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In the words of Motherly writer Azizah Rowen, “Walking out of the hospital with a baby is a gift. Walking out with a NICU baby is a true miracle.” And behind each of those miraculous babies are incredible parents, doctors, nurses and supporters.


In honor of Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness Month, we asked the incredible members of #TeamMotherly for their most meaningful lessons + biggest pieces of advice for the NICU.

Here are a few of the messages we received:


The love, care and support is overwhelming: “My most meaningful lesson from my son's time in the NICU was gratitude. I was thankful for science and technology and modern medicine—that we lived in a time where so much is possible, and that we were lucky enough to have access to it. And thankful for the incredible doctors and nurses who cared for me son like he was their own; their knowledge and patience was invaluable.” —Jen L.

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You need to take care of yourself, too: “Take it minute by minute. Just breathe. Do all the kangaroo care you are able to. Let yourself feel whatever you need to. Find supportive people that you can talk to and lean on to take care of you. Don't be afraid to speak up—you're your child's best advocate.” —Courtney M.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed: “It takes a few days, or weeks to start realizing just how amazing [support in the NICU] is. I was afraid of changing her nappies because of how small she was and all the monitors, but don't criticize yourslef for being afraid. NICU nurses are there to step in. Like fairy godmothers, they love and care for your baby when you can’t.” —Levana T.

Express that you want to help: “Sometimes you may have to ask nurses if you can do things. They may not think to ask you if you'd like to do certain things, like give your baby a bath or change their diaper. I was so afraid to ask because I assumed with all of her lines and tubes that it wouldn't be possible, until one nurse asked me if I wanted to change her diaper and I was so excited to because I didn't think it was even an option." —Jennifer S.

Find your people: “The nurses and doctors are on your side and will become your family while you are there. We spent 135 days in the NICU with our sweet 24 weeker and have been home for four weeks now. Our nurses were her ‘parents’ when we weren't there. They laughed and cried with us, held and prayed for our baby, and they were the only ones who truly understood what we were going through!” —Rachel L.

Celebrate every achievement: “Rejoice in the little things: The first time they suck on a binky, the first time you get to hold them and love them to bits while getting tears all over them, the first time they drink from a bottle or get their gavage taken out—rejoice in those little things. Every joy and step they take is one step closer to being home.” —Melissa D.

Don’t feel guilty about getting rest: “My daughter was born at 26 weeks and was in the NICU for 98 days... I wish I would have relaxed more while she was in the NICU. The hospital was over two hours away and I also continued working part-time and I slept at the hospital three days a week. Sometimes I look back and don't know how we got through that. It's amazing how strong you can be when you have no other choice!” —Lindsay W.

Appreciate your baby’s unique journey: “Know that every 24 hours that pass, your beautiful baby has just gotten that tiny bit stronger and what may seem like the impossible today, might be possible tomorrow. Focus on where your baby is up to and no one else's, as every baby's journey is different.” —Gabrielle L.

Allow yourself to mourn missed moments: “You will grieve everything. Not being able to hold your baby for days to not being able to hear her first cry, but the life I have with her is unlike anything I could have ever imagined. The NICU team is some of the most gifted people for both babies and parents. They walked us through the journey step-by-step and took care of us as a family.” —Amber S.

Don’t fear the future: “The best piece of advice I got from a nurse is when you leave to put all the time spent in the NICU behind you. Put all the alarms and monitors behind you, all the tubes and wires behind you and all the stress and worry behind you. Pretend as if you're leaving with a healthy baby because you are. They wouldn't discharge your baby if he or she (or you!) weren't ready. It helped me let go and not worry about my babies. Beyond a reasonable amount of course!” —Erica S.

Find a safe space to open up: “Talking will help you to process your experience and keep you out of the total depression hole. Toward the fourth week of my son being in the NICU, I found myself starting to struggle, but having family and friends to hear my struggles really helped. We are not alone, so know there is strength, prayers and resources for though of us who fought and are currently fighting for our miracles.” —Sarah C.

