Saturday, April 30, 2016

12 Things to Pack in the Hospital Bag for Intervention-Free Birthing

There are lots of lists out there to help you know what to pack in your hospital bag, but there are lots of things in my bag that didn't make any of the lists. Why? Because 32% of births in the US are c-sections and another 42% have epidurals or spinal blocks, leaving only 26% delivering vaginally without pain medication. If you are planning to give birth without an epidural or c-section, here are some helpful things for you to pack.

1. Birth plan
Of course you need a birth plan. This is basically just a bullet point list of your desires for how you would like the pregnancy to go in terms of interventions. The best way to approach this is with an open mind- you never know how your birth story will go, and things may not happen as you have them planned out in your mind (in fact they almost certainly won't). Make sure that you have a contingency plan. For example- let labor begin on its own, unless 42 weeks or later. Make several copies of the plan. Go over it with your doctor in advance so that they know what your expectations are and to see if there are any areas where you don't see eye to eye ahead of time. Make copies to give to the nurses and discuss it with them when you get to the hospital- they may not agree with what your doctor agreed to, but clear, kind, and open-minded communication will go a long way to making the birth what you would like for it to be.

 2. Exercise ball
I. Love. This. Ball. I spent weeks leading up to pregnancy sitting on this ball. When you feel all that pressure and no position is comfortable, this ball is a life saver. Not only does it feel good, but it also helps get the baby into the correct position for labor. I sat on this ball throughout the entire labor until the pushing stage and it was the best thing ever. No lie.

3. Music
This is for early labor. Pick out some relaxing music that will keep you calm and happy during the early contractions. Once things pick up, you may not want any extra noise breaking your concentration, but it is great for the early stages.

4. Something to distract you
Depending on how early you go to the hospital and how slowly your labor progresses, you will need something to distract yourself during early labor. My husband read a book out loud, we watched some episodes of our favorite show, but my favorite distraction was some adult coloring pages! I think it will be neat to put our artwork in her memory box and tell her that we made it while anticipating her arrival!

5. Something that smells good
A lot of people use different essential oils, diffusers, candles, etc. for this- each one has different ways that they help in labor. I used a soap that was made with frankincense and myrrh essential oils that smelled amazing! After each contraction ended, I would smell the soap. It was almost like a little reward for getting through one more contraction :) Do some research on essential oils and find the one that is right for you.

6. Knee pads
There are several comfort positions that are on hands and knees, or kneeling while leaning on the exercise ball. Your knees will be in a lot of pain if you don't bring something to kneel on. I bought a bathtub kneeler from the dollar store and cut it in half to make two knee pads. They worked great!

7. Crock pot and washcloths
The nurses will ask questions and give you strange looks for this one, but don't go without it! Put a little water in the crock pot with some washcloths and you have an instant hot compress machine. Put one in to warm up while you use the other and keep switching them out between contractions. This is great for the lower back! This also came in handy for hot compresses during the first few weeks of breastfeeding when your milk is coming in.

8. Visuals
Bring a picture or a visual to focus on. I brought a framed 5x7 ultrasound picture of our little girl. It really helped to look at it and be reminded of the reason for the pain- the end goal is worth it!

9. Lists of affirmations
My husband is a software developer, which means he is great with numbers but not always with words. He spent some time writing up a list of affirmations to use to encourage me while going through labor. He read them to me a few days before we went to the hospital, and they made me cry! Yes, I was being pregnant and hormonal, but just hearing someone that you love tell you verbally that you can do it is a very powerful thing!

10. Peppermints
I brought these but didn't need them. A lot of women get nauseated during the later stages of labor and say that sucking on a peppermint helps.

11. Snacks
You are not allowed to eat at the hospital during labor, which is why I snuck in plenty of snacks. Not only did I eat peanut butter crackers, trail mix, and applesauce during labor (when the nurses weren't around), but our bag of snacks also came in handy for my husband to eat and for me to eat in the middle of the night while trying to figure out breastfeeding the next few days. You will be glad that you have them!

12. Birth partner
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT! Have a birth partner who has gone to the classes with you, prayed with you, gone over the birth plan with you, and practiced with you for the weeks and months leading up to the birth. This person will be vital to the success of your natural birth. I just have to say- my husband is incredible and I couldn't have done it without him!

You may not use all of these things. We packed way more than we needed and didn't use all of the things that we planned to for coping with contractions, but you never know what is going to work for you until you are in the middle of it all, and it is better to have more tools in your bag than you need than to be wishing you had brought something and not have it. With this in mind, I will tell you that the most important thing that I used to get through contractions was something that we didn't bring at all!

