Friday, 30 January 2015

Mommy Mental Health: Coping with a Bad Sleeper

New Year's Resolution: Get more sleep.

They say the sign of good parenting is a happy baby. If that were the case, I would be a rock star in the field. My son is a good eater, a decent sleeper, and quite the little performer. He loves to be the center of attention. Through family, baby groups, and mall walks though, I know that good parenting comes in many forms. One friend of mine does what amounts to a full aerobic routine to rock her daughter to sleep.  Another dealt with sleepless nights due to her son's colic for the first six months. A third knows every kids' song in the book, and has no shame in belting it out to calm her fussy tot. Alas, what I really am is lucky.

I've had my fair share of sleepless nights, been pinned to the couch because I was afraid my napper would wake, played the same song over and over so my son would relax in the car.  I know it's not easy. So what do you do if you're at your wit's end?


Start by knowing a little more about baby's sleep and disturbances. In the first three months, the best approach is the one-two punch of diaper and feeding. 99% of the time that's the cause. You might want to use a piece of paper, whiteboard, or phone app to track the last change and feed to better see trends and predict behaviours. It's not fool proof, but it's about as good as it gets with a newborn. For 3 months and older, you might want to try to implement some semblance of routine and try to gets some blocks of actual shut eye. A good way to show your child that it's time to sleep is simply finding a set of pre-bed activities to indicate night time for your baby. This might include a combination of things like a nice long cuddle and feed, a story, a bath, or other predictable elements which work to sooth your little one.

Realistic expectations

For those tiny infants, a "full night's sleep" is 5 hours. Yup, just five. So you maybe go through multiple cycles with long periods of wakefulness over night. It's one of the reason those early days are just so hard on mom. You just never feel caught up. Older babies generally sleep 9-12 hours, but not always all at once. The goal, of course, is to have them sleeping through the night (for their own health and yours), but not all babies work like that. Like grown ups, some kids are night owls, others are early risers, and you might not be the same. You can juggle their sleep in some ways, with patience and time, but in other respects, their body will do what it's going to do. You might consider sleep training, if you're of that camp, or simply understanding and mediating the reasons that cause your particular child to wake. For my son, it's hunger and wetness. Even with extra-dry, 12 hour, super diapers, my boy always needs at least one change throughout the night. On cue, when he wakes because he's wet, he also thinks to himself "I could use a snack." Personally, I don't mind terribly his once or twice a night rousal over a ten hour period. If it's more than that, I know that one of 2 things is usually true:
  1. He didn't eat enough for dinner. If we have been trying new foods or fed him too far out of his normal dinner time, it has a tendency to impact the night.
  2. He's teething. This is a major issue for him, but only sporadically. It is usually fixed by Orajel, Tylenol, or one of our other suggestions here.
Dealing with the inevitable

As you train, or during those few nights that happen once and a while where your child is up constantly, you need to comfort and cope. First and foremost, check yourself. Pause for a moment and breathe, trade places with your spouse, heck - go to the bathroom. The calmer you are, the easier the battle is fought. A mentor of mine and public health nurse put it this way; if you're concerned, on top of their own trouble, they will start to think "now what's her problem? Am I not safe?" It adds a layer of panic on to what was just a simply physiological response before.

Each time you enter the room, do a simple head to toe check to observe anything obvious; any fever, vomit, diaper leakage, etc that would be the immediate cause of concern. If nothing presents itself as uncomfortable, try a simple comfort before waking the baby completely. This might mean a low shhh, a light rub, a pacifier, or whatever soother best fits your child. The idea is to minimize noise and contact in case the baby is awake due to something small such as a dream or gas bubble that is quickly remedied. If the crying doesn't stop, or worsens (or of course if the child is under 3 months), diapering, feeding, or a more attentive cuddle will have to do. No one said parenthood would be easy.

The morning after

No matter how rough the previous night was, my son is happy, smiling, and ready to take on the day. Me? Not so much. If you are feeling tired and overwhelmed, pare down your day as much as you can. You might not be able to avoid doctor's visits and the like, but the laundry can wait and the little one will just have to miss playgroup. 

As you lay on the couch, thanking the gods for swings (or playpens, or exersaucers), reflect on how you did. This means both thinking about why baby might have been up, and ways to avoid it again, but it also means giving yourself a little pat on the back for surviving the trenches. You didn't want to sing your entire repertoire of kiddie songs, you didn't want to walk laps of your house in the middle of the night, you didn't want to see every 47 minutes on your alarm clock, but you did it for your baby. You're a great mom.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Trend Watch: Fitness Technology for Kids

New Year's Resolution: Get the kids off the couch.

As parents, many of the goals we have for ourselves are also goals we have for our children. However, we can more easily guide our children towards success, at times, because we are external motivators and can impose restrictions, encourage, and/or simplify processes for them. For example, in the case of healthy eating we simplify by choosing the right foods and serving them at proper meal and snack times, we encourage by rewarding good eating habits, and we restrict by limiting how many sugary treats they are allowed. When it comes to our own goals, there is no such all-in-one success coach. This is part of the reason fitness technology has become so popular in the adult fitness market. Things like Fitbit or the Wii balance board make it easier to track progress, to get motivated, and to work towards milestones. For certain personality types, these are the ultimate trainers. 

Based on the popularity of these products, and in response to a growing childhood obesity epidemic, companies have been creating fitness tech for children in hopes of expanding the market. I’m not totally on board with this type of motivation for children, and believe there are healthier, more sustainable ways to encourage activity, but let’s take a closer look at this current new trend.

