Monthly Archives

October 2011

Babywearing Research Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and Babywearing

October 20, 2011

October is breast cancer awareness month, so it is a good time to remind moms of something that I think is pretty well known but so, so important. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding are positively associated with reduced lifetime risk for breast cancer, as well as cancers such as ovarian and endometrial cancer. It is thought that one way in which pregnancy and breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk is by reducing the number of menstrual cycles a woman experiences in her life which reduce the cumulative exposure to endogenous hormones, which are associated with stimulating cell growth  and the occurrence of breast cancer. Breastfeeding for at least a year is associated with a decreased risk of both hormone receptor-positive and hormone receptor-negative breast cancer. A study done by Cancer Research UK (United Kingdom) demonstrated that the risk is reduced by 7% for each baby a woman has, and that for every 12 months she breast feeds (not necessarily consecutively) she decreases the risk by a further 4.3%.

This is one reason why I wanted to highlight how helpful babywearing can be in supporting moms to meet their breastfeeding goals. I know that when you first have a baby breastfeeding while wearing baby in a carrier at the same time may seem *impossible*. I do think that the first and most important thing to do is establish your breastfeeding relationship firmly and successfully without a carrier before moving on to use carriers as a tool for breastfeeding success. Once a mom has done this, though, babywearing supports moms in remaining active and continuing to breastfeed by providing privacy for discreet nursing and the ability to nurse while standing up if needed– or even while continuing to walk.

I personally found the most success breastfeeding while babywearing when using upright front carries, though many people prefer to breastfeed with baby in a semi-reclined position. Ring sling or pouch-style carriers are excellent for this, and the fabric tail of a ring sling can be used as a drape for privacy if desired. With an upright carrier such as our mei tai or the pikkolo, I prefer to loosen the straps to lower baby just a little bit. This is especially easy with the pikkolo because you just pull up on the tension buckles on the sides a little bit to loosen them and lower baby a few inches. Lift up your shirt and use one hand to help support the breast for baby, the same way that you would if using your hand to offer the breast while sitting in a chair at home. You will likely want to continue to hold the breast gently while nursing so that baby is able to easily remain latched on. I highly recommended wearing hoodies with nursing tanks or shirts! This was my uniform for a long time and helped me feel comfortable nursing in a carrier so that I knew that my sides were covered when I lifted my shirt to breastfeed in a carrier. The hood of the pikkolo or on our mei tai can also be used to drape over baby’s head lightly to visually block distracting sights (the last thing you want when you are trying to get baby to focus on the task at hand is to pop off to look at some new and interesting thing over there!) and provide a little more privacy if desired. After you are finished nursing and pull down your shirt or re-clasp your nursing tank, you can just put one hand on baby’s bum to relieve the tension on the straps and tighten them again to get baby back in that high, seated position.

Nursing on the go in an upright carrier will typically work best after baby is old enough to maintain some level of head support on his or her own. When nursing in a carrier you should always remain eye contact with baby and be able to see what he or she is doing and ensure that your breast is not pressed into baby’s nose or face, so she has a clear airway. If baby falls asleep during nursing, you should not leave baby in the nursing position (lower and face leaning against the breast) but always remove baby from the breast and tighten straps to higher position and make sure baby’s head is then resting sideways (cheek to your chest) against you with a clear airway while she snoozes.

If you have any tips on what has worked well for you to breastfeed while babywearing, feel free to share them in the comments

 

References and Useful Resources:

National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov)

British Medical Journal

Centers for Disease Control

Best for Babes (bestforbabes.org)

 