Bonus Item- Plastic Biohazard materials box
Yes, you heard me right. I found that rhythmic tapping to keep my breathing steady was the best thing for me to get through contractions. My husband went on a search around the hospital room for the perfect thing for me to tap on and found a red plastic biohazard materials box. It had the perfect solid hollow sound, and it did not leave my side until we had the baby! So yeah, you never know what will come in handy when the time comes! Be as prepared as possible, and if all else fails, get creative and resourceful!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar Recipe

On a vacation last year, my husband and I bought some Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar and fell in love with it. It quickly became the ONLY dressing I would eat on a salad. It was just the right amount of sweet, tangy, and fruity. Purchasing the bottle of vinegar had been pricey, but completely worth it...and then we ran out. I looked into ordering some more, but the shipping was out of the question. So of course, I decided that there must be a way to make some myself. It turns out that the process is pretty simple, so I thought I would share it with you to enjoy!

There are a million different combinations of fruits, herbs, vegetables, etc. that you can combine to make just the flavor that you like, but I decided to start with a Blackberry Ginger :)

What you Need:
- 17oz. balsamic vinegar
- 2 cups blackberries (fresh or frozen and thawed)
- 2 tbsp. dried ginger flakes (if you grow ginger, you can make your own)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- glass container (that seals)
- cheesecloth

1. In a non-reactive saucepan, pour balsamic vinegar and add blackberries and ginger. I used blackberries from the backyard, and dried ginger that I harvested and dehydrated from the garden this past fall.

2. Smash the blackberries with a potato masher and then let the combination cook down and thicken on a low simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remember to stir occasionally. Just a fair warning- this will make your whole house smell like vinegar. It may not smell so bad to you if you are in the kitchen the whole time, but my husband came home mid-project and said that coming in the door the smell slapped him in the face :)

3. Once the mixture has thickened, pour in the sugar and stir until it has completely dissolved. Make sure that the mixture does not return to a boil during this step. Once it has dissolved, pour the mixture into a sterilized mason jar and seal tightly. Let the mixture sit for one week in a cool dark place. Shake the jar every day to keep the flavors mixing.

4. After a week, strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth to get rid of all of the pulp. Store the vinegar in a glass container with a tight seal. Some people say to keep it refrigerated and others claim that it will keep just fine for a year without it. I'll be keeping mine in the cabinet, but the choice is yours.

 5. Now, enjoy your delicious blackberry ginger balsamic vinegar! Use it as a salad dressing, a sauce for meat, or drizzled on top of cheesecake or ice cream! The possibilities are endless, and you will not be disappointed with this gourmet taste for a fraction of the cost of the fancy vinegar shops!

Monday, April 4, 2016

How to Save Money when Preparing for a New Baby

Everyone loves getting a good deal, but my mother raised us to take this mindset to the extreme. There are people who rarely buy anything for regular price, but in my family, we rarely even buy anything new. As you know, putting the word "wedding" or "baby" in front of anything automatically triples the price, but there are plenty of ways to get everything that you need for your baby without breaking the bank. Here are some tips to help you get started!

1. Make your list EARLY!
Start a registry (unpublished) or comprehensive list of everything that you will need or want for your baby as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. It will take a while to comprise the list because let's face it- new moms really have no idea what they are going to need for a baby. But go ahead, start researching, look at suggested lists online, and make one that you can add to and edit as you go along. As you find and buy things on your list, take them off so that the only things that remain on your registry are the ones that you still need. Also, know how much everything on your list costs, because you only know if a deal is good if you know the retail price of each item. This is another good reason to have an actual registry- you can just check the price on your phone wherever you are and compare it.

2. Begin your Search
Now that you have your list, you know what you are looking for and you know what it would normally cost! The next step is to begin the search for all of the things on your list. Here are my favorite places to find things:
        1. Borrow from other people- Why pay anything if you can get it for free?! See if you have any friends or relatives that have baby items sitting in their attics that they are either not going to use again or will let you borrow. This is a great place to get some of your big items such as cribs, bouncers, swings, high chairs, etc. It is great if you can borrow these items because babies don't use them for long and then you give it back and don't have to find a place to keep it! This is also a good place to get some items that you don't want to buy used, like your crib mattress or breast pump...
        2. Garage Sales- This has been where I have found the most items and for the best prices. Garage sales are the best for 3 reasons- 1) They just want to get rid of the stuff so it is priced to go, 2) You can negotiate on the already rock bottom prices, and 3) You get things that people actually used and can ask them how they liked it, etc. The best items to get at garage sales are clothes- they are almost always in excellent shape because babies grow out of them so fast and you can usually get them for around $0.50 a piece. Don't even step into a Carter's for clothes! Even the clearance rack adds up fast. The down side to garage sales is that while sometimes you strike the jackpot, other times you strike out. The key to success in garage sales is to do it consistently over a long period of time. It is not the same as shopping in a store, because you never know what you will find or when you will find it, but if you keep at it, you will be amazed at how many items on your list you will be able to accumulate over the course of your pregnancy.
        3. Goodwill- Goodwill is great for bigger items such as furniture, strollers, etc. However, baby clothes is not a good item to purchase here. At $2 a piece, you can do much better at garage sales. Once again, the key is to drop in the store on a regular basis to see what they have. When they get something good, it goes fast!
         4. Craigslist- This another great place to find your larger items such as bouncers, swings, car seats, cribs, etc. It is also good for finding some specialty items that people don't want to sell for pennies at a garage sale, such as cloth diapers, baby carriers and wraps, etc. You will pay a little more for the items on craigslist and have to check frequently to see what is available, but you will eventually find what you are looking for!
         5. Ebay- this is my last option (well, before stepping into a real store, that is...). The prices are higher on ebay than craigslist because there is more competition, but if there are a few items that you just couldn't find anywhere else, this is another option of finding things cheaper than store prices.

