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Whether they've drawn on the walls or spat in grandpa's face, acting out is always a symptom among children—not the problem itself.“Acting out" literally comes from “acting out their feelings," which means when children can't express their needs and emotions in healthy ways, they will act them out through displeasing behavior.

The key to understanding “acting out" is to see it as a communication driven by an unmet need.

Just as a puppy doesn't purposely provoke us by chewing up the couch, our children's behaviors come as much more natural expressions of their internal states.

It's so easy to jump to judgments like "he's just pushing my buttons" or "she's doing it on purpose." But we'd be wise to remember that when children can cooperate, they generally prefer to.

Here are some reasons that might really be at the root of the challenging behaviors—and some ideas of how to respond to them

1. They're hungry

Most of us can relate to the feeling of irritability that comes with low blood sugar. As with many adults, when a kid gets hungry, he may not even notice it, but automatically becomes crabby and starts grabbing toys from his little sister.

What to say: "Whoa! I can see we've run out of fuel. Grabbing toys isn't respectful. Come, let's return this doll to Celine and you and I will go grab some lunch. What do you fancy? Rice or pasta?"

2. They're tired

Show me the parent who doesn't totally get this one. When kids are sleep deprived or due for a nap, disintegration happens fast. So rather than sweetly saying: "Please Mummy, may I have a rest?" your daughter flings her bowl across the room.

What to say: "You're showing me how exhausted you are! And I hear you! I'm putting the bowl in the sink and we'll go straight to our room for a rest, my love."

3. They need to pee

This one gets overlooked. But when (potty independent) children need to pee they often hold it in and become increasingly flustered. If little Jose suddenly bursts at you with an obnoxious tone saying, "You're not the boss of me," his stressed bladder may be to blame.

What to say: "Let's take a bathroom break and then we'll talk about this!"

4. They're worried about something

If your child is harboring a concern about an upcoming transition—such as moving houses, a new baby on the way, a new school, a new job, a new babysitter ora sick grandparent—they likely will not have the words to express that in a healthy way. Rather, they'll begin to refuse the meals you prepare, to hurt other children or to breakdown in tantrums at Every. Little. Thing.

This is their way of trying to gain some control over their lives. When you have an inkling as to what the worry is, pick a calm and connected moment, such as bedtime or a long drive, and address it head on. Be sure to be honest, but also optimistic and empowering. Don'tt dismiss their worries, but help talk abouth what might happen and what they can do about it.

What to say: "Hey, my love. I can see you're feeling really worried about something. Perhaps it's about the new baby that's on the way? Are you worried that I won't have as much time for you once the baby arrives?"

5. They're afraid of something

Most children experience normal childhood fears such as fear of the dark, monsters or robbers. While they may be normal, they can also be deeply inhibiting and can set them on edge throughout the day. Rather than remaining calm and regulated, your child might act out with anger. Helping him find coping mechanisms to gradually face these fears is key in helping children overcome their fear and not be controlled by it.

Validate their fears but still hold the expectation for them to overcome them, with support.

What to say: "I do not like being yelled at. I can see you're feeling pretty angry right now. Has this got something to do with the questions you were asking me about robbers before? I know there are none, and I want you to feel sure, too.Would you like for us to go through the house with a flashlight so you can feel satisfied there are no robbers here?"

6. They've been influenced by something

If children are watching violent TV shows or have neighbors, friends or cousins who are wild, destructive or disrespectful—they may well try on this behavior. We all unwittingly, imitate what we see around us. When I've watched too much Downton Abbey, for example, my accent skews far posher than usual. So if your neighbor has been reciting a foul-mouthed rap song to your daughter this morning in the yard, you can expect some of that to come through.

What to say: "Hmmm, using those words is not how we speak in our home. I know you might hear other people using that language but being respectful is very important to our family."

7. They're mirroring you

I know this one bites. But when we've been losing our cool, yelling, punishing, threatening, it's safe to assume our children will mirror that behavior right back at us. So when my son says: "How dare you?" it's nothing short of hypocritical of me to shoot him down with, "You will not speak to your mother that way," because clearly, he got it from me.

What to say: "I know I've been yelling and raising my voice. I'm sorry. It's important that we all speak kindly and gently to each other, including me. Can we start over?"

