Print Friendly and PDF

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.

Join Motherly

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

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

Our Partners

Gift-giving is always well-intentioned: It's rooted in the joy of seeing the kids open something new and showing their excitement. It's rooted in a language of love that lavishes gifts decadently like extra butter on a roll. It's rooted in an attempt to connect.

It's an immense privilege to have a family who loves my kids and showers us with gifts—I don't take that lightly. But what my kids need is a present mom, and the overflow of presents makes that harder than ever.

When birthdays and holidays are approaching, I find myself looking around every corner of my house. I see the Lego pieces that once created an incredible train track now scattered in every crevice. I see the pieces just waiting for me to step on them in the middle of the night.

FEATURED VIDEO

I see the discarded toys that I try to bring back to life because, after all, they were purchased not that long ago.

I see the tubs of "rotate in and out" toys that we use to try to keep things fresh because, after all, kids can only play with so many things at one time.

I see the pile of things we have yet to open. Things we reserved for later because the pile of "new" grew too large.

These piles of plastic make me feel out of control. They make me feel like I'm the manager of "things" instead of a safe place for my little humans. The toys call out to me to be picked up and organized during times that I need to rest, connect with my family or do anything else.

As a stay-at-home-mom, one thing I never anticipated was how many days can pass that I feel disconnected from my kids because the anxiety of "stuff" takes the front seat. Days when I feel like all I do is pick up "stuff" and try to keep my kids engaged in something for more than a few minutes. Days when it feels like the toys are literally mocking me out loud—reminding me of the control I've lost and the ongoing task list of keeping "stuff" from taking over the entire house.

This feeling of no control is a huge trigger for my anxiety. Anxiety has been a part of my life for years but as a mom, it has had bigger implications.

When anxiety takes over, I can't see the small moments and opportunities.

When anxiety takes over, I can't sit and laugh and tell stories like I want to.

When anxiety takes over, I can't get lost in hours of imaginative play.

When anxiety takes over, I can't sit and snuggle my little one without a constant flood of frustrated thoughts.

I want my kids to have an anxiety-free mom. I want them to have a mom who is connected and purposeful. A mom who gets lost in play and laughter. I want them to have a mom who encourages them to use their imagination and gets on their level. I want a mom who feels less pressure to "busy the kids" with something so that the "stuff" can be picked up.

You see, having all the stuff actually results in my kids spending less time enjoying what they have. It results in less time for play and more time for clean up. It results in more screen time because I need more "mommy needs to get this cleaned up so she doesn't lose her mind" time.

In a world that is so fast-paced and always screaming for "more!" I am constantly trying to help my kids slow down and savor what they have. I don't want my kids to not be able to focus on one activity because their brain is darting to the next thing. I want them to have intentional values—values of creativity and connection. The abundance of stuff feels like a roadblock to instilling these values.

So as the holidays and birthdays continue to come and go, I'll do my part to take care of my anxiety and ask my family and friends to do their part in helping us focus more on the values of our family and less on filling our home with toys that are sure to be deserted in just a few weeks. After all, is there anything better than love and connection?

Life

I am a planner, so when I was pregnant, I tried to plan for all aspects of becoming a mom. I was the woman who read ahead. I took the hypnobirthing classes and practiced every night. I prepared a detailed maternity leave plan, talked with my husband about the kind of parents we wanted to be, ate only whole organic foods, and even preemptively childproofed our home. I prepared my body, my life, every part of myself.

The one thing I did not adequately prepare for was breastfeeding. The message I'd received during pregnancy was that breastfeeding was something my body would just know how to do. I didn't need to overthink it or stress. When the time came, I'd be Mother Earth—or so I'd been told.

FEATURED VIDEO

But breastfeeding didn't come easily for me and my daughter, and I was overwhelmed by the pressure to try to make it work. I felt so much guilt about not being able to get it right, that I was failing at what was I was told was the biggest part of new motherhood. It affected my relationship; it affected my ability to bond with my baby; and it affected my ability to heal. It was the first place in my life (though not the last) where I felt mom guilt. My struggle with breastfeeding stole much joy from the first months of motherhood.

After spending hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants and trips to the ENT to explore my daughter's possible tongue tie, I eventually turned to formula. In desperation, I chose the brand my pediatrician recommended without question.

Months later, when the fog of new motherhood finally started to lift, I learned that it—and so many other infant formulas on the market—was loaded with corn syrup solids. What?!?!? How is this possible? I remember asking myself.

My experience made me wonder: Why are women, including my generation of the most educated women ever, being guilted (without support) to breastfeed for a year? And when we can't, or choose not to breastfeed, why are there so few healthy alternatives for our babies?

While mothers are under an incredible amount of pressure to breastfeed, we lack the access to information, cultural support, and healthy options that we need to successfully feed our babies.

