Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Play in A Small Home: Under the Table

We are currently enjoying the blessings (and extra maintenance, chores and bills, believe me) of living in a house!  I was so excited when we moved, partly because it was our first home purchase, I would feel more "settled," but also because it meant we'd have a yard and more space for the boys.  But we have lived in apartments before, and a small townhouse, the downstairs of which consisted of a galley kitchen, big enough for one person to cook, and a living room.  So I know what it's like to have to make the best possible use of your space, especially after the arrival of a baby...or two babies.

Have you made a play area under the table?

One day I just threw a sheet over our table and voila!  A new fort!  A little "house"! Or whatever you want it to be, limited only by your and your children's imaginations.  I threw in some pillows, stuffed animals, and books.  Now the boys like to occasionally crawl under the table to "hide," or they play with their little cars there.  I keep an old sheet that I don't mind getting dirty in a drawer in the kitchen for whenever the fancy strikes.  This is something you can do no matter where you live!

Another related idea is to use the space under a bed or couch for a roll-out play surface.  For ideas on what's possible, check out my Pinterest board:  Play Under The Table.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Play In a Small Home: The Playpen

Sometimes in an apartment or small home with multiples, the walls seem to be caving in on you!  I tried to get out at least once a day with my twins.  Even a stroller walk in the neighborhood or a Target run counted.  As they get older, it's also good to get them out often to experience new things, get some exercise and fresh air, and provide a break in the form of a change of scenery for you.  But sometimes you just can't get out, for whatever reason, and/or there are still many more hours of the day to fill...so, get creative and use your space to your advantage!  (See my posts on using your windows and patio or balcony (if you have them) as play areas.)

Have you used a playpen to create a new play area?

A pack 'n' play, a box, a tub, a playpen, or a gated area all fit the bill, in my mind.  Keep in mind, these usually only work for babies and very young toddlers.  As your kids grow older they'll either be able to get out anyway, or need to start walking more and exercising those legs, and also exercising their new-found independence.  But, there can be some advantages to using a playpen when they're younger:  
  • It keeps them safe and contained if you need to step out of the room for some reason.
  • Being in a contained area with fewer choices can help them to focus on a toy or activity for longer than if there were more options, hopefully building up their attention spans. 
  • A room can be broken up into different areas with playpens and gates, making it more interesting when going from one area to the next.  
When the boys were still learning to sit up on their own, I propped them up with boppy pillows inside of a pack 'n' play and gave them some books and toys.  

Another idea is to create little ball pits!  Thanks to grandma for the idea! See picture and video below:

J in his bathtub ball pit at grandma and grandpa's house.

While living in a townhouse, I sectioned off part of the downstairs (which was just one room and a small kitchen) with Playzone gates, a great gift from family!  They have adjustable panels, toys and music buttons built into some of the panels, and a swinging gate door that can be latched.  I put in a few pillows, an activity table, and a tub of toys that were regularly rotated.

Gates we used to create a separate play area in our dining/living room.,

We used two sets of Playzone gates to create a space big enough for 5 kids to enjoy!  

If you don't have enough room for our kind of set-up, the adjustable panels make it easy to create any size space you want.  Below is a picture of a smaller area I made as a reading nook.  Sometimes I would lock the gate and only let them in as a "special treat" (to make it more inviting), but when I had it set up with books I always left the gate open so they could go in as much as they wanted.  You might also be able to see how we used Velcro to lash the Playzone to more baby gates that we had set up around the TV.  (A baby-proofing post is in the works!)

Along with creating different play areas in the home, I also try to break up how much time is spent in each area.  Unless the boys are having a great time, my rule of thumb is no longer than an hour in any one area of the house, usually more like half an hour.  An hour of getting ready, drinking milk, and playing in the bedroom in the morning (maybe more "bedroom playtime" later in the day), then breakfast, then half an hour of playing in the living room, then maybe an activity like play-dough on the kitchen floor, then some time outside, then time upstairs, then back downstairs, and so on.  This suits the short attention spans of babies and toddlers.  And I find if we try to stay in one room or area for too long, everyone gets antsy and fussy.  Which means it's on to the next thing!  

For more ideas, here's my Pinterest board "Playpen Time."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sleep...and MORE things we WISH we had done.

Sleep...an endlessly interesting topic for new parents, and parents of toddlers, such as myself...and something we all need!  Below are more of my own personal thoughts on sleep (remember, I'm no expert, these are just things I think would have altered our own experience).

