MommyCon 2016 Review & Ticket Giveaway

Crunchy Parent MommyCon 2016 Chicago natural parenting conference review & ticket giveaway

Yesterday I reviewed MommyCon’s recent Chicago stop, focusing on the overall natural parenting conference experience and speakers. Today I wanted to spend some time highlighting the expo side of MommyCon, and reviewing MommyCon’s great gifts and giveaways.

I’m also excited to jump on the giveaway bandwagon myself. MommyCon has provided me with two free tickets to give away to the upcoming MommyCon event of the winner’s choice. You can enter to win at the end of the post. You can also knock $5.00 off of any MommyCon ticket price with the discount code CRUNCHY16.

MommyCon Vendors

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As much as MommyCon is appreciated as a natural parenting conference, I think that they are equally well known as an expo; bringing together great vendors whose products cater to natural families. Any time that you wanted to pry yourself away from the speakers, and all throughout the lunch hour, the exhibitor area was bustling with activity at all of the wonderful booths. For people who frequently only get to explore natural specialty products online, this was a great opportunity to see, touch, and interact with items, and to make purchases, often at promotional MommyCon discounted prices.

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Over 100 vendors were present at the show, selling baby carriers, cloth diapering supplies, teething jewelry, reusable menstrual products, natural personal care items, organic mattresses, hip advocacy and nursing wear, and more.

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In addition to vendors selling their products, there were also companies promoting their products through product samples, local service providers raising awareness about their businesses, and organizations spreading the word and rallying support for their causes.

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The vendor area also housed the Babywearing School stage toward the back, where babywearing topics were presented. Products were demonstrated to show different wrapping and wearing techniques to accommodate children of various ages.

Sprinkled throughout the vendor area were informational tables helping to educate conference attended about feeding techniques and cloth diapering.

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Cloth Diaper Resource Center

For anyone who has ever tried to figure out the difference between a fitted, AIO, pocket, or prefold, there were displays on-hand allowing parents to touch, see, and consider which products might work best for their families.

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More Cloth Diaper Resource Center

Consultants were also on-hand to help answer questions that parents might have about cloth diapering in general. I thought that these informational displays and consultation areas were great low-pressure ways to promote the use of more natural products and increase awareness.

My one regret was that I walked throughout the vendor area taking it all in without buying any products initially. I planned to wait to make my purchases at the end of the day because I didn’t want to have to carry them with me throughout the show (I was already lugging a bag, snacks, a reusable water bottle, note pad, etc.) My intention had been to take the 20 minutes in between the final big presentation of the day and the end-of-the-day product giveaway announcement to scoot back to the vendors and make my purchases. As I came to learn, that plan was flawed (more on that in a moment). As a result, although I saw many products that I would have loved to have brought home from the show, I ended up not buying anything. Fortunately, several of the vendors included special MommyCon promotion codes for savings off of online purchases in the show materials, so the chance for future orders remains. Still, had I known how the end of the day was going to shape up, I would have planned my purchasing differently.

MommyCon Giveaways & Gift Bag

If there is one thing that has earned MommyCon great word-of-mouth, it is their amazing gift bags and giveaways. Before going to the show, I learned that every attendee to the show would receive a jam-packed gift bag. In addition, MommyCon gives extra gift bags to attendees of their VIP events. All MommyCon attendees are also be entered in the end-of-the-show giveaway to receive any of a number of amazing prizes ranging from car seats and organic crib mattresses, to high chairs and baby carriers. MommyCon had also promoted some mysterious “scavenger hunt” prizes through their Facebook page with small items hidden throughout the MommyCon convention space that could be redeemed for prizes. In all, there is no doubt that MommyCon knows that people really love gifts and free goodies.

The MommyCon conference day ended with 25 minutes of giveaways, for which the winner was required to be present. What that looked like in actuality was every last man, woman, and child at the conference descending upon a central area to hear if their tag number might be called as a winner. As mentioned before, the prizes were fantastic and the giveaway was clearly a huge draw and an incentive for people to stay, learn, and shop the expo up until the very last moment. Unfortunately, this also meant that the room was filled to bursting with overtired babies and toddlers who had been troopers through almost 8 hours of the conference already, and the noise level began to climb with restless, crabby children. It also meant that as everyone filtered into the room, many gathered toward the back near the doors, making exiting and entering the room a bit of an adventure.

MommyCon Chicago 2016 giveaway crowd

The MommyCon crowd awaits the giveaways. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland www.katiehovland.com

I had been seated near the front of the room during Jade Beall’s presentation that ended 20 minutes before the giveaway was scheduled to begin. As mentioned, I had intended to scoot back to the vendor room to make my purchases in those 20 minutes and return for the giveaway, but as I saw the traffic situation in the room shaping up into a major bottleneck by the doors, I gave up that idea, and stayed put in my chair.

