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Filtering by Category: Guest Writer

Summertime Safety with your Baby

Dr. Ben Spitalnick, MD

Hooded Towel

Coastal Georgia has a year-round offering of outdoor activities for your family, but summertime is really when options are most plentiful.  The beach, the pool, the boat, and the park are great places to have family fun with kids of all ages.  A successful outing comes with just a little preparation, to make sure the smallest ones are safe from common outdoor hazards.  Below are a few tips that may help you make the most out of your summer.

Protection from the sun can be easily forgotten, especially on a cloudy day, or when the expectation of a short day in the sun becomes longer.  There are many excellent brands of sunscreen available, but it’s important to make sure to choose one that offers “broad spectrum” coverage (both UVA and UVB protection).  It should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outside, and should be reapplied about every 2 hours, especially with water activities (the term “waterproof” is less effective than you think).  And yes, even on a cloudy day, or away from the peak of Summer, the sun is bright enough to cause sunburn.  I’m at my laptop writing this just after most schools in our area have had spring break, and already seeing so many babies and children with first sunburns of the season.  As usual, many parents forgot the March and April sun is indeed bright enough to cause damage.  Sunscreen can be used as young as 4 to 6 months old.  And for the youngest, barrier protection is key, including canopies, hats, and other shelters from early sun exposure.

Our large  Swaddle Blanket  is great for lawn seating!

Our large Swaddle Blanket is great for lawn seating!

Bug repellant is also essential, especially in the coastal areas where mosquito season lasts most of the year.  Insect bites are a common cause of superficial skin infections (often caused by bacteria that live on our own skin), called cellulitis or impetigo.  Also, mosquitos in our area can in rare cases transmit severe diseases, such as West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and others.  Bug sprays can be used safely starting at 2 months old.  And yes, DEET is both safe this young, and, the most effective for mosquito bites.  The DEET concentration is found on the front label of most commercially available insect repellant, written out as “N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide”.  The concentration of DEET is an indicator of how long the protection will last; expect about an hour of protection for each 5% of DEET concentration (10% should last 2 hours, 25% should last about 5 hours).  Concentrations above 30% have shown little increased benefit, and not recommended for children.  DEET products should be applied just once and not be reapplied throughout the day.  There are DEET free alternatives that some parents prefer, which include eucalyptus, citronella, or cedar.  These are safe to try, but often less effective than DEET.

There are also combination “bug and sun” products available, but these are not recommended for children by the AAP.  The reason is sunscreen should be reapplied frequently, but insect repellant should not.  And, the insect repellant may make the SPF less effective.

Pictured: Moss & Marsh crustacean  Burp Cloth

Pictured: Moss & Marsh crustacean Burp Cloth

For a baby spending excessive time outdoors, hydration is an important concern as well.  Water is a large component of both breastmilk and formula, thus generous feedings are the best help in ensuring good hydration.  Commercially available electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte are a useful supplement at times.  While plain water is ideal for rehydration of older children, it should be avoided in infants, since it does not contain important electrolytes.  A common question from parents is to how to tell if their infant or child is showing signs of dehydration.  There are indeed subtle signs, such as decreased urination, warm skin, or dry lips and mucous membranes.  These, however, can be difficult for even the most experienced parents to identify, thus any concerns you have should be taken seriously and addressed by your physician or other medical personnel immediately.

Dry off after a fun pool session with our snuggly  Hooded Towel !

Dry off after a fun pool session with our snuggly Hooded Towel!

Swimming pools are another fun experience with your baby, starting at about 4 months of age.  Younger than this the effects of chlorine are not fully known, and new studies suggest early chlorine exposure may lead to respiratory issues.  Also, under 4 months old infants are less able to regulate their body temperatures, especially when submerged for long periods of time in cold water.  Infants in swimming pools should have “touch supervision” at all times, which means an adult is always within touch distance, even when the infant has some sort of flotation device attached.  And, pool barrier safety is key, as the most severe pool accidents happen when toddlers and children wander into the pool area alone.  Most experts recommend childproofing include a fence directly around the edge of the pool, even if the pool area itself if fenced in.  These fences include alarms if the fence is penetrated, and should have no furniture pushed up against them that a child could climb up on. 

Go outside, and have fun!

Ben Spitalnick, MD, MBA, FAAP

“Dr Ben” is Co-Author of the AAP parenting book “Baby Care Anywhere: A Quick Guide to Parenting On the Go”, and President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Georgia Chapter.  He practices with Pediatric Associates of Savannah at their Waters Avenue and Whitemarsh Island locations.

All photos in this blog post were taken by Monica Jean Photography.