8. They're angry

Perhaps she's angry you didn't let her finish her game this morning, or that you forgot to dry her pink tutu in time for her playdate, or that you said no to a final helping of ice cream, or that you co-sleep with the baby and not with her, or that her teacher didn't give her a warm smile that day, or that her favorite doll's leg broke…

The point is, children have endless frustrations throughout their day—some of which are fleeting and others that are substantial. So when she purposely draws on your favorite cushion, she's expressing just how angry she is. The key is to validate their anger and to empathize so as to allow them to move through the anger and reach the softer emotion beneath is: sadness or fear.

Teach your child to express their anger through words, songs, painting… We love to sing the mad song (below) and eventually break into giggles. The healing comes when the angry feelings are expressed and allowed by you—even if the behavior is not.

What to say: "Yikes. I know you know that cushions are not for drawing on. And I can see from your face how mad you are right now! Being mad is just fine, but ruining our furniture is not. Would you like to stamp your feet and sing a mad song? Let's do it! Repeat after me! "I'm MAD MAD MAD! I want to be BAD BAD BAD! I feel so SAD SAD SAD! That makes me MAD MAD MAD!"

9. They're frustrated

When children hit developmental stages they haven't quite mastered yet, they can feel deep frustration that they often need to act out. Consider the baby who's trying to take their first steps and keeps falling. Or the toddler who desperately wants to feed herself but can't manipulate her fingers just so yet. Or the preschooler who can't write their name legibly despite their best efforts. Rather than politely saying, "I'm finding it difficult to master this skill which arouses deep frustration in me," he swats his baby brother on the head.

What to say: "I can't let you hit! I'm going to hold your hands until you can use them safely… I know you're so frustrated, my love. It's so hard to try something so many times and not manage yet, right?"

10.  They're sad

It's almost taboo for children to be sad, because culturally we like kids to be happy and to make those around them happy. But if a child experiences a loss or that's their temperamental disposition, they may feel deep sadness. They may be sad about things we expect them to be happy about such as a new sibling or graduating kindergarten. So she drags her feet just when you're rushing to get out the door.

What to say: "Sweetheart, your face seems sad. I see that! Would you like to talk to me about it? We must leave the house right now, but we will have plenty of time for me to listen in the car. Let me help you with your shoes and let's hold hands to the car, ok?"

11.  They're curious

Often what we perceive as acting out is really just exploration. Children are infinitely curious and learn through hands on, sensory experience. They need to touch, climb, throw, push, pull, spin things. So if your son just dumped all of the clean, folded laundry down the stairs, that may be his misguided curiosity at play.

What to say: "Oh no! That laundry is clean, so it's not for throwing. I will put it on the bed next time. But I can see you want to throw things! Let me pass you this basket of teddy bears and you can throw away."

12.  They didn't know it's not allowed

Sometimes kids simply don't realize something isn't allowed. Even though it was painfully obvious to you (or perhaps because of this) you never made it clear to them. So if your daughter just sprayed shaving cream all over the bathroom, she may have thought this was your plan all along. Why else would you leave the shaving cream out?

What to say: "Whoops! Shaving cream is not for playing with! Silly me. I should have left it in the cupboard. Next time please do not use this as a game. Let's clean up. I'll grab the mop. Do you want to spray or wipe?"

13.  They don't understand the logic behind the limit

Setting limits is important and sometimes kids do need to simply "do as we say" without further explanation. But those instances are rare. For the most part, we'll garner far more collaboration (rather than blind obedience) when children understand our reasoning behind the limits. Sometimes if we've too often failed to provide the logic, children may be moved to rebel. If they feel the rules don't make sense, they may go ahead and grab the chocolate despite your repeated assertions that's not allowed.

What to say: "Sam, I was very clear in asking you not to eat this chocolate and I'm disappointed that you have anyway. The reason I asked you not to was because this is for a gift for Marcy, it was not for us! I should have explained that, but I do expect you to honor my requests even when you don't understand them. We'll have to go and buy some more chocolate to replace this one. Let's get your money jar and you can contribute to the purchase."

