Barks and Babies: Preparing Your “Furry Baby” for the “New Baby”

DOGSThere’s a lot to be said for being prepared for when you bring your baby home. We read lots of books, bought way too much gear, and signed up for a college semester’s worth of childbirth classes. In reflection, the best investment my husband and I made was taking the Barks & Babies class at The Pawsitive Dog.

We have two pure-bred American Shelter Dogs (aka rescue mutts) who came to us with their own personalities; one is afraid of people, the other is aggressive with other dogs.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew their reality was about to shift in a big way. I was anxious for advice on how to manage the changes for them -AND most importantly, have a safe environment for the new baby.

In comes Jen Vickery, a canine-human relationship guru who helps families manage the “new baby transition.” She’s the founder of The Pawsitive Dog, in Boston, MA. In Jen’s Barks & Babies class, we gained a whole new perspective on what bringing baby home would be like through the eyes (ears and nose!) of our dogs.

I was six months pregnant when we signed up for Barks and Babies. I learned there was no time to waste. It turns out there was a lot we could do even before the baby arrived! Jen promptly gave us our marching orders, and here was some of her best advice:

    •  Start walking the dogs while pushing your new stroller—they need familiarity with the new gear. (Yes, you will look a little strange because there isn’t actually a baby in the stroller yet.)
    • Channel your inner toddler by pinching and poking the dogs and then reward them with a treat. (Yes, pinching, poking and pulling WILL happen in the toddler years. Best to desensitize your pup early on.)
    • Start giving your dogs commands with your feet, not your hands. (At first I thought this was odd, but Jen was so right. Once the baby arrives forget using two hands for anything! And, if you have a sleeping baby in you arms, the last thing you want to do is utter a word that might disturb the peace. )
    • Last but not least, FORGET to feed the dogs now and again. They need to get used to unpredictability. (This has happened on more than one sleep-deprived occasion, I’ll confess.)

Jen’s been running Barks and Babies for over 20 years.  Her advice was solid, effective and helped tremendously in those early blurry days when we were overwhelmed with our newborn. We found comfort in her advice and reflected back on our learnings well into toddlerhood. Now, in large part thanks to Jen, we are now one happy, harmonious pack.

By Johanna Cockburn
JR headshotJohanna COCKBURN is a mom, co-pack leader, and nonprofit development consultant in the Boston area. When she’s not managing the canine-human life force in her home, she’s matchmaking people (and sometimes people and rescue dogs) to help build a better world through community activism and social change efforts.

New Moms: Where Do You Go When You’re Lonely?

Mom and AlexNew motherhood can be a lonely time, even for those living in vibrant urban areas. When Rachael Fanopoulos had her first child, she was living in the biggest of big cities, New York City. Nevertheless, it wasn’t easy for her to find a community of like-minded parents and good parenting resources (and we all know that the internet can be a scary place when it comes to locating quality parenting advice). That’s when she discovered Mommybites, a national online parenting community, and started attending their NYC events with her infant son. Through Mommybites, she was able to connect with other first-time parents who were going through what she was experiencing, and tap into a rich trove of online courses and resources.

When Rachael moved to the Boston area a few years later, she was determined to help the Boston parent community access the same support she received in New York. So, in 2012, Rachael founded Mommybites Boston with the goal of “empowering moms” by connecting them to each other, experts and local resources. Today, the Mommybites mission has never been more relevant in the Boston area, especially in light of the recent abrupt closure of a local parenting institution, Isis.

So when I sat down with Rachael to get her take on baby products (she sees lots of new moms and lots of baby gear!), it was no surprise that her advice focused less on what products you have, and more on surrounding yourself with the right community and resources:

Nothing can prepare a new mom for how drastically your life changes after baby arrives. You can read all the books and have all the right gear, but being a new mom can be an emotional, exhausting and overwhelming time (as well as the most joyful and rewarding time of your life). Having a friend or moms group to lean on is the best thing you can do for yourself. They help you realize that everything you and your baby are going through (isolation, feelings of self-doubt, for instance) are normal.
While making sure you have a strong supportive community around you in the first couple of years was Rachael’s primary message, she also had some down-to-earth advice on baby products that didn’t disappoint. She made a fantastic Mamajamas list, which focuses on stylish, yet budget friendly baby gear options. She also had strong opinions on categories of products you don’t necessarily need. For example, she advises to skip the high chair and go with a booster instead:

I don’t think moms need a big high chair – just go with the booster seat from day one. It will save space in your dining area and also make the baby feel like they are eating on a chair, at the table, with the family from the start.
Rachael recommends the Fisher-Price Healthy Care Deluxe Booster Seat as a practical and economic booster seat option.