Summertime Safety with your Baby

Expectations: Breastfeeding and the New Mom

Christina Flaherty

When I meet with pregnant women at their prenatal doula meetings, I often get asked, “What can I do to prepare for breastfeeding my baby?”  Often times, women have preconceived notions of what breastfeeding will be like from watching friends or family members.  Maybe they have heard how wonderful it is to bond with your baby or how inexpensive breastfeeding is or maybe they have even heard horror stories about mastitis or thrush.  Every woman brings her own unique perceptions of what to expect in the first few days and months of life with a newborn.  So when I get the question, “What can I do to prepare for breastfeeding my baby?” I first have to break down that woman’s already preconceived notions.  What have you heard?  What have you seen or read?  She must ask herself how that has impacted her perceptions.

Photo by  AdLib Photography  featuring our  Nursing Cover

Photo by AdLib Photography featuring our Nursing Cover

A big misconception about breastfeeding is that moms sometimes think that they will be able to get a lot of projects done or tackle those novels that they have been wanting to read during the time that they are home with their baby.  WRONG!  Breastfeeding takes a lot of time.  A LOT!  So when a woman who believes that she will have time for all of these extra projects comes home with her baby, it is sometimes a very rude awakening (no pun intended for those sleepless nights!).  It is normal for babies to want to nurse around the clock – from every hour to every 3 hours.  It can often feel very overwhelming.  Many women feel like they don’t even have time to do some of the regular every day things that they used to (like showering).  But rest assured, this is the way nature intended.  After women give birth, they need their rest to recuperate – breastfeeding forces women to sit down and keep off their feet.  Breastfeeding frequently also helps the mother and baby to bond - something which is so important in the first days and weeks of the baby’s life.   The tummies of babies are the size of a marble when they are born, so it does not take much to fill that tiny space.  Therefore, breastfeeding frequently will allow babies to gain weight even if they are eating only small amounts at a time.

Photo by  M  onica Jean Photography  featuring our  Nursing Cover

One of the most common expectations is that breastfeeding is going to come naturally. For some lucky women this is true.  God bless them!  But for the majority of first time mothers and even second and third time mothers, it is a work in progress.  Therefore, it will give you much more mental sanity if you think about breastfeeding as a process.  Just like you didn’t get pregnant and then give birth the next day, try not to think about giving birth and breastfeed perfectly right away.  It is a process of learning for you AND your baby.  Over the first few hours of life, your baby is learning how to coordinate the ability to suck, swallow and breathe – all at the same time!  This is a lot to learn all at once for your little human.  So give them the time they need and be patient.  The first few feedings are an introduction – not a Thanksgiving meal.  Your baby puts on a lot of extra weight at the end of your pregnancy so they are nice and pudgy and have what they need until your milk comes in.  Plus, the colostrum that you are making is packed with tons of calories and immunities for your little one.  It is absolutely normal for your baby to lose up to 10% of their birth weight.

Photo by  M  onica Jean Photography  featuring our  Nursing Cover

An important thing to know about breastfeeding is that you are not alone.  It is easy to feel isolated when you are spending a lot of time at home.  Over the first few weeks of your baby’s life, you may encounter some breastfeeding challenges.  Challenges can range from engorgement to milk supply issues to mastitis.  If you know about resources in your area to turn to for help, you will not feel the pressure to get through these challenges alone.  Go to a Le Leche League meeting or breastfeeding support group and talk to other moms who have been through this before.  Contact a lactation specialist and schedule a personal consultation.  Getting the right help will increase your chances of having a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby.

In addition to Christina being one of the doulas of Natural Baby Doulas, she is a Certified Lactation Specialist offering in-home breastfeeding consultations to new mothers.  Christina also teaches Breastfeeding classes in her home in Elon.  To contact Christina, email Christina@ncnaturalbaby.com

Expectations: Breastfeeding and the New Mom

Preparing Kids to Read Early!

Robyn Drake Castellanos

Learning to read and write is an ongoing process that starts early in life.  Therefore it is never too early to start preparing your child to read!  Research has shown that the more early life experiences a child has with language and literacy the more likely a child is to succeed in reading, and school in general.  Contrary to popular belief, children don’t start learning how to read in kindergarten and first grade-- the learning starts at home!  You as the parent get to play a key role in your child’s early literacy development.  In this article I will lend some advice for preparing your child to be a successful reader!

Reading Terms:

First things first- Print concepts and book handling skills:  Before a child can learn to read they must understand what it means to read.  You can start by showing your child the front cover and back covers of a book and demonstrate which way to turn the pages.  Demonstrate to your child that you read from left to right by tracking the words with your finger.  When you get to the end of a line you “swoop” your finger down to the next line, starting from the left again.  These are basic book handling skills.  Knowing concepts of print means that your child understands that print is made by using letters of the alphabet and that letters combine to make words.  This also includes environmental print- the words around you!  Be sure to point out labels and signs to your child!  This also fosters a child’s natural curiosity to learn about the world. 

