whose mission is to allow any kid to benefit from sports and to remove the financial barrier that could be preventing them. To check out their website, click here.

Likewise, Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program is very similar. The criteria to qualify are similar and they are happy to help families fill out application forms. Find them here.

Also, your local YMCA has funding options for low income families and they host a huge variety of programs! For qualification, check them out here.

Lastly, this hidden gem is not so hidden. AllSports Replay is a used sports store where you can buy and sell secondhand sports gear! This is a great way to save a buck and also give your old sports equipment a new home. Find them here.

 

Out of Left Field

As for knowing which sports your child is ready for… Were you or have you ever been like me – new to the world of sports but wanted to drive that soccer-mom minivan with an air of expertise? I’m happy to say I’ve now lived through an entire season of kids in sports and know a thing or two! Check out these sports and their corresponding benefits!

Soccer – One of the more popular sports for kids. It’s easy to learn, with young stars starting out at the tender age of two, and one of the more reasonably priced ones (I recently paid $115 per child for the spring season and no gear was required). Soccer is fast-paced, adrenaline pumping, and promotes teamwork and discipline. As children age, they will also have the benefit of learning to control and juggle the ball, improving coordination and flexibility (click here).

Badminton – Racket ball sports like badminton have additional benefits because they encompass a large variety of athletic movements, including running, lunging, swerving, and diving. Small children can easily hold and handle small badminton rackets and learn to handle the birdie with practice and patience. When older, sports like badminton encourage kids to become nimble and strategize their moves. To learn from the experts on gear and game, click here.

Swimming – A must-learn survival skill and wonderful pastime, swimming is a sport that is learned through competition with no one but the water. Once learned, swimming will never be forgotten, and strangely enough, no one is a newbie as swimming is actually learned in the womb. My babies and I did Mommy muscle toning swim classes together when they were only four months old! Classes were $75 and only required swim diapers! See here.

Lacrosse – Another sport that is knocking it out of the park is lacrosse! A great starter game for hockey enthusiastic parents that cherish their children’s front teeth, lacrosse is a strategic game that requires dexterity and quick-footedness. Starting at four years, my older son has just come out of his first season of lacrosse and has learned quite a bit about teamwork. The season wasn’t too expensive ($120 for three months) but the gear was quite pricey. Still, if you dream of cheering on your little star, check out the specs on proper hockey helmets as I believe this is the most important part of this sport (here).

Bicycling – This is one sport I love to do with my kids and it is terrific for cardiovascular exercise! It promotes balance, coordination, and love for the outdoors! You can pick up fairly inexpensive balance bikes or training wheel bikes at Sportchek ($60) or buy secondhand, or likewise, baby ride-along seats that fit on your bicycle ($100)! For the experts in bicycle and helmet reviews for kids, check out two wheeling tots here!

 

Child Too Young for Sports?

Is your child too young to pass a ball but you’re itching to get back into the active world of sports? Were you previously an active person and find it hard to get back into the swing of things after being dubbed the parent title? I recall a time when I could go running or swimming any time I wanted – Now I have to get creative!

The jogging stroller – try picking up one of these! They can run fairly prices but if you have Kijiji at your fingertips, you can usually score a good deal as many parents love them and they usually last through more than one child. Likewise, Once Upon a Child usually has discounted secondhand ones that you can testdrive in the store. Jogging strollers are very useful and maneuverable. They double as a mode of transportation and as running equipment (especially if you find one with snow runners). Plus, running is a free sport!

If running isn’t your thing and you crave the atmosphere of the gym or class, check out the City of Edmonton’s Kids Dens located in these rec centres: Clareview, The Meadows, Commonwealth, Terwillegar, and Kinsmen. They have childminding staff that will watch your little one while you work on your bod for one to two hours. If you’re interested, click here.

 

The Ball is in Your Court

Now that you have the knowledge, it’s time to get active! Remember, building a strong foundation with your child now will help them out in years to come! They need a strong foundation to rely on for their entire lives – let sports help you impart knowledge and values to your kids now – you won’t regret the effort!

Exercises for Kids

With the New Year now in full swing, my Dad (Grandpa) approached me to engage in a strange conversation.

Dad: “What will your New Year’s resolution be this year?”
Daughter: “I’m not sure, perhaps try to save money. What about yours?”
Dad: “I’m going to start an exercise routine with your kids.”
Daughter: “?????”

That’s right. My Dad was looking to get into shape this year and he was counting on my high-spirited, active children to keep it fun and motivating!
Kudos to him for coming up with this brilliant scheme, one that rivals the methods used by many gyms to get you into shape (and get your money). Surely this is going to benefit him, but would it have a positive impact on my kids?

Why Organized Exercise is Good for Kids

When I was young, we had a TV but exposure to it was limited by parental rules. If I wanted something to do, the number one go to for fun was activity (particularly outdoor activity).

With our kids having more than just a TV to stare at now (my dayhome lady owns more than just one tablet – yikes), it can get a little hard to encourage exercise in little ones…

But you should and here’s why:

Exercise, organized or not, helps children gain and develop gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are one of the five areas of development to determine if your child is on track (see Blog 14). Gross motor skills allow kids to run until
they’re exhausted, score the perfect goal when playing soccer, and jump on parents while they are sleeping. Gross motor skills are fantastic, right?
And gross motor skills gained now last a lifetime, as does a healthy exercise routine.