The giveaway dragged on a bit, not helped by the restless crowd. I am sure however that the many winners were completely delighted by the items that they received, and found them well worth the wait. Once the last product had been handed out, all of the attendees poured out of the room and headed toward the elevators and parking garage. Despite the large numbers of people, I was surprised by how smoothly the transition went. It wasn’t long before I was back in my car, and ready to make the drive back home.

The gift bag that I received was for members of the Media Team, since I was attending MommyCon as part of their Blogger Collective. I’m not sure how the Media Bag differed from any of the other gift bags, but since it was in a different area than the general gift bags, I can only assume that it is unique in some way, so I wanted to provide that caveat.

I have to be honest and say that I was rather impressed when I went to pick up my gift bag and was handed a giant reusable MommyCon tote filled with goodies plus an adjunct item. I have attended many conferences and expos in my day and never have I received anything like this. I was eager to get back home and look through all of the goods.

MommyCon Media gift bag

MommyCon Media gift bag

The bag contained loads of informational and promotional materials from vendors and sponsors of the event, many of whom had included special codes for MommyCon exclusive discounts off of orders. The bag also held many great products from vendors at the conference.

If I was a mother of very young children, I would have been especially thrilled by all of the useful items, which ranged from disposable breast pads and glow-in-the-dark sippy cups to a cloth diaper wet bag and a breastmilk pumping and feeding system. As a parent of children who are past their infant, toddler, and preschool years, only a fraction of the items included were relevant for our family at our current stage of life. I felt a little guilty for being the recipient of such lovely items that we have no use for. I am sure that I will have no trouble finding a friend who will enjoy the items, but nevertheless I wish that more of the products were useful for families with children beyond the nursing, diaper, and bib stage.

The theme for MommyCon 2016 is “Growing Together” and I know that a lot of emphasis has been placed on including topics relevant to older children, families, and to parents themselves. I loved this step forward to embrace more of the natural parenting community, but the gift bag didn’t seem to hold true to this idea as well as the conference and expo on the whole. I would have been thrilled to find a reusable menstrual product, advocacy wear, un-paper household product, or other items that would have helped the overall balance of the bag to better reflect this year’s theme. I am nevertheless still blown away by the general awesomeness of the gift bag and will savor the yummy foods, household, and personal care items that were included in the bag.

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Evenflo scavenger hunt prize

In addition, my eagle eyes were fortunate to find one of the “scavenger hunt” items hidden in the conference area by Evenflo. As a prize for my good fortune, I received a cute Evenflo coffee mug and a $10 Starbucks gift card, which by far was Rich’s favorite thing that I brought home.

Final Thoughts about MommyCon Chicago

I was a bit dubious about attending MommyCon as a mom of children in elementary and middle school. I wasn’t sure if there would be much for me to learn after parenting from a natural/attachment parenting perspective for over thirteen years; and with the birthing, nursing, diapering, and babywearing years behind me. I was encouraged by the “Growing Together” theme, and figured that even if I didn’t find the topics to be directly relevant to my family, the conference would still be a great chance to meet other like-minded parents in the area.

I was really pleased to find the conference experience to be completely satisfying and enriching. There was not a moment of my time that I did not feel was being spent productively; learning or discovering something new that was relevant to me and to my family. I came away from the day feeling more empowered and prepared to take on approaching milestones for my children at their current ages, and for enhancing my relationship with my husband at this point in our marriage. I reflected on myself as a woman beyond my role as either wife or mother, which I know is far too easy to loose touch with, especially when one is oriented toward a very hands-on approach to parenting.

Overall, I was very impressed with the extent to which MommyCon attempted to cater to the needs of parents and children attending the conference. From diapering, feeding, snuggling, napping, playing, and more MommyCon had given thought to what their guests would need to comfortably enjoy the day. This alone is such a juxtaposition to so many conferences and expos, where children and their needs must be “managed” by parents so that adults can attend, rather than woven into the fabric of the event as it was at MommyCon.

For any parent of young children navigating the waters of natural, gentle, crunchy, or attachment parenting, I would assert that MommyCon is a safe place to find your tribe; to learn, to discover, and to grow. For experienced crunchy parents of older children like myself, I am pleased to report that I found MommyCon to move the conversation of natural parenting forward into later phases of parenting as well. In addition, MommyCon shed light on the too-often neglected topic of parents themselves, and their needs as individuals and partners. I am already looking forward to MommyCon returning to Chicago next year.

