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letting your kids be messy

As a mom of two kids under the age of five, I know firsthand how mess making during mealtime can really drive a type-A mama like myself to the brink of insanity. But as a pediatric occupational therapist, who specializes in sensory related feeding issues and picky eating, I also know that the benefits of letting my kids get messy when they eat far outweigh the downfalls of messy mealtimes.

I've seen firsthand how many type-A moms like myself delay letting their little ones self-feed during the food-introduction period to avoid the mess. The problem with delaying self-feeding and not allowing babies to explore foods with their hands is that it can, in some instances, lead to an interference with normal feeding patterns and can contribute to more selective eating patterns in the long run.

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There are many ways that delayed self-feeding can contribute to the development of normal feeding and interfere with the development of oral motor skills (the skills that help the mouth, tongue, lips and cheeks work in a coordinated way to mash up and swallow food).

Babies learn through touch

It might be helpful to first take a look at how babies learn about the world around them within the first year of life. Babies are naturally driven by their tactile sense and explore the world around them with their sense of touch.They touch, feel and explore objects within their reach by bringing items that they've discovered to their mouths. This helps them to understand more about their environment.

The fingertips and the lips and tongue just so happen to house more sensory receptors (cells that receive tactile or touch information to the brain to help us to understand what it is and what it feels like) than any other region in the entire human body. Babies learn about accepting new textures in this very specific order of touch: first their hands, then their mouth (we call this proximal to distal sensory acceptance in the therapy world.)

Babies and toddlers need to be allowed the opportunity to touch, feel and smell their foods in order to determine if they are willing to try it with their mouths.

Babies naturally crave autonomy

Another important characteristic of babies, that is inherent and innate, is that they are naturally driven by a need for autonomy and independence. Put simply: They want to discover how things work on their own. This can describe why sometimes a toddler's very first words are often "no," "myself" or "me" or "mine." Sure, some babies are more passive than others, but for the most part, kids want to do things for themselves. This is especially important during the critical food introduction period.

It is important to let babies explore foods on their own terms, when they are ready and to not encroach on this innate drive for feeding autonomy. This matters because feeding autonomy can set a framework for developing a healthy relationship with food and it helps kids tune into their own internal nutritional cues.

The moral of the story here, is that the more that we let our children take the lead around the dinner table, the more comfortable they will feel with food and mealtime.

Getting messy helps to desensitize the tactile system

Overprotecting and over-sanitizing has taught children that being messy is not okay. A child who lacks basic experiences with textures on their hands and has never been exposed to messy textures in nature can become over-sensitive to tactile information (these children will cry or scream if they get their hands or face messy or will refuse to walk in the sand or grass.)

Sensory-related diagnosis' are on the rise more than ever before. We need to teach our children (and retrain ourselves as mamas, too) that being messy is okay and a very crucial part of play and child development.

Babies and kids need to be allowed to get messy and feel their food with their hands because this important part of sensory play promotes a tolerance to a wider variety of textures. The more textures they are allowed to explore with their hands (and feet too), the more they can put a name to different textures like "mushy" "crunchy" "lumpy", etc. The more we broaden their understanding of different textures, the more likely they will allow these textures into their mouths in the form of new foods.

Self-feeding promotes hand-eye coordination + fine motor skills

The last but certainly not least important reason that getting messy benefits babies during feeding is that it enhances the development of both hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. These hand skills impact a child's performance in many life-related skills and school. A few examples of life skills that depend on refined hand-eye coordination are things like dressing, handwriting, shoe tying, utensil use and cutting. The building blocks for hand-eye coordination begin in the hand to mouth exploration phase, which is typical from 6-18 months of age.

This article was originally published on helpinghandsot and it has been republished with permission from the author.

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Tenth & Pine: Gender-neutral and butter-soft basics for littles + bigs

In 2016, after a stage four endometriosis diagnosis and a 10 year battle with infertility, Tenth & Pine founder Kerynn got her miracle baby, Ezra Jade. As a SAHM with a Masters in Business, she wanted to create a brand that focused on premium quality, function, comfort, and simplicity.

She sought out premium, all natural fabrics and factories that shared her core values, practicing environmentally friendly manufacturing methods with fair and safe working conditions for employees. As a result, her made in the USA, gender-neutral designs check all the boxes. The sustainable, organic basics are perfect for everyday wear, family photos and any adventure in between.

Lucy Lue Organics: Sustainably and ethically-produced modern baby clothes

This family-owned and operated business was started by a mama who wanted out of corporate America after the birth of her son. Thoughtfully designed to mix-and-match, Lucy Lue's sustainably and ethically produced collection of modern organic baby clothes only uses fabrics that are "environmentally friendly from seed to seam." Their gorgeous, earthy tones and comfy, minimalist styles make the perfect addition to first wardrobes from birth through the first years.

Sontakey: Simple bracelets that speak your mind

Sontakey has been such a hit in the Motherly Shop that we knew it was time to expand the line. And since these beautiful mantra bands look so stunning stacked, more options = more fun.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

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Chrissy Teigen/Instagram

When Chrissy Teigen announced her third pregnancy earlier this year we were so happy for her and now our hearts are with her as she is going through a pain that is unimaginable for many, but one that so many other mothers know.

Halfway through a high-risk pregnancy complicated by placenta issues, Teigen announced late Wednesday that she has suffered a pregnancy loss.

Our deepest condolences go out to Chrissy and her husband, John Legend (who has been by her side in the hospital for several days now).

In a social media post, Teigen explained she named this baby Jack.

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"We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we've never felt before. We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn't enough," she wrote.

She continued: "We never decide on our babies' names until the last possible moment after they're born, just before we leave the hospital. But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever."

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