Things we do

Home birth

Both Alexander and Sophie were born at home, in our bedroom. We planned a water birth for Alexander but as he was a week early, the birth pool was not yet set up. With Sophie, we planned long in advance so even though she arrived before Grandma did, the birth pool was ready. I believe that a home birth is safer and less stressful than a hospital birth, for both mother and child. Things that helped me decide to have a home birth were Sheila Kitzinger's Home Birth and the home birth mailing list. You follow the links to Alexander's and Sophie's birth stories.

Breastfeeding

Even though she bottle-fed me after three weeks, my mother brought me up to believe that breastfeeding is the ideal. A book that helped me commit to longer term breastfeeding was "Breast is Best" by Drs Andrew and Penny Stanway. A very good starter guide to breastfeeding, which also covers going back to work very well is "Nursing Mother, Working Mother" by Gale Pryor. I found out that it's best to use a double-electric pump if you are working full-time. I have a Medela Pump-in-Style, which was given to me by a lady on one of my mailing lists. You can buy Medela products at most baby shops in South Africa, or direct from Jane Pitt. I would also recommend the breastfeeding mailing list for support. I would avoid "What to Expect, the First Year" as the breastfeeding advice in there includes some very dodgy information, and they assume earlier weaning than is recommended by the World Health Organisation, which means even non-breastfeeding advice is hard to implement while breastfeeding. Rather get yourself Dr Sears' The Baby Book.

Alexander was exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and was introduced to solid foods and water after that. He only started actually liking solids at 7 months, starting with hard finger foods, and only sloppy purity after that. I followed the guidelines on Kellymom, Dr Sears and this guide. I stopped pumping my milk for him when he was 18 months old. When my milk supply reduced in pregnancy, he cut down from 7-8 times a day to 0-2 times. When Sophie was born and my milk supply increased, he had a brief time when he fed 3-4 times a day, but reverted to once a day fairly soon. When he was 3, he announced that he no longer had milky. At 2 Sophie was still breastfeeding about 3 times in 24 hours.

Co-sleeping

I did not want my baby to sleep in my bed with me, but after he was born, I did not want to let him out of my sight. Co-sleeping is also the obvious thing to do when breastfeeding. After 6 weeks, Alexander learnt to latch in the dark, and from then on I didn't have to wake for his night feeds. Sophie learnt this skill at 1 week of age, so I guess part of it is whether the mom is familiar with breastfeeding. Up till eight months (before teething), he started the night in his pram in the lounge or cot and only joined us the first time he woke. When he got older and learnt to roll, we put a bed guard on my side of the bed. When he was 15 months, we put his cot next to our bed as a co-sleeper, because the bed was getting crowded. We moved the bedguard to the bed in his bedroom, and he napped and spent the first section of the night there. At 21 months I started a nap routine, similar to his bedtime routine, at the same time each day, based on advice in Elizabeth Pantley's "No Cry Sleep Solution", but he still gave up naps at 24 months. From 22-24 months we tried night-weaning, but it resulted in less sleep, so we went back to the previous arrangement of him starting the night in his own bed and coming through to our room sometime during our night. A week after he turned 3, I challenged him to stay in his bed all night and he did it every night for 3 months, when his fear of dogs spread to hearing dogs bark in the night. He managed it again successfully at 3 when Sophie joined him in his room. Sophie slept in my bed all night until 8 months, when I got her a bed. From then she slept some of the night in her bed, sometimes alone, sometimes with me, and some in my bed. I took the bedguard off her bed, and the co-sleeper cot off the parental bed when she was 21 months.

Sling

We used a front-pack from when Alexander was big enough (3.5kg), but this was not nearly as versatile or comfortable as the sling we got when he was eight weeks old. In a sling, a baby can be upright or lying down, and can even breastfeed discreetly. It is useful for restraining a toddler or getting around while holding lots of luggage. The weight is better distributed than in the U&me front-pack that we had. He was too heavy for the front-pack at 5kg but used the sling up till the age of 2. I bought my sling from Superslings, but you can make your own from the pattern at Mayawrap. You could also try La Leche League as at least my local chapter sells slings at meetings. Both "Nursing Mother, Working Mother" and Dr Sears recommend using a sling.

Elimination Communication

I heard about Elimination Communication on my home birth mailing list and also at my ante-natal class. The aim is to listen to your baby's signals, and react to them in time, holding the baby over a bowl/potty/toilet to poo or wee. They learn to hold it in a tiny bit, until you signal that you are ready for them to go. Some people have no nappy on the child at all, or you can use a nappy and take it off when the baby signals. The benefit of EC is a happier baby in the short term, better general communication between baby and mother, and in the long-term easier toilet training as the child never has to unlearn tolerance to being wet/soiled. You can see more about it at this site. We are part of an EC playgroup called "Happy Bums", which is just a really nice bunch of mums and kids.

