Monday, November 17, 2014

Ella Alana Pump Bags

Due to the Affordable Care Act changes to the health insurance industry, the way breast pumps are sold and purchased has changed a great deal.  The pump bags that used to be included with the bags is no longer covered by insurance – so the price of the ones from the pump manufacturers has skyrocketed.  Due to all of this, I did a whole bunch of research on other pump bags on the market before our Little Dude was born early this fall.  In my research, I came across a wonderful work-at-home mom, Amy Schendel of Ella Alana.  ( )  

Amy had a business already designing and making diaper bags, changing pads, and more for mamas when she was approached about making a pump bag from a customer, as there were so few on the market.  Her product is unique in that it can be entirely tailored to the individual customer!  Amy will quote customers for extras, since each bag is custom made for you, but here are a few of the customization options:

  • Messenger flap or zip top
  • Seat belt-style carrying strap is standard, but softer ones can be added.
  • Possible to get extra bottle pockets on the inside of the bag.
  • A sleek outside bottle pocket is standard, but an expandable one is available.
  • A laptop sleeve on the inside is optional – which is great for multitasking in your pumping room at work.
  • An outside back pocket is also available for your tablet or iPad.

I met with Amy, and she showed me bags with these different options.  She also showed me the incredible supply of fabric she has so that your bag can look just right – you can select exterior fabric and a complimentary interior fabric to get a fun look.  

I chose a grey fabric for the exterior, and a bright turquoise fabric for the interior, for a bright pop of color.  I have the exterior back pocket that I use for my iPad.  You can get an optional cooler from Ella Alana for your milk that is flexible, so it can be shaped to accommodate most bottles and can fit right next to the pump for storage. 

I have a Medela Pump In Style Advanced pump, which fits easily into the standard pocket of the Ella Alana bag – the Medelas have Velcro on the top that attaches right to the Velcro inside of the bag.  However, some other pump brands would need the pump hole area to be made taller, so that’s something to communicate during the purchase project.  It’s another added bonus of getting a custom bag rather than one off of the rack, that it can be made perfect just for your needs.

The bags are made of home d├ęcor fabric, so they wash really well (tumble dry low or hang dry) and are very sturdy.    I can’t possibly see needing to get another bag.  The quality of the workmanship is amazing – the stitching is perfect, and very strong.  As you can see from the photo below, it’s incredibly roomy – I could easily use this as our primary diaper bag if I were exclusively pumping and had to take my pump with us other places than to work and home.  (Amy also has bottle coolers, changing pads, and more available for purchase through her store.)

I’ve had the chance to compare this to some other pump bags, and this is easily the best pump bag I’ve encountered.  It’s the most fun and functional bag available, with countless customization that will make the bag work perfectly for anyone.  It’s fashionable yet totally practical.  Pumping at work and elsewhere is a lot more enjoyable when your bag streamlines the process!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cozywoggle car seat coat

Based off of a friend’s recommendation recently, we purchased a Cozywoggle coat.  (LINK)  This is designed to be a winter coat that can be worn in a car seat.   It has zippers up the sides, passing under the armpits and down by the wrists, that allow for the coat to be flipped behind the child rather than to be worn behind (coming between the seat and the child).  The front can be flapped over the car seat straps.

I watched the video on their website before purchasing it, and the coat seemed so effortless and easy.  You just zip the child in and out, and it’s comfortable for them to sit in their seat with the blanketed coat flaps.

My hubby tried this on the Pickle first on a trip that just the two of them took, and he came home complaining that the coat was a giant pain.  I thought he was just being contrary to be contrary, so I took her in the coat on a ride to Target the next day.

Getting into her seat in our garage wasn’t a huge deal – she let me unzip the sides and get her in the seat, but she HATES the flap of the back of the coat behind her head.  Looking at it, I could see that it would be pretty uncomfortable.  You also have to totally take the sleeves off of the child, so their arms are freezing if you didn’t put a fleece or something on underneath it.  

Getting out of the car in the cold Target parking lot was a bigger ordeal.  It wasn’t particularly easy to zip up the sleeves and coat while sitting inside of the car, so Pickle had to climb out with the coat hanging off of her, and stand in the 20 degree cold while I zipped down the sides.  It was only for a few moments, but I think that would be too much to deal with as it gets even colder as the winter goes on.