Leapfrog LeapBand

By now, we’re all familiar with the Fitbit and its competitors - small, wearable fitness tracking technology that adults sport on their wrists and use to track their activity levels, sleep patterns, and fitness goals. With different apps, Fitbit users can share their step counts and activity successes with other users; encouraging healthy competition against their own daily best and that of their friends. These tiny, technological personal trainers aren't for everyone, but I can see the merit of using one of these relatively inexpensive pieces of wearable technology to train for a marathon or keep yourself on track when trying to get fit.

Based on the omnipresence of this product, LeapFrog has created the LeapBand a version for children. Chalked up with parental controls (to limit class time and night time use), these wrist accessories encourage kids to complete physical activities using games, points, and rewards.

XBox Kinect

With the popularity of video games, there is a lot of talk about the gamification. This is, essentially, using the theories and structures of video games outside of the gaming world. It can be used for anything from teaching a child to read to, in this case, encouraging physical activity. For this trend the sensor technology sold alongside video game consoles, like the XBox Kinect or the Nintendo Wii, is an easy sell. Kids mimic the movement of different sports, like tennis or soccer, from the comfort of their own homes, racking up points and watching the rewards on screen. These are somewhat physically demanding video gaming experiences (unless the child figures out how to manipulate the controller to get the points without following through on the full movement).

There are 2 reasons I can gauge that these products have been created:

Technological Awareness. Children are early adopters of technology who are showing interest in their parent’s Fitbits and (just like their parents) they enjoy the satisfaction of completing a challenge, the delight of playing games, and the act of tracking successes.

Childhood Obesity. The Canadian Government released statistics that tell us that “close to one third (31.5%) of 5- to 17-year-olds, an estimated 1.6 million, were classified as overweight (19.8%) or obese (11.7%) in 2009 to 2011” and the obesity percentage was three times higher in boys than girls (19.5% vs.6.3%).

Despite the potential for health improvements in children, I have many questions about the effectiveness of this trend. Most importantly: do these products send the right message about fitness and health to children or are we already making compromises this young?

But also: Do they have the power to sustain children's attention for the long run? Adults using Fitbit are self-motivated. A Fitbit tracks your daily activity (how many steps you took, how far you walked, etc) but expects the user to make the decision to workout and set goals for themselves. For children, the LeapBand games may become tiresome or repetitive and if children aren't learning to be fit for fitness sake, will their enthusiasm wane? Are children actually associating this with strengthening their bodies and staying healthy, or do they view it as a video game that is easily replaced by another pastime?

It is essential to get kids up and moving, and if this is the only way to inspire activity, then I support it, but I have to think that we can better encourage healthy habits by modelling for our children, introducing them to various activities, and prioritizing getting outside and moving. And, remember that there are options beyond the obvious team sports, dance lessons, hiking clubs, family Zumba classes at the Y. Finding what inspires your child to want to move for the sake of fitness may take a bit of trial and error but it will benefit them for a lifetime.

What do you think about fitness technology for kids? What works for your family?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Mommy Money Matters: Saving For a Rainy Day

New Year's Resolution: Create an Emergency Fund.

At no time of the year is frugality so highly praised. Everyone is recovering from the hang over of the holidays and most of us still look at our accounts and bills with more than a little disappointment. So you meal plan for a few weeks, clip some coupons, skimp on extras... but then you get tired, and you fall back in to routine. Cutting back is hard, and saving when you don't have a lot to begin with is even harder. With my son growing, and hopefully more in my future, I need a strategy for just that. Getting more for less, and putting something aside at the same time. 

A tall order, but if there's anyone who values a bargain more than me, I'd like to meet them, so I've got a plan. It's a three part-er, and it goes back to the core of saving smart since our grandparents time; spend less than you make, pay yourself first, and a penny saved is a penny earned.

Spend less than you make

The first step to living within your means is know exactly what that amount is. Most people don't. Sure you might know your hourly wage, or your pre-tax annual salary, but do you know how much you actually have to spend on a monthly basis? Take a look at a few months' bank statements or pay stubs to figure out your family's actual income and you might be surprised, but it's better to know. Next, use an excel program, interactive worksheet, or even just a piece off paper to list every fixed expense you have. Things like your rent or mortgage, your utilities, your car payments, your cable package, etc. They add up very quickly. It's a lot of work, but it can be done in a few hours with dedication, and it is worth the trouble. Now is a perfect time to also list somewhere so that you can predict your payment schedule and not be caught off guard when something big is deducted from your account.

The income less those fixed expenses is always much less that you were hoping for. Remember, what's left still has to stretch over all your variable needs from groceries to gas money, so it might be much tighter than you can manage. If so, it's time to take a hard look at your lifestyle to see what you can cut down or out. You might want to consider this, even if you are not as pinched. Paying less on hydro and internet is never a bad choice (see our tips here), and the more money you have to work with for the next steps, the easier your saving lifestyle will be.

Pay yourself first

Once the reality of your budget is clear (or even if you would rather remain in the dark), you now have to carve it even further. A portion of that money, no matter how small, has to be set aside for savings. Think of it as another bill - an obligation to your future self in case you-know-what hits the fan. You can never predict when the transmission is going to break, or when family is going to stop in for a visit (both of which happened to us this December), so you have to plan ahead. 