Less judgmental, didactic education about feeding infants

When I started to dig into why I felt so misled about the realities of breastfeeding I learned that the World Health Organization, the organization that established recommendations around breastfeeding, as well as guidelines for marketing breast milk alternatives (all of which trickle down to lactation consultants), has an enormous influence on hospitals.

To earn a Baby-Friendly designation from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, hospitals must adopt clinical practices intended to promote successful breastfeeding. One of these practices is, "Do not provide breastfed newborns any food or fluids other than breast milk, unless medically indicated." In practice, this essentially means hospitals are encouraging moms to do whatever it takes to make breastfeeding happen.

And, the influence of the WHO's International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes extends well beyond hospitals. This code, though not legally enforced in the U.S., discourages the marketing of not just formula, but also bottles and nipples. Ironically, this ignores the fact that many moms rely on nipples and bottles to feed their babies breast milk.

It also encourages health professionals who support breastfeeding, such as lactation consultants, to take a firm stand against collaborating with companies who violate the Code. That means that if a media company takes advertising money from a bottle company, they jeopardize their ability to draw upon a lactation consultant's expertise in the future, thus potentially limiting moms' access to information.

This isn't to make the WHO out to be the bad guy. There are plenty of benefits to breastfeeding for both mom and baby — especially in countries where clean water is scarce and formula feeding poses serious health risks. The Code, too was developed with the best intentions: to prevent misleading marketing claims and reduce corporate influence on feeding practices. And for many moms, certified lactation consultants are a force for good and a source of support.

But forcing a binary choice between breast and bottle-feeding — without giving moms all of the information they need — doesn't support mothers. Instead, moms deserve access to information about all their options, including formula supplementation.

Better leave and pumping policies

Even if breastfeeding does come easily, our culture is not set up to support women exclusively breastfeeding for the WHO-recommended length of time.

While we're told that we should exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue to breastfeed for at least a year, the median length of (paid or unpaid) maternity leave in the U.S. is 11 weeks, and only 14% of American workers have access to paid leave.

This is especially frustrating when research indicates that leave is a key part of the breastfeeding puzzle. Returning to work before three months may reduce a mother's ability to meet her breastfeeding goals. Studies show that working women who receive 12 or more weeks of paid maternity leave are more likely to start breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding for six months than women without paid leave. In another study, researchers found that a one-month increase in maternity leave led to a 2.2 month increase in breastfeeding duration. If we want moms to breastfeed — and to sustain breastfeeding — we need to provide better paid parental leave.

And once women do return to work, we need to provide them the time and space to pump. Despite the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law, women still face barriers at work that prevent them from expressing milk. Research suggests that 60% of women do not have the time and space they need to pump at work, but women who did have the time and accommodations were 2.3 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at six months.

An alternative to sugar-laden formulas

Unfortunately there are barriers for formula-feeding mothers too. In the United States, we're lacking in not just education about formula, but also healthy options that we feel good about feeding to our children.

While formula is highly regulated, there aren't yet restrictions on the sugar content in baby formula. Formula needs to contain a certain number of carbohydrates in order to meet a baby's nutritional needs. In breast milk, the primary carbohydrate is lactose. But in formula, that carb is often corn syrup or sugar. In some formulas, babies are getting up to 10 grams of corn syrup per 5-ounce serving. That means over the course of a day, they're guzzling more sugar than you'll find in a bottle of Coke!

Recently, many parents have begun to seek out better options by purchasing formulas from the European Union. The E.U. has stricter rules about pesticides and limits the amount of corn syrup in formula (there, corn syrup can only make up 50% or less of carbohydrates, while in the U.S. all carbs can come from corn syrup). Unfortunately, European formulas pose risks too.

The bottom line: To be successful, moms and families need support without judgement. We need education that acknowledges the real challenges of breastfeeding at the same time it teaches the benefits. We need information about all of our options. We also need policies that help working moms meet their breastfeeding goals. And for the mamas who rely on alternatives to breastfeeding, we need formulas with ingredients lists we can understand and feel good about using to nourish the next generation.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life

The guilt is real for me. I try to keep it at bay but inevitably it creeps up. Telling me I'm not doing this motherhood thing right. Whispering I'll never advance in my career. Trying to convince me that my husband deserves a better wife.

Most days, the guilt is like a light breeze, brushing past me as I walk down the street. It's there, I feel it, but it doesn't slow me down. Other days, it feels like I'm walking face-first into a gale-force wind, pushing me into a dark storm I can't control.

I recently had one of those very windy days. Our daycare had a power outage. The AC went out so they asked all of the parents to pick their kids up early, at 11:30 AM, in the middle of a workday. I called in to better understand the issue and ask if my son was in imminent danger. As it turns out, he was not. So, I let them know I would get there as soon as I could. Hopefully, around 2:30 PM but maybe closer to 3:30 PM.