Ideas to engage your child in reading:

Read out loud to your child!  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Reading to your child expands their oral vocabulary and strengthens your child’s listening comprehension skills.  When I was in graduate school studying early children’s literacy my professor told me that children who are read to regularly enter kindergarten with a vocabulary of over 1,000 more words than children who are not read to regularly!  By reading to your child you give him/her a sense of words and sentence structure, plus it makes reading a meaningful shared experience.  If you have trouble finding the time there are tons of great audiobooks available for free in libraries or online.  One website I use in the classroom is www.storylineonline.com.  It’s free and kids love it!

Read Wordless books

Wordless books are a great way to start your child’s love of literacy.  Wordless books can be read at any age with or without an adult.  These books are told entirely through illustrations, so your child can be the author of the story!  Sharing wordless books with your child can be a wonderful experience that promotes storytelling and conversation.  These books also help children start to understand the basic elements of story structure.  Sit back and enjoy your child’s response when you show them a wordless book and say, “Tell me what happens in this story!”  You are bound to hear some very creative (and sometimes hilarious) stories.

Here are a list of great wordless books for kids of all ages.

Read Nursery Rhymes and Poems

The first steps of learning to read are speaking and listening.  Children must learn to speak and listen before they can read and write.  Rhyming is a part of phonemic awareness.  A huge part of early literacy and phonemic awareness is rhythm and rhyme.  When children listen to nursery rhymes, poems, and songs, they start identifying common sounds in rhymes.  Children can eventually start predicting rhyming sounds, and this prepares them to make predictions when they read.  Dr. Seuss books are also great for teaching rhymes!

Build conversational skills

Language and literacy develop together and influence one another.  The better a child’s communication skills the better a student will be able to understand sentence structure and communicate with someone about what they are reading.  So believe it or not, just talking with your child is setting him/her up for success!  It’s especially important to have conversations when you are reading.  You can start introducing your child to basic story elements: characters, setting, beginning, middle, and end. 

Build vocabulary

The more words you can expose a child to the better.  This can happen in day to day life.  Vocabulary knowledge supports a child’s comprehension and helps a child gain meaning from what they are reading.  This betters their understanding of the world around them!  Vocabulary development is essential to reading achievement.  Have fun pointing out strange words to your child like “platypus” or “hippopotamus”!  Children with strong vocabularies are more likely to be able to figure out a word’s meaning while sounding a word out.

Make reading fun!

Most importantly, teach your child that reading is a fun experience.  With so many distractions like television and video games, it’s hard for books to compete.  If you encourage a love for books early in life your child is more likely to become a lifelong reader.  Kids learn better by not necessarily being “taught” but by having enjoyable conversations and experiences with books.  Bringing your child to story hour, for example, can be an excellent way to expose him/her to books.  It’s usually free and most public libraries and bookstores have story hour.  Find out what your child is interested in and find books on that topic!  Expose your child to a variety of different texts, including fiction and nonfiction.  Some children are more interested in books that teach information rather than books that tell stories.  Another way to encourage children to read is to set an example- let them catch YOU reading!  If they don’t see you reading, why should they?  Finally, make reading a tradition in your home, even if it’s just for ten minutes at bedtime.  This way reading will become a cherished memory in your child’s life that he or she will want to continue for a lifetime.


Good luck and happy reading!


Robyn Drake Castellanos is a first-grade teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina.  She went to Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she received her Master’s in Elementary Education with a specialty in Literacy.  She lives in Raleigh with her husband, rescue dog, and a big collection of books.

Preparing Kids to Read Early!

Family Worship: Delight or Drudgery?

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart is a wife, mother of 6, author and pastor’s wife. She currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is the editor and a contributing author of “Letters to Pastor’s Wives: when seminary ends and ministry begins” which can be purchased here on amazon.com. And she is currently working on a second book for pastor's children.

Catherine Stewart, her husband Neil, and their six children. Photo by  See Anything Photography

Catherine Stewart, her husband Neil, and their six children. Photo by See Anything Photography

I dare say it would be nothing short of a practical victory to say that after 6 children, we have got this family worship “thing” down. I wish I could relish the opportunity of you coming into our home and spectating our efforts to show you how perfect family worship works and how we have accomplished all of our desires for our children’s spiritual learning. Alas, having considered our first daughter to be the proverbial family worship guinea pig, we find ourselves wondering if we will ever “arrive” and produce that picture perfect scenario where we all gather around the kitchen farm table, singing with jubilant joy, with every child hanging on every word their daddy says.