14.   They're over-controlled

In a home that's run like a tight ship with a lot of control and fear-based parenting, many children will act out. Under the pressures of high expectations and low support, children begin to feel like there's "nothing to lose." They resent feeling controlled and scramble to find ways to exert their autonomy and sovereignty. That's one reason she why she may sneak around, lie or rebel. Lying is a normal developmental stage in children around the age of 5, but it can also be the sign of too much parental control—such as if she's afraid you'll come down on her like a ton of bricks, so she doesn't want to share the truth.

What to say: "Honey, it seems you've lied to me. It's really important that we have integrity and an honest, open relationship in our home. Were you afraid that I would be very angry or punish you if you were honest?"

15.  They're confused about limits 

When we've been confused about a limit ourselves or unclear in setting them, children will push back and act out. They've received the message from us that this is a "free for all" or an "undefined territory" and is up for grabs. So if you sometimes let them use the iPad first thing in the morning and sometimes don't, then you can expect them to try their luck.

What to say: "I'm sorry, I can see the confusion here is my fault as I've been unclear about the rules about the iPad in the morning. Let's have a family meeting and discuss when and how we use it and who's responsible for charging it. We can all contribute ideas and agree on what to do when someone breaks these rules. Then we'll all sign it and hang up the rules for all to see."

16.  They're agitated by something

Many children have sensitivities that can go undetected but manifest in grumpy behavior. Food intolerances such as a sensitivity to dairy or gluten can lead to fussy, testy children who appear to be acting out. A child who is sensorily sensitive to labels in their shirt, tight socks or too much noise can be more likely to tantrum, shut down, make demands or yell rudely.

What to say: "I can see you're uncomfortable. Yelling like that hurst my ears. Can you help me figure out what's bothering you? And then I can adjust it for you. Perhaps it's too noisy in here? Let's try going outside."

17.  There's inconsistency

For most families a certain measure of predictability breeds security. And security helps children (us all) to regulate. If a child is picked up by a different adult each day, has dinner at a different time each day, has a bedtime at a different time each day—you get the picture—they're likely to feel unsafe or unsure of what comes next.

When limits are inconsistent, too, then they're really not sure where they stand. So when she becomes impossible at bedtime, demanding yet another drink, book or trip to the bathroom, this may actually be a plea for more predictability in her life.

What to say: "It's really time to say goodnight now my love. We're done with the books. Let's talk about exactly what's happening tomorrow, okay? In the morning you'll wake up and then daddy will give you breakfast..."

18.  They're over stressed

Just like all people, if children are under too much stress they will absolutely act out or self damage, which is far worse. Unfortunately, today, children are under a lot of unnecessary stress to perform academically from the youngest of ages.

Children need long stretches of uninterrupted, independent play every single day, they need time in nature and time to rest. If they're not getting these de-stressors, and their every day is scheduled with goal-driven, measurable activities that are then evaluated by adults such as grades, then they're probably under a lot of stress. It's no wonder he's obnoxiously slamming doors.

What to say: "Can I come in? You just slammed that door pretty hard! I know you must be feeling very run down with all the homework you've got. Plus the game on Saturday. And piano practice. Still, please respect our home. You can always tell me when you're stressed and I'll get it. Hey, I have an idea, can we take this evening off? I'll write you a note for your teacher. Let's go play Monopoly."

19.  They don't have the words

Especially in the early years, toddlers may simply not have the words we so desperately want for them to use. That's why when parents yell for them to use their words, it usually falls on deaf ears. They can't. Even if the appropriate words exist in their vocabulary, under the stress of the moment they can't muster them.

As the adults, we can help to find the appropriate words for them and model for them how they might be used. So if you're child lashes out when a friend grabs a doll, use it as a language learning opportunity.

What to say: "Uh oh! That hurt Kiley! I do not want you to hit. Are you trying to tell her you're not done with the doll? Let's check if she's ok and then you can tell her, "I'm not done with the doll, Kiley… Hey, Kiley, are you ok?"

20.  They're overstimulated

Whether there's too much noise, too many people, too many toys, too much novelty, light, excitement, attention, colors, sensations… an overload of stimulation can cause a really visceral reaction in anyone. So when you were so excited to take your 3-year-old to the fair, but they ended up tantruming through the entire thing because they wanted another ride on the Tea Cups, you can bet overstimulation is at the root.