  • Keep nighttime feeds darker and quieter, so that maybe your children will more strongly associate nighttime with dark, quiet, and sleep.  As I mentioned in a previous post, our lives with the twins at first seemed like an endless cycle of eat, diaper, sleep fitfully, repeat. When they woke for their nighttime feedings, sometimes my husband and I figured if we were up, we might as well be up: we would turn on the bedside lamps to see what we were doing, sometimes even the TV, sound low, to entertain us. (One of our sons was notorious for nodding off during a bottle and could take 40 minutes to drink it, and both boys usually fell asleep while nursing, so we admittedly sometimes got bored.) 
  • Get over your fears, either of having your children too close to you or too far from you, and do what you need to do to get some sleep yourself!  I've also said that I wish we'd had the babies closer at hand.  This is at first, when you are still recovering from birth and when the babies wake more often.  But as time goes on, you may actually wish your children were not so close!  Newborns, surprisingly to me, can be incredibly loud when sleeping.  Ours made all kinds of noises.  It was like trying to sleep in a room with two wild turkeys.  At one point I thought about moving their pack 'n' play or sleep rocker into the walk-in closet.  (We were blessed to have my parents living with us for the first two and a half months, so putting them in the second bedroom wasn't an option yet.)  But I was paranoid that something from a shelf above would drop on them. 
  • Do your best to judge when your babies really need the nutrition during the night, or if they just need soothing.  Also, give careful consideration to what kind of sleep training method you may want to use, when the time comes, and then stick with it.  It provides consistency for your babies, and a clear focus for you.  In my Parenting Book List I mention using The Baby Sleep Solution.  However, I think I tried the techniques too soon, and both the babies and myself were frustrated by trying to cut down on nighttime feeds.  But then I gave up and let too much time pass before trying again.  I still had such a strong image in my mind of my twins as frail, premature, NICU babies, that I didn't realize they were being overfed (and having spit-up problems to boot).  They continued to have at least one bottle in the middle of the night up until they were 6 months old.  They probably could have gone without earlier.  

Best wishes and sweet dreams!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Diaper and Rash Woes, and Solutions

Our poor little boys suffered horrendous rashes before they were even 2 months old.  We tried all kinds of creams, baby powder, and even "airing them out," which involved laying them for a little bit in the sunlight in the living room, naked on towels!  From much reading, online research, and a visit to the pediatrician, we discovered in our case that brand names can make a difference.  I had been using Huggies wipes, which our pediatrician at the time said had also caused rashes on his children.  So I bit the bullet and bought the more expensive Pampers Sensitive wipes.  On top of that we would make sure that after wiping the boys we would also pat them dry, using facial tissues, and apply A&D to the affected area, before putting on the clean diaper.  It seemed to do the trick and the rashes improved immediately.  We still get rashes every now and then, but nothing as painful and serious as the first round.

We had also had issues with Huggies and other brands of diapers not fitting well and leaking all over.  Pee on guests and poop on yourself at 2 a.m. need to be avoided.  The only brand that seemed to work perfectly was Pampers Sensitive.  (As the boys got older their skin was not quite as sensitive, and we gradually switched to Kirkland diapers and wipes.)  To try to keep costs down I did a lot of ordering on Diapers.com.  They have a user-friendly site, quick shipping, and accept coupons!  And ordering in bulk helped keep costs down a fraction.  Amazon also has several options for money-saving ordering (such as Amazon Mom).  I also know a lot of moms who are coupon geniuses, and can manage name-brand diapers from Walgreens or CVS for less than even Costco.  

If you are still having issues with rashes, you could consider making your own, all-natural wipes.  A friend of mine does this for her child (recipe below) and here is what she has to say:  

"As far as preventing rashes, not only is this all natural with no preservatives, aloe is fabulous as a balm for dry and compromised, red and rashy skin. Our daughter has an ileostomy, and the stool that is eliminated is extremely acidic and burns the skin. We treat with fresh aloe when changing the bag, and it heals every time. It is perfect for healing red and rashy bottom skin too!"  

Natural Baby Wipes:

  • 1 3/4 cup boiled or distilled water- use when warm
  • 1 Tbsp Pure Aloe (I prefer to take straight from my aloe plant, but you can use refrigerated aloe in a bottle from the store)
  • 1 Tbsp Witch Hazel
  • 2 Tbsp Castille Soap (I use lavender for clean and calming scent)
  • 1 Roll Bounty Paper Towels

Cut paper towels in half while still in roll. In a bowl, mix aloe with water until completely disolved. Add witch hazel and Castille soap, and stir well. Pour liquid over paper towels and let sit for 10 minutes, making sure all parts of the paper towel roll are moist. Transfer to old diaper wipe container or other sealed plastic container. Wipes are good for a few weeks but will go bad if not used in a timely manner.