You might not have a whole lot to spare, but $25 every two weeks over a year is $650 plus any interest and spare change you're able to throw at it. A very good step in the right direction. Put it somewhere that you know will be reserved for those unexpected emergencies. The bank can help you with a vehicle like a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), or simply an account that you do not have access to with your bank card. A big piggy bank will do just as well, if you have the willpower. The point is, this is for you, don't cheat.

A penny saved...

Once you start to hear the heavy jingle of that piggy, or can see the progress of your online account, work hard to keep it growing. You might not have the patience for coupons or the time to wait for a mom swap, but there are ways to cut back this week without feeling the pinch. This is where you might have to think a little outside the box, but it's worth it. 
  • Learn the art of the casserole; skip a week's groceries and put your reserves of cans and frozen goodies to use with a little help from Pinterest.
  • Buy an almanac; before we could get whatever whenever, our grandparents had to know what was in season. It's still the very cheapest and healthiest way to eat!
  • Go local; enjoy time with your family at a park or community event. You'll get some exercise and new perspective on your city! 
  • Count it out; if you think you need a new shirt or sweater, start by counting the number you have. You might find some you forgot you had, or just realize your drawers are stuffed!
How do you keep your family on budget? We're always looking for ways to save a buck! Join the conversation on Facebook at

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mommy Mental Health: The Art of Relaxation

New Year's Resolution: Stress Less

Lost in thought the other day, my husband asked me what I was doing. "Processing a bunch of things," was my response. "What else is new," was his reply. He's absolutely right. I am often guilty of over thinking, stressing, pre-planning, and otherwise burdening my mind with a lot - and often. I can't seem to help myself. As if the mental to do lists and scheduling are on auto-pilot, preventing me from truly enjoying even pleasant experiences like movies and social gatherings. If you're like me, you know that it's taxing. It's not a fun thing to worry about bills long before they're due, or think about how much time you will need to spend on laundry when you get home from the grocery store. This is something of a life goal of mine-to stress less-so I've put together a list of some do's and don'ts that I use in my own day.

Don't: Give more of yourself than you have to offer

If you are a helper, teacher, or mother figure by nature, as I believe myself to be, you might feel compelled to pitch in every time something is asked of you, or even when nothing has. I love to watch my husband play hockey, bake for family gatherings, and always manage to have time to tutor a friend or edit a paper. Since being off on maternity leave, I have piled on the baby groups, chores, and other tasks to create a routine for myself. A routine that is sometimes unobtainable due to illness, weather, or any number of normal life setbacks. As I struggle to fit it all in, I read fewer books than I would like, I tend to eat convenience foods to save time (if I remember to eat at all), and I make a lot of similar, minor sacrifices that build up. To appreciate friends and family is super important, and I don't feel as though I'm losing out on anything when I support or share time with them. After the holidays, however, you're probably feeling the same relief of less fixed times and dates in your calendar. Your time is limited, and you have to spend at least some of it on you.

  • Find something fixed that you can call your own, and fit it in. I relish my hot shower, even if I have to wait until 1pm to get it. It's small, it's simple, but it's super important to me. A clean me is a fresh me, ready to take on my day.
  • Know when you're tapped out. Occasionally you won't be able to run the school fundraiser or  shovel your neighbour's driveway before they get home, and that's OK!
  • Take a deep breath, and prioritize. Sometimes that means the school play, sometimes that means a nap, some times that means a freakin' sandwich. Fuel your mind.
Don't: Torture yourself before (or during) bedtime

With my son safely in dreamland and my husband happily sawing logs beside me, I have spent many nights staring at the ceiling and running over and over chores for the morning. I would roll over, tell myself to let it go, then immediately remember a commitment that jeopardized my plan, or an oversight that I hadn't previously considered. Finally, sleepy and drifting off, my baby would immediately wake for a feeding, forcing me to get even less rest (through no fault of his own). A nap is a luxury, not a guarantee. The closer to 8 hours as night you can arrange for yourself, the better. The absolute worst time to be thinking about what didn't get done and how that will impact tomorrow is the very end of your day as you head off to sleep. Rest is precious, and so needed to be fully in control of yourself and ready for the challenges ahead. Sabotaging that is the worst crime to which you can subject yourself.

  • Wind down, don't crash. Have a warm drink, read a book, take bath... just give yourself a head start rather than frantically throwing in a load of whites and catching up on your news feed.
  • Get it out of your head. Period. Listen to some music, write a list, or provide yourself some other distraction, stat. Tell yourself that you cannot accomplish anything right now.
  • Talk it out. If there is a repeat offender in your mind (a hurtful comment, a big expense, any nagging concern), bite the bullet and deal with it. Explaining to your spouse or a caring friend lightens the burden so you can let yourself rest.

Don't: Forget that life is short, and maybe shorter than you know...

I can hardly believe that my son is 9 months into his life and that I will be going back to work soon. It makes me focus that much harder on the play time and the cuddles, rather than the laundry pile and the (now ever present) "floor Cheerios." The days can sometimes feel long, but the months truly fly by and you need to appreciate the journey a little along the way. That doesn't mean you're going to love every second of motherhood. It's hard work. Find me the women who adores poo-spolsions and mid-mall temper tantrums, and I'll show you a liar. Still, there's something amazing about a 3 am cuddle and the sound of your child's steady breathing. Bathtime splash-fests, messy mouthed kisses, and colourful blocks only last so long. No one lays in their deathbed wishing they had spent more time sanitizing their home.