You may think that your kids get plenty of exercise right now by running, jumping, and just generally gallivanting around, which they do. But just like brushing their teeth, exercise will live with them if you start laying the foundation when they are small children.

When you’re teaching a child to brush their teeth, what you’re really doing is protecting their teeth for many years to come. If they pick up on exercise now, you’ll be laying the foundation for a lifetime of exercise. This is fantastic
because we all know exercise:

Promotes Heart Health: A heart is a muscle that works very hard during exercise. By doing your workout routine, especially cardio workouts, you are strengthening it.

Clears Arteries: Keeping arteries clear and “teaching” them to expand and constrict lowers blood pressure.

Increases Lung Capacity: By increasing the capacity for new air and enabling your lungs to efficiently move air in and out of your body, you are helping all of your cells get the oxygen they need to stay healthy.

Strengthens Bones: Just like muscles, bones strengthen and increase in density when you work out (I actually did not know
this one).

Increases Emotional Well-being: Exercise releases hormones that are associated with calmness and feelings of well-being while simultaneously reducing depression.

To see more benefits of exercise, click here.

So exercise helps kids develop skills now and promotes a healthy routine that could last with them through life – Sign me up, right?

But how do you start exercising with munchkins that can barely keep pace with you in the grocery store? Well we aren’t talking about lifting weights just yet. Start with these easy and fun exercises that are sure to increase the well-being of the entire family!

Exercises for Kids (and You!)

My go-to exercises have always been ballet barre and yoga. Both are exceptional for strength building, improving posture, meditating, breathing control, and even relaxation. Additionally, the poses incorporated are both feasible and fun for kids and adults alike. Check them out, but be wary! Exercising correctly is more important than exercising at all.

So, stretch first and don’t push yourself!

Planking: In this yoga pose, lay down on your tummy, place your elbows on the floor, and raise your body up, straight as a board from your head to your heels. Hold the position for 10 seconds or more depending on your and your child’s ability. I like to do this one with my children five to ten times.

Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then bend your knees as if you are about to sit on a chair – don’t fool yourself too much because there won’t be one there to catch you! Holding this position is a bit tough the first few times but it really is a good one for strength building and balance! I like to do this one five to seven times with the kids.

Rond de Jambe: This ballet move may be a hit with little girls (my boys like it too!). If you haven’t done this before, it’s nice to start with a chair to hold on to. Stand with your toes pointed out and both knees bent slightly. Raise one leg straight in front of you and your arm up in a curve over your head.

For parents, be sure to rotate your foot so your inner ankle is engaged– this is what actually tones your leg muscles. Bring your leg back and then out to the side. Only go as high with your leg as is comfortable. This one is a bit too easy for my soccer stars so we go until they get bored.

Plie Bend: Another ballet move that’s sure to be fun is the plie. Stand against a wall with your toes pointed out and slowly bend your legs so that you are sliding down the wall. Once you feel the stretch, hold for 5 seconds (or longer). Then slowly raise up to a demi pointe (not on the tips of the toes like true ballet, but on the forefoot). Like squats, I like to do this one five to seven times with my munchkins.

Burpees: My sons’ favourite exercise because it is a lot of movement and gets your heart going! This sequence of movements starts you off in the squatting position. Then put your hands to the ground and kick your legs straight behind you so that you land on your toes. Now that you are in a push-up position, why not do one (ugh) and then jump back so that your feet land by your hands and finish by standing up. My kids think these are so fun that they never really stop doing them (I crash after 10).

Try these exercises at home or come up with some of your own! I bet your kids will love them more than brushing their teeth (but please do still brush their teeth!).

Miscarriage

A few months ago I had a miscarriage. It wasn’t a planned pregnancy and I wasn’t far along so my husband and I weren’t too upset by it. I still wanted to write about it though because I thought it would be helpful to others. If you are going through a miscarriage, perhaps having an idea of what to expect may make you feel a bit better. If you have already gone through a miscarriage, perhaps you may feel comforted by knowing others have gone through the same unfortunate event.

I found out I was pregnant very early on. I kept the secret to myself for quite some time. Like I said, we weren’t trying and didn’t exactly have the funds for another baby at that moment. But I was happy and excited. A few weeks with the secret (six weeks pregnant now) my husband told me he would be getting a better paying job within a month according to his employer. It was this moment that I told him the news. He was a little anxious at first but within a week he had warmed to the idea and kept calling this new baby his sweetie.

Within a couple of days, he and I both told our immediate families. That evening, I started to bleed. It was very light spotting that I wasn’t too concerned about. I had been taken into the care of a midwife only days beforehand, so I texted and told her. She indicated that since I was very early in my pregnancy, nothing could be done but waiting or going for blood tests. It was unlikely that an ultrasound would show us anything. I decided to wait. I knew that blood tests would only tell me what my body was doing, not prevent what was happening. I felt my body knew what it was doing, even if it was a sad outcome.

The bleeding continued and did become heavy over the next few days. I told my midwife and she agreed it was likely a miscarriage. She wanted me to go to a hospital to confirm the pregnancy had passed out of concern for my health. Pregnancies that don’t completely pass naturally require a small surgical procedure or, in rare cases, can be life threatening due to infection from remaining tissue or an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy. I went to the hospital and told them about my bleeding. I was admitted fairly quickly, as most pregnant women are. As many hospital patients would probably agree, you never want to be the one admitted quickly for fear it means that you are likely in peril. Even though this was a natural miscarriage that had no complications, the hospital staff did their due diligence to ensure that I was safe.