What to say: "I can see we're feeling a bit overwhelmed! And there is a lot going on here! Come, let's go over here to this quiet corner and sit down together for a few minutes. You can put your head on my shoulder and close your eyes. We'll calm our bodies down together."

21.  They're trying to get connection

If we haven't had much time for our little ones, they may be feeling cast aside or left behind. In a somewhat misplaced bid for connection, they may break something, yell or hurt someone. And it works for attention. But the fundamental thing to realize is that it's not about attention, it's about connection. They want our eye contact, our touch, our open hearts—not the stern look on our face telling them off. But if they can't get the former, they'll settle for the latter.

What to say: "Hey! I think you might have run out of hugs… Can I fill you up? Do you know how I can tell? Because you called me "stupid." That doesn't feel good to me and it shows me you must be completely out of hugs. Come over here!"

22.  They're questioning your leadership

If you're a shaky, unconfident leader in your family, you might experience increased limit-testing and push back. So when you say it's time to go, you might experience a lot of dawdling or even just outright ignoring.

What to say: "I can see I didn't make myself clear the first time. I do not like being ignored. We're going. Shoes on, now, please!"

23.  They're not sure what's expected of them

Sometimes your child might behave inappropriately simply because they don't know what they're supposed to be doing. Especially in a new situation, or with new people, they may shy away, or—conversely—become too loud and demand all of the spotlight. They may say things that appear rude or unseeingly, simply because no one's ever told them that it's impolite to point or that we don't make comments about people's bodies.

What to say: "While we're visiting Uncle Tom, we're expected to talk in soft voices. Can you use a soft voice with me?"

24.  They want to be seen

Acting out, ultimately, can be a bid for being seen, valued and accepted as we are. It can be as though our child is saying, "Hey, Mum, will you love me when I do this?!"

What to say: "I can see you're trying to do the worst thing you can think of! But I will love you no matter what you do, you can't escape my love."

When children act out it can be tempting to chalk it up to “bad behavior," “demanding attention" or an “annoying mood." But all behavior is a communication.

A request for help in meeting an unmet need. The need for unconditional love, for security and safety, for clarity and information. Usually when we answer the root cause, the symptom of the unpleasant behavior becomes irrelevant and fades away.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For a lot of families, summer is a season where rules relax and bedtimes get pushed back a little later than usual. But with school starting, weekday mornings are about to start a lot earlier for many kids, and parents might be wondering how to reset the clock on bedtimes.

According to Terry Cralle, an RN, certified clinical sleep expert and the spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, a new school year is a good opportunity for families to get a fresh start on sleep routines.

"We have to start with really making sufficient sleep a family priority [and] having some discussions about the importance of sleep with our children," Cralle tells Motherly. "It shouldn't be at bedtime when everyone's cranky and tired. It should be during the day that families really discuss the importance of sleep for all family members."

If you need to have a conversation about getting enough sleep for school, try the following tips from Cralle.

1. Be positive about sleep

Make sure that younger children, especially, understand that sleep is a positive, not negative thing, and don't use the threat of bedtime as punishment.

"What we want to do is, ideally, change how children perceive sleep because children can see sleep as a great big timeout where they're missing out on things," Cralle explains, suggesting that parents instead try to present sleep and bedtime routines as "with positivity and as just a non-negotiable part of our lives."

Cralle wants parents to make sure they're talking with their kids about how a lack of sleep can impact one's mood, health and academic ability. Just as we teach our kids about the importance of eating healthy, we should be teaching them about the importance of sleeping healthy, and from an early age.

2. Empower your children with choices

According to Cralle, it's really important to empower children with choices around bedtime, because the one thing they can't have a choice in is the fact that they do need to go to sleep.

"They're going be more accountable, more responsible, and hopefully, develop good sleep habits and practice good hygiene early in life," if we empower them through simple choices, Cralle suggests.

"So we can say, what pajamas do you want to wear to bed tonight? What book do you want to read? Let them participate. If they can pick out their color of their pillowcase, let them do it. Whatever's age appropriate."

3. Let them do their own bedtime math

Instead of just telling kids when they need to go to bed, involve them in figuring out an appropriate bedtime.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine lists how much sleep kids need depending on their age. Have them look up how much sleep a kid their age needs, and then show them the National Sleep Foundation's online bedtime calculator. Kids can choose how many hours of sleep they need and when they want to wake up, and it will show them when they need to go to bed.