  • Take a deep breath. See the beauty in any situation... or at least the humour! My husband and I love to joke about the stories we'll tell at my son's wedding!
  • Make notes. You might think you'll remember everything about their youth, but memories fade. It doesn't hurt to sit down monthly with a baby book or journal.
  • Pick your battles. Live the chaos knowing that we all do it. We have pajama days. We have sinks full of dishes. We have more rattles than jewelry. We have children.

Maybe Elsa has it right when she sings "Let it go!" There's so much as women, parents, and humans that we hold on to that doesn't serve us. Why ruin your day thinking about other places and times, when you could be appreciating the now? It's easier to say than to implement, I know it, but try. I can see how much happier my baby is when I'm in a good mood, and it's a bit of a wake up call. Your state of mind impacts the people around you. Play a little, laugh a lot, and make today better than yesterday! You'll thank yourself for it!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

What to Pack: Going to the Library

New Year's Resolution: Read more books.

If you think about it, the library is actually the key to many of your New Year's Resolutions beyond the (ever noble) goal to read more books. If you're looking to spend more quality time with your children, the library throws events and story times you can attend. If your goal is to save money, the library is the best place to borrow movies, current magazines, and books-free of charge! If your goal is to eat better, the library offers hundreds of cookbooks and popular diet and fitness books to inspire you. If your goal is to learn a new skill, you can head to the library to a class on a new technology, or to a knitting circle. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. It's in the best interest of your whole family to get to know your local library better. It's there to improve your quality of life! (Yes, I admit, as a librarian I am biased, but I speak the truth.)

Now that you're convinced of the many merits of your public library, you may be wondering how to get the most out of your visit. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Wear comfortable clothes.
While the library is a haven of acceptance and equality, you'd seriously regret wearing a tight pencil skirt and stiletto heals on a family visit. First of all, you'll probably be there a while, reading to your child, browsing the shelves, or sitting in on a story time. Add to that low shelves or sitting on the floor in a semi-circle, and you'll be glad you're wearing a nice pair of jeans and a sweater. Dressing your child in layers is a good idea (no matter the season), because you never know how active a sing-a-long will get and extended time in an air conditioned space may require a sweater.

Be in the know.
Pick up a calendar of events for your local branch to really take advantage of what's on offer. Some programs require registration or have age specifications, so it's best to get informed about which programs and services are catered to you and your family. It's always fun to head over to the library to simply browse the stacks and take a few titles home to enjoy, but there's is so much more to the library than that. 

Prepare in advance.
If your library has multiple branches, you can use the online catalogue (or a friendly librarian) to request things from other branches. This saves you time, and seriously expands your options. You can also place a hold on books or movies you really want, so that you don't have to be disappointed at your next visit when someone beat you to the punch. This comes in handy if your 7 year old is reading a series of books and needs number 13 next, or if you want to read one of the season's hottest books that just never stays on the shelf.

Pack a snack.
Promoting a love of reading requires positive associations to books (and libraries). You don't want to undermine the activity with a hunger induced grump storm. The library is no place for take-out dinners but most branches are now more lax about food rules so you can bring in your coffee (with a lid) and small dry snacks like granola bars.

A trip to the library isn't a big event, but it is very special. Taking the time to visit your community branch monthly (or weekly) connects you with your neighbours, expands your horizons, and, simply put, is a fun thing to do.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Mom's Own Health: Trying to Quit

New Year's Resolution: Removing Vices

While many resolutions have us trying to fit more in to our already packed days, the most common, I imagine, is actually the removal of something. Quitting smoking, drinking less, or giving up junk food, land pretty high up on people's top objectives, and it's tough. While hitting the gym takes time, if you can drag your lazy butt there, you feel amazing afterwards. You have the pride of accomplishment, and probably some better sleep to maintain your confidence. Not so with the removal of the crutches we all have in our lives.

Each "vice" serves a purpose. They fill a need in our lives that go well beyond the physiological craving of the item itself. For me for example, take out coffee is the single biggest drain on my spending money. When I'm at home with my percolator, french press, and my single serve brewer (um, yup, all three), it seems ridiculous to spend money on coffee out of the house. I buy quality brands to home brew, and cute travel mugs to tote it in, so I have no excuse. Except the baby did something unexpected (duh), and then I ran out of the house to catch the bus, but then I got to the mall early, so I had a little time... I mean, those Canadian comfort cups of joe and those artfully steamed dream cups get me every time!

While I certainly don't plan to give up my drink of choice, my health and wallet would absolutely benefit from my curtailing my purchase of take out coffee specifically. Full fat creamer and richly flavoured syrups are just not things I indulge in at home, and that's fine. I don't need a mocha every day, just like I don't eat cheesecake for dessert on a Wednesday (unless that Wednesday is my birthday, naturally). So, I had to stop and think about why I do it, and often don't feel badly about it, until later. I think a lot of these reasons will strike a chord with whatever guilty pleasure you are holding on to, and just might help you fight it head on this year.

One of the reasons (other than the awesome taste) that I drink as much coffee as I do, is the culture of java. Meeting someone for a drink (be it caffeinated or alcoholic) is a social thing. It is a chance to tell stories and make stories, with strangers and friends alike. This is probably why 20-somethings have bars and business schmoozers do lunch. The coffee (or meal, or cigarette) is something to have in your hand, and occupy your mouth, to minimize awkwardness. For myself, baby group already has such a distraction - babies! If you're having trouble relating, or you don't know what to say, just watch the kids. Narrate their actions or ask about their outfits. Mom's love talking about their offspring.