If you’re pregnant or a new mom and looking for some support, I highly recommend getting involved with Mommybites. They have tons of new moms groups popping up in the Boston area regularly, and their larger events are great too. I recently went to their Mom’s Ultimate Night Out and it was really fun (as well as lucrative – they had tons of giveaways and a nice gift bag – I downed an entire disc of free Taza Cinnamon Chocolate on the way home). So perhaps I’ll see you at their Mother’s Day Event in Cambridge?

Parenting in the modern age has become more isolating than ever, as families spread out over vast distances, and our lives become increasingly busy. When you have kids, you finally realize why so many people say “it takes a village.” So if you don’t already have that village or want to expand yours, and you’re living in the Boston area, I can highly recommend Mommybites Boston as a good place to start cultivating one

Top Harvard Sleep Doctor Weighs In On The Best Products To Get Your Baby To Sleep

After my son went through the infamous “four month sleep regression,” he started waking up every two hours. My husband and I were losing our minds we were so exhausted. A friend of ours told us about this amazing sleep doctor, who ran a sleep lab at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital during the day, but advised parents on their sleep issues at night.

So we called Erin Evans, desperate, yet a little skeptical. But she was incredibly warm, empathetic (she’s a mom  of two young children herself, and excited to customize a sleeping solution for our unique needs. (She believes strongly that there are a variety of approaches to getting families to sleep better.) Within a couple weeks, we had dramatically cut down on the number of night wakings, and did it without too many tears (neither mine, nor my baby’s!).

So, of course, once I launched Mamajamas, I couldn’t wait to ask Erin to share some of her secret sleep knowledge with Mamajamas members.

What she told me was even more fascinating than I would have expected! She gave me so much amazing information, that I have decided to break up her advice into two separate posts. In this first one, we’ll discuss the optimal environment for babies to sleep and products she loves, and in the next piece, we’ll talk about what mainstream, popular products are actually detrimental for good sleep.

In the meantime, you can see all of Erin’s recommendations (as well as products to stay away from) on her Mamajamas list.

Erin starts by setting the stage for optimal sleep. She says the best sleep environment for a baby is cool, dark and quiet and consistent.

For maintaining darkness, Erin recommends the following:

The biological clock (or circadian rhythm) is reset each day by light exposure. This means that at 5:00 AM sunrise that illuminates a child’s room will cause the biological clock to synchronize with a 5:00 AM wake time. This may work for some families, but I’m sure most would prefer to start the day a little later. In order to prevent early wake-ups from happening, I would recommend purchasing black out shades that completely block out light. 

Erin has tried many black out shades, and her favorite are Redi Shade Black Out Shades. They cost less than $10 a piece and you can cut them to fit your window.

To maintain a quiet environment for your baby, Erin recommends:

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Get a continuous white noise machine that doesn’t turn off during the night. Many parents think that white noise is meant to induce sleep, but that’s not really the reason to use white noise. Sleep changes throughout the night and sleep becomes very light in the early morning hours. This means that a tiny creak could wake a baby at 4:00 AM. If you have a continuous white noise machine on all night, then your baby will be much less likely to wake from random noises that may happen when sleep is lightest. There are many options on the market, but I recommend using a white noise machine that plays a continuous shhhhhh. Anything that changes in pitch or volume could actually cause a night waking.

For a good white noise machine, Erin points to HoMedics Sound Spa Relaxation Machine.

To keep the temperature of the room cool and consistent:

Newborns typically have a strong startle reflex that leads to night waking. In order to protect against a startle reflex induced waking I recommend using a lightweight swaddle blanket until your baby starts rolling. Swaddles also somewhat mimic the sensation of being held, which is probably why swaddled babies tend to sleep for longer stretches than unswaddled babies. It’s important to choose a lightweight option in order to prevent overheating.