It's not an arbitrary decision mom and dad made, it's science and math, and you can't argue with that.

4. Add one sleep item to the back-to-school shopping list

Cralle says adding one sleep-related item to the back to school shopping list can really help children understand the importance of sleep as they head back into the classroom. A conversation about how getting a good night's sleep is important for school success, combined with a shopping trip for a new pillowcase or comforter can really help children see sleep as an important priority, and give them something to look forward to using at bedtime.

5. Provide an environment conducive to sleep

When our kids are infants we're really good at setting up rooms that can help them sleep. But as our children age out of cribs and start to accumulate a lot of possessions and playthings, their rooms can become a less ideal sleeping environment.

According to Cralle, it's not uncommon for kids to get up after bedtime and start playing with toys in their room. She recommends removing stimulating toys or storing them in another area of the home, and never putting televisions, tablets or smartphones in a child's room.

6. Enact a media curfew

At least an hour before bedtime, screen time should come to an end and other, more relaxing activities can begin. Cralle says families can designate a certain hour as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time, or move from away from brightly lit screens and towards a board games or puzzles, "things to do to get that blue light out of their eyes."

A family-wide media curfew can be a good thing, says Cralle, as it helps parents "walk the walk" when it comes to sleep hygiene. "Don't be looking at your iPad and tell your child to put it away," she explains.

7. Remember: It's never too late for good sleep habits.

According to Cralle, age 3 is the ideal time to start reinforcing the importance of sleep for a child's health, but older kids and even mom and dad can reverse bad bedtime habits if the whole family buys in. That may mean curtailing your kids' (and your own) caffeine consumption, says Cralle.

"We're seeing younger and younger age groups of school children walking around with their Starbucks cups, with coffee, late in the afternoon," says Cralle, who thinks a lot of parents just don't have good information on how caffeine consumption can impact sleep—for our kids and ourselves.

She recommends limiting the number of caffeinated beverages available in the house if you've got tweens and teens at home, and watching your own consumption as well.

"We have to say 'Here's how we're all going to approach it.' It's sort of like seat belts with children, we never would buckle them in and get into the car, and not do it ourselves."

This may be the season to tweak your own sleep habits mama. Here's to a well-rested September.

[Correction: August 24, 2018: The sleep calculator was created by the National Sleep Foundation, not the Better Sleep Council.]

[A version of this post was originally published August 23, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Learn + Play

Finding out that you are having multiples is always a surprise, but finding out that you're in labor with triplets when you didn't even know you were pregnant, well that's the mother of all surprises.

It happened to Dannette Glitz of South Dakota on August 10. The Associated Press reports she had no idea she was pregnant and thought the pain she was experiencing was kidney stones.

"I never felt movement, I never got morning sickness, nothing!" Glitz explains in a social media post.

"Well this was a huge shock"

When Glitz posted photos of her triplets to her Facebook page last week one of her friends was confused. "What? You really had triplets?" they asked.

Glitz (who has two older children) started getting pain in her back and sides in the days before the birth, but it felt like the kidney stones she had previously experienced so she brushed it off. Eventually, she was in so much pain all she could do was lay in bed and cry.

"It hurt to move and even breath[e]," she wrote, explaining that she decided to go to an Urgent Care clinic, "thinking I'm going to have to have surgery to break the stones up."

A pregnancy test at Urgent Care revealed Glitz was pregnant—that was the first surprise. The second surprise happened when a heart monitor revealed the possibility of twins.

'I need another blanket, there's a third'

Glitz was transferred to a regional hospital in Spearfish, South Dakota. "And in about 2 hours they confirmed twins as there was 2 heart beats," she writes.

Glitz was 34 weeks along and four centimeters dilated. She was transferred again, rushed by ambulance to the hospital in Rapid City and prepped for a C-section. When the C-section was happening she heard the doctor announce that Baby A was a boy and Baby B was a girl.

"Then [the doctor] yells 'I need another blanket, there's a third' ....I ended up having triplets, 1 boy [and] 2 girls," Glitz writes.

