TOYS. They are a fairly prominent thing in my house. Baby toys, toddler toys, kindergartener toys. As parents, we long to see our floors and our neutral home decor not being vomited on by the sea of harsh red-yellow-blue. I get it. But in the mean time I suggest you embrace the bright plastic or plushy goodness at your feet and USE IT. Here are three exercises you can do with your kids’ toys.

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Mumma's Top 15 First Year Gear Picks

Last week B turned ONE. Ask a new mumma how she feels when her babe turns O-N-E and she will likely stare off into space, mouth gapped, unsure of how to describe the thousands of emotions that go along with that first year. What a year. What a year of learning. I have learnt more in this past year than any other. From birth and breastfeeding, to basic baby care and baby gear. From solids and sleep training (or attempts at this), to bodily changes and hormone fluctuations (mine of course, not Bs). Today, we're keeping things light though, and talking baby gear for the first year.

Oh, the gear! I have spent more hours researching baby gear over the last year than I care to think of. Pretty sure it's compulsive at this point. I don't buy unless it is has a solid backing in reviews (or if I get overwhelmed at a massive second hand baby gear sale and buy under pressure - avoid these at all cost!). And since I hyperventilate at too much stuff, trying to keep things minimal and organized around our house fuels my research compulsion - to only buy what is really needed (or makes life with a baby a little easier) and is THE BEST. I should note, that my best also includes price. Money don't grow on tress around here, so staying within our budget is also factored into my gear purchasing. And of course, what we love and use daily, is not necessarily what you and your family will love or use at all. So do your homework. But here are my top 15, loved and made-life easier, gear picks for our first year with B:

first year favourites
first year favourites

1. Aden and Anais Muslin Swaddles  If these are good enough for the royal baby George, they must be good stuff. I have a few other muslin blankets, but these just feel better. They actually get softer and softer as they age. And the prints! Oh, the prints. My favourite are the classic stars. We swaddled B in these for the first few weeks, and continued to use them all over the place. We also have a dream blanket (so dreamy soft!), and the security blankets, which brilliantly come in a 2-pack so there is always one available when one is being laundered. If only they made bedsheets for grown-up beds.

2.  Timi and Leslie Hannah Diaper Bag With my husband in mind, we I initially started with a man-friendly diaper bag (how considerate of me), but since I was the one on parental leave, it was me toting it around every day. And when we were all together, I got the bag, while my husband carried B. So when the inner fabric ripped away from the shell, I took it as a sign and found a prettier sack. And one that didn't scream DIAPER BAG. There are lots of pockets in the Hannah, stroller straps, a change pad (although I use our Skip Hop Pronto! instead), and an insulated bottle bag. I love it.

3. Medela In Style Pump Hate to love this one - it's been months, but I still feel like a cow every time I hook up to this thing. Pumping is my nemesis, but I wouldn't be able to escape for some much needed me time (or go to work) if it wasn't for my pump. I was generously given this pump second-hand from my sister-in-law, so this was one gear item that I didn't do any research on. After replacing the filters and hose, and giving it a good clean, it was good to go. I've never tried anything else, so I can't compare, but it has worked great for me. Despite my angst.

4. Pippalily Toy Strap A toy strap is crucial unless you don't mind buying multiple Sophies and sippies. I like Pippalily for their fun fabrics, and velcro on either end for easy on/off and sizing.

5.  Ingenuity Sleep Easy Play yard Oh the research I did on "play yards". We wanted a bassinet for the the first few months of room sharing with B, and we knew we'd need a portable bed for cottages and grandparent's houses down the road. After a ton of hunting, I decided on this one. The selling point, in addition to good reviews, was the washability of it. The whole fabric part just zips off and can be thrown in the wash. Ask me if I've ever had to wash it? No, but it is a nice feature that will likely come in handy as it ages.

6. Skip Hop Pronto! changing pad Having wipes and diapers all in one handy changing pad is essential for changes on the go. You do not want to be lugging a baby plus a full diaper bag, that you'll have to dig through to find wipes, into a washroom for a changing. You can easily lay out the Pronto!, and fold it back up again, with one hand. This thing has been invaluable in restaurants, cottages, grandparents houses, airplanes, hotels, car trunks, parks, etc.

7. MEC Ride Warm Stroller Bag  Our winters can be bloody cold (as we are experiencing this winter). We love this stroller bunting. It totally looks like a sleeping bag (and is actually sold in MEC's sleeping bag dept if you're looking for it), but it has slits in the back for a stroller harness. It is down filled and huge - lasting us two winters so far. Last winter when B was tiny, I would just tuck the end where his legs didn't reach under to keep the size of it smaller and warmer for him. This year, it fits great, and there is still room to grow.