I went through the usual family history questions and vital sign checks with a nurse before I was greeted by two doctors, a physician and a resident. I bled all over their nice hospital bed and sheets, apologizing profusely before being assured it was normal. They were all extremely kind and even joked with me a bit. They increasingly asked me more relatable questions pertaining mostly to
previous pregnancies and this one. They asked about labours, births, and procedures. As I’d had two healthy births at home before this, my answers didn’t seem to give them any clues on what to expect. They drew blood and did an ultrasound on what looked like a laptop (no joke). No heartbeat or gestational sac could be seen but they told me that their equipment wasn’t high tech enough to see a baby this early on anyway. They asked if I had passed anything the size of a fingertip or bigger. I hadn’t. The results of the blood test came back and my HCG levels were 66,000 mIU/ml.

The pregnancy hormone HCG can tell you if you are/were pregnant with two or more blood tests taken over the span of a few days. If your HCG levels rise, the baby is likely to be healthy, if they fall, the baby is likely not viable (cannot live without being within Mom). One HCG level could not tell them anything other than I was pregnant, healthy or not was unknown.

By the way, the nurse with me was kind enough to explain that the phrase “she lost the baby” wasn’t used by most hospital staff anymore because of the negative connotation. It is more appropriate to say the baby wasn’t viable rather than imply it was a fault of the parent. I couldn’t have agreed more with her as I sat in my hospital gown, feeling particularly vulnerable. I agreed I should feel no shame and know that the loss, as unfortunate as it was, was not my own.

Afterwards, I was told that I should come back to the hospital the following day to complete a “real” ultrasound with an ultrasonographer. I did return and I’m glad I did. Unfortunately, she did not see a baby either but she did make me feel better. She was a lovely lady in her 50’s. She had a soft, delicate voice and an even softer bedside manner. She told me all about the women she had seen coming and going from her room where she usually gave them bad news. She told me that I was not alone, that miscarriages were something she had been witnessing throughout her life. She also emphasized that miscarriages were through no fault of the parents, that they were how our body cared for us in a way.

Of course it is much less sad to say goodbye to a seventh week pregnancy than a new baby, so I agreed with her. From the gentle conversation we shared, I knew that I did not have to feel shame and it was okay to be sad. There were other parents like me and my body was taking care of me. It was comforting.
Her ultrasound confirmed that the gestational sac was now located above my cervix and would pass soon. I was not in any danger and my body was healthy. It was a sad day and it was okay to feel sad but I did appreciate my family as I returned home that day.

Two days later, I was requested to come in for the second blood test. This was the last piece to confirm the miscarriage. I knew I had miscarried but doctors are doctors and they have to do their due diligence. Once again, I returned to the hospital. A very high strung doctor talked with me this time. She was adamant on performing another blood test and ultrasound. I assured her I didn’t need another ultrasound but would do the blood test to confirm the miscarriage.

Since I had already missed two half days of work now, I asked if there was any way I could get the results over the phone rather than coming in to see her. She said no but after speaking with her secretary, I learned that I could get the results sent to my family doctor and he could give me the results over the phone. As he was currently on vacation, I would get the results when he got back in two days. This suited me so I was poked one more time and left.

Two days later, my phone rang. It was my family doctor’s secretary. She asked for me and then said, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant!” I knew I wasn’t pregnant so, regrettably and with sympathy for her, I said she had made a mistake and that I had miscarried. I asked what my HCG levels had been during the second blood test. I could tell she was reading them off the doctor’s notes, “HCG 24,000 mIU/ml, call her to congratulate her on her pregnancy.”

I told her about the first blood test’s results. She apologized and said there must have been a mistake and that she would call me back. A couple of hours later, I received another phone call. This time, a lady with more bite than remorse in her voice (I assumed she was the one who made the mistake) told me I had indeed miscarried and hung up. I actually laughed this time. Knowing I’ve made some terrible work-related errors in my career, none of them could compare to mistaking someone for being pregnant. It was a little like being in a comedy movie.

Over the next few days, we slowly told our families the news about the miscarriage. It was kind of pleasant to let everything escape slowly and let the memories pass and rest. Of course, it’s always sad knowing what “could have been” and that we don’t have our “sweetie” but it’s also comforting to know that a third child would make us happy. We cherish our first and second children all the more now as well.

From this experience, I’d like to share with you these messages that I now know: this type of loss is not your own, you are not alone, and your body can protect you from worse pain.
And it’s okay to be sad.

Baby Massage

Baby Massage

Giving your infant or older child regular massages has been proven to benefit the emotional wellbeing of everyone involved. Massages stimulate and increase the release of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in relaxation, happiness, and social bonding. When you massage your child, not only does your child produce oxytocin, but you, as the massager, and anyone watching (other caregivers) produce it too. In this way, massages can be a very effective way to promote social bonding with your family.

Side note: oxytocin also decreases the effects and length of postnatal depression!

Another benefit of baby massage, as a form of skin-to-skin contact, is the health effects to the baby. Skin‑to-skin contact (also known as kangaroo care) is a widely practiced care technique where the caregiver places their naked baby on their bare chest, increasing the surface area of bare skin contact. This form of contact has been shown to have remarkable benefits to new babies, particularly premature babies, as the effects help the newborn to gain weight while reducing infections and breathing problems.

Side note: baby massage is a fantastic way for dads to get skin-to-skin contact, particularly if the baby is breastfed!