Glitz and her husband Austin named their surprise children Blaze, Gypsy and Nikki and each of the trio weighed about 4 pounds at birth. Because the couple's older children are school-aged, they didn't have any baby stuff at home. Friends quickly rallied, raising over $2,000 via a Facebook fundraiser to help the family with unexpected expenses.

A family of seven 

The family is getting used to their new normal and is so thankful for the community support and donations. "It's amazing in a small town how many people will come together for stuff that's not expected," Glitz told KOTA TV.

Her oldest, 10-year-old Ronnie, is pretty happy about a trio of siblings showing up suddenly.

"One time I seen a shooting star and I wished for a baby brother, and I wished for like two sisters for my little sister because she always wanted a little sister, I knew this day was always going to come," Ronnie told TV reporters.

Ronnie may not have been surprised, but everyone else in this story certainly was.

Congratulations to Danette and her family! You've got this, mama.

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News

A new season is fast approaching, and I'm not certain that I'm prepared. Truth be told, I've known this day was coming. I've contemplated it for months, years even. I've dreamed about it. I've spent countless hours trying to wrap my head around the fact that my life is about to take a drastic, inevitable turn.

The narrow road I have traveled over the past eight years is suddenly widening and twisting, dotted with signs, dangerous curves ahead. Once the carefree days of summer are over (replete with endless cries of “I'm bored," multiple interventions, and failed attempts to keep the pantry stocked with snacks), a new chapter begins.

This will be the first year that all three of my kids will be in school full-time. Perhaps this change is heightened by the fact that my youngest two are twins, so I am losing both of my babies at once. Perhaps I'm overestimating the impact this will actually have on my life. Perhaps I've created the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Or, perhaps the feeling that this is a pivotal turning point in my life as a stay at home mom is, in fact, spot on.

Regardless, with the impending approach of September comes the age-old existential dilemma: Who am I?

Over the past eight years, I have enjoyed the joy (and sometimes hair-pulling craziness) of watching my children grow, being a part of each milestone, of every achievement and failure. My world has silently shrunk down to being wholly centered around my children.

As the kids have gotten older and changed, so have I. Everyone tells you how quickly time passes when you have kids, but no one warns you that time is also passing for you. I am not the same person I was eight years and three kids ago. I am no longer the career-obsessed, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office professional that I once was. I would like to believe that that I have been upgraded to someone softer, more nurturing, more patient, more understanding, and more tolerant.

But with that is also a sense that, somewhere along the way, I've lost a bit of me. When someone asked me what the best event of this past year was, it was difficult to think of something that was my accomplishment, rather than my kids,' My identity has become entwined with theirs.

Prior to having kids, I never imagined that I would be a stay at home mom. I expected that I would work and mother, balancing it all in perfect harmony. But the loss of my own mother and the birth of my daughter a year later changed my perspective. I opted out of my well-paying job, a decision supported by my husband, and one I have never regretted. But now the world is opening up, my small bubble ready to burst. I must face the reality that life is changing, whether I'm ready for it or not.

It's difficult to deny this inevitability with the endlessly repeated question from friends, family, and acquaintances: “What are you going to do with all that free time?"

What indeed.

I give the same pat answers I gave when the twins went to part-time kindergarten (and which are all, in fact, true):

  • “I have dreamed of grocery shopping alone."
  • “I'll enjoy having the house clean for more than five minutes."
  • “I will revel in drinking a cup of coffee, blissfully uninterrupted."
  • “I'll volunteer in my kids' classrooms."

But now it seems as though these answers are not enough. “Are you going back to work?" quickly follows.

Don't presume that I haven't spent hours exploring this very question myself. I miss a lot about working – financial independence, adult interaction, positive reinforcement, accessing now dormant parts of my brain.

There is also the guilt of not working. What will people think? When other parents ask at school drop off what I'm doing for the rest of the day, and I smile and shrug my shoulders, will I be judged? Considered lazy? Will I feel as though I have to justify my existence, my purpose in life? Will I find myself slipping into a depression with all this time alone?

If I do choose to return to work, will I be satisfied in my former career? Have I changed so much that that part of me has become irrelevant? I am also hit with the reality that the school day is three hours shorter than the work day and subsequent calculations of the cost of before and after school care, summer vacation, Christmas break, spring break, sick days, and all those days off in between.

