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Whether you choose to nurse for two months, are preparing to breastfeed for two years, or using formula, it's an important decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. First, know that whatever you decide is totally fine. We're here to support your entire journey.

If you are breastfeeding as a new mother, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for the first six months, and it can be continued as long as both mother and baby desire it. While this is an awesome goal to reach, for many of us, nursing is a complete struggle.

We tapped a few experts who know the breastfeeding ropes and are happy to share bits of advice. Here's what they had to say:

On increasing your milk supply

1. The exact number of fluid intake may vary per individual, but you should aim to have at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

2. Anecdotally, some women find that lactation cookies help—and even if they don't, they are delicious cookies, so yay! You can bake some at home and modify the ingredients to your liking (ie. add more chocolate chip!) or buy pre-made cookies.

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3. Galactogogues like Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle and Brewer's Yeast are supplements that can help with your milk supply. These herbs can be taken separately or in a combo formulation. Fenugreek can have mixed results when taken by itself. For some women, it really helps, but for others it may not make a difference or even reduce supply. Find what works for you.

4. Breastfeeding moms need an extra 500 calories per day. Choose nutritious food that give you energy, such as protein-rich foods like oatmeal, adding flaxseed meal or brewer's yeast to smoothies or yogurt, eggs, and veggies.

5. The AAP recommends calcium, vitamin D, iron, folic acid as important vitamins and minerals for breastfeeding moms.

6. Nursing babies do not follow a schedule, they set it. So, try to go with the (milk) flow and follow your boss baby's cues, especially when your baby is still a newborn. Lactation consultants often recommend feeding on demand, which means that every time your baby is hungry, you feed them.

Nadia Sabri Nadia Sabri MD, FAAP is a board certified pediatrician.

On taking medication

7. The commonly used acetaminophen and ibuprofen are generally considered safe to take while breastfeeding. Medications are said to be "lipophilic" when they have a tendency to concentrate in fat. Because breast milk contains a high proportion of fat, it will also contain a high proportion of a drug that dissolves in fat. Therefore, fat-soluble medications are often prescribed with caution.

8. Medications prescribed for anxiety and depression are lipophilic and have relatively long half-lives, meaning that they both dissolve in fat and take longer to metabolize. Although the infant exposure to these medicines through breast milk is still relatively low, there have not been long-term studies of this exposure, so women who need these drugs may be discouraged from breastfeeding.

Stephanie Loomis Pappas is a professor turned stay-at-home parent committed to debunking all of the bad parenting advice on the internet.

On alcohol and breastfeeding

9. Certain beers can increase your milk supply. Studies have found that a sugar in the barley that beer is made from can increase the hormone prolactin, which is involved in triggering let-down, or the release of breast milk.

10. A study found that babies slept less in the hours after consuming breastmilk with alcohol in it.

11. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to an occasional intake [which is approximately] 2 oz liquor, 8 oz wine, or two beers.

Diana is Motherly's digital education editor. She is a midwife, pediatric nurse and founder of Gathered Birth.

On what position to breastfeed in

12. The cross-cradle position is the standard, go-to nursing position that most lactation consultants will start you on. It's good for first-time nursers, when you're in bed, on a chair and in public places.

Katie Brooker is an avid multi-tasker. Apart from being the head designer and fit technician for Cake Maternity, she's the mother of two young girls.

13. It's essential that you're aware of what to realistically expect of you in those first few days, weeks and months. You can do this by talking to mamas who are breastfeeding. Find a friend who is nursing, a local La Leche League, or a breastfeeding support group—and attend a meeting prenatally or have conversations around what to expect.

Daniela Jensen is the VP of strategy at Premama Wellness, and a mother, wife and entrepreneur who founded and sold NüRoo.

On preparing for the breastfeeding journey

14. There probably won't be a nursing pillow in the hospital, so you may want to bring one.

15. I recommend hydrating your nipples with olive oil. Just like you would use hand cream to protect your hands, the more supple your nipple, the less likely they are to crack and bleed.

16. In the first three days of life, your baby loses weight, and can't eat a lot because their gut is the size of walnut. In those first few days, your baby can nurse as much as 12 times a day. Since they're not taking much in, they don't need as much time on the breast—eight to 10 minutes per breast is enough.

17. In those first three days, baby should be doing eight to 10 minutes on each breast. Once your milk comes in (around day two to four), it should be 10-15 minutes on both sides, and one or two times a day, 10-20 minutes each breast. Babies should be able to drain a breast in an appropriate period of time.