If that wasn’t enough, baby massage has also been shown to reduce fussiness in babies and increase the length of time they sleep for. Massage improves the parts of the nervous system that regulates organs, such as the heart. A steadier heartrate improves calmer responses to stress and a healthier sleep.

Massaging Your Baby

The Best Time to Start

When choosing when to give your baby a massage, it’s best to think about their usual feeding and sleeping routines. Try to choose a time that is between feeds and naps so they won’t be too tired, too hungry, or too full. Babies don’t have a lot of variety going on in their lives but their schedules always seem to be jam-packed. I always found that the massage fit in just perfectly before the time when they normally sleep the longest (usually around 9 pm for my newborns and 8 pm for my babies).

Also, if you haven’t already developed a bedtime routine for your young one (or older one), try introducing baby massage into the mix. In this way, you are providing a relaxing environment for them to start drifting off without allowing them to fall asleep in your arms, increasing their ability to self-soothe.

What You’ll Need

Be sure to have a soft, open surface ready, like your bed or sofa. Remember not to walk away from your baby on these high surfaces. If you think you will need to walk away for any moment, choose a carpet on the floor or bring your baby with you.

Use an oil or lotion that is developed for babies. Lotions with perfumes or sodium lauryl sulphate (a harsh detergent) can be irritating to the skin. I choose coconut oil every time because it has additional health benefits such as natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. Lauric acid, a fatty chain acid which makes up 85% of what’s in coconut oil, has antibacterial properties. The only other natural substance high in lauric acid is breastmilk.

Additionally, have all of your diapering needs and clothing/pajamas ready. As a massage is very relaxing, your baby may want to jump right into bed afterwards.

Side note: I also like to have the lights low and play gentle baby or yoga music to increase the calmness in the space. My favourite song to play for baby massage time is Mother Divine by Craig Pruess and Ananda.

Where to Start

If your child is new to massages, it is recommended that you start with their legs as they are used to having them touched during diaper changes. Warm up the lotion or oil between your hands and work your way up his or her legs in gentle movements with your fingertips or with light squeezes on the calves or thighs.

Once massaging the chest or tummy, gently place both hands flat on his or her stomach and make large clockwise movements. Be careful not to go counter-clockwise as this is moving against his or her normal digestion movements. Our large intestines start on the bottom right of our bodies, move up, left, and down. By going clockwise during a massage, you will be promoting healthy digestion.

When massaging their chest or back, place your hands flat again but in the centre of the body and move outwards, as if you are flattening the pages of a book.

Move onwards to their arms and gently squeeze their shoulders down to their hands. If doing massages other than gentle squeezes on the arms or legs (such as strokes), be certain to move upwards (from their hands to their shoulders or from their feet to their thighs). This promotes circulation as blood returning to the heart isn’t impeded by your massage.

Continue with the massage as long as your child appears to be enjoying it. Remember, crying is the only way young babies can communicate with others so if they appear to be fussy or start to cry, it may not mean they don’t enjoy massages, it may just be time to go to bed or eat.

Massages for Older Children

As your child ages, as mine have, you may choose to keep baby massage in your lives. We incorporate them in our bath time routine. Our baths are not every day (to prevent drying out the skin), so our massages aren’t every day, but they do still enjoy them. And now that they are older, they can tell me where they prefer to be massaged too!

Side note: one other very special benefit of baby massage in our lives is that massages have somehow made it into our moments of apologies. When one of my children acts out, they apologize and either ask for or try to give a massage. I believe this to be a wonderful part of their personalities that has been instilled in them since sharing these social moments with me at a very young age.

More Information

Please browse the following pages to learn more about baby massages and the health benefits of coconut oil:

https://www.parents.com/baby/care/newborn/the-benefits-of-baby-massage/

https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a1042915/massaging-your-baby

Please also feel free to visit KARA’s Grow With Me Program to discuss baby massage!

Unassisted Home Birth

“Why are we not in a hospital, why are we not in a hospital, oh why are we not in a hospital.”

My husband told me that these same words went through his mind a second time during the birth of our second son. Again, we decided to have a home birth. We planned the birth to take place at the same house, in the same bathtub, as our first born, having it been so successful the first time.

I followed the same birth plan, attended prenatal yoga, and practiced meditation techniques. I relaxed and rested the days leading up to it and prepared the essentials we would need. The one difference was packing a second diaper bag for our oldest son, who would be camping with his grandparents while I had the baby at their home.

I was seven days past my due date. I recall having very mild contractions throughout the day. My husband kept pestering me, asking if these meant the baby was coming. He kept reiterating that he needed an answer so that he could alert his parents. Of course I wasn’t sure but eventually said yes, the baby was coming. We packed the family up and made our way into the city. It was an identical journey to the one we made almost two years previously. I had two contractions on the road. He asked if we could stop at McDonald’s, which we did. And we waited in line forever, while my husband cursed and anxiously wiped at his face.

We arrived at the house at the same time as my husband’s Mom. She took our son with a wish of good luck to us. The day had lingered on but by this time, it was getting late. And the baby was coming. We called our midwife and she informed us that, the same as last time, the barometric pressure had dropped (it was raining) and that many women were going into labour. In fact, both she and the backup midwife were attending other births, and that she would have to send another midwife who was sick with a cold but would make it there in time.