She admits she was never great at swaddling, so she preferred swaddle blankets like the SwaddleMe or The Miracle Blanket to help her achieve a consistent swaddle.

And finally, despite her recommendations, Erin is quick to point out that you actually don’t need too many gadgets to help your child sleep:

You need less than you think you need for your child’s sleep. When choosing sleep products begin with simple items that will allow your child to sleep in an optimal environment. As you get to know your baby, and figure out your parenting style, then you can purchase other products that suit your individual needs.

For more great sleep tips, check out Erin’s website, “Baby Sleep Science” or her blog, “The Sleep Doctor’s Son” for more great information on babies and sleep.

Supermamajama: Misadventures in Mommyhood Blogger Takes It All On

Kristen2When I met Kristin for a coffee, the label of “Super Mom” kept running through my mind. Along with the intense job of mothering two young children, she is also an author and entrepreneur. She keeps an award-winning Mommy Blog, wrote a book: Misadventures in Mommyhood, runs a yoga studio, and along with her husband, invests and incubates up-and-coming lifestyle brands.

As I talked with Kristin, I found that she was very thoughtful about motherhood, and also had great insights about baby products. So obviously,  I asked her to make a Mamajamas List.

And here it is! It’s thorough, opinionated, and she has great pulse on some of the newest gear out there. Kristin also shared with me some general supermama advice.

What product do you think new parents should definitely have?

Embrace the swaddle!  I had two very active infants and swaddling was the only thing that let us both sleep at night.
Kristin highly recommends both the Miracle Blanket Swaddling Blanket and the aden + anais Organic Cotton Muslin Swaddle Blankets. For more, you can also check out her blogpost “Tales From a Serial Swaddler.”And what product can new parents easily skip?

I never used a diaper pail. I hated the idea of keeping around deodorized poop and pee in the baby’s room. I just put the diapers in blue plastic sacks and then put them into the big trash.
She likes these Sassy Baby Diaper Sacks for easy diaper disposal.
What’s your  secret to “doing it all”?

I try to make excellent use of my time. I’m a natural multi-tasker so when the kids are napping or asleep at night I’m a total whirlwind of activity. My kids will always come first though so sometimes other things just slip…like cleaning the house, doing laundry, or feeding myself!
For more on Kristin, you can out her website at, or follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram @KristinQuinnMom.

Mamajamas Member Series: A Bay Area Midwife Reminds Us To Breathe

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Kara and her lovely daughter.

We’ve been live for a couple weeks now, and it’s been wonderful for me to see all the amazing folks that have that have created thoughtful new lists of baby gear.

One of these great lists is by Kara Engelbrecht, who was my doula/midwife assistant for the birth of my son 3 years ago. At that time, I was living in the Bay Area, and she was finishing up training as a homebirth midwife. She now runs her own practice, Mothercraft Midwifery.

Kara was an incredible birth assistant. And though my homebirth dreams were not realized (due to some medical complications caught early), she and my other midwives provided the most amazing support during my pregnancy and very stressful hospital birth!

I’d like to share Kara’s wonderful Mamajamas list with you all. Kara’s list is minimalist by design, and focuses on products that are wholesome and nourishing for expecting and new parents.

811SkIqKEnL._SL1500_ 2If she had to recommend one “must-have” product for new mothers, it would be My Brest Friend:

“My Brest Friend makes learning how to breastfeed so much easier by supporting both mama and baby. And though you may not use it for more than a few weeks, it is really worth having.”

As for the product to not stress about (or even skip!), Kara says:

“There is a lot of pressure to get a good stroller before the birth, and honestly I feel like this one can wait. Babies like to be worn. Strollers usually end up carrying the groceries more often than the baby.”

Kara has a really calming demeanor. (She really helped to keep me as cool as possible despite a difficult pregnancy and an even more difficult labor.) So I asked her for her secret to tranquility. She offered this:

“Breathe. Breathe every night before bed with five deep belly breaths. This will carry you through your labor and birth. It will help you with latching your baby onto your breast. And when you have a day where you feel like you are at the end of your rope, breathe.”