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Parenting Work Life

The Elusive (Fulfilling) Part-time Job

October 18, 2011

In 2007, the Pew Research Center published a report in which only 21% of women with minor children (17 and under) said that working full-time was ideal for them, which was a decrease from the 1997 level of 32%. A full 60% of mothers working outside the home said that part-time work was their ideal. Yet anyone who has searched for a meaningful part-time position will tell you that they are not exactly plentiful. When I had my first child, I was torn. During my pregnancy I at first assumed I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Then my boss announced she was also pregnant and due about 8 weeks after me. Since we were the only two full-time staffers on the magazine we worked on (within a larger department), I agreed that after about 10 weeks of maternity leave, I would come back to work while she was on leave. My boss’ mother-in-law, who had moved to the area with plans to help care for her soon-to-be born grandchild, was even going to be my babysitter four days a week when I went back, and my husband was going to use his remaining personal days to take Fridays off for about 2 months. I thought it was perfect! I was so lucky. And I was, really. But then when I went back to work, something I was actually looking forward to, I finished the first week thinking “how in the H-E-doublehockeysticks does anyone DO this FOR YEARS?!?” I was exhausted. It took every ounce of my strength to wake up in time to nurse baby, get dressed and get out the door and on the train to arrive to work by 8:30 am, get work done–including pumping twice (and I was super lucky on that count, because I had my own office with a door), and leave early at 2:30 pm, which was the arrangement we worked out. I’d go home and spend the afternoon with my daughter, maybe go to this post-partum yoga class I’d been doing, eat dinner and fall asleep at 8 pm with the baby. I went back towards the end of October and by mid-December I knew I had to quit. I liked my coworkers, I knew I was going to miss having conversations with intelligent adults on a daily basis, I worked in a low-stress, easy-going office in the nonprofit world (I can’t imagine what it would have been like in a high-stress environment), but I couldn’t do this. And there was no option to go part-time. So I quit.

After about a month, I was looking for a job. But I really wanted a part-time job. But I knew that I needed something, because I wasn’t happy being home 24/7. I was lucky to find a job working 2 days a week and the sitter I had before would now watch my daughter, with her grandson, in my former boss’ home. But I barely made enough money to pay for babysitting and the work was not exactly what I wanted (though it was tangentially related to my background). It was during my time working part-time that I began making mei tai carriers and eventually started kicking around the idea of officially creating a business. I actually did start my business about 5 months after I began that job and continued to work 2 days a week outside the home while getting my business off the ground, quitting about 4 months after I launched my website.

Flexibility is actually one of the biggest things that I now value about being an entrepreneur. I can go to soccer practice at 4:00 pm and volunteer in my kids’ classroom in the middle of the morning if I want. You’re sort of always thinking about business, though, and the weight of being responsible for juggling everything is omnipresent; but you are the boss, so you can make some choices about how to spend your days.  There’s been such a growth in moms starting their own businesses the past decade and I’m sure this is directly related in part to a lack of meaningful employment that is less than full-time. Which is ironic, since starting and running a business is the equivalent of about 5 full-time jobs. The past few years of recession and double-digit unemployment, though, probably make it even harder for moms who may want to find part-time jobs. For those who have full-time jobs but would prefer to go part-time, they may be afraid to make any kind of change, knowing how hard it is to find any job right now. For moms trying to reenter the workforce, they are facing competition from people who may not have the “employment gap” that comes with the decision to stay home to be with children full-time. Job shares, reduced hours, flexible schedules–I don’t hear about situations like these being available all that often. Maybe it seems like a crazy time to ask for these things; I’m sure a ton of people will tell you “just be quiet and be happy you have a job.” I understand where that’s coming from given the times we are living in, but I find it depressing that huge numbers of moms want to keep doing work that means something to them–intellectually, socially, personally–without having to do it from 9-5 every single day. I suspect that, along with the willingness of companies to consider breaking free from traditional employment arrangements, that for a shift to really take place we would need the ability to take longer maternity leaves and have better options for affordable childcare as well. And the prospects of that, in this time in our country’s history, seem pretty well non-existent.

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The manufacturing business

From kitchen table to factory floor

October 13, 2011

Someone recently asked me to talk about how we grew from sewing in-house (literally, in my house. Er, rather, condo.) to finding a manufacturer. Honestly, I knew from the start that I had no interest sewing anything on a large scale myself. Before I even had a website I tried to find some sewers on Craigslist and did end up working with several for a brief time. That was a mostly discouraging exercise because I expected that people who answered ads for “professional seamstress/sewer” would actually be more skilled than I was, and frankly, some weren’t. It was also a pain managing them, cutting, getting them the materials and everything. I started searching for a contract sewing company in the Chicago area from very early on. This was even more discouraging than the Craigslist experience. One, when you don’t really know what you are looking for, finding a contract sewer is hard. Especially when at first you don’t know the words “contract sewing,” or “cut and sew,” or CMT (cut, make, trim). Then, you make appointments with the ones who didn’t run screaming from the telephone when you said “baby carrier” and go see them and the few who will actually consider quoting you give you crazy high labor-only quotes that are like 75% of the full retail price that the carriers are going for then and you despair that this will never, ever work. I did one run of mei tais with a local place that agreed to give it a go. While they were professional and polite, I made compromises on materials and design that I didn’t really want to make because they said the way I really wanted to do it “couldn’t be done.” So, even though it was only 100 mei tais, at the time it was a lot to me, and I was disappointed with the end result. Luckily, I then found the local sewing house that, to this day, makes our mei tai carriers (well, a former employee of the original sewing house started his own business after that one closed and now his company makes the carriers). In 2007 when we were trying to bring the pikkolo to market, we searched for another local sewing house. I felt like this product was more complicated than the mei tai and I wanted to diversify. I found another local place, with about 25 sewers, who had experience making bags and camera cases, and they made the first few thousand pikkolos.