My husband slept on the couch while I watched my favourite funny show and ate all the McDonalds by myself. My water broke around 2 o’clock in the morning. I woke my husband, asking him to pour the bath. He helped me up the stairs as I was under quite a bit of pressure now. He helped me to get into the tub and left to call the midwife again. She was on her way. In the tub, I had one painful contraction and was shocked when I felt the urge to push.

I shouted for my husband to come back, saying the baby was coming. He passed the phone to me so that I could talk to the midwife. She was wonderful, sick as a dog, but still on her way to see me. She told me that if I had the baby in the tub, he would be blue in colour and it would be harder to tell if he was okay. She said it would be best to move to the bed, especially if she didn’t make it in time. She also told me that if we were worried, we could call an ambulance. She estimated that they would arrive the same time as she would. She also told me that if I laid on my side, it would slow the progress of the birth a little, allowing her to make it there on time.

We hung up and my husband transported me to the bed. I recall him asking me if we should call an ambulance. I was tired but still in good spirits, especially since this birth already seemed to be much faster and less painful than last time. I laid on my side as I was told, and let my body keep pushing the baby, without assisting the progress. Five contractions occurred in this position, and  I kept from birthing our son. It was difficult but not impossible. I knew I couldn’t keep it up forever though; it wasn’t painful and I wasn’t too tired, but I was worried it wouldn’t be healthy for my son. My husband watched as I struggled. I could see the torment and shock on his face as he kept straining to hear the sound of a vehicle outside.

Finally, we heard a car pull up. Car doors opened and closed. And opened and closed. We heard the front door open and my husband started to yell that we were on the second floor and that the baby was coming. He was in the doorway, halfway between the stairs to where the midwife was and the room to where I was. Not wanting (or able) to delay my baby’s healthy birth anymore, I flipped onto all fours and let my baby be born. Seeing this progression, in slow motion I imagine, my husband lunged into the room and stretched his arms out to catch the baby as if he were a football in the air.

A successful catch, he laid the baby on the bed, allowing me to pick him up and gingerly uncoil the cord from his body. He gave a mighty cry and I hugged him. Our midwife stood there in the doorway giving instructions. I was grateful to her for not coming in to do things herself for fear my new baby would catch her cold. It was also very nice to complete the tasks ourselves, being able to really welcome and bond with our baby. He was chubby and splotchy. Not as pimply and wrinkly as his brother, but he had a squashed nose and humongous cheeks. He was quite happy to nurse and loved to be held.

Before long, a second midwife arrived. I was patched up while my son nursed, not needing as much work as the previous occasion. My husband called our families to greet our newest addition. When they arrived, my husband took him downstairs, greeting everyone by telling them he had a new profession as a doctor.

The Baby Proceedings took place in front of everyone. Our son was carefully weighed and measured, and his body and joints checked over. He was 7 lbs 14 oz and 20 ½ inches in length. He was very sturdy and still is to this day.
Finally, our first born son entered the room. He wanted to sit on my lap and watch the baby. He didn’t smile or ask what it was that was resting on my chest. My husband said he had a look that plainly said “I don’t like him” written on his face.

After all the congratulations and moments documented into memories, we realized that both our boys were born on Sundays and on the seventh day of the month, almost to within the hour, to a Mom with a belly full of McDonalds hamburgers. It was another lovely day.

Home Water Birth

“Why are we not in a hospital, why are we not in a hospital, oh why are we not in a hospital.” My husband told me he kept thinking these words over and over as I was in the depths of labour. It all started about nine months beforehand when we found out we were going to have our first child. I am an avid researcher, so even then, I was planning on how I was going to deliver our baby. It took a lot of dedication, including continual mental and physical exercise, and even more research. I would spent about two hours a day completing a meditation routine combined with walking, attended weekly prenatal classes, and read every positive home birth story I could get my hands on.

Nine months later, I was ready, or as ready as I could have been. My Midwife gave me one piece of critical information that I couldn’t have found in any book. When early contractions start, do not push it along, try to have a nap instead. She told me many women get up and walk around to help it progress, eager to meet their baby. Your body just isn’t ready at that moment, it’s prepping itself, and you will need the precious little energy your expending as you walk up and down stairs, trying to hurry things up, later. Most dearly, you will need it later.

I was ten days past my due date when it started. In those ten days, I went on two outings, a wedding and a trip to the farmers market. The rest of the time, I rested. Feelings of tightening had started happening
on the eighth day past due. For two days, I warded off labour with regular naps and gravol.

On the tenth day, I told my husband we needed to go into the city, to his Mom’s house, as I was now in labour. In the car on the way there, I had two contractions. They weren’t bad at all, totally manageable, so when my husband wanted to stop for McDonalds, I had no issues. He, on the other hand, regretted it entirely as we sat in a lengthy lineup. I recall him saying one thing to me that was just audible through the constant motion of wiping his face in anxiety, “God, I hope our baby isn’t ugly.” I burst out laughing.

At his Mom’s, which was vacant at the time, labour pressures increased. I recall crawling on my hands and knees and leaning on things during contractions. To those women I’d seen walking through contractions, I’ll never live up to you. These were hard. My husband kept bringing me ice creams and water. Ice cream, meditation, and breathing exercises were what I used, and they worked wonderfully. We called our Midwife twice. She talked on the phone with me and from my jokes and laughter, said it was still too early.