MommyCon Ticket Giveaway

If you are still waiting for MommyCon 2016 to arrive at a location near you, you’re in luck. In addition to offering the CRUNCHY16 code for $5 off tickets, I have two tickets to give away to one of the upcoming MommyCon 2016 events*. I will select one winner who will receive 2 free ticket to the 2016 MommyCon event of their choice*, or two passes for a 1-day attendance to MommyCon’s Milk or Wear conferences.

Fine Print: The winner is responsible for any transportation or accommodations as needed. Contest will remain open through Tuesday March 29, 11:59 PM Central time. Winner will be notified by me within 24 hours via email, so please enter with an email address that you check regularly. If I do not hear back from the winner with their city of choice within 72 hours of being contacted, prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected. Crunchy Parent will make every effort to arrange and support prize distribution, however ticket giveaway and distribution are ultimately the responsibility of MommyCon. Good luck!

*The April 2nd Seattle Conference is not eligible as a prize option due to the timing parameters of the giveaway.

Win 2 tickets to MommyCon! (Please click the link to enter)

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MommyCon Chicago 2016 Review

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It’s such a great experience when you find yourself among like-minded people, discussing topics from a shared perspective. It was a big moment for me in my earlier parenting years when I attended the La Leche League 50th anniversary conference, and for the first time found myself surrounded on a large scale by experts, vendors, and parents who shared and supported many of my parenting values.

I was so excited to attend the MommyCon Conference in Chicago earlier this month to see if I could capture some of that same magic, and to consider if such events were still relevant to me as a parent of older children. I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

MommyCon gives a lot of focus and attention to topics of interest to parents of young children, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and cloth diapering. It was evident that they also emphasize issues pertaining to older children, in addition to the well-being of parents themselves.

Before I dig in to all of the nitty gritty, here is a breakdown of the MommyCon basics

MommyCon is a conference and expo aimed at “forward thinking parents with a natural flair.” The conferences are held on multiple dates throughout the year at different venues around the country. Tickets for upcoming MommyCon events can still be purchased, and the code CRUNCHY16 will knock $5.00 off of the ticket price. ***BONUS Spoiler*** Tomorrow I will be posting Part 2 of the MommyCon Review, which will include a giveaway for 2 free tickets to an upcoming MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choosing.

Chicago was the second stop of the 2016 schedule. Parents from near and far converged upon the convention center, many wearing their babies with them at the one-day event. Tremendous effort was put forth to make sure that babies and young children were comfortable throughout the day.

Caring for the Big and Little MommyCon Conference-Goers

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MommyCon had play areas set up in the back of many of the large lecture spaces so that children could remain entertained while the adults listened to speakers.

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There were also craft stations in the hallways for older children to flex their artistic muscles when they were in need of a creative outlet. New this year, MommyCon offered a drop-off care option at the Chicago location for children ages three and up, although this is not available at all of the conference locations this year.

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In addition to keeping children active, MommyCon catered to their other needs as well. The conference provided fully-stocked changing stations where babies could be diapered in complementary (healthier) sposies. Wipes were also provided free for all the mini conference attendees.

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Stonyfield sponsored an eating area where babies and children (and parents) could enjoy a snack of yogurt. MommyCon also had water stations in the hallways where reusable water bottles could be refilled, and where cups and cold water were available as needed.

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Mystery bags hanging out in the hallway

MommyCon provided snack bags on several tables in various hallways, free to anyone who had the munchies. These bags were not labeled in any way though and they went quickly, so you needed to be made aware of their presence and act fast if you wanted one.

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Revealed! Snacks for those in the know.

Nurslings could of course snack wherever and whenever they wanted. For those benefiting from a quieter, less stimulating environment, MommyCon had a “ladies & babies only” nursing lounge for some private snuggle time, as well as a Quiet Room for a good long nap.

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MommyCon Talks & Topics

MommyCon had packed the day’s schedule with presentations covering topics of interest to parents with children of all ages. They had four larger conference rooms in addition to three smaller, topic-specific rooms exclusively targeting sleeping, feeding, and woman-centered issues. At any given moment, conference attendees could select from among 3-6 different presentations on topics ranging from cloth diapering 101, breastfeeding for the working mom, infant massage, car seat safety, toddler wearing, picky eaters, body positive images, baby led weaning, and more. It was sometimes difficult to choose between subject areas, but I tended to stick with parent, older-child, and family-oriented discussions since they were most relevant to me.

Vagina Village at MommyCon 2016

Vagina Village draws a crowd

The talks held in the larger conference rooms had plenty of seating available, as well as the aforementioned child play areas in the back. New to 2016, MommyCon introduced “Vagina Village,” a smaller room hosting presentations specific to women, such as intimacy post-children, talking to young girls about their periods, and supporting care of mothers postpartum and beyond. Many of the talks here were standing room only as listeners sat on the floor and spilled out into the adjacent hallway. With such an enthusiastic response, I hope that MommyCon will give some of these topics more premium space at other venues, and in future years. It was clear to me that in addition to learning about their babies and children, MommyCon visitors really want to learn about mommy too.

