Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gee Your Baby Smells Terrific

When our son was not yet two, I took him on a work trip to Ohio. I was giving two presentations at a 3-day writing retreat with a group of other writer mamas who are all part of an on-line invitation only listserv. “Airplane, vroom, vroom,” Etani started saying a few weeks before we left.

We both bonded with my formerly cyberspace-only friends. Marjorie read him a book about a mouse who drives a truck over and over again, saying that she missed her little boy (whom she had been happy to leave at home) and Jody regaled him with a complicated story about a Funky Hippo who leaves his watering hole in search of disco dancing dudes. The elaborate plot—and their subsequent search for the Funky Hippo (“Do you think he’s by those bushes?” Jody would ask. “Yah!” Etani would shriek)—kept him from fussing during the 2-hour car ride back to the airport.

“I miss Etani,” Jody emailed the day after she returned to her two children, ages 7 and 11, in South Carolina. “I don’t know how I’m going to survive a whole year without seeing him.”

Being with a small child is tactile and immediate. There is something about having them close to you—their little hands holding yours, their little lips giving you kisses—that is so primal and immediate. I understood exactly what Jody meant. When I'm away, I miss my children in a visceral way.

One of the things that helps us bond to these small creatures who steal our hearts is their smell. When they are small, babies smell like baking bread and sweet milk. Their natural body odors and skin oils make you want to cuddle up to them. I have a picture of my husband opening his mouth to eat up my daughter (whose head was almost small enough to fit between his teeth) when she was three weeks old. Infants and babies naturally smell delicious.

Which is why it's a good idea not to become obsessive about washing your newborn or toddler.

How to clean a newborn:
1. Skip daily bathing: spot clean often but avoid giving them a bath a day as this dries out and irritates sensitive skin.
2. Don't use chemicals on your baby: A lot of what is put in baby products is actually toxic. Learn to read the labels and avoid products with ingredients you can't pronounce.
3. Only put on your baby's skin what you'd put in his mouth: A baby's skin absorbs the lotions and creams you use on it and takes it into the body. Use only products with ingredients so natural that they are okay for your baby's body to "eat." The best choice is organic olive oil or avocado oil for moisturizer and warm water for washing. Newborns don't need to be bathed with soap more than once every week or two.
4. Skip baby wipes: even the "natural" ones can cause diaper rash and irritation. Instead, use a clean wash cloth and warm water to clean up diaper mess.
A week after we came home a letter arrived in the mail from Etani. It was from the Funky Hippo. He found the disco dancing dudes. And left his conventional soap back at the old watering hole.

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