I am approaching a curve in the road, unable to see what lies ahead. So I continue to hold on tight to these last fleeting days of summer, to my life as I know it. I feel an impending sense of loss, but also a tingle of excitement as I look to the future, to exploring the person I want to become—the new version of me—and to writing a new chapter, whatever it may be.

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This piece was originally published on Mamalode.

If you're contemplating the road back to work, our podcast “Where Was I…" provides a roughly-sketched road map for anyone wishing to return to work after taking a career break to care for their young children.

Life

I hate breastfeeding.

But I didn't always hate it. When I found out I was pregnant, it was something I was planning to do. There was no question about it.

I started hating it when I was admitted to the hospital for medical bed rest. When the nurses asked me how I planned to feed my daughter, they would exhale dramatically and smile when I told them I was going to breastfeed. I got the impression that, in their eyes, breastfeeding was the only acceptable answer to that question.

So many nurses asked me about this very personal choice that by the time my doctor asked me, I was a little on edge. Her response was very different.

"Just know that it might not happen for you," she said.

She told me that because I was delivering six weeks early, my body might not be ready to produce milk. Having a baby at 40 weeks and full term, was not only ideal for the baby but also for my body as well.

I never realized that this could be a side effect of having a preemie. I told her that I still wanted to give breastfeeding a try.

Within hours of leaving the operating room, a lactation nurse was knocking at my door. I hadn't even held my daughter for the first time, and already this woman was explaining the pumping equipment she brought with her. After she was done, she asked, "When are you going to start pumping?"

"Maybe tomorrow?" I said, still trying to wiggle my toes from the effects of the spinal tap.

She shook her head and scowled. "No, you need to start now. If you don't, you will never get your body to produce milk."

I watched awkwardly as she rubbed and squeezed her own breasts to demonstrate how to "warm up my body" before I used the pump.

There was nothing sexual about this. The nurse was merely showing me, clinically, how to get my body to start producing, but I was so uncomfortable. That discomfort continued as she stayed to watch my first pumping experience.

She instructed me to pump every two to three hours, even at night.

That was never going to happen.

Some women would relish the opportunity to do this, but not me. I had just been cut open, my daughter was in the NICU, and I had just spent two months in the hospital where nurses were continually waking me up. I felt like I earned a few nights of uninterrupted sleep.

She was not pleased to hear that when she checked in with me the next morning. She was a pleasant woman, but she was acting like I was personally insulting her because I didn't roll myself out of bed after abdominal surgery to pump every couple of hours. The nurses in the NICU were just as intense about my breastfeeding.

People no longer asked me what my decision was, it was expected of me. They would make me pump in front of them and then frown at the amount I was producing. They grilled me on how many times a day I was pumping. The whole thing became so unpleasant that I shut down every time the subject came up.

I was breastfeeding my daughter, and it was going well, but I did not feel like other mothers who describe the whole thing as an incredible bonding experience.

For us, the whole thing was tense, uncomfortable and frustrating. To top it off, my hormones were raging out of control. I was crying all the time and felt like everyone was judging me as a mother. I started getting caught up in how much I was producing and putting pressure on myself to provide more each time.

Maybe it was just my hormones, but I felt so unhappy feeding her and even felt that way during pumping. I felt like a cow that was chained to a post and forced to be milked eight times a day. I found myself making excuses for why I couldn't pump or breastfeed her. Instead, I used the formula the hospital sent us home with.

At the first pediatric appointment, I tested the waters again with this new doctor. I told her that I didn't love breastfeeding, but was doing it for my daughter since she needed it.

"If you don't like it, then stop." She told me. "I can't tell the difference between a breastfed child and a formula child, but I can tell the difference in the kids that have a healthy, happy mom."

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. It was everything I needed to hear to officially make the switch. That afternoon I started to wean myself off pumping.

Not only am I much happier, but my daughter continues to thrive. At her latest doctor's appointment, she continues to gain weight, and her doctor is amazed at how well she is doing.

Breastfeeding is a very personal choice, and it's one that a lot of mothers and babies love, but I'm one of the mothers who hated it. Whenever I think I've made a mistake and I should have just "sucked it up," I think back to what my doctor said.

Give your kid the greatest gift of all. Be a happy mom.

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Life
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