3. Look for the Little Things
While I know you have the list of big ticket items first and foremost in your mind, it really is the little things that add up when buying for a baby. Things like socks, rattles, and books. You can pick up these things for practically nothing at garage sales, but if you buy them new in the store, they add up really fast! Socks are $2 a pair (I bought a bag of 37 pairs for $1), little baby toys that rattle start at $5 each (I bought a box of 20 for the same price) and books don't go below $6 a piece (on average they run $0.10-$0.25 at garage sales). Look for things like pacifier clips, hair bows, baby utensils, plates, bowls, outlet covers, bibs, etc. Trust me, it isn't worth what you would pay in the store, but you will be glad to have them in exchange for the coins rattling in the bottom of your purse. And once again- CLOTHES! Baby clothes and shoes are so pricey, and they hardly even have a chance to wear them before they don't fit! My motto is to not pay more than $1 for any clothing item, and I have a whole closet full of smocked dresses, Mud Pie outfits, and Baby Gap clothes that I was able to find within that price limit.

4. Publish your Registry
There will be things that you won't be able to find used such as medicine, diapers, wipes, shampoo, etc. These are the items to put on your registry and hope that people actually buy you for the shower. Try to only register for the things that you need as much as possible because you will get plenty of "cute" stuff like blankets just because.

5. Do It Yourself
There were some things that I really wanted to be very specific, such as the nursery bedding and decor. I knew what I wanted and it was really pricey, so I ended up making it all on my own and saving a TON of money. You would be surprised how easy it is to make some of this baby gear yourself even if you aren't an expert seamstress or overly crafty. Check out some easy diy baby projects here.

6. Be Patient and Keep all your Receipts
If you do break down and buy something new at the store, definitely keep all of your receipts and keep it in the box until you intend to use it. I actually did splurge and buy a set of Aiden and Anais swaddles new in the store (they were on sale...) and then found a set of 4 for $1 at a garage sale the very next weekend! I know the nesting instinct makes you want to check everything off of your list all at once, but be patient, and you will find the right deal! Side note- in my experience, the later you shop in your pregnancy, the better the deals get. I guess people are more willing to go down on prices for someone with a huge pregnant belly :)

7. Don't Lower your Standards
Just because you are buying second hand (and paying ridiculously low prices) doesn't mean that you have to settle for second rate items. If you want a certain kind of stroller, don't buy the first stroller you see for a deal, but wait until you find THAT stroller. It may take time, but you will find it (and kick yourself if you already bought a different one). If you want a certain baby carrier- get that baby carrier. Research what kind of bottles you want, and then wait until you find those. All of my items are high-end, name-brand items, many of which you can't find outside of a boutique baby shop. I have to confess that I have become a baby clothes snob in the last few months. Carter's clothes don't get a second glance from me- I want the expensive stuff! And it's definitely out there! The best part is, you are getting the best quality out there, for the best possible price.

Time to Brag
To give you an idea of just how much you can save, here is a list of some of the items I was able to find, where I found them, and how much I paid in comparison to the retail price.

Ergo baby carrier- $2 at garage sale (retail $110)
Baby Einstein activity gym- $2 at garage sale (retail $75)
Graco stroller- $10 at Goodwill (retail $80)
Crib- $100 on Craigslist (retail $300)
Baby Bullet- $3 at garage sale (retail $60)
13 NEW Fuzzibunz cloth diapers- $100 on craigslist (retail $260)
Bumbo seat- $3 at garage sale (retail $40)
4 Aiden and Anais muslin swaddles- $1 at garage sale (retail $35)
Wubbanub- $0.50 at garage sale (retail $14)
Coolwazoo shopping cast cover- $3 at garage sale (retail $50)
120 pieces of clothing- $35 at garage sale (retail $700)

These are just a few! I hope you have happy hunting for all your baby items. The search is part of the fun, and the deals are beyond worth it. Have you made a great deal too? I want to know what you found! What is a good find unless you can share it with someone???