Friday, September 2, 2016

DIY T-Shirt Chew Necklaces & Bonus T-Shirt Bags


C is a big time chewer, the collar, sleeves and bottom of his T-shirts are riddled with holes from his enthusiastic chewing. We've tried several types of chew necklaces from Amazon.  The silicone chews we tried from Stimtastic (star, spectrum beads and blocks) were each destroyed in a matter of hours. The T Tubes, A&Z chews, and P&Q chews last a LOT longer, but they are messy (Drool streams off of the tubes as he chews), bulky and are not as enjoyable as cloth for him to chew on.  He strongly prefers to chew on cloth.  Another option is to wear Bite Bands as a necklace for chewing, but I don't like that there isn't a break away clasp if it gets caught. Also, all of these options are prohibitively expensive for every day use. C is an avid chewer and due to saliva build up, we go through 2-4 necklaces or shirts a day. In my ideal world, he'd use 4 necklaces a day and we'd have a few extra. I'd love to throw the necklaces in the laundry along with everything else we wash and not add extra duties into my already hectic life.

After a bit of experimentation, I've come up with a DIY chew necklace that I am very happy with.  It comes together fairly quickly, it soaks up a lot of saliva and it has a break away clasp that will keep him from getting caught up and choking on it.  I also find it very cost effective, I bought 50 Pop barrel clasps for about 14 dollars and 100ft Paracord for about 7 dollars. This is enough paracord and clasps to make 50 necklaces at 2 ft of paracord and one clasp per necklace.  I spent about 6 dollars on T-Shirts because I wanted to get specific colors, but you can use shirts already around the house.  If you use kid shirts, you will only get one necklace per strip, instead of two.  Cost per necklace appears to be about fifty cents.

Note: It appears I will be able to reuse the paracord with future necklaces as the ones he's currently using wear down.

Project 1: Chewy Necklace

Project time: 45 minutes

It takes me about 20-30 minutes to braid and about 10 minutes to weave the ends and add the clasp. I cut enough strands for at least 2 necklaces each time because I cut both the front and the back of the shirt.


  • Rotary Cutter (or Scissors)
  • Bodkin (or safety pin)
  • T-Shirts - Look for a thicker fabric shirt without side seams.  I used black plus the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)
    • Each shirt was a size medium to large adult men's shirt.
    • I cut 2 loops of black, 1 loop for each of the other colors.
  • 550 Paracord
  • Pop Barrel Clasps (watch the pull weight for break away and get what makes sense for your kiddo and their age, weight and gross motor development.)

I began this project by cutting the T-shirts.  I knew I didn't want to include any printing in the chewy necklace, so I cut each T-shirt off just below the beginning of the graphics.  I saved that portion to be made into a bag (See bonus project at the end of this post). 

The T-shirts I am using are made of a single loop of fabric without a seam. I cut each of the 7 T-shirts into loops, then I cut each loop in half, making 2 strips each time I cut.  I have tried 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch and 1 inch strips.  I find I like 3/4 inch best.  At 1/2 inch, my son tends to fold the necklace in half and chew, which I suspect will decrease its life.  At 1 inch, I feel like the necklace is too bulky and noticeable.  I was going for something that didn't look like it was there just for chewing, as some of the giant letters or beads do. I also cut 2 feet of paracord for the base of the necklace.  

I have found using the rainbow really makes creating these necklaces easier to track.  On one side I have black, red, yellow, and blue.  The other holds black orange, green, and purple.  Then, when I braid, I do black, black, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, the same order as the rainbow.  I'm going to use this color scheme for the purposes of the tutorial as having all the separate colors also makes it easier to explain.

I tie the paracord to a stationary item that I can pull against.  The paracord is the core of the necklace, the t-shirt strips will completely surround it. Next I tie each strip on in a double knot, facing alternating directions.  Make sure the tail is about 2 inches long after you have tied on.  These will be covered by the braid along with the paracord.  It makes the starting end a little bulky, but is the cleanest way I have found to start.  After creating several necklaces, I decided on this route to tie on because it doesn't anchor the t-shirt braid on either side.  You can stretch it around and have it float a bit which gives you greater flexibility when tying off.  It also allows you to adjust the thickness of the braid by scrunching it closer or stretching it further apart while leaving it centered on the paracord.
  1. Black with the tail the short piece on the left (braiding portion is on the right)
  2. Black with the tail on the right
  3. Red with tail to the left 
  4. Orange with tail to the right
  5. Yellow with tail to the left
  6. Green with tail to the right
  7. Blue with tail to the left
  8. Purple with tail to the right