I think that it’s more practical for us to just stick with wearing a fleece jacket, and taking her out of her coat and wearing it backwards when riding in the car.  The flap that goes behind her head just is a dealbreaker in our situation.  I really like the idea of the coat, and the name tickles me, but it’s just not a practical purchase for us in sub-zero temps.  Luckily it was only about $35 on sale, so it wasn’t an incredibly expensive lesson.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Halo Sleep Sacks

When our older daughter was born, she always ran hot in the home that we had at the time.  Our bedroom was on the third floor of our townhouse, so it was almost always warm.  Hence, we never swaddled or used sleep sacks.

Our new house is a little more drafty, however (even when kept at 70 degrees), and our Little Man was born late enough that it’s getting a bit chilly in the master bedroom at night.  Fortunately, our hospital participates in the HALO Safer Way to Sleep Initiative (LINK), so our take-home bag included a newborn-sized Halo Swaddler.  We put that on Little Man at night his first month home from the hospital, and fell in love.  We were so glad to avoid loose blankets that could come up and suffocate him in the middle of the night.  We also made sure to place him on his back in the co-sleeper we have next to the bed (more on the co-sleeper later).  There are lots of great tips for safe sleeping at Halo’s website (LINK), if you have any questions – keeping your little one safe is such an important priority.  Coincidentally, I think it’s pretty awesome that they include such good info on their website – but what else would you expect from a company with such a great mission statement:  HALO Innovations is dedicated to putting the health, safety and well-being of babies first. From our new bassinet, the HALO™ Bassinest™ Swivel Sleeper ( to our HALO® SleepSack® wearable blankets, which are now used in over 1200 hospitals nationwide, HALO is committed to helping babies sleep safely.

Now we have a bigger sleep sack that he wears in the 3 – 6 month size.  I have become a huge fan of the Halo sleep sacks.  It’s perfect for nighttime diaper changes and sleep – it zips from the bottom up, so you don’t have to take the entire sack off of baby to change a diaper.  The swaddlers have arms that can optionally go over baby’s arms, or (if your children are like mine and fight an arm swaddle) can go under baby’s armpits if you’d like to keep his/her arms free.  The fabric is a nice, heavyweight cotton – so it’s warm, but not too warm that it would put baby at an increased SIDS risk.  It also washes incredibly well, and is so wonderfully soft.  Our boy’s daycare also uses Halo sleep sacks, so he’s entirely comfortable sleeping there in them since he’s used to them at home.

Back to the co-sleeper.  As you can see from the above photo, we have the Arm’s Reach mini co-sleeper from back when the Pickle was born four years ago.  It works great overall, but it has some downfalls.  First of all, you really can’t get it all that close to you without sleeping on the edge of your bed when it’s in co-sleeper mode.  Since the one side folds down and you tether it to the side of your bed, that’s all the closer it gets.  Additionally, you have to crawl to and from the foot of the bed to get in and out of bed – which becomes difficult if you’ve got the baby in your arms.  I wish the Halo Bassinest Swivel Sleeper had been available at that time – it’s a new product from Halo that makes the room-sharing experience much easier.  The best way I can describe it is that it works sort of like one of those tables you have bedside at the hospital, if that were a bassinet – you can swivel it over and away from the bed (avoiding the Arm’s Reach Shimmy), and it also can be nestled next to you in the bed to get a closer sleep while still giving baby his or her own sleep surface.   

It seems like a really awesome product, I’m jealous of all of those who just started their families with this on the market!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Star Kids Snack & Play Travel Tray

I have the sweetest four-year-old on Earth, but she is a little whirlwind of messiness.  Miniature disaster areas follow her, despite me cleaning up after her and her cleaning up after herself.  I sort of imagine her to be like a real-life Pigpen from Peanuts.

So, when we recently bought a new vehicle to accommodate our recent addition, I tried enforcing a very, very strict "No food or drink in the car" rule.  This lasted a few weeks, but life happens - we run late to school and need to eat breakfast on the go, or we have a long car trip that spans snack time.  Best laid plans get put aside... and the interior of my car becomes a crumb-filled disaster.  

