Our newest member of the family is three months old! We’ve been parked at Leanne’s parents’ house, which has allowed us to focus on our family instead of planning our next move. We’re hoping to be on the road again by mid-August.
Here’s what worked best for us during the first three months. If you want to see our full loadout, you can do so here.
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Airstream as a Post-Partum Suite
The Airstream has been a great place for Leanne to recover from birth. There are only two steps to get inside, and then everything you need — kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, is all within a few feet.
Netflix and headphones were indispensable for the first few months. When you can’t move because there’s a baby sleeping on you, it’s nice to have something to do.
Parking in Leanne’s parents’ driveway was a wonderful choice. The suburbs might not be the most Instagram-worthy setting, but we had access to a washer and dryer, wifi, a 20 amp hookup, and TONS of help with general life things. And having the grandparents so involved with the earliest days of our child’s life was priceless.
We ended up sleeping in shifts to provide overnight care. I (Dan) am a night person, and Leanne is a morning person, so it worked out well. I’d stay up until about 3:00 AM, then sleep until 11:00. Leanne would go to bed around 9:00 PM and wake up whenever the baby needed her after 3:00 AM.
The only thing that didn't really work was the bed. We had an unplanned C-section, so getting in and out of a normal bed was a bit much. Fortunately, the couch with all the pillows (especially this support pillow) made a perfect nest for the first couple of weeks.
We planned birthing day at a birth center, which turned out to be exactly what we wanted. Birth centers are run by midwives and set up like a guest room in a house, so the atmosphere is very comfortable. The birth center we used had a Jacuzzi, a birthing pool, and nitrous oxide if you wanted it. The midwives were also registered nurses at the hospital around the corner, so if medical intervention is needed (as it turned out to be), a transfer is pretty quick.
Here are a few things Leanne is glad we brought.
Leanne had a birthing playlist picked out and downloaded on Spotify, so we had exactly the music she wanted to listen to. I also brought my Ukulele and played for her while we were resting in the hospital, but that may or may not be a good idea generally depending on how your partner feels about your playing.
Battery Powered Twinkle Lights
We keep a couple sets of battery operated twinkle lights around the Airstream for ambiance, and backup lighting in case we run out of power in the house battery. We brought a set along with us along with some command strip refills to stick them to the walls. They gave us great ambiance in the birth center, and a soothing alternative to the harsh lights in the
baby hotel hospital.
We brought a tapestry to the birth center to hang up and give Leanne something soothing and familiar to look at. When we went to the hospital, we hung it up on the wall again, which made the space feel less sterile while we were stuck there for several days.
Birth Plan, Backup Plan, and Backup Backup...
Transferring to the hospital was hard. Really, really hard. We spent months planning a birth center birth and trying to do everything we could to avoid a c-section, and we ended up getting a c-section. We’re so thankful for a healthy baby and mama, but it was still a very difficult thing to go through.
Having a birth plan really helped the process. We knew what choices we wanted, and had backup plans for what we wanted to try if the first plan didn’t work out. C-section was the last thing on the list, but we did everything in order, and that’s where we ended up. And because we had a birth plan, we knew we had done everything we could because we did all the things. This birth plan and podcast were immensely helpful in deciphering the options.
Topponcino: Our Favorite Baby Accessory
Our favorite piece of baby gear for a newborn has been our topponcino, a classic Montessori baby material. It's a thin oval pillow for the baby to rest on when being held (think "baby taco"). A topponcino reduces the shock of being passed from person to person by keeping the temperature, texture, and smell consistent, and provides a bit of extra support.
Especially for a brand new baby who needs lots of head and neck support, and relatives who are out of practice in holding a tiny baby, the topponcino makes for a nice warm, safe, comfy baby package.
Our portable bassinet has been ideal for sleeping, and we're also using it as our changing table. It sits on the kitchen counter, and I riveted a couple of d-rings to the wall with some latches to the bassinet frame make sure it can't fall to the floor. It also works as a co-sleeper for travel, or when you want to nap with the baby next to you.
White noise is less important for this stage, since newborns don’t tend to respond much to noise. But we have been keeping fan on our AC unit going for a soothing hum. When we’re on the road, we’re going to need to figure out some sort of 12v powered white noise machine. We might just use a cell phone app.
Our swaddles and muslin swaddle blanket was very helpful for the first few days. Like many newborns, Linden had trouble sleeping for any length of time without being swaddled, but would sleep like a rock when tightly wrapped. Our larger bamboo cloth diaper flats work well for this purpose. Montessori is generally against swaddling, but we think it’s OK to swaddle sparingly. After a couple of weeks, he doesn't need to be wrapped tightly anymore, but a loose swaddle under the arms can provide a nice extra layer for warmth without restricting his movement too much.