FEATURED VIDEO

It just so happened that I had some very important meetings that day and it's REALLY hard for my husband to leave work (he won't get paid and they could choose not to renew his contract, hard). Well, at 2:30 PM the daycare called to inform me that my son was the last one there. They were very clear that all of the other parents had been able to pick up their kids.

So, again, I asked if he was in danger. They said no, and I let them know I would be there in the next hour.

I know this was the right thing to ask to help me make a decision about whether or not to cancel every meeting, let the folks at work down and push deadlines. I know I made the right decision to stay, deliver what I promised and support my team. And yet, the guilt set in. The wind picked up.

The whispers in the back of my mind started:

"You picked work over your son, bad mom"

"You love your job more than your baby, what kind of mother are you?"

"Your son is the last one there, what's wrong with you?"

"Your son will think you don't love him since he's the last to be picked up."

"You're being an irresponsible parent."

This time, the guilt quickly transformed into indignation. I was angry that they had to tell me he was the last one. Why does that matter? Our daycare costs thousands of dollars a month.

When he is sick I drop everything and pick him up. I follow all of the rules, labeling food, clothes and diapers. We pay our bill on time. Why do they need to make me feel like a bad mom?

On the train ride to retrieve my son from his non-life threatening situation I got deep into my own mind. All of these thoughts started to flood my head as anger and guilt swirled in my heart. And then, as if through some divine intervention, like clouds parting to let the sun in after a storm, I had a revelation: I am NOT a bad mom. I am a mom who needs to make choices.

That day I chose work. My son was not in danger and my job had serious demands. Choosing work is something I will have to do sometimes and it's okay. I am a whole being. A woman, not just a mom or a worker or wife.

All of these facets of who I am will always compete with each other. And I will always rise to the occasion and make the best choice for me and the situation. Choosing not to drop everything to rush and pick him up that day doesn't change how much I love my son. It simply reflects that trade-offs and decisions are an ongoing part of life.

When I arrived at daycare, it was clear he was having a grand old time with one-on-one attention. And, I can't lie, as annoyed as I was to leave work early, I was grateful to have a couple of extra hours with him that afternoon.

Choosing between work and family is inevitable. Whatever choice I make doesn't make me bad. It makes me human.

Life

It's so interesting how the popularity of baby names ebb and flow over time. Think about the most popular names when you were growing up—chances are, you probably don't see too many new babies being given those monikers in 2019. Khaleesi overtook Brittany in terms of popularity, for example.

But if you're noticing that names like Charlotte, Henry and Amelia seem to appear in a lot of your friends' birth announcements, you're onto something: These are three of the most popular names from 2019.

BabyNames.com has released a list of the top baby names of this year, and you may find a few of them (but not necessarily all of them!) a little surprising. 2018's biggest boy name, Atticus, dropped off the top 10 list. Also missing from this list? Sophia, the beautiful female name that has dominated on a global scale in previous years.

FEATURED VIDEO

But some names have held their popularity: Liam, Owen, Olivia and Violet are a few of the names that trended both last year and this year.

RANK

BOYS

GIRLS

1

Liam

Charlotte

2

Oliver

Amelia

3

Theodore

Violet

4

Declan

Aria/Arya

5

Henry

Aurora

6

Owen

Ava

7

Finn

Olivia

8

Caleb

Vivienne

9

Emmett

Hazel

10

Benjamin

Nora

The top name for baby boys probably won't come as a surprise to most. It's Liam, which has been a consistent powerhouse for a few years now. It's easy to see why—Liam is one of those names that everyone just loves. With that being said, if you're hoping to avoid giving your child a very common name, you may want to cross this one off the list, along with Oliver and Theodore (these were the top three boys' names). And if you're expecting a girl, forget about Charlotte, Amelia and Violet, which took the three top spots.

"It seems there is definitely a royal influence to baby names this year," says BabyNames.com founder and CEO, Jennifer Moss. "Both Liam and Charlotte are linked directly to the British Royal Family. Liam is a shorter version of the name William, like the Duke of Cambridge, and Charlotte is the name of his daughter."

Classic names that have always been incredibly popular are expected to become less common as well. "For 2020 and beyond we see some traditional Biblical names like David, Michael, and Luke dropping off the top 100. This is almost unprecedented," says Moss. "Those are being replaced with more unique Biblical names like Josiah, Gabriel, and Elijah."

Expect lots of nods to nature and flowers to become more popular in common years, with names like Violet, Iris, Juniper, Rose, Daisy and Dahlia gaining speed. Want to see how your child's name stacks up? Check out the full list of 2019's top baby names at BabyNames.com.

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.