18. You know you have a proper latch when your nipple goes deep in the mouth and comes out of the mouth round. During a great latch you should also have minimal to no discomfort and you should see your baby sucking. Latching is not just the mother's responsibility; it is also the baby's responsibility.

19. If your baby is nursing well during the first few days, don't pump. Milk is supply and demand. If you pump too early, you might overproduce.

Freda Rosenfeld is an BCLC.

On traveling and breastfeeding

20. When traveling, don't forget your road trips snacks. Nursing moms need extra calories, so pack water bottles and healthy snacks to keep your energy—and patience—up.

21. If you're on a road trip and using bottles and nipples to feed your expressed breast milk, it's always helpful to pack one to two more than you think you need.

22. If you're on a flight, breastfeed at take-off and landing. Swallowing helps babies adjust to the change in air pressure.

Molly Petersen Molly began her Lansinoh career assisting customers with product questions, and was inspired to become a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) when she realized that many questions were more about breastfeeding than products.

On nutrition and breastfeeding

23. The USDA publishes an online tool that includes breastfeeding in calculating recommended daily nutritional intake. For example, an active 30-year old mother who is 5' 4" tall and weighs 100 lbs should consume 59 grams of protein per day during the first 6 months of breastfeeding.
24. Breastfeeding mothers should avoid seafood and limit consumption of fish such as tuna and mackerel, as they can contain excessive amounts of mercury and other toxins.
Dr. Stephanie Canale is the co-founder of Lactation Lab

On those hard breastfeeding days

25. Sometimes breastfeeding problems can be solved by going back to basics. If your nipples hurt, try to change position, shape and hold your breasts, or unlatch and start again. If you aren't making enough milk, try nursing more frequently.

26. Breastfeeding boils down to three things: Trust biology, your body, and your baby.


27. Even when you get there, know that it is normal to have rough days as your baby gets older. Teething, growth spurts, and other fussy phases can all drive a nursing mother mad! We have all been there. You have the right to complain. You have the right to vent. It's all part of the cycle of life you are in with your baby, and with breastfeeding.

28. Whether or not you breastfed or were breastfed matters in many ways, and in many ways it doesn't matter at all.

29. All mothers have a right to feel whatever they feel about how breastfeeding went for them. All feelings are normal. All feelings are real.

30. How much you pump doesn't always reflect how much milk your baby takes at your breast. Most babies take more than the pump extracts; some take less.

31. You should breastfeed for as long or as short a time as you want. It is entirely up to you (and your baby).

32. There is no magic age when babies should stop nursing in the middle of the night. Some babies need the nutrition well past the first few months, and many like the nighttime connection for years.

On what is normal… and what is not

33. Lactation cookies and herbs can really help with your supply, but they are only helpful if combined with other treatments for remedying supply issues like lactation teas.

34. Tongue ties can impact breastfeeding. Tongues that are tied down can't milk the breast properly (leading to low weight gain) and can cause a lot of pain.

35. It's normal for newborns to never want to be put down. Ever. And it's normal for them to nurse all the time, sometimes more than once an hour. Really.

36. Almost all moms will make enough milk if they nurse often enough, but for a small number of moms, this isn't the case. Low milk supply is a real thing, and if you have it, you deserve good, kind, thoughtful help.

37. We need to make breastfeeding normal. Teach kids breastfeeding positioning, behavior and more.

38. After the first few hours, babies often fall into a deep sleep and are less able to nurse well. There is also evidence that nursing in the first few hours leads to long nursing duration in the long-term. Babies are learning as soon as they are born, so give them the chance to learn to nurse.

On general breastfeeding tips + tricks

39. When you're at the hospital after the birth of your child, give your baby no artificial nipples—no bottles or pacifiers.

Wendy Wisner is an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and breastfeeding writer.

40. Set small goals and reach out to your support team when you are having a hard time. Breastfeeding can have its ups and downs...and so can parenting! Find people who will be that listening ear and supportive sounding board that we all need.

41. I think one of the biggest factors in mothers reaching their breastfeeding goals is confidence.

42. Prenatal education is important. We all have a mother's intuition inside of us, but having reliable information and options helps us to create the confidence to tap into that mother's intuition more readily.

Lindsey Shipley is a registered nurse and owner of Lactation Link LLC

On trusting your intuition

43. Trust your instincts! So often I hear new mothers say, 'I'm just a first time mother so I'm not sure...' If there was one thing I wish for every new mother it's to realize that you know more than you think."

