Friday, May 6, 2011

Wearing the Baby and Staying Warm

The benefits of "baby wearing" may seem obvious: babies, especially newborns, prefer to be squished up close to their mommies. Not only do they desire to be as close as possible, they also need it for healthy development. Touch is probably our most powerful gift as parents of infants - we communicate most through touch during these early months.

But there are so many benefits for moms, too. Being close to your baby promotes bonding, of course, and it also calms him when he is fussy. An upright position can help baby manage reflux or colic, and allow her to sleep when lying down isn't an option because it makes her uncomfortable. A calm baby definitely benefits mom - reducing stress levels when things are hectic around the house. And when multiple children are around, wearing the youngest one gives both hands the freedom to keep someone else from running in the street, falling down stairs, or drawing on the walls with permanent marker. (Don't laugh, that is seriously what I need my hands for during the day! Forget folding laundry or doing dishes - though you can do that while wearing baby, too.) Wearing the Bruiser in the sling has prevented Miss Rosie from breaking bones or climbing on the counter in an attempt to reach the scissors, which are stored in a box on top of the fridge. I suppose slings could also be used to restrain daredevils like my daughter, at least until they are old enough to learn to use scissors properly.

Because I knew that I would be wearing the Bruiser quite a bit, because the weather in Chicago isn't exactly tropical, and because I am a knitter, I made a baby wearing poncho to don while using my sling. I was inspired by a poncho on a Danish website called MamaPoncho. Though the ponchos were absolutely gorgeous, they were also expensive! Over $200. So I started scouring knitting books in the library and searching through Ravelry to see what I could find. After a long, dedicated search I gave up trying to find a pattern that I really liked. So I let the "Eleanor" pattern in Viva Poncho: Twenty Ponchos and Caplets to Knit, by Christina Stork and Leslie Barbazette to inspire me. After a few modifications, voila! I've got myself a useful poncho to wear while wearing the Bruiser!  Or honestly, Miss Rosie, who still needs the sling every now and again. Not that I mind, she is pretty cute and cuddly when she's not running with scissors on the stairs or in oncoming traffic.

The poncho has a turtleneck that can be folded down or scrunched down. Cables run along the shoulders and arms. The opening for the baby's head can be seen in the top picture pretty well - it looks like a little cut out "c." The picture on the bottom shows the pouch in the middle of the poncho. The whole thing is so cool! People are constantly stopping me whenever I'm out wearing it - it's a riot. I sometimes feel foolish telling people that I knit it myself - I feel like very few people (at least my age) knit, and I sort of feel silly admitting to it. But at the same time, it is a pretty cool skill! I'm hoping to make at least one more, perhaps with a cotton blend yarn. I'm also hoping I can figure out a way to add sleeves.

And best of all, it keeps the Bruiser and I warm enough to brave the park on these chilly May afternoons here in the upper Midwest. Lucky us!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Compression: A postpartum woman's best friend. (The Best $100+ I Ever Spent!)

Towards the end of my second pregnancy I had an interesting conversation with a dear friend's wife. We were discussing our c-section recoveries, and apparently her OB prescribed a compression "garment" to aid in her recovery from surgery. Compression garment?  I marveled. I wondered why my OB (who teaches at Harvard!) never mentioned this little bit of advice to me.

I got home and promptly forgot about our conversation. About two months later Miss Rosie was born, and my recovery was quick and easy compared to The Talker's. A compression garment never crossed my mind: Rosie kept me very busy! But during my third pregnancy the idea resurfaced in my mind, and I did a little research.  Apparently abdominal binding is commonplace in various cultures, and women report a variety of benefits from compression. Apparently women from Japan to Mexico to England bind their bellies after birth. I ended up buying a compression garment from Bellefit: it is worn like a half leotard - with hook-and-eye closures to make visits to the bathroom manageable. 

Okay, so take a good, long look at the picture on the right.  Yes, that is my belly and me (pretty sure the belly was bigger than the rest of me put together!) about a week before The Bruiser was born. I mean, seriously - how did I even stand up!?! I look at the photo now, and honestly, I sort of want to cry.  My legs look truly insufficient, don't they?

After all 10+ pounds of the Bruiser arrived, I started itching to try my BelleFit corset. Yes, my empty belly was lax. And yes, my back ached when I stood. I stooped a bit upon standing, and hobbled around the hospital room for a full day gathering my courage. And yes, I was nervous to wear it - my tummy hadn't fit into anything that small in at least six months. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get the thing on - and that would've been truly upsetting.

But both my midwife and my physical therapist recommended that I wear the compression garment ASAP, so as soon as we were settled at home, I shut the door to our bedroom, took a deep breath, exhaled, and squished myself into the Bellefit.  The relief I felt was immediate.  I stood up straight and felt no discomfort in my back or belly at all.  As a girlfriend of mine says, "This thing is a dream!"  I was back in my pre-pregnancy "skinny" jeans within three weeks. The Bruiser is now 12 weeks, and I don't need the Bellefit anymore, but I did wear it on Easter Sunday just to smooth things out.  Its uses continue!

And though I haven't tried other belly binding products, I'm not sure how others that simply wrap around your midsection can compare to this one.  Bellefit is sort of like one of those 80s bodysuits - minus the bust and arms, of course.  You step into it and pull it on, adjust it so the top is pulled right up under your bra, and fastened underneath with hook-and-eye closures. The Bellefit was surprisingly comfortable, though by the end of the day I was ready to take it off. Perhaps that is a sign that it is tight enough to do the job?

There are other abdominal binders out there, too. Wrap-style binders are fundamentally different - and achieving the right amount of "tightness" seems like it would be difficult.  Or at least you'd need a husband or friend to pull it tight enough to make a significant difference, right? I bet any kind of compression helps, though. I just preferred the style of the Bellefit to the others I saw on the Web.

Though the best part of the compression was how it felt, I can't deny its emotional benefits, either. Feeling good in your skin is not really one of those things that postpartum women typically get to do immediately. Wearing the Bellefit changed that for me.  I absolutely abhor my stretched out skin hanging over the waistband of my pants. (Seriously, who doesn't?) There was none of that when I was "compressed." It was wonderful - and it made me feel better about my body much sooner than I'd expected. That was a big plus as I navigated the familiar but nevertheless exhausting waters of those early weeks with our newest angel. The picture to the left was taken on the Bruiser's three month birthday.  I tend to hold on to about 10 pounds until I'm done nursing, but right now my clothes fit well.  No complaints!

The bottom line is that I wish I'd had a garment like this after each of my pregnancies! I am grateful to have benefited from the healing graces of compression to restore my midsection to its proper shape. Simply put: compression heals, ladies!

**Disclaimer** Bellefit offers an additional support garment to those women who choose to write a review and take before and after photos of their postpartum bodies. I don't have a "before" picture -- i.e., one that shows my postpartum belly. I chose to write this blog post on my own, regardless of whether or not Bellefit offers me a second support garment.