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Preparing for the holidays is always hard, but when the holidays include travel it gets harder, and when that travel includes kids, well... Luckily, there are a few ideas out there that make travel easier for parents.

CARES

If you are flying with a toddler this holiday, save your back and check your car seat. CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) is an FAA-approved harness that enables children to use the standard airplane seat belt. The child must be over the age of one year old, weigh 22-44 pounds, and be under 40 inches tall. We are traveling with two now and taking two car seats was out of the question. The CARES system includes a small storage bag and slips easily into a carry on. Once on board, the CARES belt is quickly installed over the back of your child's seat (behind the tray of the (hopefully understanding) neighbor behind you) and through the straps of the plane seat belt. Bring a neck pillow if your child might doze since there is no padded car seat cushioning to stop lolling heads! The CARES belt includes only the straps (made of the same strong webbing that you would find in any car seat belt)-- you might want to snag the padding from your child's car seat to make the straps a little more comfortable-- and a little more familiar too! One downside is the lack of a strap between the child's leg which led to some sliding-- especially when sleeping or wriggling. The ability to travel with dragging the extra car seat through the airport is worth every penny.

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Reviewed by Maura Keating

This review has been brought to you by the (divine?) intervention of the product that I am reviewing. Hallelujah! My hands are completely free!

http://www.mylittlejuel.com/prodimages/easyexpressions/main2.jpgLast year, I reviewed the Medela Freestyle Hands-Free Breast Pump and I loved it--I still love it. The pump is light, portable, and rechargeable. The breast shields have fewer pieces and are easy to clean. But the hands-free contraption that comes with the pump never quite worked for me. When I am at work, I have to pump at least twice a day, and after a while, I gave up the long process that was required to use the Medela pump hands free. It was easier and less stressful to stare at a wall. All that time staring at walls got me thinking--and wishing there was a product that would enable me to utilize the time I spend pumping. Luckily, there is.

The Easy Expression Hands-Free Bustier is a simple idea that works. The Bustier is a tube of fabric that zips in the front. The Easy Expression Bustier is designed to be form fitting. There are no straps to worry about, no snaps or ties to adjust. There is no need to remove your shirt and the Bustier can be worn over a traditional nursing bra--just undo the flaps of the nursing bra. Two holes in the Bustier stretch to support the breast shields of your pump.

The fabric is a cotton/Lycra blend that feels soft against the skin and has just enough stretch to make minor adjustments easy. I put the Easy Expression Bustier in the washing machine for a test run in a mesh delicates bag and it survived. However, since I can't imagine pumping without this, I would recommend hand-washing to ensure a long life.

Not only did the Easy Expression Bustier make pumping easier, it also improved my production. With my hands free, I am able to relax. I am no longer juggling two bottles, while trying to operate a breast pump and hating every minute of it. The Easy Expression Bustier also may improve positioning. Once you get set up, the bustier keeps everything where it is supposed to be.

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By Maura Keating

Last year, I wrote about my love for the Bumbleride Indie. I might have even raved a little. One year later, I STILL love my Indie, but in case you didn’t guess already . . . we have another on the way and we are starting to see double. Thank goodness, Bumbleride is one step ahead of us with the Bumbleride Indie Twin.

bumblerideindietwinspice1I was a little wary of taking out a side-by-side double stroller. They seem huge and, well, they kind of are. There’s no getting around the fact that you are transporting two, but through some sort of magic or sleight of hand, at twenty-nine inches wide, the Indie Twin slides through most doorways. And the Bumbleride Indie Twin is easy to push (something my aching back truly appreciates), and unlike many double strollers, even tandems, the Indie Twin turns and maneuvers very smoothly. Like its single cousin, the Indie Twin could become my stroller of choice for cruising our Providence neighborhood. With its air-inflated tires, Bumbleride makes it easy to navigate curbs, potholes, grass--even sand. The Twin features two front swiveling tires that can be locked for brisk walks. A jogging wrist strap is also included.

My son loves the Twin as much as he loves the single Indie. Bumbleride has transferred all of the best features of the Indie and made them independent so that each child has a customized ride. The Twin’s backrests adjust separately and can fold flat–making the Twin usable from infancy on up. Baby can sleep while your Toddler sits upright. The five-point safety harness is easy to use and easy to adjust single-handedly. Coordinated cute shoulder pads and a headrest for Baby provide a comfy fit. Each seat also has its own canopy. The canopies are large and offer great protection from the sun and the elements. The rear panel zippers off to extend the canopy forward or to increase air flow on hot days. Each footrest is adjustable from flat to vertical.