44. You will know if breastfeeding is not working. You will know if your baby is unsettled or something just isn't right. If you suspect something is going on, please seek help from an IBCLC who listens to you, respects your instincts and feelings and helps form a plan for you to reach your breastfeeding goals.

Meg Nagle is an IBCLC and author of Boobin' All Day...Boobin' All Night. A Gentle Approach To Sleep For Breastfeeding Families

45 . Your breastfeeding journey doesn't have to be all or nothing to be successful, it isn't a pass/fail event.

Jessica Martin-Weber, founder of The Leaky Boob

46. Most progressive NICUs will prioritize breast milk and breastfeeding. But there's still the misconception that premature and other babies in intensive care can't breastfeed so read on the topic and be prepared to advocate for yourself and your baby.

On breastfeeding with twins

47. Tandem breastfeeding means breastfeeding your babies simultaneously (one on each breast), which may actually buy you some time to rest and take care of yourself between feeding multiples! For most new parents of twins, this requires latching one baby on first and having someone else position the other baby on the opposite breast. If tandem is not working for you in the beginning, that's ok. Practice really does make perfect. So take the time to work on the latch individually with each baby; and once individual latching and feeding is feeling easier, try tandem nursing again (somewhere in the 2- to 6-week mark).


48. One of the biggest concerns for twin parents is getting a milk supply big enough for two. To do that, our breasts require frequent, regular stimulation to make the right amount of milk for our babies. So if you can, initiate breastfeeding within the hour and allow the twins (either one or both) to suckle at your breasts whenever they show signs of hunger.

49. Expert support can really make a difference when it comes to feeding twins. A lactation consultant who's versed in breastfeeding multiples will give you all the tools you need to find the right nursing position, to help you make enough milk for both babies and to ultimately succeed in your breastfeeding journey.

50. If you can, keep your babies very close to you at all times as you are learning to breastfeed and building milk supply. At home, you can use a co-sleeper or nearby bassinet so you can hear and respond to your babies' feeding cues as quickly as possible.

Jada Shapiro is the founder of boober and Birth Day Presence.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$99.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

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As life begins to speed up this holiday season, it's important to unwind from the hustle and bustle with a celebration with friends and family. A good drink can add a festive touch while warming you up and refreshing your palate. Whether you're a bartender in the making or a novice, we've got you covered.

If you're a mixologist, dive in and enjoy crafting these tasty cocktails. Feel free to get fancy and add your own twist to the recipes. If you're a newbie, know that you don't have to be a bartender to whip up tasty drinks this year. Follow each recipe step by step and spend more time enjoying the holiday. Cheers!

Here are nine easy to make cocktails to enjoy (and impress your guests) this holiday season:

Zesty diplo cider

Zesty diplo cider

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Diplomatico Mantuano Rum
  • ¾ cups water
  • lemon spice tea bag
  • 1 oz apple cider
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • cinnamon stick
  • lemon slice
  1. Bring water to boil in saucepan; toss in lemon spice tea bag and steep for 5 minutes.
  2. Remove bag and stir in sugar, apple cider, Diplomatico Mantuano Rum and cinnamon stick.
  3. Heat just to steaming.
  4. Garnish with cinnamon stick and lemon slice. Optional: add ½ tsp of butter to mug.

Apple cinnamon daiquiri

Apple cinnamon daiquiri

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Diplomatico Planas Rum
  • ½ oz Apple Schnapps
  • ¼ oz Cinnamon Schnapps
  • ½ oz Freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ oz Pressed apple juice
  1. Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled glass.
  2. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or apple wedge.

Prepare to be empressed

Prepare to be empressed

Ingredients:

  • 1.5oz Empress 1908
  • .25oz Italicu
  • .5oz lime Juice
  • .5oz rosemary-infused simple syrup
  1. Shake ingredients on ice, strain into a chilled coupe.
  2. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Spiced old fashioned

Spiced old fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Partida Añejo
  • 2 Bar spoons of Maple syrup
  • 2 Slices of Fresno Chili's Dash Angostura Bitters
  • Orange Peel
  1. In an old-fashioned glass muddle the fresno chili slices, bitters and maple syrup.
  2. Add ice and Partida Añejo.
  3. Stir to mix all ingredients.
  4. Garnish with an orange twist.

Americano cocktail

Americano cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz Boissiere Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 ½ oz Campari
  • Soda
  1. Build directly in a highball glass on the rocks.
  2. Top with soda.
  3. Garnish with an orange slice.