In reality, it hasn’t quite worked that way. However, we have not yet ‘thrown the towel in', because our long-term goals remain unchanged. All of our efforts in family worship are simply a desire to attain a little picture of an orderly Sunday morning worship service. Why? Because, as believers, that is where our souls are most fully nourished and where we meet Christ to worship him with the gathered body of his people. Naturally, we want our children to share in those blessings that come to them as covenant children. But is it realistic to expect our little ones to walk into a church service, plop their little derrières onto the pew, sing, pray, confess their sins, listen to a 40 minute sermon, and not launch a small child size ballistic missile in the process? Well, actually, yes!!!! And it is attainable; not without considerable planning on both mommy and daddy’s part, and not without a little sweat and much fervent prayer. But family worship is the perfect training ground for our little ones to taste something of the glory of the bigger, better place of Sunday worship. So how does that work? Undoubtedly, cultivating a methodology isn’t necessarily going to lead our children to Christ, and yet the most effective ground in which to plant their foundational experiences of worship, is found in the mother of all learning; repetition. If I might add Zig Ziglar’s addendum to that quote it will perfectly convey our desire;

“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”

Training our children from a very young age, even from the moment we walk out of those hospital doors with that newborn baby in our arms, leaves them with an inestimable legacy. Instilling predictable habits from their earliest moments provides a framework for limitless understanding of God’s Word as they mature in the faith.

Let me throw out a few practical guidelines to spare you the trial and error that we took 21 years to work through. At the end of it all, while you may not have your perfect scenario, you might just have a little more order to your worship table and thus facilitate a place of worship and spiritual growth.

Catherine Stewart and her husband Neil. Photo by  See Anything Photography

Catherine Stewart and her husband Neil. Photo by See Anything Photography


Mommies, be sure, the process of this effort does not lie squarely on your shoulders. It is of course primarily in the hands of your husband, and yet reality dictates that many mommies are going this journey alone, either as a single mommy or with an unbelieving husband or with a man who simply doesn’t share your passion. Don’t lose heart! Many women have gone before you and many great men and women of the faith owe their spiritual nurture entirely to the tender teaching of their mothers. Read on!

Keep it simple: Please don’t begin this journey by taking out your church bulletin from the previous Sunday and attempt to embark on a full blown worship service at the kitchen table. Your children are little and you are not throwing enough mud in the hope that some will stick! Pick a time that works for everyone. For our family that is first thing after breakfast in the morning. Fellowship is so much sweeter over a meal and worship easily becomes a continuation when it’s done around the meal table.This is true of adults and it is also true of children. If that doesn’t work, be flexible and work out a time that is going to be a good fit for your family.


So where do you begin? For some of you this will sound radical, but why not begin by singing a hymn or a psalm? Granted, our family singing is not always very melodic, in fact sometimes it sounds more like a squawking cat than a hymn, but it is a joyful sound, and after all, that’s what the Lord wants us to bring to him. If you have only recently come to a desire for family worship, your older children may find this “uncool” or awkward. Singing is rarely a passion for children once they get into the middle school years, but along with all of the other insecurities that age entails,“this too shall pass!” Persevere!


Secondly, keep it short. No one wants to live with the burden of endless “sermonettes” or clock watching while trying to worship. Let the older children know what time you are planning to start and what time you will finish. And for the sake of your little ones you, remember their capacity for attention and dwell with them with understanding.


Thirdly, if you aren’t comfortable opening up the Word and sharing some truths from it yourself, there is no harm in utilizing the wisdom of others. A couple of excellent books that we have used are “The Children’s Storybook Bible” by Sally-Loyd Jones, and you might also consider using, “Leading Little ones to God” by Marian Schoolland? This latter book also incorporates catechism questions which are a fabulous tool for teaching snippets of theology to unwitting hearers! These two books will be sufficient for up to a 1st grade level.


Fourthly, when you have finished singing and reading, be sure to pray around your table, whether it is simply a one sentence adoration or a brief supplication, teach your children to pray out loud from a young age. This is incredibly helpful in bypassing the later challenges that so many children dread when asked to offer up a prayer if it is anything other than giving thanks for a meal.


Fifthly, when you have little ones in diapers or at their mother’s breast, the easiest way to keep them settled is to nurse them. And yes, it is possible to nurse and do worship at the same time: We mommies are superstars at multitasking right?! And sometimes those wriggly little arms and legs are best stilled with a soft small toy, no bells and whistles, but something that their hands can hold while training their bodies to be still.

Oh, a thousand other ideas run into my head as I write this: it’s a subject worthy of a lot more attention, but for now, suffice it to say that I hope this will at least set you on the first rung of the ladder.

P.S. Be real with yourself, we are literally in the middle of the craziest season of the year, so don’t go doing any heroics by trying to start implementing all of this first tomorrow morning. Give yourself a bit of grace and take some time to plan and in the meantime, why not start with simple memory verse work or even wait until things settle into a workable rhythm.