8. Nose Frida Snot Sucker & Boogie Wipes. I've lost count of how many colds B has had this past year. This little sucker is crucial to helping him breath better. He tolerates it pretty well too considering. The wipes also make snot wiping easy (no head thrashing!) since they are soft and moist and smell nice.

9. Summer Infant SwaddleMe We swaddled B for almost 4 months. We tried many different swaddlers, and these were our favourites. They were the fastest and easiest to wrap, and the velcro kept things tight, keeping little hoodinis in.

10. Nellie's Laundry Soda & Buncha Farmers Stain Remover Both of these were recommended to us by the cloth diapering people. I initially thought I'd only use Nellie's for B's clothes and diapers, but the stuff is so amazing that it is all we use now. I will never go back to liquid detergent.

11. iPhone  Phone, camera, video, baby monitor, white noise machine, diaper/sleep/nursing tracker, baby guider, friend connector, 2AM baby question answerer, nursing entertainer, linktotheoutsideworldsanitysaver.

12. My Brest Friend Nursing pillows are one thing I didn't shop around for. I'd seen this one in use though and loved it's ergonomic shape and little back pillow, and strap-on ability. I only wish that it came in a higher pillow height to accommodate tall mummas.

13. Coconut Oil  This was initially recommended to us as a bum cream by the cloth diapering gurus, but I have also used it on my nipples (to prevent chapping), as a moisturizer for dry skin, as make-up remover, and of course, to cook with. I am addicted to this stuff.

14. Primo Euro Bath This was not our first tub. We started with a folding one for easy storage, but B quickly outgrew it. Being a big baby, I am always looking for "tall" baby gear. The Primo is the biggest tub I could find on the market, and I love how it can accommodate an infant in the lying position, or a sitting baby. B is an off the charts tall baby, but we just stopped using it last week.

15. Ergo Baby Carrier  Considering how important it is to find a good carrier that fits well, and the huge variety to choose from, it is a bit of a surprise that I also didn't really research this one. We were given a Bjorn (never used), and the infant insert for the Ergo. I'd heard great things about the Ergo, so I bought one when they came on sale without much thought. Both my husband and I have used it for walks, travel and for the few months when B wouldn't nap anywhere else late in the afternoon. It is comfortable and fits all of us well.

What were your first year favourites? Anything that made life with a newborn just a little bit easier?


Ah, breastfeeding. Such a natural thing. Yet, so difficult for soooooo many women.

I never thought twice about whether or not I would breastfeed B. If not for the many health benefits for both parties involved, then for the convenience and cost savings.

Nutritious. Free. Convenient. Really, why would you not?

Well, as my pregnant belly grew, I heard more and more stories of women not being able to for a variety of reasons. I don't think I heard a single story about a babe coming out of the womb, latching on, and nursing happily without some issues along the way. Poor latching. Blocked ducts. Tongue ties. Lip ties. Cracked, bleeding nipples. Mastitis. Thrush. Over-active letdown. No letdown. Low milk production. Yikes. Ouch. Yikes.

These things scared me more than labour and delivery.

On one hand, the whole boob-is-best campaign is threatening me with "you better breastfeed your babe or else...", and on the other hand, there are all these mummas, books, and blogs scaring the crap out of me, saying "GOOD LUCK SISTER! MUAHHAHA!"

Talk about pressure.

I wonder, do other mammals in the animal kingdom have as much difficulty nursing as we Homo sapiens seem to? Do they struggle with proper latches? Do they get sore, cracked nipples? Without lactation consultants, pumps, bottles, tubes, formula, meds, ice, or heat, what does an animal mumma do?!?!?

These questions kept me up at night.

Pregnancy. Labour. Breastfeeding. Three new adventures for my body.

I saw these three things in a similar light when I was pregnant. I could prepare somewhat for each, but ultimately I had NO idea how my body would manage each one until I was fully submerged. Prrrretty scary stuff for the control freak in me.

And so I prepared for breastfeeding the same way I prepared for pregnancy and birth - I educated myself and found some great people to be on my team. And thank goodness I did, because between the issues that did crop up, the sleep deprivation and the hormones, I fully understand why some women wave the white milk flag and turn to formula.

Here's how I prepared for breastfeeding:

1. have a Fairy-Boob Mother (AKA the Lactation Consultant) on speed dial

If you are pregnant, as soon as you have finished this paragraph, put down the computer and go and find yourself a lactation consultant. Ideally, find one that that does hospital and home visits for those first few days. Plug her contact info into your phone. Do this. Now.