Pumpkin pie martini

Pumpkin pie martini

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Jaisalmer Indian Gin
  • 1 oz Dos Maderas Rum
  • ½ oz Half and Half
  • 2 Tbsp Pumpkin Puree (canned or homemade)
  • 1 oz Maple Syrup
  • ¼ tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Ice Cubes
  • Maple Syrup
  • 1 Graham Cracker
  • ½ tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp Granulated Sugar

For the Rim:

  1. Crush graham cracker in a Ziploc bag or food processor until it resembles sand.
  2. Stir in the cinnamon and sugar. Line the rim of a martini glass with maple syrup.
  3. Dip/roll in the cracker mix. Set aside.

For the Martini:

  1. In a cocktail shaker, combine the ice and remaining cocktail ingredients.
  2. Shake vigorously until shaker chilled to the touch.
  3. Strain and pour cocktail into the prepared martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and nutmeg.

Peach tree old fashioned

Peach tree old fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Peerless Rye
  • 1 tsp. Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup
  • 4 Large Peach Slices
  • 2 Dashes Black Walnut Bitters
  • Orchid for Garnish
  1. Muddle two peach slices in a mixing glass, add all other ingredients and stir with ice for about 15 seconds.
  2. Double fine strain into a rocks glass full of crushed ice and garnish with remaining peach slices and orchid.

East Indian gimlet

East Indian gimlet

Ingredients:

  • 1.5oz Jaisalmer Gin
  • 1.5oz lime juice
  • .75oz Ginger Simple Syrup
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped peeled ginger
  • .25oz St. Germain
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish

For the Ginger Simple Syrup:

  1. Bring sugar, ginger, and ¾ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.
  2. Remove from heat and let sit 20 minutes.
  3. Strain into a jar, cover and chill.

For the cocktail:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Pour in the gin, lime juice and ginger syrup.
  3. Shake until well chilled. Strain into cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with fresh rosemary.
Life

Congrats, you're expecting! You're excited about the tiny bundle of joy growing in your womb, and you're reading through the Google search results to prepare for this new adventure. You planned out the music to play when laboring (Enya is relaxing). You have your stretchy pants picked out for post-labor comfort, and are plotting out which brand of lavender aromatherapy you'll use to ease your labor pains. You may also be planning to breastfeed.

This is where I burst your bubble. The number one rule of parenthood that you will soon learn is that you can't plan for everything, and, most of the time, you can't really plan for much of anything.

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No matter how many adorable, organic cotton onesies you order from that boutique you fell in love with on that trip to Laos, your baby will spit up on all of them and you will end up buying cheap onesies in bulk. You may end up taking all the medicine you said you'd never take during labor or welcome baby into the world via a C-section.

And your plans might go out the window when you're faced with real-time decisions that you didn't think to Google. Breastfeeding is one of those things that might not always go as planned.

And yet, as with many of the surprises parenthood brings, I'm here to tell you it will be okay.

Many expecting moms want to breastfeed­. After all, society says breast is best, but few people tell you just how hard it can be. And no one stops to think that using hyperboles like "liquid gold" to describe breast milk is a huge disservice to the many who end up not being able to or who really don't want to breastfeed.

You might have a nurse in the hospital who puts baby on your nipple and tries to teach them how to latch. But when it's 2 a.m. and your 1-day-old baby is screaming with hunger and you're not producing enough milk to satisfy them (and baby is not remembering the lesson from the nurse earlier in the day), the whole breastfeeding thing can feel less like the euphoric bonding experience you preemptively imagined and more like a gut-wrenching impossibility that makes you want to rip all of your hair out of your head.

But you refrain from ripping all of your hair out of your head. Mostly because too many other parts of your body already hurt. And that would require more energy than you have.

You might take all the herbs and pay all the certified lactations consultants and attend all the La Leche meetings, and yet, it's still not happening. Maybe baby isn't latching. Maybe it simply doesn't feel good. Maybe your breast milk doesn't agree with baby. Maybe you bought all the pumping accoutrement and try all of the elimination diet suggestions until you're practically eating just lettuce and iced water exclusively, but baby is still gassy and fussy and sick. Maybe you just don't want to breastfeed. It's your body, after all. They're your precious breasts.

You have a right to do what you want with them and you shouldn't feel pressure to use them to nourish the next generation if that makes you feel uncomfortable. Or if you have to return to work sooner than Mother Nature intended and you don't want to risk leaking during important meetings, or stopping to pump every three hours. All of these things happened to me, and they happen to a lot of us. And it's not the end of the world.

So I'm here to tell you it's okay if breastfeeding doesn't work out.