As a parent of older children (ages almost six through thirteen,) a standout session was “The Period Talk Unraveled” by Meg Eldridge from generationMe. Meg gave parents thoughtful tools for helping their daughters feel comfortable, prepared, and knowledgeable enough about their periods to respond to their cycles from an empowered position; without fear or embarrassment. She encouraged ways to normalize and acknowledge this milestone, and to create a positive culture around this aspect of womanhood that is often complained and joked about in our society, rather than honored or respected. Meg spoke about the many reusable menstrual products available today.

Meg from GenerationMe MommyCon 2016

Meg of generationMe shows some of the reusable products in the exhibitor area. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland www.katiehovland.com

I was rather intrigued by “period panties” that have an absorbent panel to catch any leaks and avoid embarrassing middle school moments or unnecessary laundry challenges. During the Q&A session following Meg’s presentation, moms shared some of their experiences with reusable menstrual cups, and discussed how to talk to their young children about menstruation (since moms never seem to have a moment alone in the bathroom and the topic has a way of coming up). Meg also handed out a mommy-specific tip; informing us that the Soft Cup menstrual cup is even safe and tidy to wear during intercourse (who knew?).

In a session focused on natural products for the whole family, Jenny Duranski of Chicago’s Noktivo natural nail salon spoke about the lack of regulation in the United States with respect to the ingredients in personal care and beauty products. She encouraged parents in attendance to become more aware, and to make simple changes in the products that they use to help maintain safer healthier homes, and safer healthier families. She highlighted two of my favorite resources, the EWG Skin Deep Database and the Think Dirty app as starting points to become more conscious of what is in the products that we buy and put on our bodies.

As many of you know, I am rather passionate about making healthy choices that support wellness. I am likewise always in support of products that are effective, affordable, and allow people to feel nurtured and beautiful. I was delighted to see this topic presented at MommyCon, and I hope to see healthy home products and green beauty explored even more at future MommyCon events.

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I also very much enjoyed the presentation about positive body image by photographer Jade Beall of A Beautiful Body Project. Beall showed dozens of her powerful images, capturing women’s bodies as they really appear in all stages of their adult lives; from pregnancy, nursing, postpartum, and on through to grand-motherhood.

Beall focused on the liberating, educational, and cumulative effects of projecting real images out into our society, rather than accepting mainstream photoshopped “celebreality” pictures as truth. To highlight the assertion that honesty in images can change society’s views of beauty, Beall demonstrated that a Goggle image search for the term “beautiful body” is now peppered with Beall’s “true beauty” images amongst the scantily-clad photos of starlets and swimsuit models (warning: link contains nudity). This concrete example showed that grassroots efforts to promote realistic images of women and beauty, change the definition of beauty over time.

Stay Tuned….

Tomorrow I will continue my review of MommyCon’s Chicago stop, talking about the Vendor Expo, giveaways, and gift bag. I’ll also have a giveaway of my own to share; two free tickets to the MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choice (enter here).

If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, you can still get a $5.00 discount off of your ticket purchase for any remaining MommyCon 2016 dates with the code CRUNCHY16. If you are feeling lucky, be sure to check back tomorrow to enter the ticket giveaway. Subscribe to Crunchy Parent and you’ll even receive an email reminder when the giveaway opens so that you won’t forget.

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MommyCon 2016 the Conference for Forward-Thinking Parents with a Natural Flair Coming to Chicago! (+ Discount)

MommyCon 2016 conference schedule for naturally-minded parents

As some of you know, I began this blog almost nine years ago. Eva was in preschool at a lovely, nature-based, Waldorf school. Alina was a barely a toddler, spending most of her time snuggled up to me nursing away in a wrap or sling. The blog was my way of processing my parenting journey and connecting with other parents on similar paths. It motivated me to learn more, try new things, and share ideas and thoughts with others.

One of the big things that I did that first year as a natural family blogger was to seek out festivals, expos, and conferences oriented toward “crunchy” families. I was fortunate that it happened to be the 50th anniversary of La Leche League International that year, and they were having a big weekend-long conference in Chicago that summer to celebrate. Rich and I signed up to attend. Eva stayed with my parents and my little nursling Alina came along with us to enjoy the experience.