Document your experience: “Take pictures and journal everything! How much he ate, how long he tried to nurse, how much he was able to nipple feed, his daily weight, etc. When we came home from the NICU, we had a book made of all the pictures during that time and, to this day, we love flipping through and see the transformation from day one to 21. I choke up every time I look at it and think of what a fighter our little guy is.” —Kaitlin M.

Above all, give yourself credit: It may not feel like it during every day or every moment, but you are SO strong. ?

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Creating your baby registry is one of the most exciting getting-ready-for-baby tasks a mama takes part in (other than, you know, growing a life). But even though sorting through adorably teeny this and itsy bitsy that can be loads of fun, that doesn't change the fact that there are SO many products from which to choose—not to mention slight variations in version for each. And how do parents know if you even need that *very specific* item to begin with, since each baby's likes are so different? It helps to have an expert guiding you through the what's-actually-worth-it process, whether it's veteran parents in your life who will likely offer up suggestions, or stores like buybuy BABY that handpick the must-have options and make registry building super easy for you.

From strollers to car seats and swings (because you'll definitely be needing a swing at some point), here are our top picks for first-time parents of the items you'll be glad you put on your baby registry, trust us.

UPPAbaby VISTA stroller

UPPAbaby VISTA stroller

The best recommendation is the one from someone you trust and if you ask around, it won't take long for you to learn that UPPAbaby® is one of the most beloved stroller brands by new and seasoned moms alike. The VISTA is their crème de la crème, and it comes with all sorts of high quality features (think an ultra-sturdy frame and all-wheel suspension to help absorb all those bumps on the road) that will keep your babe comfortable no matter where your walk takes you. Plus, it comes in a bunch of great colors and transitions to a double as your family grows.

$959.99

Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat

ChiccoKeyFitcarseat

When it comes to keeping your little one safe, a car seat is probably the most important piece of gear you'll buy. While you'll hopefully never need to test it out, the KeyFit® seat keeps your little peanut extra secure with things like side impact protection—plus, thanks to handy bubble indicators, installing it correctly doesn't require a rocket scientist[JS9] . It's all about making your life easier while helping you breathe easier, too!

$199.99

4moms mamaRoo classic infant seat

4momsmamaRooswing

All hail the infant swing 🙌. Whether your cute new bundle is generally calm or has more of a defiant streak, chances are there'll be a time when you need some hands-free soothing. Enter the mamaRoo, a beyond useful swing that looks as cozy as it is. Strap the nugget in, choose one of five distinct motion patterns, and let yourself enjoy that moment of solitude on the couch (without leaving baby unsupervised, of course).

$219.19

HALO Bassinest premier series swivel sleeper

HALOsleeper

Being a new mom is all about snuggles and, if we're being honest, surviving those sleepless nights. And since the American Association of Pediatrics' current recommendation is to have your baby sleep in your room for at least the first 6 months of life anyway, why not have your little one spend his or her early nights snoozing in a bedside bassinet to save some time in the middle of the night? The HALO Bassinest is designed to nuzzle right up next to your bed, too, so you won't even have to get out from under the comforter during those 3am feedings.

Graco Table2Table premier fold 7-in1 convertible high chair

Gracohighchair

Spoiler alert: Your little babe is going to grow up fast. While it may seem like they'll be in that just-learning-how-to-eat phase forever, they'll outgrow the full-fledged high chair in a blink. While you can definitely buy a variety of different seating apparatuses for them, you can also buy one that'll last with your growing baby. With seven different configurations ranging from an infant reclining high chair to a toddler table and little chair, this is the only one you'll ever need.

$169.99

Fisher-Price 4-in-1 sling 'n seat bath tub

Fisher-Pricebath

Bath time is arguably one of the cutest elements of parenthood. So rather than concentrating on holding your slippery little baby safely in the sink while also, you know, washing them, do yourself a favor and invest in an infant tub with an adjustable sling. It'll help make the bonding time fun of bath time more secure so you can focus on enjoying those beautiful sudsy moments.