Apparently all love of the world is lost when you’re really in labour, and as far as she could tell, I wasn’t in enough pain to stop making jokes. So we waited. I asked my husband to pour the bath. It was pleasant being in there. I had a small tablet and watched my favourite funny show in the dark from the safety of the warm water. As contractions came, I would wake from my reverie, but otherwise, I was able to meditate myself into a shallow sleep between them. This went on for a few more hours. My husband came to check on me a few times and, when I was in enough pain to start crying, he called the midwife (with a little too much ferocity in his voice). She came rather quickly and once there, moved with lightning speed. She had never been to the house before but seemed to know her way around. I could hear her stripping the bed, laying down towels, preparing her equipment, and even moving small furniture.

She came to see me a few times between her prepping. She checked the baby’s heartbeat and happily told me that my baby didn’t even seem to know it was time to be born, that he was as comfortable to go through labour as I was uncomfortable with it. She told me I had to lay on my right side for a few contractions, so that I would be effaced on both sides (I had been labouring on my left side only). She told me I had to try to use the toilet. I tried twice with no success. The second time, I had the strongest, most painful contraction I’d ever experienced (both labours combined). It caused my water to break.

My husband quickly helped me back into the tub. He has a very good poker face as he looked at me with the utmost calming expression before telling me he would be right back. On the other side of the door, I heard him tell the Midwife that he could feel the baby’s head. She came back into the room hurriedly to check. Indeed, our baby was right there, and I felt like pushing. Every time I did though, I would instinctively slam my legs together to prevent the pain, pushing my baby back up. My Midwife would encourage me to try again, and each time, I forced my legs to slam shut, repeating the whole process that my baby and I were enduring together. After these failed attempts at willfully birthing my baby on my own, she eventually told my husband to hold my legs open. Out popped our baby’s head, under the water. I couldn’t see him, but my Midwife told me he was there. I recall greeting him, “Hello Baby.”

One more contraction and he was out and on my chest. He was quiet at first, so my Midwife kind of poked him with her finger, making sure his mouth was clear and he let out a wail. We all rejoiced!

The entire (and new) family moved to one of the bedrooms, the one that had been stripped and prepped. We called our families to announce the baby had arrived in the wee hours of the morning. My Midwife did a quick check of our son’s vitals, after which, she gave me no warning before she plopped the baby on to my chest to nurse. What an odd sensation. Our families arrived and my husband brought the baby to see them so I could have a bit of privacy to get fixed up. Yes indeed, labour takes a toll on the body and I felt a little like Frankenstein as I was patched up. I was a new woman, my Midwife told me. I didn’t feel very new, but was happy all the same. Our families then came to join me as we watched what I call the Baby Proceedings. The Midwife weighed and measured our baby, checked his muscles, joints, mouth, eyes, and tested his blood. He weighed 8 lbs 5 oz. and was 21 ¾” in length. I recall looking over to my Mom and seeing her eyes bulge at the news. She later told me that as far as she new, no woman in our family had ever birthed a baby that big.

The baby was laid to sleep in a crib beside my bed. My Midwife congratulated me and told me I was one of the fastest first timers she’d ever had. She also told me that in these next few hours, I would need to sleep. That many women feel the desire to watch their sleeping baby rather than sleep themselves. She left, promising to return in a few days to check us all again. As my husband laid down next to me, both of us trying to get some sleep, we both found ourselves turning towards our son, watching him snooze peacefully beside us. It was wonderful to fall in love so quickly. At the time, he was the most beautiful child we had ever seen. He was bald and wrinkled, with splotches of pink on his skin. Indeed, he was a little ugly.

It’s Potty Time

Today I wanted to touch base on a long and tedious battle between the toilet and my son.

My husband and I started potty training our oldest son, our Grizzly Bear, at two years of age. At the time, my second child was well on his way to being welcomed into the family and before then, we thought we’d try to make things easier on ourselves by potty training our first born. He was a smart lad and willing to learn new skills, this was going to be easy.

We started out with the old fashioned portable potty. Sat him on it and tried to keep him there with books, toys, food, and even the television. Each strategy worked well for a little while and then psychological warfare would have to be kicked up a notch as our Grizzly Bear would grow tired of sticker rewards and saying bye bye to his pee as it swirled around in the flushing toilet.

Fast forward eight months. You read that right; eight months………
By this time, we’d pulled out all the stops including following expensive and temper tantrum inducing advice from family, friends, and internet strangers (like myself).

My sister told me she purchased special underwear for her child, dawning his favourite movie character. When he pooped his pants, she made him throw the undies in the trash. He hasn’t had an accident since. He was three when he successfully potty trained. I tried this tactic with our Grizzly Bear at 2.5 years and the only thing accomplished was the purchasing of very expensive soon-to-be garbage. No success there. My Mom secretly fed Grizzly Bear Smarties for every successful potty pee/poop. This only resulted in my son having extra sweets as he still only used the potty half the time and even expected a candy after going in his pants. Grizzly Bear has a slight addiction to Smarties now.

Internet sensations indicated scheduling potty breaks and determining your child’s poop schedule through what I can only assume is psychic reasoning. It is true that my son is a regular pooper and predicting his bodily functions wasn’t too difficult. That is until he got a cold or slept funny the night before or was fed prune juice at his dayhome.

In the end, my husband suggested one last tactic that we hadn’t heard anywhere before. We were a bit desperate to try anything at this point as it was hard to keep up diapering two children. However, let me start out by saying that this experiment did not work and should not be tried ever again in the history of potty training.