It has been many years since I attended that first big conference, but I still remember it as a real rallying point for me. The Waldorf school was a small, like-minded community where we found connection, but the conference felt like we were part of a larger movement. Everywhere I looked there were parents with babies, toddlers, and young children in carriers of all shapes and sizes, many of which I oogled and envied (the carriers I mean, although the children were cute too). Babies looked adorable in their little leg warmers and soft-soled shoes, which were still “fringe” choices at the time. We parents smiled with appreciation at the amber teething necklaces and plump, cloth-diapered bottoms all around us. It felt warm and familiar; as though all of the people behind the usernames in the natural parenting forums had leapt forth from the screens and materialized right before me.

Alina crawls around the conference room floor while mommy learns about medication and breastfeeding.

Alina crawls around the conference room floor while mommy learns about medication and breastfeeding.

The sessions that we attended at the conference spoke of topics that resonated strongly with us and our hunger for guidance and validation on our parenting path; gentle child birth, creating a natural family living community, informed health choices, parenting spirited children, breastfeeding with confidence in the face of challenges, co-sleeping, and more. I learned so much about the decisions ahead of me and processed a great deal about the milestones that had already passed; some of which had turned out differently than I had hoped.

Fangirling on Day 1 of the LLLI Conference in 2007. That's Peggy O'Mara and a starstruck me.

Fangirling on Day 1 of the LLLI Conference in 2007. That’s Peggy O’Mara and a starstruck me.

Rich and I walked with wide eyes and broad smiles down the aisles in the exhibitor’s area. All of the beautiful products that I had spent hours admiring online were right in front of me where I could touch them and ask questions about them. I was shown how to use the Moby wrap that I wore on the second day of the conference to back-carry Alina with ease (a maneuver that I had lacked the confidence to try previously). I admired adorable cloth diapers in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. I looked at beautiful nursing jewelry. I felt in my element in a way that was so rare and so needed at the time.

Happy toddler being back carried in my Moby Wrap-I learned something new!

Happy toddler being back carried in my Moby Wrap-I learned something new!

I am at a different point in my parenting journey now. My first baby turns thirteen next week. My littlest one is almost six. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, and potty learning are all in my rear view mirror. I still continue to be a crunchy parent whose thoughts are often occupied with how to parent mindfully; what is healthy for my family, and where is my supportive tribe. The specific questions evolve, but the driving philosophy remains the same.

When I resurrected my blog a year ago it reignited a spark and a drive to learn more, to try new things, and to share more along my natural parenting journey and my journey as a naturally-minded person. That is why I was so excited to learn about the opportunity to attend the MommyCon Conference, an annual gathering across the nation that brings together, “forward thinking parents with a natural flair.” This, without question, is my tribe. I was so excited by the prospect of what MommyCon had to offer through their conferences that I went through the process to become a member of the MommyCon Media Team, to help other like-minded parents learn about and experience MommyCon.

MommyCon has already kicked off their 2016 schedule with their conference in Atlanta. In just two weeks they will be headed to Chicago. I am so excited that I will be there to connect with other naturally-minded parents, and parents-to-be. The schedule of speakers and list of vendors has been announced. I am already trying to decide how to choose between the amazing sessions topics which range from postpartum care, cloth diapering, treating childhood illness, positive body image, babywearing, creating intimacy among partners, and all things in between.

As a mom of (relatively) older children, I greatly appreciate that MommyCon has remembered that parenting mindfully extends beyond those first few years. The 2016 theme is “Growing Together” and can be seen in the range of topics being presented. MommyCon had the wisdom to clearly indicate which topics are best suited for parenting children in their first year, second year, toddlerhood and beyond; as well as topics focused on moms and those that are great for dads. The schedule layout makes it easy to find topics in your area(s) of greatest interest.

I think that one of the most challenging lessons for me to learn as a naturally-minded, child-focused parent was the importance of self-care (I’m still working on it). I am especially heartened to see the emphasis that MommyCon has placed on this topic and I hope that every mom in attendance makes time to fit in at least one session that focuses on her needs as well.

Of course, as much as I want to learn new things and meet other parents, I cannot wait to check out the exhibitors and see the great products and concepts that they bring to the show. MommyCon has lined up almost 100 exhibitors to help families feed, wear, clothe, diaper, celebrate, and care for their children and for themselves in a natural, mindful way.

MommyCon has also set up rooms to focus on areas of special interests; the Babywearing Lounge showcases over 40 different popular baby carriers that attendees can see, try on, and receive input about from certified BabyWearing Studies instructors. The Cloth Diaper Resource Center demystifies cloth diapering allowing attendees to see the many different types of cloth diapers available and learn about how to choose the ones to best meet their child’s needs and their budget. Experts are on-hand to discuss issues such as cloth diapering, car seat safety, promoting positive sleep habits, and more. MommyCon even offers stocked diaper changing stations, a feeding lounge, and play stations to meet the needs of even the tiniest conference attendees. Of course I saved the best for last, all attendees receive a gift bag from event sponsors and the event will end with over $10,000 in giveaways.