Not sure where to look? Check out La Leche League in your area. They offer all sorts of breastfeeding help for expectant and new mummas. Search their site for a certified lactation consultant in your area.

If you have a nursing store in your area, ask them for a referral. Here in Ottawa, we have Milkface that offers breastfeeding classes for expectant parents, lactation consultant referrals, and even a Breastfeeding Café where mummas can come together to chat, ask questions (it is run by a wonderful LC) and nibble goodies.

I dutifully stuck a recommended LC's contact info to our fridge door when I was eight months pregnant. I am so thankful that someone suggested that I do this, and that I did. My LC was ahhhmazing. Even though things seemed to be going pretty well the first 24 hours after B was born, I still had her come to our house to check his latch, and answer a few questions the day after he was born. She taught me a few things, and helped me out with positions. It turned out that I needed her more and more as the days and weeks went on when I started having problems with an over-active letdown and a little thing called Mammary Constriction Syndrome. She came to my house within 24 hours if I called, and would check in with me regularly. She was my fairy boob-mother.

2. Read a Book, or Two

Here are my top breastfeeding book picks:

1  /  2  /  3

Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding. This is considered by many to be the breastfeeding bible. I love Jack. I read his book. I studied his online videos the week before I gave birth. I emailed him when I was having insanely intense boob and back pain after nursings. He knows a thing or two about breastfeeding.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. And an art it is. This book is produced by La Leche League International, and they kinda know their stuff as a world leader in breastfeeding support. The book takes you through the various stages of breastfeeding (new baby, growing baby, daycare baby, weaning baby), while discussing common issues and concerns along the way.

Breastfeeding Made Simple. I roll my eyes at the title of this book considering I found nothing simple about learning to breastfeed. But I like how this books lays it all out in a simple to read way. Each chapter is devoted to one of their seven natural laws of breastfeeding. Also, the foreword is written by Dr. Newman, so you know it's good stuff.

3. Have some reliable resources on your Rolodex

There is a ton of breastfeeding advice out there. Some good, some not so good - like all advice floating around the www. When I was having my insanely intense post-nursing pain I searched and searched online for answers. It sounded like thrush, but there were no signs of yeast anywhere. It sounded like Raynaud's, but there were definitely some dissimilarities. It was finally Dr. Newman who suggested it might be something I'd never come across online. Thank.You.Jack. If I hadn't contacted him, I likely would have followed the long and tedious suggested remedies for thrush - with no relief. It pays to seek out help from reliable professionals, or at least the information available on their websites.

Here a few sites that I believe to be pretty trustworthy, and worth exploring:

Breastfeeding Inc. is Dr. Newman's site, and is definitely one to explore (shocker!).  I especially like this series of videos - pretty hard to learn to breastfeed from a book, a video is the next best thing, besides actually doing it. And, as I mentioned earlier, you can email Dr. Jack Newman directly.

La Leche League. Their website layout is pretty terrible, but there is great info and forums that you can peruse.

Kelly Mom is another great place for evidence-based articles on breastfeeding, and parenting. Check out her their Preparing to Breastfeed page with all sorts of great articles.

Also, you can download worksheets from Chapter 20 of the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Here are some that you might find handy: Milk StorageDiaper LogDealing with blocked ducts.

4. Emergency Supplies

When we're pregnant, we tend to focus on buying stuff for the little person we've been making, but there are a few essentials you should have ready to go before becoming a breastfeeding mumma.

Ice Pads

When I was pregnant, I read that it was a good idea to moisten and freeze some pads for when you got home from the hospital. These, I was told, would come in handy to help with perineum pain and healing postpartum. Well, in a desperate, sleep deprived state I discovered that they also offered tremendous breast pain relief...

There is some debate over whether you should heat or ice your boobs, if anything at all, but I really think it depends on what's going on. I didn't have cracked nipples, but they did feel like they'd been through a wringer from B clamping down trying not to drown in my firehose flow. After one feeding, I desperately reached into the freezer, grabbed a pad and shoved it in my bra (I guess we didn't have any normal, lunch-bag  variety ice packs kicking around). Relief! I got smart and switched to the smaller, boob pads after that. My husband took on pad duty, constantly moistening them, popping them in the freezer, and making sure I always had a good stash of clean, frozen pads. He'd run downstairs in the middle of the night to grab me fresh ones after each feeding.

Ahhh, I can still feel the relief from those pads like it was yesterday.