$39.99

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine night light + time-to-rise

HatchBabyRestsoundmachine

Technology has brought us a lot of advantages, but one of the best? The ability to comfort your little one without ever leaving bed. The Hatch Baby Rest offers sound- and light-control from your smartphone so you can use the power of noise to help them back to sleep if they fuss in the middle of the night without requiring you to drag your tired self out of bed. Plus, when the toddler years come around, it doubles as a time-to-rise clock so that ball of energy knows when it's appropriate to barrel into your room.

$59.99

Fridababy baby basics kit

fridababybasics

Fridababy has made a name for itself with its cheeky (but incredibly practical) products like the congestion-fighting NoseFrida® and the less-than-pleasant Windi. With this basics bundle, you can get four of their most popular—for nose, behind, scalp and nails—in one convenient package. It's not glamorous, mamas, but it's parenting at its finest.

$39.99

Graco 4Ever all-in-one convertible car seat

Gracocarseat

Whether or not you choose to purchase an infant car seat for the first months, you will eventually need a convertible car seat as your kiddo gets bigger, and the best options will grow with them. The Graco® 4Ever All-in-1 accommodates children up to 40 pounds facing backwards and up to 65 pounds facing forward. Plus, it can be used as a booster seat up through the age of 10. One less thing to buy until then, mama!

Skip*Hop explore + more 3-stage activity center

Skip*Hopactivitycenter

Insider parenting tip: Invest in a few great toys that serve as a great way to help your baby learn and explore and stay safe (read: unable to crawl away when you turn your head for a split second). An activity center serves both of those purposes—keeps them entertained and contained fabulously. Even better, the SKIP*HOP® Explore & More 3-Stage has an extra-long shelf life as it converts to an activity table when they outgrow the harness. Plus, there's a snack bowl attachment, and as every mama knows, snacks mean victory.

$129.99

This article was sponsored by buybuy BABY. Thank you for supporting the brands that support mamas and Motherly.

Our Partners

The holiday season always makes me a bit sentimental. I especially think of my mother-in-law, who left us way too early and way too fast, because she loved the holidays. She passed away when I was only three months pregnant with our first child two years ago and I always had this gut feeling that she was at peace because she knew her two boys were taken care of and on their way to creating their own families. But that doesn't mean I don't selfishly wish she were here to see the amazing dad her son has become.

I knew from the beginning my husband was good with kids. Way before we even planned a life together and while casually dating in New York City, I knew. He cares a lot, he listens a lot and he remembers everything. Those three things make him the most thoughtful and loving person I've ever met. Add to the mix that he has an insane imagination and a great sense of humor and he is legit the center of attention whenever there are children around. The first time I saw him hold our friend's newborn, my ovaries twinkled and I knew he would be the father of my children.

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I found out I was pregnant with our son because of my mother-in-law. We were on our honeymoon and I dreamt that she was in the hospital and I told her, "I have a little secret to share, you're going to be a grandma again!" I woke up sobbing and didn't have the guts to tell my husband about my dream because I was mortified about having dreamt about her in a hospital, but also so sad because I thought I would never be able to say those words out loud to her.

We flew back home and as soon as we landed my husband got the call that she was in the hospital. My heart skipped a beat. Off he went to see her and the second he stepped outside of the house, I peed on a stick—it was positive.

Shortly after finding out I went to visit her in hospice and at barely 6 weeks pregnant I shared the good news. At some point she told all the nurses there and whenever I came to visit they would let me nap on the bed next to her. She spent the rest of her days coming up with name suggestions for us.

My husband always said that me being pregnant during the hardest time of his life made him see the light at the end of the tunnel. He was losing the woman who gave him life while I was growing the life we created together.

After her passing and my delivery, we found ourselves talking about how we never knew how hard it is to really be a parent. We made sure to tell our three other parents how grateful we are that they changed diapers, cleaned bottles and stayed up at night while we were tiny. I so wish I could tell her that, but I can't.