I know you may feel shame or a sense of failure. You may fear that your baby will get more ear infections, or be overweight, or that you won't bond as strongly, or they'll miss out on all of the other benefits of breastfeeding.

I experienced all of the feelings of guilt and remorse when breastfeeding didn't work out for me and my little one. I felt like I did something wrong and was failing my child. But the truth is whether you breastfeed or formula feed, it's unlikely to have a discernible effect on your child's long-term health or wellbeing. In fact, studies indicate breastfed babies do not have a cognitive advantage over other children.

Worrying about the fact that you're a failed breastfeeder could, though, have a negative impact on your own mental health. One study found that women who planned to breastfeed but were not able to were twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression as women who were able to feed their babies as planned.

So how do you deal with these feelings? Perspective helps. There are generations of human beings, namely the majority of those born in the decades of the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and even '90s, who were exclusive formula babies. Our moms didn't breastfeed because they were taught formula was the preferred, "healthier" alternative, and it didn't require tiny humans hanging off their bodies all day, which must have been a revelation at the time.

Social pressure to breastfeed places undue pressure on new moms to produce or fail your baby. It comes from online forums and social media groups, and even from doctors and other professionals. I have seen new moms going to great lengths to avoid supplementing with formula, out of the misguided belief that it's somehow wrong or because they'd been made to feel that doing so would mean "throwing in the towel."

All that matters is that baby gets fed. It doesn't matter how that happens. Whether you feed your baby breast milk or formula, the only thing that's important is that baby is getting the nourishment they need.

When I finally gave up trying to feed my baby my milk, I ended up donating nearly 1,000 ounces of pumped milk to a mom who wasn't able to produce her own milk and had a sick, underweight baby who could only tolerate breast milk.

In the end, I was able to feed my healthy baby with formula that suited him best, and I helped someone else's baby thrive. When I was finally able to get over my guilt and disappointment in not being able to breastfeed, I realized that some might not call that a failure at all; in fact, some might see it as twice as successful.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life

After months of morning sickness, swollen feet, and midnight chocolate cravings, I finally met my little guy. Yes, he looks so much like his dad, but his dinosaur screams when he is hungry are definitely my contribution to the gene pool. I couldn't help but feel proud.

But those feelings were quickly replaced by fear.

I lost my mom almost seven years ago. I was barely 21 and not yet out of college. My life was never the same. My mom was everything a mother is supposed to be. She was loving, kind and a pillar of strength. She was all those things and more; I had to learn to live without her.

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Over the course of the last few years, there have been tears, there has been pain and important life events have been missed. In each instance, I have found a way to be strong. To tell myself that she would be proud of the woman I have grown into.

But this time it's different. I am a mom now. I have a better understanding of her as a woman and mother. There so many questions I would love to ask her but can't. Was she this scared too? Was she constantly checking to see if I was breathing? Did the sleep deprivation give her terrible baby brain? (I legit go to the fridge 60 times a day).

I will never know.

So, I decided to approach this new chapter in my life the same way I have approached other life events without my mother; embracing the love and care of other women in my life. I decided not to dwell on what could have been but dwell on what is there.

In my eighth month of pregnancy, my younger sister stayed with us for six weeks. She proved to be a gem. She cooked all the food I love and made sure I went for work with a lovely packed lunch every day. My baby and I loved it! (I could tell because of all the jumps in my tummy)

In my ninth month of pregnancy, I asked my grandmother and mother-in-law to stay with us until my delivery. We spent our days discussing womanhood and how things have changed for women in the last few decades. Our talks were empowering, honest and even funny. They helped prepare my mind for labor and they even offered to labor on my behalf (I wish they could've)

The day I went into labor, two aunts were with me at the hospital. One held my hand until I didn't want to be touched anymore. The other gave me a hot bath upon delivery. They offered to stay with me for the night so that my husband could catch his much-needed rest.

The women in my life did their best to ensure I was mothered and I am so grateful.

Every day I live my life with the bits of wisdom my mother left me. I still miss her terribly, but I don't feel alone. I have wonderful women in my life who remind me every day that I'm not.

Life

Almost all parents agree that reading is one of the most important skills to encourage in young children, but did you know that reading to your child can directly impact their brain development? Reading to your children is one of the most important things you can do, but there are also many other quite simple literacy activities that not only help kids learn to read, but show them that it's fun and encourage a lifelong reading habit.

Winter is the perfect time to get cozy and spend some extra time reading. Try one of these literacy activities next time you're in need of some indoor fun this winter.