You can attach an infant car seat to the Twin using the included Infant Carrier Adapter Bar. (A list of compatible car seats is available on the Bumbleride website.) The car seat adapter is not perfect. We tested it with a Graco Snugride Infant Seat and our friend tested it with a Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Infant Seat. Although both seats are compatible, the adapter bar never felt truly stable with either seat. Our friend comments, “I never felt that the car seat was securely attached. It would have felt better if there was some kind of click/lock mechanism vs. the universal bar/strap attachment.” The car seat adapter is a bit of a disappointment, but not a deal breaker for me. I use strollers mostly in the neighborhood for walks around town. My kids have never been content to stay in their car seats for errands.

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Pediatrician Dr. Laura Jana is a media spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Section on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.  Dr. Jana is a certified child passenger safety (CPS) technician, as well as a CPS instructor. Maura Keating recently interviewed Dr. Jana to help parents learn to use child safety seats consistently and properly.

dr-laura-janaKidoinfo: What should parents look for when they go car seat shopping?

Dr. Laura Jana: First and foremost, a car seat must properly fit both the child and the car. Beyond that, parents should look for additional features that afford their child maximum safety. This means choosing a car seat with higher weight and height limits - both for rear-facing and also for forward-facing 5-point-harness use, both of which we know offer children greater protection. Luckily, there are now seats available that allow rear-facing use well past 20 pounds, and 5-point harness systems in some forward-facing seats that allow harness use all the way up to 80 pounds.

I also recommend investing in a car seat that offers side impact protection. Twenty-five percent of all crashes are from the side, and these crashes result in a significantly higher fatality rate than front or rear crashes. Since side impact testing is not yet part of the federal car seat standard, parents should take it upon themselves to look for car seat features that can help their children ride more safely, such as deep side and head wings that are made out of energy-absorbent material and an adjustable head support to minimize lateral head movement in a crash.

Finally, features that make it easy for parents to use the car seat correctly each and every time are invaluable. This could mean something as simple as choosing a car seat that your child particularly likes - perhaps it has a vibrant fabric, a cup holder, or easily adjusted straps that don't twist. After all, features that allow a child to sit comfortably and contently in his car seat ultimately help keep him safer on the road.

Kidoinfo: What is the best way to tell if a car seat will be compatible with your car?

Dr. Laura Jana: Since not all seats can be installed correctly in all cars, and not all kids fit the same in every car seat, I recommend that parents and caregivers test the seat in their car before purchasing it. They can also check with their vehicle manufacturer to see if a list of suggested car seat models is available for their specific car(s).

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By Maura Keating
bk33709-picChoosing the right car seat can be a bewildering experience. When my husband and I began our baby registry, we started with car seats. We entered the store armed with articles from Consumer Reports. We had reviews, statistics, and recommendations, but we stood helplessly before the displays since model numbers never seemed to match up, and we weren't sure what would fit in my compact car. We did finally make a decision, but kids grow all too quickly and before we knew it, our son was ready for the next car seat and then the NEXT one, and we had to start all over again.

The Britax Frontier Combination Harness-2-Booster Seat may be the last car seat that you will need. It is designed to accommodate children two years and older and at least 25 pounds and 30 inches tall. As a harness seat, the Frontier can be used until your child reaches 80 pounds and measures 53 inches. The Frontier then converts to a booster seat and is usable up to 100 pounds. The Frontier comes with a $280 price tag, but with features that you will grow to love and a seat that will last, the Frontier is worth every penny.

We used the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat as my son's second car seat and loved it. Britax seats feel sturdy. With a simple design and innovative details, Britax car seats make daily use effortless - the way car seats should be and rarely are.

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Reviewed by Maura Keating

Baby Bjorn potty-chair-pinkMy son learned how to use the potty at eighteen months. I can’t take credit. It was his idea. All I did was provide the means and the inspiration. Part of what made the process so easy was the chair that we used. We are huge fans of the BabyBjörn Potty Chair.

In the beginning, our lives revolved around this simple piece of plastic. It could not be better designed. It is the perfect size for my son–large enough for him to feel comfortable but small enough for him to be able to move the seat from room to room. He also likes to “help” removing the inner seat to empty into the big potty. The BabyBjörn Potty Chair is seamless so it is easy to keep clean. Contents are easily transferred and a quick rinse in the sink with a squirt of dishwasher liquid is all that this seat needs to keep it clean. No scrubbing. A thin rubber bottom keeps the chair from slipping on hard surfaces. A perfectly placed splashguard at the front of the seat prevents messes from spreading but doesn’t get in the way. The plastic is durable and scratch resistant. It has withstood all types of use and abuse as it gets carried from room to room, to the car, on vacation–wherever my son goes or may need to “go.”

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