We talk about my mother-in-law to my son all the time, just like we do about his other grandparents. We share what she used to like—cooking apple pie, being in nature, playing with her dog. But we also slowly introduce the concept of her not being physically with us. Every time my son sees the photo we have framed of her after hiking Mount Katahdin in her 70s—something I can't even imagine doing now in my mid-30s—he squeals her name in excitement letting us know he recognizes her, despite never having met her.

And my heart breaks because I wish she could be here to teach him about nature and go bird watching together in Maine, something they are both weirdly into despite the generational gap they have.

Today, while our now 2-year-old napped and I loafed with my very pregnant belly, my husband decided it would be a great idea to make a house out of a cardboard box for our son to play with. Hours later we, as a family, were having the times of our lives playing with the house and I couldn't help but sob quietly as my two dudes passed a basketball through the window, wishing that she could see this with her own eyes.

I truly would not be able to do this whole being a parent thing without my husband.

When I stress, he calms me down.

When I'm out of ideas for entertainment, he invents a new game for all of us to play.

When I can't change a diaper because my current pregnancy has me constantly gagging, he makes a new rule that he will change all poopy diapers until the new babies come.

He's the love of my life, he's my son's hero, and I know a big part of that is because of who raised him.

I see my mother-in-law in my husband. I see her in my son. And I hope to see her in our two little girls.

I just wish I could see her seeing them because I know she'd be so proud.


Life

Let it be noted that my love language is not gift-giving. If you are the gift-giver extraordinaire and/or like nothing more than to receive the perfect something, then this tradition might not be for you. But it saved our Christmas and our bank account and for us, it's the gift that really keeps on giving.

For years we operated under the standard gift-giving and gift-receiving protocol. I paid much less attention to this before I was married of course, giving little to no thought on presents, because when you are young, say before 25, you are the present. Your mere presence is a treat enough, or so you think. My gifts in those years looked suspiciously like things you would buy in airport gift shops—hoodies and paperback bestsellers and fudge of every flavor.

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But marriage changed the rules on holidays. Suddenly, I was one-half of a couple and had received china and a roasting pan and hand-blown glass vases for my wedding. Per decorum, I should know what good gift-giving looks like.

And of course there were two Christmases now, one with my family and one with the in-laws, and I wanted to get it right. So, over the years, I developed this debilitating pattern: In the moleskin journal I keep in my purse for grocery lists, I had a second list of the names of immediate family. This was a running list that lasted all year.

If say, my mom mentioned that Pandora opened up a store in the nearest mall and then jangled her charm bracelet at me, I surreptitiously noted it in the book. If my brother's kids switched schools, I wrote down the new colors of allegiance and kept an eye out for this color scheme in all athletic and academic apparel.

I got good at gifts, great even, over the years. But … it was breaking the bank and sucking the life out of the holidays. Come November a fog of anxiety drifted into our house and didn't leave until New Year's.

This is not a way to live. And I must not have been the only one sinking under the pressure, because not too long ago my sister-in-law looked at me over a bowl of pad thai during my birthday dinner in the first week of December and said, "why don't we just do Secret Santa for the adults?"

I could have kissed her.

You do it for work parties all the time, so why not family? It would turn gifts into a kind of game and who doesn't like games? It was genius.

We set the ground rules:

  1. Everyone draws a name out of a hat.
  2. If you get your spouse, you draw again.
  3. There's a maximum spending limit so not one outdoes anyone else.
  4. No one leaks the name of who they got. (This last one never stands. I have managed to figure out every single person every single year.)

Christmas day has turned magical again.

It begins with a brunch that lasts all day until someone in early evening looks at the hardening cinnamon rolls and pigs-in-a-blanket and decides we need to order pizza. And we drink mimosas and toast each other and one-by-one step forward bearing the single gift we have brought. It's a single moment that doesn't get swallowed in the chaos of the day.