  • Water must first be boiled, or wipes will go bad in a matter of days.
  • Taking aloe from a plant is much more cost-effective, as bottled aloe can only be used for 6 months after opening.
  • Essential oils may be used for scent if you prefer to use unscented Castille soap.
  • Bounty is the best brand of towels- they hold up better than any others
How do you deal with diaper woes?  Comment below!

Sleep...and keeping your kids in their cribs: Part 1

Recently my cousin's child made moves, at 7 months old, to try and climb out of his crib.  Another cousin actually did climb over and jump out, and crawled down the hall, at 5 months old!  I thought "How fortunate I am, that after 2 years, my twin boys still don't know how to get out of their cribs."  I spoke too soon!  The very next morning, I found my little guys on the floor of their bedroom!  I'd been extra tired that morning and slept like a rock until my alarm went off, when usually I wake a little before it goes off, or when the boys start to make noises or cry.  So, who knows how long they'd been puttering around the room?  It could have been for quite awhile, since they were particularly fussy and tired later that day.

I'm not going to go into reasons why you might not want your child getting in and out of the crib yet themselves.  Maybe another time.  I don't know about you, but this is one of my favorite sights, below:  (minus the feet sticking out, which is J's favorite position and is weird.  I've seen him purposely wiggle himself into this position before falling asleep.)

Being part of Generation Y (Or Gen X, not really sure), I went online for answers.  I belong to the Multiples of America (formerly known as the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Club, which is much longer and harder to say and type), and if you're a parent of multiples I strongly recommend you join your local chapter as well.  As a member you can join the Facebook page and get all kinds of advice from other parents of multiples.  So I asked on Facebook how people keep babies in their cribs.  Here is some advice I got:

  • Put sleep sacks on your kids for bed.  It can add a layer of warmth in winter without worrying about covers being kicked off, but lightweight ones can be found for summer too.  They also can possibly prevent little legs from swinging up and over a crib side.  I just ordered these: Halo Big Kids SleepSack.  We used Halo brand swaddles until 6 months and loved the brand.
  • Turn the cribs so the lowest side is against the wall and the higher, decorative side is facing out (if crib sides vary in height).
  • Use a crib tent.  But be careful:  certain brands of crib tents have been recalled lately.
  • Take out decorative crib bumpers (not safe anyway), even breathable mesh crib bumpers, pillows, or anything else the children could use to step on and get out.  
  • If possible, lower the mattress of the crib all the way to the floor.  If there's too much of a gap between the top of the mattress and the bottom rungs of the crib, this isn't a safe option, but if the gap is tiny, say just enough for a little hand to poke in and out, then it should be fine.  This will be my next step if the sleep sacks don't work!
  • Pull out the mattresses and put them on the floor.  (This defeats my purpose of containing them, however.)
  • Bite the bullet and convert your cribs to toddler beds, if you have convertibles, or buy toddler beds.  A friend of mine with triplets recommends the Ikea toddler beds.  (If you take this step or the step above, of sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and your child knows how to open doors, then you'll also have to be prepared to start training your child to sleep in their room, or take measures to prevent them from opening the front door of the house, the door to the garage, windows, etc, for safety reasons.)
  • If you do dispense with crib sleeping, you can also put a gate on their bedroom door to prevent night wandering.
  • Toddler proof the bedroom!  I am considering bolting their dresser to the wall.  
  • The strangest suggestion I got was to turn the crib upside down (several people said this, or said their mothers had done it).  But then I have no idea how you get the child in and out.  I'll leave that scenario to your own imagination and research.  

Part 2 to this post, with updates, coming soon!  Any other suggestions?  Please comment below!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sleep...and what we WISH we had done.

There are a million and one sources of advice on sleep and probably 5 times that many opinions on the subject out there.  Here is just one mama of twins telling you what I WISH we had done.  Some of it might be controversial and some of it might seem like stating the obvious.  Maybe it will help someone.

Causing sleepless nights...who, me?