And then we got a Star Kids Snack & Play Travel Tray (LINK).  

It's a cool invention - it's a small nylon table that has a strap that goes behind the child in their car seat, and sits on their lap as a table.  It has mesh pockets in the sides for sippy cups, food, toys, and so on.  It's pliable so that it can bend to fit different car seat sizes, but is firm enough that a little one can color or play on top of it.  It's the perfect size to fit a few toys or a small art set.  Since it's nylon, it wipes down easily and looks just like new.

We decided to put it through the paces with a doughnut breakfast this week, to see how it kept the seats clean.  Here's a shot of Pickle enjoying her breakfast:

She had a sippy cup of water in the mesh pocket on the side, and this easily fit across her entire lap.  The best part is that it caught every single crumb!  It saved my car from becoming a disaster area, and all I had to do was wipe it quickly with a wet washcloth, and all of the frosting and crumbs were gone.  It dried quickly, and then we used the tray to practice handwriting on the rest of the drive.  Since the tray only runs about $19.99 (LINK), it was a great price-point for such versatility!

If your child is still working on the whole "neat and tidy" thing, I really recommend the Star Kids Snack & Play Travel Tray.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nurse Purse pump bag

Our little man is here!  He is amazing, and he is just perfect...  We do, however, have to pump on occasion after nursing due to a tongue tie - and we will be pumping daily once I return to work.  

I have a Medela Pump In Style Advanced breast pump.  Due to the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans do not cover the black backpack with new pumps; a bag must be purchased separately.  

I looked around and researched the available off-the-rack bags available.  Nurse Purse (LINK) and Juno Blu (LINK) are the two main ones, with Sarah Wells also available I off the rack.  

Here are some basics on how the different bags break down:

Nurse Purse:
Cost - $129
Material - cotton laminated canvas, water resistant lining. Easy to clean.  
Extra space - Rear pocket fits folders, exterior pockets fit bottles, interior storage for laptop, zippered interior pockets.

Juno Blu:
Cost - $185
Material - Vegan leatherette.  Harder to clean.
Extra space - exterior pockets are thermo-insulated, interior zipper pocket, cell phone pocket, key ring clasp.  

Sarah Wells:
Cost - $145
Material - Faux leather.  Harder to clean.
Extra space - Exterior pockets for bottles, interior zip pocket, padded pocket for iPad or small laptop.  

To me, the lower cost, spaciousness, and ease of cleaning made it an easy decision that the Nurse Purse was the most practical choice.  Like the others, it also has sufficient interior room for a cooler or baby items, and can transform to a tote when you are done pumping.  

I got the opportunity to try one out, and it is everything promised and more.  The spot for the pump in the front pocket is big enough that you can leave the Medela pump in its canvas case and still have storage space for the cord and plug.  You don't have to disassemble the whole thing every time you are done pumping - which, for a mama exclusively pumping, can be up to 12 times a day.  

There is awesome attention to detail in this bag.  My favorite part is that there is a little spot for a photo of your baby inside the zippered area for your pump - this tiny little addition aids in letdown, which is an added bonus for mom.   The canvas and cotton exterior is not only practical, but the brand has by far the most fun designs of the off-the-rack pump bags.  

My laptop fits perfectly in the exterior pocket, so this will be an easy bag to use when I return to work; I can get work done while pumping.  There is also just a ton of storage inside, due to the bag's size - I have an entire box of breast milk storage bags, pump parts, and much more inside of this bag, and still have ample room for more.

All in all, I think this is a great, efficient bag.  Of the three off-the-rack options for a pump bag I looked at, this one is the most economical, spacious, and practical.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lily Jade "Baby Bags"

The two diaper bags that I had from when Pickle was little were pretty girly - lots of pink and flowers.  Even the "gender neutral" one I had from Petunia Picklebottom (that I didn't really like that much, review HERE), was pretty feminine.  I felt like I wanted to look around for an inexpensive, inventive solution that doesn't lock me into it being solely a traditional diaper bag.