You are now ready to begin braiding.  Here is the video I used to come up with this necklace.  This person is making a dog's leash. For the rainbow necklace, you will start with the black strand on the right (the side with the red braiding portion).  Holding 4 strands in your left hand and 4 strands in your right, drop the black strand from your right hand and let it dangle straight down.  Bring it around behind the paracord.  It will go between the 4 strands, with black and orange above it and on top of the green and purple strands.  It will end up back in your right hand, at the bottom of the 4 colors.  As you bring it around, be sure it is covering all the t-shirt tails in addition to the paracord.  The t-shirt strands are not anchored, so you will need to be careful not to apply too much tension.  I tighten the braid strands on every 4th pass (so after orange and again after purple).  The second pass will be the black strand on the left.  Drop it so it dangles straight down, then bring it around to the right hand side and between red and yellow above it and crossing over the blue and black.  Then do the same with red, drop it straight down, bring it up between orange and green above and over the purple and black.  Then orange will drop straight down, coming up between yellow and blue above and red and black below. Each time, make sure you have continued to cover the tails from where we originally tied on.  Once you have orange back on the left, go ahead and gently tighten the weave around the tails and paracord.  By the time you've cycled through the rainbow twice, you should be past the tails and braiding should be going smoothly.  Braid until you are within 3 inches of the end of the paracord, or until you only have 2 inches of any of the braiding strands left to work with, I always end with the two black strands braided last.

Now it is time to tie off the ends.  To tie off, I cross the colored strands across the front to opposite sides (red crosses across the front from the right to the left, orange does the opposite) then I double knot them on the back side of the braid.  I tie Red to Orange, Yellow to Green, Blue to Purple, then I try to use the black to cover the other knots and tie them together as well.  It doesn't always work, but it is the best finish I've been able to come up with.  

I then use my bodkin to weave the ends back into the necklace.  I weave them through a few times, to make it as secure as possible.  

When all the ends have been woven back into the necklace, cut off the excess tail and give the braid a little tug, the ends should disappear back into the braid. After a couple of washes, I've noticed some are coming back out.  I tuck them back in with the end of the bodkin or any small blunt object (chopsticks and safety pins have also worked for me).

To add the barrel clasp, slide the paracord back off of the inner strings and trim about 1.5-2 inches of the inner 7 strands off.  Do this for both sides of the necklace.

Next, insert the paracord into the hole in the female side of the clasp.  Make sure the clasp side is facing away from the braid.  It is super frustrating to get it tied on and realize it is facing the wrong way.  On the other side of the necklace, slide the male side of the clasp on that side (again, double check that they will clasp together before tying off.  

Tie a knot in the very end of the cord on each side and pull it down through the clasp so it won't get in the way of the closure.  

Open and close the barrel clasp several times to make sure the ends are securely tied and the clasp is fairly easy to open.

Here are three necklaces, 1/2 inch strips, 3/4 inch strips and 1 inch strips.

Plus a picture of the 1.5 inch strip necklaces I made in grey and red when I was first starting out.

Here are 2 necklaces, one before washing, one after.  They clean up well and seem to do fine thrown in the laundry with everything else.

Bonus Project: T-Shirt bags

Fold the shirt in half and cut the sleeves off of the remaining portion of the T-shirt that you didn't cut off to use as chew necklace strips.

Open the shirt back up and cut out the neckline, this will be the opening of your bag, cut it as wide as you want.  The arm holes and the neckline together form the handles.  If you think the handles are too wide, you can sew the bottom of them closed a bit in the next step.

Turn the T-shirt and both sleeves inside out.  Align one of the sleeves along the bottom of the tshirt and sew a seam along that bottom.  This is where you an also sew up some of the arm holes if you want the handles smaller.  

Once you sew the bottom seam and the sleeve is secured, you can either flip the bag right side out and use it, or you can fold it up and flip the sleeve inside out, stowing the bag inside the sleeve.  I use this bag to store my necklaces currently in progress.

Take the other inside out sleeve and sew a seam along the bottom side of it.

Use a seam ripper to create two small holes on either side of the seam on the underside of the sleeve.

Use your bodkin or a safety pin to thread a strip of t-shirt material through the first hole.