  • Co-sleep...a bit.  My husband is a heavy sleeper and our bed would've been a little crowded with four.  We also know about the dangers.  That being said, I wish I had gotten rid of my paranoia and realized that every now and then, it would have been fine to have one of the boys snuggle on my side of the bed, especially during those particularly fussy periods when nothing else seemed to work.  
  • Proximity.  In lieu of the above, I wish we had either purchased a co-sleeping attachment-style crib and put it on my side, or at least rearranged the furniture in our room so that the pack 'n' play the boys slept in at first was closer to the bed.  There was just way too much getting in and out of bed.  When you're recovering from a C-section and have 2 restless babies, that was a big waste of time and energy.  
  • The Pause.  It's a phrase from one of my favorite parenting books: Bringing Up Bebe.  We responded instantly whenever the boys cried.  For months.  Once I finally started pausing, and waiting to see what would happen, they started sleeping for longer periods of time at a stretch.  Sometimes babies are just adjusting, or shifting from one phase of sleep to the next, and they cry.  Pause and see if they will go back to sleep.  As the boys got older we waited for 5 minutes at a time before going in to check on them.  Once they were 6 months old, we added a few more minutes while sleep training.  
  • Differentiate day and night sooner.  For months we just had a cycle of eat, diaper, hold, sleep that seemed to repeat without end.  It might have helped both the babies and myself to expose them to more sunlight and fresh air during the day and try to stimulate them a little bit more between feeds and naps.  
  • Make a hard decision.  Breastfeeding and/or formula is a whole other discussion.  But trying to do both of those things and pump was madness.  There was no rest.  No one but you can make the decision of what to do.  But I could have decided to do only pumped milk or formula bottles at night,  and then pumping, or only breastfeeding during the night, while pumping during the day between feeds.  Don't try to nurse, bottle feed, AND pump at 2 a.m.  Pick one, at most 2, strategies for nighttime feeding!  
  • Preparation.  If you are doing formula, pre-measure the powder and just shake it up with pre-measured water in a bottle the minute you need it.  If you're doing bottles of pumped milk, you will have to keep them in the fridge, so either accustom your child to drinking it cold, or go ahead and invest in a quick bottle warmer.  (Click here for BabyGearLab Bottle Warmer Reviews.)  Waiting for water in the tap to heat up and then a bottle to heat up in the water in the middle of the night isn't fun.  If you're only nursing during the night, have the boppy or double nursing pillow (I had the Brest Friend double) ready to go!  

And I promise, some day, this will happen.

Best wishes and sweet dreams!

Play In a Small Home: The Window

We've lived in several different places in the twins' first two years of life, see my post here.  Of course, when the babies are little, sometimes all you need to do is throw a blanket on the floor and you have an instant play area.

Fun at grandma and grandpa's house.

But one area you may not have thought of to turn into a play-place is the window.  Any window!

Do you have a window that is accessible to children?

We used to have a large, sliding glass door to our back patio.  When the boys were first learning how to  sit up and didn't move around too much yet, sometimes they just liked to have a few toys and look out the window.  The view was pretty grim, to be honest, but I think humans just respond to natural light and even a few pieces of greenery.  

As the boys got a bit older, I tried out an idea from one of my favorite blogs, The Imagination Tree.  Here is a link to her wet foam shapes on windows idea.  I used the idea on the same window pictured above, with foam shapes cut into various shapes.  I wet the foam and stuck them on the window, then let the boys do the same and play around with it.  We also did it on a towel in the middle of the living room using a large plastic tub as the surface, as you'll see in the video below.  It can also work in the bathtub, another great play place!


Even if your window isn't low to the ground, as your kids grow older and more coordinated, you could place sturdy step stools near them to allow access.  

Another idea is to put contact paper on the window and let kids stick things on it!  I haven't done this on the window yet, but I have put contact paper on the floor as part of our play.  

For more inspiration, check out my Pinterest board on the subject:  Window Play.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Play In A Small Home: The Patio

When our identical twin boys were born, we lived in a 2-bedroom apartment for their first 6 months.  Next we moved into a town home that wasn't much bigger than the apartment, square-footage wise.  When the boys were 19 months old we moved to a house with a yard.  So we've lived in a variety of places, but when we lived in smaller homes I tried to find creative ways to use the space.  Not only do you need to find storage for all your stuff (and once you have kids there seems to be so much more stuff...) but you need to find ways to keep your kids occupied, and having a "change of scenery" every now and then can help.

Do you have a patio or balcony?

When the boys were infants, I had visions of turning our apartment balcony into a play area in lieu of a yard, though we moved before it was necessary.  The townhouse we lived in next had a slightly larger patio on ground level.  Water play was one easy outdoor option:

Tub play on grandma and grandpa's back porch!