Tickets for the Chicago conference on March 5th had sold out but 400 more tickets were just added and are going fast. The code CRUNCHY16 will take $5.00 off the price of each ticket. If you have young ones who might want to have their own fun while you learn, the Chicago conference is also offering a Littles Make + Play Camp for children ages three and up. Kids can engage in supervised art and craft fun and creative play during individual sessions or for the whole day.

For those who make not be located close to the Chicago conference location, MommyCon will be hosting many other conferences across the country throughout the year in addition to more specifically focused conferences highlighting babywearing and infant feeding. The code CRUNCHY16 will reduce ticket prices by $5.00 for all locations.

I am counting the days until the Chicago event on Saturday March 5th. Can I look forward to meeting you there?

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TBT: The Cancer Series-Part 5 (The one where I wean my baby)

If you want to read earlier posts from the Cancer Series or learn more about why I am posting these personal blog posts years later, you can do that here. This particular excerpt comes from the private blog that I maintained through MyLifeLine.org at the time surrounding my cancer diagnosis and treatment. It highlights the emotional and logistical struggles that I was moving through. I was trying to reconcile the attachment parenting choices that I wanted to make (i.e., exclusive breastfeeding and child-led weaning) with the gravity of the illness that I was facing, coupled with my intense desire to do everything in my power to increase the likelihood of the success of my cancer fight. It recounts my attempts to meet my infant son’s nutritional needs in a way that was healthy for both him and for me.

Although I did not know it at the time, in addition to Asher dealing with a mommy who had cancer, I was dealing with a child who had multiple food allergies and feeding delays (we still attend feeding therapy regularly four+ years later). This is our journey through weaning. I am posting it here to relay my experience and my story. It is not to be construed as medical advice, or any kind of advice for that matter.

This entry was originally published on February 9, 2011, approximately three weeks after I began my radiation treatments.

Let’s cut to the chase. I’m tired. Actually today is better than the past two days have been, which is why I have the energy to at least get to item #26 on my “to do” list for the day and post a little update. Undoubtedly, the fact that three weeks ago Eva was home sick the whole week, and two weeks ago Alina was home sick the whole week, and last week the Blizzard of the Century kept everyone home most of the week all contributed to my general exhaustion. I think there’s more to it than that. I’m not sure if the current fatigue is due to the radiation itself or to the need to get to radiation every day or both. I’m hoping that at least a big part of it is due to the need to get to radiation every day, and will thus be temporary.

I go to radiation every morning right after I put Asher down for his nap. This means that the time that used to be my least parentally-demanding portion of the day is now unavailable to get laundry, dishes, cleaning, cooking etc. done. Nevertheless, all of those things are just sitting around still waiting for my attention later in the day without regard to how tired I am feeling. This brings me back to the radiation itself. I do think that the actual radiation is making me tired too. The last two days I woke up wondering how soon it would be before I could get back into bed, and my limbs felt a bit too cumbersome to both lift and move. Bleh. But enough about the tired, let’s move on to the next thing.

Weaning. It’s been almost 48 hours since Asher last nursed. It makes me sad. He’s doing pretty well with it overall, but it makes me sad. And did I mention the sad? In a quiet moment, I took this video of me and Asher on my third day of radiation, when I knew that our days of nursing were numbered. Rich offered to take it for me, but I really wanted to just remember what it looked like to gaze down at Asher while he nursed to sleep. He always rubbed his hand back and forth across my stomach while nursing. I think that it was his comfort object. I guess that’s the best reason to have a soft mommy belly.

To clarify, according to several of the most respected breastfeeding authorities, it is believed to be safe to continue nursing through radiation. In fact, the only instance in which nursing is thought to be contraindicated with radiation is in the case of breast cancer. Even then it is believed to be okay to nurse on the side that is not receiving the radiation. Tuck that away as an interesting fact, because both the nurse at the radiation oncologist’s office and the La Leche League leader with whom I spoke told me otherwise. If I hadn’t challenged them based upon other research that I had done, both they and I would have continued to believe this incorrect information.

So, you ask, if it’s safe to breastfeed then why am I weaning? (Side note: Did you all know that Rich, Alina, and I were the “faces” of La Leche League’s national capital campaign in 2007? We were. Did you know that I have spent every day of the past 8+ years either pregnant or nursing or both? I have. Do you still wonder why I’m tired? I don’t.).

Jokes aside, breastfeeding is very important to me for many many reasons and has been a big part of my mothering relationship with each of my babies. I was not eager to wean Asher so soon. In fact, I have never weaned my children. I followed the girls’ lead on that, but by the same token it is very important to me that I do everything that I reasonably can to restore and maintain my good health so that I can mother my children until they are parents themselves.