We decided to put Grizzly Bear’s potty in his room with him at bedtime and let him sleep in the half nude. We figured he would either go in the potty if he needed or fall asleep without pants. No big deal right?? Big deal it turns out. I hear him 10 minutes later saying he went in his potty. I enter his room with excitement and joy only to stop short with wide eyes and a speechless expression.

He did pee in the potty (hooray!) but then, in his infinite wisdom, he picked up his potty in an effort to bring it to the big potty and dump it, only to spill it all over the hardwood and attempt to clean it with his bare hands. That’s right, he was covered in wee. I ran for a cloth and began soaking up the mess as my adoring toddler comes up behind me to offer encouragement. I cringe as the smell rolls over me, my toddler stroking my hair, saying “that’s a good girl, mommy.”

Although none of the “tactics” we used worked for our Grizzly Bear, he did eventually potty train at 2 years and 10 months. He did not potty train as a result of our hard work or ingenious potty plotting, but simply as a result of being ready and willing. After reading this, I’m sure you’ll agree that my husband and I are no experts on toddlers and the wonder that is the toilet.

We simply reflect upon the last year and agree that every child is indeed different and each learn on a different time schedule. We had some good laughs and are even looking forward to our next potty trainer, our Polar Bear!

Breast Milk

We’ve all heard it – breast is best – but do you know why?

The History of the Mammary Gland:

Breast milk has been researched for hundreds of millions of years. You read that right, nature has been perfecting this food source for longer than bees have been perfecting honey. You can read about the evolution of breastmilk here. BBC goes into detail on how mammary glands and breast milk came about and why they had the evolutionary advantage. Shockingly, mammary glands are thought to have evolved before mammals did. Once leaving the water, animals either made soft or hard shells. Hard shells had the advantage of not drying out but soft shells, well they supported the transfer of water. So mama walking-fish would have soft-shelled babies and bring them water in a gland on her body in the hopes they wouldn’t dry out. This gland, after many generations, evolved to secret antibodies, fats, carbohydrates (sugar), etc., which was now food for her babies (they could eat it once it absorbed into their shells). After baby hatches, the gland still produces and the baby has a wonderful mama walking-fish to feed him. Magic, right?

Now, after millions of years, only mammals (and primitive egg-laying mammals) have this ability. Females of the lactating species are called mammalia which means “of the breast.” It’s pretty cool to be defined by a highly respected evolutionary trait, one that has led our species to care for our young in the most effective way.

The Contents of Human Milk:
Going into detail about humans and why human milk is so precious – please check out the amazing infographic (found at the bottom of this section) of the contents of what you are feeding your baby (or toddler). It dives into each component, such as the fats, nucleotides, enzymes, carbohydrates, and antimicrobial components, just to name a few.  These contents, components, molecular compounds – whatever you want to call them – have astonishing properties that protect your baby (and read what’s going on in his body – seriously). The infographic (with supporting references) was made by a group of women and men who found that human milk was just so amazing, they had to compile the info.

I’m going to list one (maybe two) benefits from some of the milky component categorized in the infographic – the ones which were my favourite and little well-known:

Carbohydrates (Sugars)
• Breastmilk contains over 200 sugars. Some of these sugars can only be digested by bacteria which easily promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
Enzymes
• Lysozyme is anti-inflammatory and bacterialcidal (destroys bad bacteria) and is particularly effective against E. coli and salmonella.
Antimicrobial
• Lactoferrin inhibits the growth of cancerous cells and Alpha-lactabumin has pain-relief abilities.
Vitamins
• Vitamin E is an antioxidant which inhibits or removes oxidizing agents (free radicals) from within you. Free radicals are uncharged molecules that are extremely reactive and can break down cell membranes. In chemistry, for those that know a bit about it, free radicals form when a molecule loses or gains an electron. Our bodies use antioxidants to balance free radicals (give or take an electron to neutralize it).
Mediators
• Stem cells – that’s right, breast milk contains stem cells! They can self-renew to repair any organ or system in the body.
Hormones
• Oxytocin creates positive feelings. This is super beneficial for both Mom and baby. For Mom, it helps stop bleeding after birth and shrink the size of the uterus. For baby, promotes feelings of well-being and relaxation.
• Leptin, a hormone like a switch, it turns on a gene that tells the baby when he is full. This is a gene that prevents overeating as an adult.
There are more (lots more) and you can read about them or check out the infographic here.

My absolute favourite though was learning that Momma’s body, through baby’s saliva, identifies what bacteria or virus the baby is currently fighting and produces antibodies specifically designed to fight those infections. Talk about Mom-baby communication.

Lastly, Let’s Not Forget the Bonding:
One thought before I move on to the science behind the bonding – I miss breastfeeding. The connection I felt to my babies was so strong and comforting. I recall the first time each of my boys made true eye contact with me – it was while they were breastfeeding. Snuggles aside (snuggles aside!?), the best moments were the eye contact in which I knew they felt safe.
And now the science – I bet you knew there were benefits to a baby’s social well-being that came from breastfeeding but did you know there were health benefits for Mom too? Yes, yes, the benefits for baby is higher communication scores and increased cognitive ability (it’s important but I’m excited to get to the next bit).