We’re doing cloth diapers. You most likely either think that’s totally sensible, or totally insane. Our experience with disposables so far has not been good, so we'd prefer to stick with cloth if we can. Cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables in the long run, and aren’t any harder to use, except that you have to wash them. They’re easier on a baby’s skin, and they will make potty training easier down the road.
Since we’re doing diaper laundry already, that means we can use reusable fleece wipes, too. Leanne chopped up some fleece from the fabric store into little fleece squares, and we use a spray bottle with water and a few drops of baby soap for spritzing. Works great. We tried using flannel for the wipes, but they fell apart right away. Fleece is definitely the way to go.
We’re using Flip Hybrid diaper covers. They’re adjustable for all age ranges, (though they’re pretty bulky on a brand new newborn), and they’ve got some really fun patterns. We bought some of these new and some used, but found that replacing the leg elastic on the used ones wasn’t really worth it, and the used ones are less waterproof than the new ones. It took more time to refurbish the old ones than the money we saved would justify, and the waist is still pretty stretched out and snaps are wearing through the fabric.
If you’re buying used diaper covers, look for some in “like new” or “gently used” condition, or just spring for a new set.
There’s a few different diaper insert choices, and we tried most of them.
Pre-sewn inserts are very convenient, highly absorbent, and usually our first choice when we pick a diaper to pull out of the drawer. The downside is that they take forever to dry, even in a machine. When we are doing laundry off-grid, we’re probably going to opt for diapers that dry faster.
A flat is just a large square of cloth that you fold into the shape you need. While these require a little extra work to fold, they dry quickly, and they’re versatile. We’ve used our OsoCozy Bamboo Flats as a newborn swaddle, an impromptu blanket, a changing table cover, and a burp rag.
You can fold together multiple flats for extra absorbency, or you can mix materials. For a very cost-effective and absorbent overnight diaper, we’re using 100% cotton flour sack towels folded around a microfiber cloth to hold extra liquid.
Prefolds diapers are halfway between inserts and flats. They’re a few layers of absorbent material sewn together, which you fold a couple of times to make your diaper insert. They’re generally cheaper than inserts, but not as versatile as flats. We didn’t try pre-folds.
We are doing diaper laundry daily, but we have access to a washer dryer for these first few months before we start traveling again. We'll see how it goes on the road, but we expect the frequency of changing should drop a bit by then.
A couple of general rules for diaper laundry.
NO FABRIC SOFTENER EVER. Fabric softener will build up on diapers and cause them to be less absorbent.
Soften your water either physically with a water softener, or chemically by adding borax. Hardness in your water combines with soap to form soap scum which makes the soap less effective, and will build up on diapers and cause them to be less absorbent. Using a mechanical water softener is preferable to using Borax, since it will also treat the rinse water, and you wouldn’t normally add Borax to the rinse cycle.
No bleach for most washes. It won’t get stains out as well as a good enzyme diaper detergent, and if you combine them together, the bleach will attack the enzymes in the detergent. If you need to sanitize your diapers for any reason, soak clean diapers in warm (not hot) water with a little bleach, or hydrogen peroxide plus borax, and then rinse.
Enzyme detergent takes time to work. Pre-soak soiled diapers if possible. Soak tough stains overnight.
Machine Washing Diapers
While we have access to a machine, we’re using a scoop of Rockin’ Green dirty diaper detergent, a generous scoop of Borax (a chemical water softener, because the water at Leanne’s parents’ house is hard), and a little bit of laundry soap. We found the deep water wash / warm / presoak / single rinse cycle seems to work best.
I check every diaper for stains when I pull it out of the wash, and there are usually a couple that didn’t get spotless white. I set those to soak overnight in a small bucket of 1 scoop of Rockin’ Green and just enough water to cover, which gets rid of any residual stains by the next day. Then I just dump the bucket, water and all, on top of the next load of diaper laundry.
Diapers go into the dryer on medium. Diaper covers get hung up to air dry unless we need a few right away, and then I throw however many I need in the dryer and air dry the rest.
Bucket Washing Diapers
I’ve completed a trial of hand-washing our diapers in a bucket, and it’s working well so far. It’s a little work, but it’s actually faster than a machine wash cycle.
I’m using a plunger washer in a standard 5-gallon bucket. I found that plunging against the bottom of the bucket wasn’t very productive, so I added a false bottom to allow the water to squish through the diapers, not just against it. That seems to have significantly improved our wash bucket system.