Another way take out coffee fills my needs, is comfort. I really enjoy travelling, and coffee houses are everywhere. From frothy drinks in Shanghai to tiny cups in Barcelona, I have been known to buy a drink multiple times a day. Something about the familiarity, even far from home, is reassuring. Before my son was born, my boss and I would buy a coffee every morning on our way to work together. We bonded, we grew to know the staff, we had a routine. Routine is a soothing way to start the day for me as a non-morning person. I just follow the steps until my mind catches up to my body. So... all I have to do is make a habit of something new. Hard, but not impossible.

Lastly, I think coffee is almost a hobby for me. I don't regularly play a sport, I'm not really in to collectibles, and I don't have many crafty skills. The process of going out for coffee involves some time and action that a mug at home doesn't. On the weekend, we can grab something on our way back from the grocery store. After a weekly play date, my husband and I can meet for a treat and discuss the day. It's something to do, as well as consume. As if I have all this time to spare! With all this supposed "coffee time," I can learn a new skill this year. One that has concrete results, and no calories! This might mean something I've always wanted to learn, like knitting, or simply improving something I already enjoy in a more dedicated way, like photography.

I'm not saying that every bad habit is as easy to decrease as mine. There are real withdrawls, and it takes a lot of dedication to give up something that you are physically and mentally attached to. 2015 is a new year, and maybe looking at something you want to change in a new way will help to kick whatever monkey you're over off your back. 

Tell us all your craving kickers and victories on Facebook!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Mom's Own Health: Group Benefit Insurance

New Year's Resolution: Feel Better.

In Canada, as in many countries, most of our healthcare is paid for with taxes.  If we were to get in to an emergency situation, we never have to worry about the expense of a hospital stay or a broken bone. That said, a number of our day to day costs are not included in that government funding. Things like glasses, prescription drugs, and dental services are among the pricey things we pay for out of pocket. If you're lucky, you may have some additional coverage through work. Group benefit plans are a wonderful bonus companies offer because they account for and cover many of these items and practitioners that complement your government entitlement.

When you start a job, however, you are bombarded with a lot of paperwork all at once.  You have job training, names to remember, and a whole lot of employee documentation that you put in a drawer, often to never review again. It is also true, that companies occasionally renegotiate contracts and change carriers for improved rates or services. For this reason, I can safely say that most workers have no idea what they are entitled to. Often, they avoid the care they need, or make unnecessary payments as a result. As a mom and an administrator in the benefit insurance industry, here are the two most common benefits that parents under or improperly use and might be available to you.

Semi-Private Hospitalization

While, as I already mentioned, hospitalization is covered by your provincial healthcare plan, what you are entitled to is ward care. A ward room is a large space housing on average 4-8 (or more) beds separated by privacy curtains. This is a perfectly fine way to be treated and if you can afford no better, there is no shame at all. The same nurses, medication, and care is provided in this space as in any room of the hospital. If, however, your company covers semi-private (common) or private (less common) room availability, you might be a little more comfortable.

When dealing with some of the private activities associated with birth and delivery (breastfeeding, bleed checks, etc), it might feel like the fewer people that know about it, the better. There will already be a whole host of doctors and nurses down there so it's understandable. In addition, you might be receiving some visitors to see your new family member, so the additional space is usually appreciated. It varies by hospital, but a semi-private room charge is typically in the range of $225 nightly, with approximately an additional $50 for a private space. Check with your insurance company (not just someone at work) before you agree to the luxury so that you're not on the hook.

Practitioner Services

In the late stages of pregnancy and soon after delivery, you experience a great deal of pain. From lower back aches to pulled muscles and tension headaches, it can really hurt to bring a person in to the world, apart from labour (obviously). There are many specialists that might have the ticket to a great deal of relief for you through physiotherapy, massage therapy, or chiropractic services. Individual sessions range from $40 - 100 each, so a course of treatment can add up very, very quickly.

I would suggest that you speak to your doctor about any discomfort you are experiencing first for a number of reasons, but mainly to ensure that they recommend that you receive services of a healthcare practitioner rather than a prescription or other covered remedy. Many group plans require a doctor's note in order to consider payment for any treatment. The doctor may also refer you to some one with experience in your particular condition (ie pre-natal, postpartum, or any other pre-exisiting trouble). Registered Massage Therapist (RMT), for example, is a protected title, so you know the individual is trained and licensed. Not just any hot stone session is covered by group plans. Next, speak to your insurance company about any deductible, per visit maximum and insured year maximum your plan has so you know the amount you have to work with. 

If you're on the phone with your insurer, why not ask for a current copy of your benefit booklet so that you can see what other expenses are available to you. Not all plans cover eye glasses, not all dental procedures are eligible, and a big bill on maternity leave is the last thing you want to be stuck with.

One final thing... your company might not have junior's particulars on file yet! Make sure your insurer has your baby's full name, gender, and date of birth so that if he or she needs a prescription, you're all prepared!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Drink More Water - What and When?

New Year's Resolution: Hydration, Hydration, Hydration.

They say that the key to a healthy diet, glowing skin, and so much more is in those 8 glasses a day. Aside from the additional, ahem, ladies room visits, who has the time to physically drink 64 oz of H2O before bed? Well, we all do, we just don't make it a priority. And is it any wonder? It's not exactly the most exciting beverage in the world. It's heavy to carry a full bottle, in addition to everything you lug around. There are plenty of reasons you can come up with, if you're looking for them. But there are also ways to squeeze it in. 