Continue threading the t-shirt material through until your bodkin emerges on the other side, then pull the strand to even the drawstring out.

You now have a bag for storing your chew necklaces.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Calorie Packing 101 - Part 3 - Big Kids

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on calorie packing.

Part 3 Calorie Packing For Bigger Kids

A nutritionist is generally going to first look to liquid calories first as they are easier to quantify.  Liquid calories are awesome, but sometimes REALLY hard to get into a stubborn kiddo (like mine).  If you can do liquid calories, fantastic.  There are a number of great options out there.  Smoothies and shakes are a great way to hide nutrition and calories in a quick drinkable form.  My favorite recipe page is the Golisano Children's Hospital recipe page.  In general, avocado, oils, nut butters, heavy cream (a little goes a long way), and protein powders are a great way to calorie pack any liquid shake.  However, you should talk with your nutritionist to make sure you balance how you add calories into your child's diet.  You don't want to overload their system (for example, too much protein can be hard on the kidneys).  Beyond home made smoothies and shakes, there are a range of high calorie commercial drink options.  First, of course, there is the ubiquitous carnation instant breakfast.  This standby is a pediatric goto for getting kiddos to up their calorie intake.  From there, you can get into some boxed drink options like pediasure, ensure, and boost.  The creamy type drinks can also be made into ice cream and shakes.  If your child doesn't like the creamy/milk based drinks, there are some commercial options for you as well.  Boost Breeze is a juice based option and comes in a variety case of 3 flavors.  Ensure Clear is another clear drink option which last I checked came in apple or mixed berry.

My child, of course, would have none of that easily quantifiable liquid calorie intake.  Instead, we were stuck with calorie packing our solid food offerings.  This is, to me a more difficult proposition. Especially if your child (like mine) won't take anything of a liquid or puree consistency.  In general, your calorie packing options for solid foods revolve around heavy cream, butters and oils.  We found, for example, that adding coconut oil to dole fruit cups would make them taste like pie filling.  Cheese is another great option for calorie packing.  My son's spaghetti always got an extra dose of olive oil and a large helping of cheese. For anything that uses eggs, you can add extra egg yolks, which is a great way to boost calories in baked goods.  In general, calorie packing in the solid food arena is all about unobtrusive additions of oils and fats.  My rule of thumb has been to add coconut oil to anything sweet and olive or rice bran oil to anything savory.

In my kiddo's case, we got pretty desperate to add calories, so I went into the full on medical calorie packing options.  The main options here are Benecalorie and Duocal.  I found that Benecalorie was pretty dang gross and for me, not much better than an oil when added to food.  Duocal on the other hand, was awesome.  We could send it to daycare so they could add it to his lunch.  Also, in small quantities (we found about a scoop per 5 oz water) it can add calories to water without really affecting the taste.  Every little bit counted, so "white water" became our goto drink.

In the end, one of our best tools has been Periactin as an appetite stimulant.  Periactin is an allergy medication that has a side effect of boosting appetite (it can also help with cyclic vomiting issues). Over time, the side effect of appetite stimulation wears off. We have found that taking one week off per month gets us the best bang for our buck.  The down side is that the first 2-3 days he goes back on Periactin are pretty miserable. He's tired and grumpy, and super hangry.  We get a lot of weight gain, but a few days of the grumps at the same time.

I found that the focus on eating has led to a lot of anxiety and stress over the whole eating and weight process.  My best defense has been to employ the Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding.  I have to be careful to find balance, because if I completely relax, he tends to stop growing, but if I pay too much attention, I make myself crazy.

I hope this helps, please let me know if I missed anything or if you have any questions.

Pumping to feed baby when you have to be away

Having to go back to work and the associated stress can really do a number on a mom's sense of well being.  Trying to balance the demands of pumping while at work can be a huge undertaking and lead to significant stress.  Often moms become panicked about their supply once they begin pumping and can physically see milk quantities instead of just breastfeeding and watching baby grow.

Generally speaking, your best bet is to pump at the times baby would normally feed.  Part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) worked hard to address the needs of nursing moms who go back to work.  The law provides for breastfeeding/pumping equipment to be provided through insurance (check with your insurer for details) and requires employers who fall under the act to provide adequate facilities and time so that moms can express breast milk for her nursing child (up to 1 year after birth).  You can read more details on federal breastfeeding laws here.