For Mom, according to the American Psychological Association, breastfeeding increases and lengthens maternal sensitivity. Maternal sensitivity is the Mother’s responsiveness to her baby and her affect, flexibility, and ability to read her baby’s cues. The study conducted (located here) goes into detail on the Mothers that were interviewed and noted how the longer breastfeeding was the norm, the longer the sensitivity continues for Mom, expanding as the child grows (such as respect for autonomy, supportive presence, and withholding hostility). Amazing, right? By the by, breastfeeding also has been shown to decrease the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

And one awesome detail that some of us forget – it’s way cheaper than formula. Eating a little extra during the day and make your own tiny human food? Super budget friendly.

So, are there cons to breastfeeding?
I did it with both of my kids (and nearly made it to the one year mark each time) and I only noticed two cons. One, it was really painful for me for the first couple of weeks. Two, I got some funny looks from friends, family, and strangers.

Yes the pros outweighed the cons for me but I did find some ways around the unpleasantness.

Painful Start to a Happy Ending:
The nipple shield – sold at Toys R Us or online and comes in various sizes. This nifty gadget is fantastic to protect Mom from a ravenous infant. I recall my first encounter with my midwife after nursing my firstborn for a few days. She asked me how bad it hurt and when I likened it to giving birth again she asked if she could see my baby. She laid him in her lap, backwards so his head was touching her tummy. She then stuck a finger in his mouth and cried out “Holy, you are vicious!”.

She promptly directed me to the nipple shield, which worked like a dream. It’s a plastic nipple that fits over your own and protects Mom from baby’s who have mouths like a shark. And it’s only ten bucks. My midwife did caution me to use it sparingly however, as it makes it a little more difficult for baby to nurse, which in turn decreases your milk supply. Funny Looks and Squeamish People My Dad (Grandpa) has a hard time staying in the room with a nursing Mom. He squirms in his chair if someone just says “breastfeeding.”

Perhaps I’m more like him than I thought. I found it difficult to feel comfortable breastfeeding around people, any people, even when wearing a nursing cover. Just knowing that they knew what I was doing made me feel awkward and as if I had to hide it. So I did – and this is how:

For those of us that are shy and don’t want to be the confident woman who tells people to just get over it, do what I did and get a baby backpack. The Ergobaby Baby Carrier was my favourite because it was so comfortable, I could wear it for hours, and did. I would just pop the hood over top of my baby’s head and no one, not even my Dad knew that I was breastfeeding. It simply looked like I was carrying my child in a fashionable carrier. Pretty sneaky, no.

So there you have it, breastfeeding in two swollen nutshells. If you were moved by this blog (I totally get it), and want to discuss your breastfeeding options or find breastfeeding support, here are two resources you may find helpful:

• Alberta Health Services (AHS) Healthy Beginnings Hotline (24/7) – 780-413-7990
• La Leche League (breastfeeding info and support) – 780-478-0507

Summertime Tips

Can you imagine one day without hearing your child laughing? How about imagining a day without spending time outside together? When the warm weather rolls around, I could never live without an abundance of both.

I am a mother of two amazing children (what child isn’t amazing?) and have the time of my life making them smile. Many of those smiles happen when we spend our days at KARA Family Resource Centre. Now, I’ve been with KARA as both a coworker and as a friend; as both a Mom and as a Mom-to-be. I’ve enjoyed all of my moments with my KARA family and know the truth about who I am and who my children are; we would not be the same without KARA (what KARA family would?).

Now for the summer part: when it comes to my children, I’ve come across a few summer related mishaps. By sharing these tips with you, I hope you’ll come out ahead.

Sunscreen. Yes, lather up your little ones (and yourself) with sunscreen SPF 30 of higher. Sun protection factor (SPF) is a rating of how long sunscreen will protect against UVB. Now, the sun emits both UVA and UVB (among other wavelengths) and the higher the SPF factor, the longer the protection against both UVA and UVB. For those of you with kids with an … interesting taste for adventure (pun intended!), make sure to lock up the sunscreen after you’ve used it. My kids don’t have a taste for it but my dog does. It’s best to put it out of harm’s reach either way. For youngsters, and I mean six months or younger, sunscreen is not recommended. Instead, grab a sunshade for the playpen or stroller.

Shades. How many times I’ve tried to convince my baby that sunglasses need to be worn outdoors will astound you. I originally purchased sunglasses without a strap and didn’t have the funds to buy a second pair so I opted to make my purchase work. It took quite some time to wear him (me?) down but this most amazing trick saved us. Every time I put the sunglasses on his face, I’d call him “Cool Dude” and he’d revel in the compliment of being called “Cool”. I learned this trick from a KARA family Dad.  Now, sunglasses should always have 100% UV protection. Choose shades that curve around the face to provide protection from side sunshine. Just like skin, the sun can damage eyes. The damage is worse when you have low levels of vitamin C, so bust out those oranges and strawberries!

Water bottles! Every child enjoys owning their very own accessory, and Mom’s enjoy not sharing the backwash. Get a water bottle that your child finds interesting and easy to use. Write your child’s name on it so it doesn’t go home with a friend. Plastic bottles decompose over time from our own saliva. Heat will also make plastic bottles break down. If you choose plastic, be sure to hand wash it directly after use. Don’t let it end up in the hot dishwasher. You can’t taste plastic but you also can’t digest it. Another, more convenient choice, is a stainless steel kids bottle. A little more expensive but they are relatively indestructible. They normally come with silicone straws (a natural material) so there isn’t anything to worry about when it comes to cleaning.

Lastly, get out there and enjoy summer! Your kids will have a blast at the KARA Summer Program and you’ll have a chance to use these helpful tips! Don’t forget, you’re a “Cool Dude” yourself!