While the kids tear through reams of paper until all the adults are yelling "slow down!" so we don't actually lose the gifts under the debris, we have our one gift to hold on to and enjoy.

It has saved our Christmas so we can pay attention to the things that matter: the happy kids hopped up on sugar cookies and monkey bread, the family all together in one place for a day, Elvis singing his "Blue Christmas" in the background. We have ever so slowly taken back the day and focused it on the people, not the things.

If you or your family are on the fence about giving up the gift extravaganza, take in through the four psychological checkpoints (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health) and see if the Secret Santa trade-off doesn't make you feel better.

Life

There are less just two weeks left until the end of the month—and the decade. We're in shock here at Motherly and we're sure you are too. It feels like it just snuck up on us this year!

Well we're with you on the endless to-do list that usually pops up at this time of year (or, let's be honest—any time of year when you're a parent). It's a lot, but trust us when we say you've got this, mama.

If you've been missing the news this week while you run around trying to get everything done don't worry...we're keeping an eye on all the headlines you need to see.

Take a moment for yourself today and check out the headlines that are making us smile this week:

This mama edited her deployed husband into her Christmas card 

Danielle Cobo is a mama to twin boys and a proud military spouse. Her husband is currently serving overseas on a year-long deployment. He wasn't home for this year's Christmas card photo shoot, so Cobo's photographer, Shannon Sturgeon, did some photoshop magic to get the whole family in frame and the resulting picture is going viral.

"I am extremely proud of him and grateful for what he's doing because I think there's a purpose greater than our own," Cobo told Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA. "This year's deployment has been the toughest. By the time he returns, my husband will have missed half of our twins' lives. With that said, I wouldn't change a thing. I'm so proud of him."

When the card went viral, Cobo started getting messages from all over the United States from people who could relate to how she is feeling this holiday season. "I love the holidays," Cobo told WTVT. "I love Christmas cards. I save Christmas cards. It's just a way of showing people that though we are apart, we are a family."

Baby girl goes viral for adorable 'mean-mugging' photos 

Newborn photos are supposed to be adorable but this baby is looking adorably angry in hers. Baby Luna is taking over the internet thanks to the hilarious expression captured during her professional photoshoot.

"She's been mean-mugging since day one," Luna's dad Christian Musa told Good Morning America. "She's either mean-mugging non-stop, or just unimpressed."

Photographer Justine Tuhy says that while Luna (who was born November 15) was totally content during their photo session, "She just gave me the stare down the entire time as well."

This mom went viral for loving Christmas (and Wawa) too much

Mary Katherine Backstrom is the mom and writer behind MomBabble's website and social media accounts, and this week she went viral for the most hilarious reason.

Going live from her car in the parking lot of a Wawa gas station, Backstrom cry-laughed into her phone's camera as she explained how embarrassingly carried away with the holiday spirit she'd become. She was in the Wawa and saw the woman in line next to her only had a ginger ale, so she offered to pay for it to pay the Christmas spirit forward. Then, she came out of the gas station and saw a man washing her car's windshield.

"'This is my favorite part of humanity! I love Christmas so much, thank you for doing this,'" Backstrom recalls saying to the guy. "And I gave him a hug."

The problem? It wasn't her car. It was that dude's car. She just hugged and thanked him for cleaning his own car. 😂

She was so embarrassed that she just walked to her own car and pretended like nothing happened, then recorded her video and now the whole world knows about it.

Keep spreading the holiday magic Mary Katherine! You're hilarious.

Viral PSA reminds us to be kind to retail workers this time of year 

Whitney Fleming is the mom and writer behind "Playdates on Friday" and this week she's going viral for reminding the world to be nice to retail workers this time of year.

In a post that has been shared over 10,000 times, Fleming recalls a recent trip to Target. While chatting with her cashier she learned he'd had a pretty rough shift, as some moms who were stressed out during their Christmas shopping had taken it out on him.