It's something of a personal challenge of mine to down the requisite amount, and I rarely ever succeed. I've done everything from buying a fancy travel bottle, to squirtable flavouring and still it seems I'm always behind schedule, and not keen on drinking 4 cups after dinner. For your benefit and mine, I've hunted down some unique ways to get your hydration on without the dread. Here are some common complaints about the process and our solutions. No more excuses, drink up!

What: How do I remember to drink more? How do I fit it in to my schedule?

When: Start your day off right, and pair your water with your routine.

Every day is a new start for this resolution, and you have the power to make it easier on yourself the earlier you get started. If you think 8 cups is completely overwhelming at 7 am, imagine how much harder it will be to catch up at 3! Drink a full glass before breakfast to quench that overnight dry mouth. Then what do I mean by pair? Well, you already have intervals to your day, even if you're a stay at home mom, or a shift working dad. You have baby feedings, for example. It's highly recommended that you drink water while breastfeeding anyways, and bottle feeding mamas like myself get thirsty, too! Drink when your baby drinks... Hey, it's way more obtainable advice than "sleep when the baby sleeps!"

What: I don't know how to track exactly what I'm consuming. What a hassle... 

When: Plan to track all day, and make it visual.

Some women swear by drinking from a straw rather than a glass. Others advise to sip every time you pass the water cooler or fridge. However you grab it, give yourself a little gold star, and use it as momentum to keep up the good work! From apps for your smart phone, to pre-marked water bottles, to little check marks on your page-a-day calendar, there are so many innovative ways to keep water in your eye line, and therefore mind, all day long. Believe it or not, the more you drink, the more you will actually sense your need for water. When I'm on track, I often feel the need to drink more presently. If you're not in the habit of water at all, start with a week of 5 a day, then gradually add a cup until you're closer to, or at the ultimate goal.

What: I can't drink ice cold water. Water is so bland, I'd rather drink X.

When: Take the chill off before bed with a warm water drink instead

At 35 weeks pregnant, I got a terrible cold. It was awful, and I didn't want to take anything that could potentially harm the baby. Several times a day, I made myself a hot water drink with honey and lemon. We're deep in sniffle season now, so if you're feeling under the weather, I highly recommend saving money on expensive products like Neocitron with this gem. It's not just for the ill though, this is a great way to replace coffee in a pinch, or to have something warm before bed that's not full of caffeine and calories. Cater it exactly to your taste; swap lemon for lime, use agave syrup instead of honey, or add a splash of orange. You can change it up frequently so you don't get bored.

Of all the expensive gadgets, and high commitment routines you put yourself through this year, water is going to seem like nothing. And yet, you might notice the biggest change. Few cravings, smaller portions, and that healthy complexion. What's water done for you lately? 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Media Reflection: Bringing Up Bébé

New Year's Resolution: Add to the parenting toolbox.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Pamela Druckerman

Hardcover, 304 pages

Penguin Press, 2012

ISBN 13: 9781594203336

This book came out when I was working at a large book store chain down town Toronto, and it seemed to be in the basket of every hip, well-read parent. I immediately added it to the to-read pile in my head but only remembered it when I got pregnant. After a few failed trips to the library, I finally snagged a copy, and I'm very glad I persevered.

I absolutely loved this book. Druckerman struck a beautiful balance between her own experiences, what she has observed as an expatriate in France, feedback from French parents, and expert testimony. While I'm not sure I can incorporate everything presented in the book (either because it would feel too unnatural or because I don't fully agree with the principle) I was awed by her findings. She is clear that French parenting is not a philosophy in the way that Attachment Parenting is, and does not suggest that all French parents are the same in an overarching stereotype, while she praises the culture for rearing polite, autonomous children with adventurous palettes.

I'm glad I read it so early, because there are things that can be put into action right away. I've started to do The Pause with Eloise; taking a minute to observe her as she fusses to make sure she needs me to intervene before sweeping her up into my arms. Half of the time, she settles back down as her small vocalizations were part of her sleep and picking her up would disturb her and make her cry for real. I have also started putting her to bed while awake and letting her put herself to sleep, rather than waiting until she's in a deep slumber to put her into her bassinet. As a result, she sleeps longer (and so do I).

I feel like I will come back to this book as she ages, as so many of the tips made sense to me. While I'm not keen on being so laissez faire with her at the park or so stingy with praise, I do want to give her time to be alone and a sense of true accomplishment when she actually does something exceptional. Too much attention can alter a child's understanding of entitlement, but it strikes me as a difficult thing to handle. Luckily, I have time to ruminate on how I can find my own balance in these matters.

I would definitely recommend that parents give this book a read. In North America, we may be guilty of underestimating what children are capable of, and of overestimating how much stimulation they need. As an American in Paris, Druckerman does a great job of comparing the two cultures and describing one way in which they can be mixed together. As I've said before, I really appreciate personal parenting accounts, and this is one worth checking out. If nothing else, read the chapter on eating habits and be prepared to get back your dinner time sanity!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Mom's Own Health: Slimming the Mommy Tummy

New Year's Resolution: Trim Down

A woman's figure, no matter the size, always seems to be a work in progress. If media representations of actresses and models aren't bad enough, we are in constant competition with ourselves; in high school, in college, and now, pre-baby. Your body has to change, and as a reasonable person you can understand that, but body image is anything but reasonable. We care about the numbers; what's on the scale, on your pants, and certainly on your mind. After doing the mass-pinning of shame for myself, I was overwhelmed by what different magazines and experts expect us to be able to do. As a result, I've created my own list of numbers to focus on, and I hope they help you too.