That's when I found the "Baby Bag,"  part of the line of designer diaper bags by Lily Jade.  Put simply, this is an insert with all of the regular pockets, zippers, and cubbies of a traditional diaper bag, but you can put it inside of another bag you already have to transform it.  Here's what it looks like sitting on its own:

And looking from the top down:

This is the Medium Baby Bag Organizer in red, but they also have a large size - both the medium and large sizes are available in both red and khaki, and both run $55 regularly.  (Right now, however, they're running a sale for $10 off!  LINK - they're also featuring all of their gorgeous new bags that were released this month, which all still come with a free Baby Bag for a 2-for-1 value!)  

You can't really tell from these photos, but I have stuff inside all of the interior pockets, diapers in multiple outside pockets, and diaper balm in yet another pocket - and there's still a ton of room.  I don't have changes of clothes or the like yet, as I'm still only 34 weeks and still nesting - but you can see that I can fit a ton in there in addition to what I have already.  The medium bag is 15" x 8.5" x 5", but is made of flexible, washable material, so it expands really wide beyond the advertised five inches.  The tote has a zipper on top, as well, to that makes it additionally versatile.

Have a $7 tote that you want to turn into a diaper bag, or a $300 Coach tote purse that you would prefer to keep using rather than switching to something with a cartoon on the outside?  The Baby Bag works for either of those, and more!  I took a simple, inexpensive tote that I had from Amazon, and transformed it into a cute, gender-neutral bag that doesn't scream "I have dirty diapers in here!" just by popping in the Baby Bag Organizer:

As you can see, the Baby Bag just slips right inside, and is low enough that diapers and the like don't pop out of the top.  If I wanted to personalize this more for the young man we'll be having soon, I could easily get the bag embroidered with his initials or something similar.  Due to the wide base of the Baby Bag, I didn't have to worry about attaching it to the tote at all, it just sits right inside.

I tried this, as well, with a purse I had:

Again, just a standard-sized tote purse.  The base on this exact purse is a little narrower than the Lily Jade bag is at its full expansion, but it easily accommodated all of the items that I already had packed inside of the Baby Bag.  I took this with us out to dinner with our 4-year-old and packed it with some snacks, books, and so on, and it was such a better solution than just throwing everything in my purse.  I could still put my wallet and checkbook in the pockets of the purse, so I wasn't losing any functionality as an actual purse.  This was the perfect way to crossover a purse and a diaper bag without having to invest in a new bag that I may not like quite as much!

The other great thing about the Baby Bag is that you can just carry it around the house as a diaper caddy/organizer.  It has spots for a nursing cover and a changing pad, so you can easily fit in any supplies that you might need around your home.  It's not huge and cumbersome, so you could easily tuck it out of sight in a drawer when you're not using it.  With it being washable, it also makes it a great option to keep at a changing table without fear of it being ruined.

I'd recommend this organizer easily for any parent.  It's a convenient, inexpensive alternative to the traditional diaper bags on the market, yet is stylish and full of features.  When I'm done using this as an insert for a diaper bag, I plan on using it as a camera bag - the pockets are the right size for lens attachments and memory cards, and it keeps all of the items organized without them being a mess.  So, I'll be getting use out of this bag for years to come!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Burt's Bees Mama Bee Belly Butter

I don't get exceptionally large when I get pregnant - rather than going out, I tend to carry really long in my torso.  That keeps me from getting all-over stretch marks, but I did get a couple near the end of my pregnancy with Pickle where her head was sitting (I was pretty lopsided and carried all to the left).

Those two stretch marks had gone away by the time I got pregnant this time, so I wanted to try and keep them away.  I invested about $11 in Burt's Bees Mama Bee Belly Butter (LINK). 

I started using this around 26 weeks or so, when I popped.  It's got a great smell (as Burt's Bees is so great at doing!), and isn't super-greasy.  It's mostly just like a thick hand lotion.

It worked great for the first three weeks or so, but I've still developed a couple of small stretch marks in the same area where I had them with Pickle, as well as new one.  I don't know that there was much the belly butter could have done to prevent the ones in the area that I had before, but the new ones are a little less encouraging.

All in all, this is one of the cheaper belly butters on the market, and it may be doing SOME good, but I don't know that I'd purchase it again.