"As the young man handed me my receipt, I handed over the gift card. 'Have a frappuccino on me. It's for dealing with all of us crazy, stressed-out moms.'

'Oh, no, ma'am. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything,' he stammered. You could see he was nervous about getting in trouble.

'No, I'm sorry, I told him. 'Have a great holiday.'"

Thanks for the reminder, Whitney.

News

There was a time when giving birth in a hospital meant little chance for skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. Decades ago, babies were whisked away to nurseries and given formula (and moms were often given samples of formula to take home). If you wanted to breastfeed your baby, these hospital policies and routines could make it difficult.

That's why in the early 1990s the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund began championing the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), "a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding." In recent years more and more hospitals in the United States have adopted the principles of BFHI in order to increase breastfeeding rates.

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The goal was laudable, but 30 years in, new research published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests BFHI isn't having a positive impact on breastfeeding rates, and some argue it is having a negative impact on new moms. Specifically, "Statewide breastfeeding initiation rates were positively associated with targeted breastfeeding outcomes. Similar associations were not found for Baby-Friendly hospital designation penetrance."

A core tenant of BFHI is "rooming in"—babies and mothers are supposed to be kept together 24 hours a day. In theory, this is supposed to increase breastfeeding rates and bonding, but some moms and doctors say leaving infants solely in the care of exhausted people can be dangerous. Mothers can end up falling asleep while caring for the baby.

Dr. Colleen Hughes Driscoll of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore was the lead author of a study published earlier this year that examined the number of infant falls at a hospital that was implementing practices to encourage breastfeeding in order to receive the baby-friendly designation.

"We found that as we improved our ability to support mothers with successful breastfeeding there was a surge in newborn falls," Driscoll told Reuters. "This suggests that we may be adding to the burden of maternal fatigue, and increasing the risk of newborn falls."

According to Driscoll, the old school practice of taking babies to the nursery were a barrier to successful breastfeeding, but also provided time for mothers to rest and recover. And it isn't just exhaustion, but also the intense pressure to breastfeed that has some advocates worried that baby-friendly hospitals aren't very mother-friendly.

Sarah Christopherson is the Policy Advocacy Director for the National Women's Health Network and had her own experience with BFHI. A mom multiple times over, Christopherson had previous experience with birth and infant feeding by the time she had a C-section in a baby-friendly hospital. With her previous babies she'd successfully supplemented her breastmilk with formula in the hospital, but this time, when she asked for a bottle she was met with criticism from hospital staff, she writes.

"The nurse was stern and disapproving," Christopherson writes, noting that the nurse implied that giving formula would be "giv[ing] up" on breastfeeding and that she would have to sign a waiver "acknowledging all of the risks associated with my terrible choice."

She continues: "'Reasons for supplementation' listed on the form include "'mothers who are critically ill,' have 'intolerable pain during feeding unrelieved by interventions,' or have 'breast pathology.' For mothers who simply choose to supplement, the form makes clear: 'The American Academy of Pediatrics says that routine supplements of formula for breastfed newborns should not be used.'"

Christopherson says the form made her doubt herself, and she tried to exclusively breastfeed. In the end, her daughter ended up dehydrated and jaundiced and was fed the formula that her mother had wanted in the first place.

Christopherson and others suggest that the problem with BFHI is that it is removing mothers' needs and voices from the equation.

The new research published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests BFHI isn't having a positive impact on breastfeeding rates, but Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. (BFUSA) disputes the research. BFUSA, the "accrediting body and national authority for the BFHI in the United States...responsible for coordinating and conducting all activities necessary to confer the prestigious Baby-Friendly® designation and to ensure the widespread adoption of the BFHI in the United States," says the research was flawed and came to "damaging conclusions from incomplete data."

Critics of BFHI and BFUSA disagree on methodology but agree that mothers should be respected and have the information they need when making their own decisions about infant feeding.

That is, after all, why BHFI came about. Perhaps it is time for hospitals to worry less about adhering to strict policies and more about listening to mothers.

News
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