This is the amount of weight you should aim to lose a week in a healthy way, but it also makes the seemingly overwhelming task of hitting a goal weight slightly easier. Each week is a fresh start on the same journey. Plus you're not fixated on a large, possibly unrealistic, and certainly subjective idea of what your end game should feel like. If you lose 28 lbs and feel great, then you're done! You don't have to struggle and stress over not losing 30 lbs if your jeans already feel better and you're happy with what's in the mirror.


Thirty represents the time I am dedicating to myself every single day - twice a day. The first, I will spend this time doing bursts of awesome exercises guaranteed to leave me feeling like I accomplished something. Be it mind cleaning yoga poses, challenging core exercises, or a strong power walk with my son in tow. The second is just as important, for my mind. Stress is known to add weight to your core, so meditation, reading, or journaling for half an hour will do just as much good as my fitness component to lean my stomach muscles.


You would be surprised how much eight comes up when trying to shed a few pounds. You need 64 oz (or 8 x 8 oz glasses) of water a day to stay well hydrated and burning fat to your maximum potential. It also helps reduce food cravings and improves the condition of your skin. Ideally, you should sleep 8 hours a night (in chunks, plus naps if you have to) to restore your mind and leave you able to conquer your day. Most balanced meal plans recommend 5-10 (or 8 as a positive goal) of fresh produce in your diet. Two in each meal, with one for each snack, is a simple way to fit fruit and vegetables in easily. 

Here are 8 fabulous exercises to conquer that muffin top and tone that tummy.

  • Modified Plank: also great for arm strength, it is one of the best tummy toning challenges you can take on. Start with focusing on posture, rather than time, and build up the duration and difficulty. 
  • Reverse Plank: with your eyes now facing the ceiling, you have to really squeeze your tush for this move, working those muscles as well. 
  • Banana: Lying on your back, slowly fold so as to bring your hands and feet together. As you build up, you could pass a swiss ball back and forth to increase the work. 
  • Crunches: while nobody's favourite, this work out standard offers targeted ab training with lots of modifications for all levels of fitness. 
Reverse Crunches

  • Reverse Crunches: bringing your knees up towards your navel is possibly harder than the standard exercise, using that lower stomach area and your back muscles. 
  • Superman: lie down on your stomach with your arms flat in front of you (don't fall asleep), then gently lift your arms and legs off the floor as if you were flying. It's more of a struggle than you think. 
  • Swimming: from the the same position as Superman, trying lifting one arm and the alternate leg at a time. 
  • Pendulum: start on your back with your arms stretched out at each side, then lift your legs and slowly lower your legs towards each side. 

If you're worried about your dedication alone, I cannot stress enough the benefits of doing it with a partner. Encourage your partner to eat well during the week, join a sports team with your sister, or challenge a fellow mommy to help you stay accountable. There are also lots of free websites to find support online. is a fantastic resource for finding new workouts, nutritious recipes, and motivation from users all over the world trying to live a healthier lifestyle. Bet on yourself and focus on the right things. You can do it!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

DIY: Easy, Healthy, Fun Snacks

New Year's Resolution: Cleaner, healthier eating.

Feeding your family can be an added stress in your life. From coming up with what to make for dinner every night to dealing with food allergies, eating can sometimes feel like a burden rather than a pleasure. Snack time is often overlooked when it comes to eating; a throw away cheese and crackers addition to a busy day. It doesn't have to be so! (At least, not every day.) Just follow these three tips when putting together snacks for your kids, and you can't go wrong.
  1. Keep it simple. (Easy)
  2. Make it colourful. (Healthy)
  3. Give it a little flair. (Fun)
Keep it simple:
It is so tempting to reach for that box of fish shaped crackers and a glass of juice when your little one wants a snack in the afternoon. When you're tired from running around all morning (and possibly not sleeping through the night) anything bite sized and/or ready to serve is an understandable go-to. If at all possible, however, you should make it your goal to avoid filling up on sugar, salt, and bleached flours. Healthy snacks don't have to be hard, and a balanced snack will result in a more satisfied toddler or preschooler. As a bonus, you'll be more inclined to snack healthy if you're already putting it together for your son or daughter. To keep it simple, all you need to do is pick two (or all three) of the following - Vegetable/Fruit, Protein, Whole Grain and voila! a healthy snack that will leave you and your child feeling full longer.

*Apple slices (fruit) and almond butter (protein)
*Yogurt (protein) and mixed berries (fruit) and low fat granola (whole grain)
*Whole wheat pita (whole grain) and hummus (protein)
*Cottage cheese (protein) and peaches (fruit)
*Celery (vegetable) and peanut butter (protein) and raisins (fruit)
*Tortilla (whole grain) with cream cheese (protein) and cucumbers (vegetable)

You get the point, so moving on...

Make it colourful:
The easiest way to ensure that your child is getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need is not one of those gummy supplements, it's eating a rainbow of produce every week. When you're at the grocery store, try to buy at least three different colours of fruits and veggies at a time and switch the colours up each week. The one consistent colour should be dark green (spinach, kale, broccoli, etc); try to include it every time as it packs the most nutritional punch. You might feel that it's next to impossible to introduce bright, colourful vegetables into the diet of a toddler who lives on mainly chicken fingers and plain noodles, but don't give up. Set a one taste rule and continue to serve the same vegetables and fruits often (prepared in different ways), and you will succeed in broadening LO's palette. Meals and snack times aren't war epics, they're action adventure films!