We’re primarily using Rockin’ Green for handwashing, plus a little bit of lavender Castile soap because we like to keep our RV things biodegradable. Because we soften our water in our Airstream, we don’t need borax (a chemical water softener), or fancy detergent.
You need two buckets to do this. One wash bucket, and one rinse bucket, with a false bottom in each bucket. A two-bucket system will significantly reduce your water use, since you’ll use most of the water twice.
First, soak the dirtiest diapers in warm water with Rockin’ Green and a little bit of soap. Don’t fill the bucket past halfway with diapers—you need room for things to squish around. Gently scrub off any loose solids, plunge a few times, and walk away for an hour or so to let the enzymes in the Rockin’ Green do the work. Then plunge again, dump out the water and refill with fresh water, Rockin’ Green, and soap.
Add more diapers to the wash bucket and plunge for about a minute. Wait a few minutes, then plunge again. Pull out any diapers that look clean and put them in your rinse bucket (half full of clean water), and add more dirty diapers to the wash bucket in their place. Repeat plunging, waiting, plunging, and pulling out clean diapers.
When your wash water is dirty, dump it out. Plunge your rinse bucket for a minute, and dump the water from your rinse bucket into your wash bucket. Add new soap to your wash bucket and new water to your rinse bucket.
When diapers are sufficiently rinsed, squeeze the water out, but DO NOT WRING THEM. Wringing out any kind of fabric puts a ton of stress on the fibers and will drastically increase wear. Just squeeze out the water you can, and hang to dry. We’re using this portable clothesline (two of them, actually), which doesn’t require clothespins. Diapers dry best in the sun and breeze, but diaper covers shouldn’t be hung in direct sunlight or the sun will bleach the colors.
Gray Water or Black Water
It’s worth noting that your diaper wash water is sort of dilute sewage, so it probably shouldn’t go in the gray tank. But then, if you had a mechanical washer on board, where would the wash water go? Gray tank, right? And by code, the kitchen sink is technically black water, too, since it’s used to wash off raw food that could contain potentially harmful bacteria. Where does your RV kitchen sink water go? Gray tank, right?
My point here is really something you should be doing anyway—be responsible with your gray water disposal. If your diaper wash water is going in your gray tank, you’re theoretically adding potentially harmful bacteria to that water (or at least, food that harmful bacteria would like to eat). And if you’re also putting your kitchen wash water into your gray tank, that’s another source of potentially harmful bacteria.
In any case, you shouldn’t be discharging your gray water anywhere that people are going to come into contact with it, or anywhere near a body of fresh water. Ideally, gray water should be dumped at an RV dump site, or in a dry well or septic tank or somewhere else where it can safely percolate under the surface. Don’t use it to water food plants.
Some babies have difficulty switching back and forth between bottle and breast this early. Ours is not one of those babies. Being able to feed pumped milk from a bottle means we can sleep in shifts and Leanne can get reasonable blocks of sleep.
We’re using the Kiinde Twist bottle system, which has been a perfect fit for our small space. The milk bags take up so little space for storage—we don’t use the milk storage rack, we just put the bags directly in the fridge/freezer. There are no separate bottles to wash since the nipple snaps directly on to the milk bag. It’s not zero waste by any means, but it’s a practical system, and the bags are at least theoretically recyclable.
Kiinde sells a bottle warmer accessory, but we’ve just been putting the bag in one of our sandwich sized Lunchblox, and pouring hot (but not boiling) water over the bag. Shake the bag under the water for a few seconds, and you’re good to go.
All pajamas, all the time. In addition to onesies for a base layer, our favorite clothes for newborn sleep have been sleeper gowns, which are cozy and warm, but have easy access for diaper changes. As our child has grown and started to sleep more independently, we’ve transitioned to warmer long-sleeve fleece sleep sacks for cooler nights.
Baby On the Move
Our Ergo Baby Carrier has been fantastic. It’s very adjustable, and doesn’t require an insert for a newborn. It keeps him comfortable and secure while we’re out and about, and frees up both of our hands.
The Ergo carrier can be used on the front, back, or side, though we’ve only been using it as a front carrier so far. And surprisingly, it fits pretty easily under a day pack for hiking.
The downside of the ergo carrier is that it can be a little tricky to get on by yourself. I found the easiest way is to put the carrier on and latch it in the back, and then drop the baby into it from the front. Though, it’s also possible to put the waist belt on, then align the baby on our chest, and then put your arms through the shoulder straps which will support the baby as you snap the latch behind your head.
With a rear-facing child seat, there’s really no other better way to check out what’s going on back there. Was that a happy sound, or a sad sound? Is he awake or asleep? Still super cute? Yes.