I am lucky in that I live in a large city and one that used to be a manufacturing center. So there are still businesses around doing cut and sew. It’s hard to find them, and textile, apparel, and contract sewing businesses are notorious for not having websites, or having bad ones (especially 5 years ago), but I’m really good at googling and was able to find a lot of phone numbers and clues to go on. The AIBI (Apparel Industry Board Inc.) in Chicago was also a very useful resource for sourcing raw materials and contractors, as well.

When the pikkolo quickly became our number-one seller and I realized the labor costs were probably going to preclude any possibility of international regional distribution, I started looking for overseas alternatives. Again, my mad google skillz enabled me to find a place in Estonia, where we produced the pikkolo for a time. Since then we have produced the pikkolo in China and Egypt, as well, and are about to also resume production in the United States, on the west coast, after searching really hard and finding an affordable domestic manufacturer. I plan to continue to consider overseas sources as well that make sense for the business. With the exception of Estonia, I have visited every country or specific facility that we manufacture in, and intend to always do this going forward.

What’s tricky about making the jump from individual seamstresses to contractors is managing minimum order quantities. In order for it to be worthwhile (in terms of time to set up a sewing line) for most contractors, they will require you to make a certain minimum number of units. They also, of course, want to know that you have long-term intentions to work with them, because if they invest time in getting to know your product and figuring out to integrate its production into their business, they certainly don’t want you to sew with them for a couple months and then move on. Most domestic manufacturers will only require a few hundred pieces, because nearly all domestic manufacturing is offering a labor service. This means that the client sources and does all the purchasing of the raw materials and the contractor is only cutting and sewing the raw components to make the finished item. Many overseas contractors are also sourcing, purchasing raw goods, and making the finished item to your specifications, which they are then selling to you–the manufacturer. Some overseas contractors do cut and sew separate from sourcing/purchasing (or will help with sourcing/purchasing and simply pass through the cost of the goods without mark-up), but most large facilities, especially in Asia, are doing all the sourcing and purchasing and selling the manufacturer a finished good. In these cases, there is a large jump in minimum order quantity. This quantity is driven by the minimum order quantities of the raw goods they must purchase to make your product for you, but instead of working with a few hundred pieces you are most likely now going to be looking at a minimum of 1,000 to several thousand pieces per item (of one color; it’s not usually the number of units that is hard for small, growing businesses, it’s that to get a reasonable SKU assortment, they could be looking at having to order 15,000 units for example). This is why it’s amazingly difficult for small growing companies to make the leap from one production level to another, especially if they are trying to bootstrap their business. Working overseas almost always requires that companies raise capital, either by obtaining debt financing (small business loans, loans from friends or relatives) or selling equity (get friends and family to invest in the business by buying a stake in the business–i.e. putting in cash that will not be repaid to them until the company is sold or another party buys their shares, or angel investors–sort of like friends and family, except they don’t care if you’re supersuperniceandsweet and usually expect a higher rate of return, or venture capitalists, who *really* don’t care if you’re nice and sweet and expect an even higher rate of return and have pretty firm exit timelines).

The above is why it’s been incredibly frustrating for businesses trying to grow the past 3 years; access to capital is key to growing a successful business and bank lending has dried up. No matter how much promise your idea shows, even proven sales success, it’s been very difficult to find financial institutions who will loan money. It’s gotten better in the past year or so, but it’s still bad.

Anyway, that’ s the story of our jump from kitchen table prototypes to factory-made products. It’s a story that continues as we keep striving to find and hold onto the perfect manufacturing partners that can make our items exactly how we want them, on time, and at a cost that we can afford, given the prices consumers are willing to pay for products.

 

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