* Switch to white plates to highlight the bright, beautiful colours of the produce you're serving.
*Try preparing food in different ways (raw, steamed, puréed, in a stew, with a sauce, etc.). Just because your daughter doesn't like the crunch of baby carrots, doesn't mean she wouldn't like a puréed carrot soup.

Give it a little flair:
Food isn't just about taste. Why else do you think Food Network shows give equal credence to presentation as to taste? Presenting food to your child in a thoughtful way helps to make them take notice of different textures of foods. Children love novelty! This doesn't mean painstakingly cutting out every piece of toast in the shape of an elephant and/or making every dinner serving into the shape of a funny face (spaghetti noodle hair, anyone?). What it does mean is taking a little time to make healthy snacks a highlight of your child's day in whatever way works for you. If children think of food as essential AND fun, they're more likely to be adventurous. It might be as simple as eating your snack at the kitchen table instead of in front of the TV to give the food more distinction.

*Name Game - Read a book before snack time and present the snack according to the theme.
     ie. Read "Armadillo Rodeo" by Jan Brett and serve "Buckin' Bronco Bites."
          Read "On the Moon" by Anna Milbourne and serve "Rocket Fuel."
*Show and Tell - Make an effort to present the snack in a novel way.
     ie. Pour pancake batter in the shape of the first letter of your child's name.
          Serve a yogurt parfait in a tea cup and let your child sprinkle the granola on top using the sugar bowl and spoon and stir.
*Let's Play - Make snack time a game rather than an after thought.
     ie. Pretend to be a waiter at a restaurant serving the snack to your child as customer.
          Put out a blanket on the living room floor and eat the snack at an indoor picnic.

Borrowed from Little Food Junction

Borrowed from

What's your favourite healthy snack? Let's help each other eat cleaner in 2015!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Mommy Mental Health: Home Organization

New Year's Resolution: Get Organized

Whether you're just starting that nesting anxiety of pregnancy, or have been off work for a while and are staring at what's left of your living room, what every mother craves more than ice cream and arm chairs, is a clean house. Time is limited, and with all the distractions of life in the modern age, you don't exactly want to be bent over a sink or attached to a vacuum at all hours.  It is a constant battle to simply stay on top of the bare minimum, and seeing Martha-quality rooms on TV can pile on even more guilt than motherhood normally dishes out... Relax, you are your own worst enemy.  We judge ourselves far more harshly than any guest, who is probably just impressed to see you awake and dressed. Even still, a clean home makes you feel more at ease and together.  In that spirit, in this post we'll look in to 3 things you can do today to feel more tidy and at peace with your surroundings.

First things first - your opinion (and maybe your spouses...) is the only one that matters. If you consider the house to be clean - even though it's a little untidy - then it is. Ignore your mother-in-law, and host your mommy group with your chin held high. Don't worry about the Joneses, that only leads to more stress and for what? Maybe your friend has a cleaning service, or a nanny. Maybe she gets up at 5am everyday. Whatever the reason, there are things that people sacrifice to be pristine. It's your time or your money, and you have to find the balance that works for you.

Next, be realistic.  As nice as it would be to have those catalog-perfect linen closets with all matching towels facing the same direction, those tastefully decorated front rooms with coordinated décor, and those shiny hardwood floors you can eat off of... I mean, I have an infant. If I'm not feeding, changing, or bathing him, I'm usually trying to accomplish one of those things for myself. There are days when it feels like an accomplishment to have showered and eaten both breakfast and lunch before my husband gets in from work at 4pm.

I do like to have goals, however, and this is how I do it:
  1. Buy yourself a note pad or white board for a prominent place in your home.  Mine is on my refrigerator.
  2. Take a moment each day, as early in the morning as you can manage, to list at least 5 things that could use doing ASAP.  Things like emptying the dishwasher, throwing in a load of whites, vacuuming the playroom, etc.
  3. Aim to accomplish one thing every two hours.  Cut yourself a little slack if you've been out of the house, or if teething causes a few balls to drop, but try.
Another advantage to this clear task list is that you can get help. Friends and family that pop over know what they can do to pitch in with the most impact. Plus, hubby can't pretend he doesn't know how to help, and you can avoid the nag to get things accomplished. This doubles really well as a message centre between my spouse and I. If something occurs to me during a bottle in the middle of the night, I have somewhere to write it down that I know he will check. This could also serve a new mother tracking feedings and changes.  In the haze of the day, it can be tricky to remember the exact time your little one finished!

Finally, choose one day a week to dig in.  I mean, really dig in.  If you're pregnant, rest up and hydrate first, then get in to it.  For mamas, pass your little one off to grandma or send daddy and junior on some errands.  Just find a few hours to take care of the big stuff that makes a big difference in the home maintenance for the rest of the week. Clean the bathrooms, change the bed sheets, give the whole house a quick once over.  If there's no way to get help with baby; find a nap time, baby wear, or whatever you have to do to knock off some nagging chores. Put stuff back in its place and give counters and shelves a quick wipe down. Even if you spend just 10 minutes in each room, scan it from left to right and fix whatever you can. I find a made bed and a clear dresser makes the whole bedroom look better.

Being a parent means some sacrifice.  It means playgroup, instead of the bar.  It means good sneakers, instead of Manolo Blahnik.  It means cuddles, and messes, and toys all over... But maybe that's not such a sacrifice after all.