Water play in the townhouse patio, just a plastic tub and random kitchen items!
Should have anticipated he'd want to walk right in before I put on the shoes...

Even if you don't have a yard, a kiddie pool and water toys can be done on a patio just as easily as a plastic tub, see below
                                                  Playing in a kiddie pool in their great-grandpa's patio in Wisconsin!

There are many sources for weather-resistant "padding" or you can use an indoor/outdoor rug, if you're worried about new walkers falling onto the concrete (such as SoftTiles).  A small climber (such as this one) would be great either on a patio or in a corner of the home for a little exercise and fun.  Blowing bubbles and painting are great outdoor activities for older babies and toddlers that also don't take up a lot of space.

A friend of mine with triplets gave me  the great idea of putting your little ones into swim wear in hot weather and then letting them paint old cardboard boxes outside.  When you're done, just wash off the paint with water from the hose or a kiddie pool.

For more inspiration, check out my Pinterest board on the subject:  Patio Play

Sleep...tips for making the night go smoothly.

We learned a lot of things the hard way when it came to dealing with nights with our twins.  (You can read that post here.)  But here are some things that might help you get through the night!

Tips for making the night go more smoothly:

  • Have a plan.  Are you going to nurse every feed by yourself?  Will your partner take any of the feeds with a bottle?  Will you each be assigned one twin?  Decide before hand so that you don't feel as confused at 3 a.m.  
  • Write it down.  Keep a log for feeds, timing, diapers, etc.  This way you won't forget which twin has eaten, which has been changed, and when.  Sometimes it's easier to detect patterns (later, in the light of day) when looking at what you wrote down in a sleepy fog.  (Here is a link to the chart we used: a blank log, and a sample log with filled in details.)  I actually made up a document using two charts on each page, so that one page would have all the info for both boys side by side for a 24 hour period.  I printed up tons of sheets front and back and put them into a 3-ring folder, which I kept by my bed.  This later became a useful note-taking place when I didn't have time to do a baby book!)
  • Prepare as much in advance as you can before going to bed.  Make sure you have enough diapers and wipes on hand.  If nursing, keep your nursing pillow, your nipple shields, burp cloths, and whatever else you use as close to hand as possible.  If using formula, see below.
  • Pre-measure powdered formula!  At first we used the ready-to-drink liquid formula the NICU gave us.  That was pretty expensive, so we switched to powder.  We learned the hard way:  at first I would mix up any bottles needed for night time and put them in a mini-fridge in our room.  But then they needed to be warmed.  It's no fun holding a screaming newborn in one arm while waiting for an old faucet to produce hot water to warm a bottle in the other.  Spending a few seconds to pour the pre-measured amount of powder into a pre-measured bottle of water and shaking it up was infinitely better.  
  • Use gowns or zippered pajamas!  I abhor trying to match up snap buttons on a squirming baby at 4 a.m.  
  • Switch to overnight diapers as soon as possible so that you won't have to change diapers as frequently during the night. 
  • Find a spot as close to you as you are comfortable with for your babies to sleep.  We started with a pack-n-play, but they were so uncomfortable with the flat angle.  We often resorted to a sleep and rock, a bouncy seat, and one night even wrestled our swing from the living room to the bedroom, desperate for anything that would soothe them in the middle of the night!  We weren't comfortable co-sleeping as an ongoing thing (just every now and then when needed) but they do make sleepers that can attach directly to the side of your bed.  (Here is one, it's expensive, but just to give you an idea of what's available.)  Or you could even just place whatever you're using right next to the bed.  We were getting out of bed, into bed, out of bed, into bed, like musical beds.  Not good.    
  • Pacifiers.  If your child won't take one, oh well.  If you're really into the "no sleep props" or "it's a crutch," thing, oh well.  Ours loved theirs and sometimes all I needed to do in the middle of the night was reach over and replace the pacifier or wiggle it in their mouth and they felt soothed.  It's true they became so attached to them that later we needed to train them not to need it, but for us, it really helped early on.  Wubbanubs highly recommended.  
Our little guys with one of the pacifiers from the NICU.  
  • GET HELP.  If at all possible try to recruit family or friends or your spouse.  Could someone give the babies a bottle of pumped milk or formula for their evening feed while you get a head start on sleep?  Is your spouse able to do any of the middle of the night feeds themselves?  Is anyone available to come watch the babies and help in the mornings or afternoons while you catch some sleep that obviously won't be gotten in the middle of the night?    
Best wishes and lots of prayer for those of you out there with multiple little ones waking all night!