I had the very strong feeling that I needed to stop nursing to allow my hormones to regulate. My body does not seem to respond well to the hormone fluctuations associated with pregnancy/nursing (menopause is going to be FUN!) I didn’t want to make this fight any harder on my body than necessary. I also wanted to conserve my body’s energy for healing rather than producing food. In addition, I was hoping that not nursing at night would allow for better sleep, because radiation is exhausting and my body needs the sleep time to repair from the damage done by the treatment. Most importantly though, was my desire to be able to really pursue cleansing and detoxifying my body following radiation, cancer killing, surgery, etc. I can’t detox while still nursing, or my body will dump the toxins into my milk, and then into my sweet boy, and that’s not a good option. So, here we are at weaning.

Now, this is an appropriate time to remind all that both of the girls are on gluten and dairy free diets as they seem sensitive to gluten and dairy. Asher too showed sensitivities to gluten, dairy, soy, and nuts through my milk, so I rarely ate any of those. This presented me with the challenge of what to feed him if my milk, and soy or dairy-based milk substitutes weren’t going to be an option, and he was heretofore exclusively breast fed. I tried him on some food (mushed avocado and applesauce). That was a disaster. He hated both, and clearly kept trying to figure out how to get the liquidy evil off of his tongue (he tried gagging, drooling, crying, etc.) He also got all rashy, and the whole thing was generally bad news.

My next step was to look into breast milk banks to see about acquiring alternative human milk for him (before you judge: just how well do you know the cows making milk for the local grocery store? I figure that at least we’re talking the same species here). Well, guess how much milk from a milk bank costs. Just guess…..Okay, so milk from a milk bank costs four dollars AN OUNCE. So after writing Alina a bill for three trillion dollars and talking with my insurance company who said that they would not cover the expense because Asher did not have a medical need (no, just the lady who MAKES the stuff), I looked into other resources. I found two, well, actually three.

1: Friends who know people who lactate 2: milkshare.com 3: Eats on Feets. The latter two are organizations designed to connect moms in need of donor milk with women willing to donate milk. Through these three channels I have been able to find four generous and kind women who have agreed to provide milk for Asher. They have also provided me with copies of their pertinent medical tests and patiently answered all of my many questions (there are questionnaires to guide moms through what to ask potential donors).

Now my freezers are stuffed with milk for Buddy, and we’ve been able to take on the weaning process. *FYI for those still concerned, we follow the recommended procedures for flash pasteurizing Asher’s donor milk to kill potentially harmful viruses or bacteria. This surely degrades some of the amazing health benefits of breast milk, but it seemed to be a reasonable and responsible compromise versus formula feeding. Check out this video if you too want to learn how to flash pasteurize for some such reason.

**Second FYI, no I can’t find donors who are gluten, dairy, and nut free AND other mothers do things like take medication or drink caffeine GAK! The loss of control has me reeling, but I’m trying to be very zen about it all. That said, Asher has developed a white coating with a big white spot on his perfect formerly-pink tongue since starting donor milk, any suggestions? (I don’t think it’s thrush by the way, but what do I know?).

Weaning has been a series of fits and starts (Ha! I so did not mean for that to be a pun, but I guess it is. Yuck. I don’t even like puns. Anyway, moving on). At first we started with night weaning and after a bunch of sad and screamy nights it seemed to be going pretty well. Then Asher got the cold that Eva and Alina had. That put the kibosh on the weaning and he was back to nursing at night.

He never really took a bottle, but we were able to get him to consider using a sippy cup. He was taking in about 6 oz. of donor milk each day, and nursing the rest of the time. Over the past few weeks we have worked his donor milk intake up to 25-30 oz. per day, although he was still nursing once or twice a night.

Last night, Rich and I finally got our acts together enough to flash pasteurize milk and set it on ice in our room in anticipation of Asher waking up. I warmed the milk in our sink and fed Asher that when he woke up at 2:30am rather than nursing him, and voila! Just like that it’s been almost two whole days since I’ve nursed.

I’m not ready for it. I knew that in a way I would probably never be totally ready to wean my last baby because it means closing a chapter on a very special and unique aspect of mothering. I really was not prepared for it to happen so soon or for this reason. That said, I feel confident in my decision. I know in my heart that if the adult Asher was talking to me right now he’d say, “Mom, I’ll be okay. Take care of yourself.” That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have tears streaming down my cheeks as I write this.