We started partial EC (still using a nappy in between) when Alexander was five weeks old. When he was very small he was very noisy when trying to poo in the night, to the extent that he'd wake his poor dad. At first I thought the discomfort was wind, and would hold him upright, just to hear him poo. After a few times of that, I learnt to take him out of the room at the first singing sound. I got so quick that I'd get there before he'd pooed! At that point, when he was 7 weeks old, I decided that it was worthwhile putting a big bowl on the changing mat and holding him over it. From then on I caught nearly all his night-time poos. Later when he did just one a day in the morning, we caught them all. Although we only ever tried to catch poos, he fairly often signalled for wees as well, including in the big toilet. From 13-18 months, after he learnt to walk, he had a Potty Pause, but at 18 months he showed an interest so we started EC'ing again. First he just wore no nappy under his shorts, but at 21 months I got him underpants. At 26 months he decided he could poo in the loo, and shortly after that he got to the stage I'd call a "grad" or "toilet trained". We tried various options for nighttime, including me waking him to wee, using pullups, One Wet Pants or just undies, but he still wasn't reliably dry at night. At 5, he asked for and got a bedwetting alarm.

I made a "sss" sound when I saw Sophie weeing or pooing for the first 2 days, and on day 3 she did both in a bowl on my cue. Since about 3 months, I have had her in trousers or panties without a nappy. She has been generally dry at night from before she turned 1. In retrospect I should've put her in pullups from about 12-18 months, but she still did wee if I suggested it, she just wasn't interested in telling me when she needed to go. At about 20 months she became interested in taking herself to the toilet and at 2 she was a complete grad.

Music

From one month old, Alexander attended choir practice and church with me, enjoying the music. At 16 months, we gave up choir, but he still comes to church with me. From seven months, he and his nanny enjoyed "Toddler Time" at the Rosebank library, which includes music, movement, reading and activities. When he turned one, he and I started going to Kindermusik together. He's been putting on CDs for himself since he was a toddler. Just before he turned 3, we started Suzuki violin, a child-centred, gentle way of starting an instrument, based on the principle that children can learn an instrument in the same way that they learn to speak their mother tongue: by listening to great music on CD, listening to the parent learning, and doing what they can do physically when they can. After 18 months, Alexander mastered the "Twinkle variations", which encompasses a huge number of skills, and started moving through the repetoire much faster. Sophie started bowing (all lessons and practices begin and end with a bow, Japanese-style) before she could walk, demanded mini-lessons and practices at 20 months and graduated onto her real violin at 2.

Languages

Alexander was learning Northern Sotho (Sepedi) from his nanny, Jackie (Gogo), as it is her home language and I think it is very important for a child growing up in South Africa to be multi-lingual and multi-cultural. His first Sotho word was Mma (Mummy) at eight months, and another Sotho word he used extensively was "Aree" (come). But after we got back from our holiday in the UK when he was 2, he would shout at Jackie if she spoke Sotho to him, and a year later didn't even understand any Sotho, which is a great shame. At 4 he started Afrikaans and ZUlu at school.

I heard that sign language helps toddlers communicate, diminishing frustration, so I thought I'd try it. I also thought it might be a nice bridge between Sotho and English. I decided on ASL (American Sign Language) as my deaf friend enjoyed learning at university and I couldn't find online resources for South African Sign Language (SASL) at that stage.

I can recommend the following websites:
General:
Signing Baby and its mailing list.
For SASL: Sign Genius, DEAFSA, Wits SASL course and The Centre for Deaf Studies (SASL courses for Deaf toddlers and families). Signsational (SASL baby sign courses and DVD/book)
For ASL: ASL 101, ASL Browser, Lesson Tutor and Sign with Me.
Articles I have written: Sign Language for Babies and Baby Signing around the World.

I have also learnt quite a bit about fostering language development from "Baby Talk" by Dr Sally Ward.

I started signing to Alexander when he was seven months old, and he signed back for the first time at nine months. At 22 months, when his word explosion occurred, he started switching over from using primarly signs to words. When I stopped the word list on his 2nd birthday, he had used 319 words and 115 ASL signs, but by then he was only using a handful of signs regularly. I used SASL with Sophie from birth. She signed back for the first time at 7 months but never signed as much as Xander. This was partly because she was speaking so many words already, but also because I forgot most of my signs and never had time to look them up. She gave up signing by about 18 months, with about 38 signs.