Moms are often shocked by the amount they express when they start pumping.  There are several factors at play that feed into their concern.  First, effective pumping will generally empty about 65% of the available milk, babies on the other hand will empty about 85% (on average).  Second, when baby is bottle fed in the traditional methods, they will drink about 25% more than they'd comfortably drink while breastfeeding, this can lead parents and caregivers to think baby needs more milk than is actually required per feeding.  Third, when mom is home, baby can be fussy and demand more time at the breast.  This is called cluster feeding and can be attributed to both a desire for food and comfort.  In my experience, when mom has been gone for a while, baby likes to nurse more frequently as a way to reconnect.  Babies may also choose to reverse cycle when away from mother during the day.  This means they will choose evening and overnight as their high demand eating time, instead of during the day.  They do this because they prefer to eat from mom and be with mom, it can be a bit exhausting sometimes, but it is all out of love.

Generally speaking, a mom who is away from baby can expect to express a total of 2-4 oz per pump session.  Because pumping will always remove less than baby can, this can lead to a tight supply of expressed milk.  There are a couple of tricks you can use to make sure there is adequate milk available for baby when you have to be away.  First, you can add a pump after the first morning feeding.  Because your prolactin level speak overnight, you generally have a lot more milk in the morning vs the evening.  By pumping off the excess after baby eats in the morning, you can add to your baby's stash during the day.  Second, if you can swing it, you can pump once more than baby would eat while you are away.  I have been told (and noted from personal experience) that your body will produce milk when it expects to be used, so a consistent pumping schedule will also help you achieve the results you are looking for.  Kellymom has a great article on how much milk is needed when you are away from baby.  You can read it here.  Kellymom is an amazing resource for all breastfeeding questions in general, if you haven't bookmarked it by now, you really shoud!

Another way to help ensure your baby has all the milk they need is to have caregivers practice paced bottle feeding.  Paced bottle feeding has many benefits, not the least of which is helping make sure baby doesn't eat and preventing flow preference issues that can make breastfeeding more difficult.  This is my favorite video for paced bottle feeding techniques.

Pumping is all about technique and mental cues.  The letdown reflex can be trained, which is something you can use to your advantage.  When I pump, I always have ice water with me and when I hear the pump's letdown sequence, I always drink seven swallows of water.  Over time, following that same routine helped my body cue that the sound plus the water meant it was time to release milk.  You can use any cue you'd like to achieve the same result. Here is a great article from Kellymom on working with letdown and cues you can use both for nursing and pumping.

Additionally, when you pump, you should use hands on pumping techniques to maximize milk expression.  This video from Stanford's Lucille Packard hospital is fantastic for learning hands on pumping techniques.   For me, I find hands on pumping practically impossible without a hands free pumping bra.  After years of pumping, I've found that the bra I like best is the Simple Wishes bra (now with even more awesome options such as all in one versions and more color choices!). I also hand express directly into the shield when I am finished pumping.  I can get as much as another ounce out by hand expressing using the marmet technique.

To make my work pumping life easier, I have several sets of pump parts.  I keep one at the office for emergencies (which has come in handy for myself and several of my coworkers).  I also bring all the sets of pump parts I need.  If standard breast shields aren't working for you, you may want to look into the pumpin pal shields.  If you need a hand pump, I'm hearing neat things about the Haakaa pump.  If you have a long driving commute, or suitable public transpo, you can also consider pumping en route using a battery pack, power bank, or rechargable pump.  Most of my links are for Medela products, which have been my sole experience (I own a Symphony and a Pump In Style Advanced (PISA)). But I've heard fantastic things about the Spectra system as well.  Note: Insurance provided the PISA, I bought the Symphony off of Craigslist.  If you buy off craigslist, be sure to get the Serial Number and call and check with Medela to make sure it wasn't stolen.

You can put your pump parts in a ziploc bag and keep them in the fridge between pumps, but I personally don't like the cold, so I prefer to have several pump sets and make my husband wash them, haha!  As far as drying pump parts, I really like the Boon's grass drying pad and accessories.  The trees are excellent for hanging the valves and the flowers are a great place to store membranes.  If you have your own office space, a small fridge may be a great way to keep your milk stored away from coworker lunches.

For more tips on breastfeeding in general, pumping, supply boosting, etc.  You can check out my post Breastfeeding Primer.  I also have more tips on pumping in my post about initiating milk supply with a pump.  If you've been exclusively pumping and want to transition to breastfeeding as well (or know someone in this situation) I also wrote a blog post on that topic.