I will note though that it hasn’t been all bad. For 10.5 months Asher has almost always fallen asleep nursing. Whenever he is tired or hungry he makes a rather violent horizontal dive bomb for my chest to make his desires known. Since the weaning process has progressed, Asher has stopped diving to nurse when tired. He now cuddles his head against my shoulder, a move that he had previously reserved for Rich. Now, after I give him his sippy of milk before bed or naps, I stand up and hold him. He snuggles into me and I get to kiss his head and tell him how much I love him, before putting him down to sleep. It’s not the same as nursing him to sleep, but it is still loving and special, and I know that he feels cared for by his mom. I’ll take that.

That all got way longer than I’d planned. Sorry. According the MyLifeline.org, I’m supposed to try to end on an entertaining and uplifting note. Here, I like this. Enjoy.

-C

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As a final note, I cannot possibly post this without extending a very heartfelt thank you to the many mothers who fed my son when I could not. It was the greatest possible gift that we could have received at that time; making it easier to do something very difficult. I will never forget it.

I wanted to share this story that I came across today. It is from a mother who donated milk as a way to connect with, and honor the baby whom she lost (I do not know this woman, only her story). Donation is a beautiful and special gift from child-to-child and from mother-to-mother.

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How I Breastfed Correctly By Accident: New Research on Natural Breastfeeding Positions


malmesjo / Foter / CC BY

When I became pregnant for the first time, I was highly motivated to learn as much as I could to support the type of birth experience that I was hoping to have, and to care for my newborn in a way that would best serve his or her emotional and physical health and well-being. I read and researched, participated in online expectant mother communities, watched videos, attended Bradley birthing classes, and otherwise filled my head with information. I wanted to do everything “right.” With respect to breastfeeding, I registered for the breastfeeding pillow voted number one by lactation consultants, devoured The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers among other books, attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital, and even sat in on a couple La Leche League meetings. I studied the intricacies of the football, cross-cradle, and cradle holds, practiced holding and maneuvering my breast as I was instructed (“like a cheeseburger”), and evaluated baby wraps and slings based upon the ease of breastfeeding while babywearing. I felt pretty well prepared to nourish my child.

Eva finally made her grand entry into the world after a shockingly fast labor and an almost-can’t-fill-the-tub-fast-enough water birth that had the midwife scrambling. Despite all of my careful planning and preparing, I was met with some intense postpartum complications, which included multiple hemorrhages, several blood transfusions, and surgery. In the days following her birth, my blood levels were so low that even subtle movements of my head would at times cause my blood pressure to plummet and me to teeter on the brink of losing consciousness. I continued to be determined to care for my newborn and her needs. I was her mama, and I was going to nurse her, just like I had planned. It simply meant that we were going to have to do it with me lying flat on my back for a while.

Just like that, all of the carefully studied holds and techniques flew out the window. There was me with my breasts, and a baby with a mouth. We just had to make the pieces fit together. Fortunately for me, Eva had not spent any of the 40 weeks prior attending classes, watching videos, or reading books like I had. She just sort of knew what to do. I scooped her up onto my torso and marveled at this tiny person, face down on my breast nursing away. It looked nothing like any of the videos that I had watched or pictures that I had seen, but I figured that it was the best that I could do under the circumstances, and it appeared to be getting the job done. For the better past of her first week I lay in my hospital bed and she lay on my belly, nursing face-first when she needed.

Imagine my surprise when I saw an article this week on mothering.com reporting Nancy Mohrbacher’s conclusions about breastfeeding positions. Ms. Mohrbacher reflected upon recent research as well as her thirty-plus years of experience as a lactation consultant and breastfeeding authority. She suggested that perhaps Eva was right (instincts and all) and it was I who had been misguided in my breastfeeding eduction.

I highly recommend giving the article a thorough read, but in summary it suggests that allowing the newborn baby to connect his or her full front with the mother in a reclined position is an ideal way to nurse, and mirrors what we often see in nature. This position allows for gravity to assist the baby with a deep latch and for the baby to receive stimulus on key pressure points that aide baby in coordination of movements that facilitate effective nursing. These positions also take strain off on the mother’s back, neck, and shoulders, allowing her to relax. Ms. Mohrbacher has developed a wonderful library of videos demonstrating the “Narutal Breastfeeding” positions and approach that can be viewed here. These, and additional breastfeeding videos are also available are for viewing on Ms. Mohrbacher’s You Tube channel.

It has been over twelve years since I reflected with gratitude on this sweet newborn’s ability to figure out how to nurse despite her mama’s physical challenges in what was at the time a very difficult and unexpected postpartum situation. The guilt that I felt about not being able to do things the “right” way to take care of her is still palpable when I think back to her birth. Reading this week’s article served as a reminder that doing things “not right” for my baby or my child may in hindsight not be the same as doing it wrong. Sometimes it may even have been a blessing in disguise. So I chipped away a little bit of mama guilt that had been hanging around for over a decade and high-fived my five-foot-five tween. What a smart little baby she was!

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