1. Create a listening station

In Montessori classrooms for young children, the classroom environment is considered critical to learning. Part of a successful classroom environment that meets preschool-aged children's needs is including cozy spaces.

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Especially in a group setting, but even at home, children need quiet little nooks where they can escape and feel safe and enclosed. A listening station makes for a perfect quiet space.

Provide a selection of a few different audio books for your child to choose from. If you don't have any at home, public libraries often offer many great choices. If you feel like splurging, there are other child-specific listening devices perfect for a listening station as well. The Chameleon Reader takes this a step further and lets you turn any book your child loves into an audio book. This offers such a great alternative to screen time, especially during tricky times like long days of airplane or car travel.

2. Make a story bag

A story bag has a collection of small objects with which a child can recreate a story. You can make or buy story bags for any book your child enjoys.

Choose a book they are familiar with and love. Show them the story bag and model how to recreate the story with the objects. Then let them take the lead. Don't worry about it if they get creative with the plot, that's all part of the learning!

3. Introduce sequence cards

Similarly, try providing your child with a series of images from a beloved book and inviting them to put them in order. It's fine if they use the book to help them, it's not a test!

This is super easy to do yourself. You can just take photos of the illustrations with your phone and print them, or order the photos from a site like Shutterfly if you don't have a printer. Laminating will of course make them last longer.

4. Act it out

Many children learn best when they are moving and physically engaged, so try putting your child's favorite story into action, pretending alongside your child as you move through the plot.

Stories with lots of action, such as We're Going on a Bear Hunt or Where the Wild Things Are, are a good place to start, but you can really act out almost any children's book with your child.

5. Do an author study

Next time you read a book your child really likes, ask if they'd like to hear about the person who wrote it. Read them the little author's bio at the end of the book and say something like, "Hmm, I wonder if they've written anything else we might like."

Go to the library and search together for more books by the author you've chosen. If it's a less well known author, you may want to reserve some books from the library ahead of time as well.

6. Use a story-telling inspiration basket

This is super simple and easily tailored to whatever your particular child is interested in. Choose a small box or basket and fill it with a few little items to inspire a story. For example, for winter, you may include a toy snowman, scarf, sled and cookie. Show your child you can use these objects to make up your own story.

When you model the activity, you can write down the story you create, but if your child just wants to tell you the story, that's great too. Write it down for them and invite them to illustrate it if they're interested.

7. Share oral stories

Oral storytelling is becoming a bit of a lost art, but it plays a valuable role in helping young children develop rich vocabulary and a true love for storytelling and reading.

Try doing this as an after dinner activity, turning off all of the lights and lighting a candle to make it special. Don't worry if you don't consider yourself creative, children are sucked in by oral storytelling even if you tell them the simplest story about your day.

In time, you can invite them to join in on the storytelling fun as well.

8. Write the words for their pictures.

Long before children learn to write, they tell stories through their artwork. Invite your child to tell you the story behind a picture they've made and write it down for them.

Not only does this make your child feel super special and valued, it helps them make the connection between written words and stories, which is a key literacy skill.

9. Play reading games

There are so many easy reading games you can play with young children. One of my favorites which we use a lot in Montessori is "I Spy". I love this game because it can be done anywhere, and because children love it!

This is a great one to play if you're stuck waiting at the doctor's office or stuck in traffic. Simply say, "I spy something that starts with 'c'" using the phonetic letter sound. Take turns finding things around you that start with that sounds. For older children, you can play "I Spy" with rhymes instead, saying "I spy something that rhymes with bat".

To play at home, you can also use a basket of objects starting with various sounds.

10. Letter boxes

This is directly based on one of the key Montessori language materials.

In the classroom, children use "sandpaper letters," which are exactly what they sound like, letters made of sandpaper so that the child can really feel the shape of the letter as they trace it. A child is given a box of 3-5 letters which they have been practicing and a box of small objects. The child matches the object to its beginning sound. So if there is a little cat, the child will place it by "c".

In Montessori, children learn the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, rather than the letter names, so this comes fairly naturally. There is no need to buy sandpaper letters for your home, but if you have been working on the phonetic letter sounds with your child, it can be fun to play a similar matching game with objects. You can simply write the letters on card stock and find little objects around your house, or in the dollhouse section of a craft store. Young children love tiny objects and are often very drawn to this work.

Nothing will ever replace reading aloud to your child, but these literacy activities can be really fun ways to incorporate additional language practice into your home and to encourage a true love of reading.

Learn + Play
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