Nip Cream - pure lanolin, coconut oil

Again, much debate on what works here. I religiously expressed a little milk after each feeding, rubbing it around my nipples. But you're nursing so bloody much in those first few weeks, and I was so worried about my nipples drying up and cracking like the Sahara, so I also used Lanolin and coconut oil. I'd smear that stuff on like nobody's business. All in the name of prevention. Thankfully, I never had any Sahara-like nips.

I also ended up getting Jack Newman's All Purpose Nipple Cream (from my midwife) as I was at wits end with my odd breast/back pain. I am not sure if it is what worked in the end, or just the fact that B learned to handle my firehose flow, but it did provide some pain relief when I was dealing with my Mammary Constriction Syndrome.

Nursing Bras

When I think of a bra, I think of support. And so I don't really like to think of my initial nursing bras as bras. They were more like boob covers, and devices to hold my ice pads, and keep the milk/Lanolin/coconut oil off my clothes and the furniture. Otherwise, I probably would have walked around with nothing on since it seemed like all I was doing was nursing in those first few weeks.

The last thing I wanted was something restrictive around my engorged, tender boobs, telling them where to go. Tank-tops with the built in "shelf" were great. And still are, especially at night. I started with a bunch of these ones, and eventually got more supportive ones, like these. I also used these nursing bras, but again, the goal was containment, not upping my cup size. It was up enough. I suggest looking for soft, flexible (your boob size will be all over the place), "support" for the first few weeks. Three or four devices should suffice.

At around four to six weeks, you should be okay to progress to more supportive (and prettier!) ones. This is currently one of my favourite everyday kinda bra. And  this is my favourite sports bra (great for postnatal exercise class when you're a sweaty mess and need to feed your babe after class).

Nursing Pillow

Ergonomics, mummas. Ergonomics. The hours and hours and hours that you will spend breastfeeding demand that you put your posture on the priority list. Or you will pay. Back, neck, shoulder and wrist pain are all too common to breastfeeding mummas. Sore backs from bent over, slumped over, crunched up spines. Neck pain from keeping a close eye on that latch. Shoulder and wrist pain for holding the little person in position. I loved My Brest Friendbecause it supported me, with the little lumbar pillow, and my babe nicely. And I liked that I could buckle into it so it stayed put. Other popular choices are the Boppy, Plush n' Posh, JJ Cole Nursing Pillow.

When you are picking a nursing pillow (and it could be a pillow you already have at home) consider the length of your torso. If you are on the long side like I am, a skinny pillow may not be enough to bring your babe up to your breast.

5. Mental Prep

Breastfeeding is like a sports match. You have no idea how it will play out. Things might start off great - winning! But in the second period, your team mate starts dropping the ball, and all of a sudden you're sidelined. Game over.

Or maybe the game never gets started.

I think it's important to recognize that there is no guarantee that breastfeeding will go well, or at all. No matter how much you want it. Or how much you prepare. Recognize that it may or may not work out. And that is OKAY.

But do know that you can make the road a lot less bumpy and increase your chance of success if you find great people who will play on your team, and support you along the way.

If you've settled into breastfeeding, and the boobs feel pretty good, but the rest of your body aches from hunching over for hours on end, there's help for that too!

* This post contains no affiliate links, just stuff I've found helpful!


(Photo curtesy of the Université de Montréal)

This morning, my mother-in-law mentioned a new study out of the Université de Montréal that has shed light on the importance of maternal exercise on neonatal brain development.

This was the first human study of its kind to measure the effects of exercise during pregnancy on newborn brain activity. The findings were presented yesterday at Neuroscience 2013, in San Diego, California.

Eighteen pregnant women were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a sedentary group. The brain activity of the newborns was tested with electroencaphalography (EEG) when they were between 8 to 12 days old. The findings indicated that 20 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise (causing slight shortness of breath or to be more technical, exercising at a minimal intensity of 55% of their max aerobic capacity), three times a week, resulted in more focused, mature, newborn brain activity. 

The researchers note that the study's findings are not intended to cast guilt on mothers who do not, or cannot exercise for health reasons (newborns in the sedentary-mum group showed normal brain activity), but suggest that exercise should be encouraged to pregnant woman who are capable.

It should be noted that this study was performed with a group of 18 pregnant women - a considerably small sample group. Also know that the study is ongoing, in that the researchers will test the babies again at one year of age.

The findings of this study are not exactly earth shattering. It is prrrretty well recognized that aerobic exercise is associated with countless health benefits for the vast majority of people, including expectant mothers. But it is great to see some preliminary research indicating a positive effect of maternal exercise on fetal brain development.

Hmmmm….twenty minutes of brisk walking gets me to my favourite gelato store.

Not that I am pregnant.