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As a neurosurgeon, I have always been in love with the brain. It's an incredibly complex structure made up of around one hundred billion neurons. And somehow, in this fascinating structure, is uniquely you. Not just your ability to move, and speak, and feel hot and cold and pain, but also your memories, the way you feel in those moments when everything seems just right and the way you cope when everything seems, well, off.

Your baby's first three years are uniquely critical for brain development. First, it's a period of astronomical growth. According to research, your baby's brain grows up to a percent per day and makes thousands of neural connections per second. And whereas nearly all the cells in your body (skin, hair, lungs, heart) will self-renew over the course of your lifetime, the majority of the brain cells that you have at the age of three are the same brain cells that you will have for the rest of your life. So those first few years are a unique window of opportunity to support brain development and set children up for their best possible lives.

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The brain has many different regions that develop at slightly different times. Well-performed studies looking at infant MRI brain scans have shown us that each month, different areas of the brain are in rapid growth mode. As a mama you see this too. They seem to have these rapid bursts of cognitive, motor or visual development. Every week it seems like they are up to something new. Well, they are, and that's a reflection of the different regions of the brain developing!

We also know from recent research that as regions of the brain grow, each requires its own set of specific nutrients to help support that development. There are times when folate is really key. When selenium becomes essential. When cholein, zinc and thiamin are needed. What's important is knowing the foods your baby should eat during each milestone.

Here are some examples of how specific foods can support each stage of your child's brain development:

At 6 months:

Your baby's visual development is on overdrive by 6 months. They will notice that they prefer more complex visual stimuli and are beginning to understand spatial relationships by observing and interacting with the people, objects and spaces around them. You may notice your baby now reaches for their favorite toy, attempting to grasp and maneuver it.

During this time, vitamin A, lutein and iodine are known to support the primary visual cortex and the middle and superior occipital gyri that's working hard at this age. Vitamin A can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and butternut squash. Also look for lutein in peas, broccoli, leafy greens and winter squashes, like pumpkin. Iodine can come from kelp, seaweed, shrimp, eggs and bananas.

At 7 months:

Around 7 months of age, your little one is getting better at balancing and coordinating muscle movement thanks to growth in areas of the brain responsible for motor development. Pretty soon they'll be sitting without support and moving from hands and knees to a sitting position all on their own.

Fine motor skills are developing too, like the ability to transfer objects from one hand to another. That balance and coordination is driven by the cerebellum and it's supported nutritionally by zinc, folate and niacin. Zinc can be found in spinach, beans, egg yolks and beef. Also, offer foods like legumes, broccoli and leafy greens for folate. Niacin (also known as vitamin B3) is great for helping little ones with motor control and can be found in squash seeds, beans and legumes.

At 12 months:

Around their first birthday, they'll be strengthening important cognitive skills like attention and patience. During this time, little ones are able to find hidden objects and wait for someone else to pick up something they've dropped. The parietal lobe is a key brain region involved in cognitive development and attention, and protein and iron become important around this time.

During this stage, you'll want to give your baby lots of protein like lean meats, fish, chicken, beans, lentils and chickpeas. Look to winter squashes, pumpkin, sweet potato, mushrooms, algaes like chlorella, kelp and leafy greens for iron.

At 18 months:

Around 18 months of age, they're starting to pick up words and displaying more complicated thought processes. This more nuanced thought is reflective of regions of the frontal lobe developing and global myelination (laying down nerve lining) is picking up speed.

Vitamin E, iron, protein and DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, are essential during this time period. Oily fish like salmon, tuna, trout, anchovies, herring, mackerel and fresh-water algaes contain DHA. You'll also want to try vitamin E in sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts.

At age 2:

Around their second birthday, your kid is making huge strides and interacting with the world in more complex ways. They can probably follow two-step directions like, "Pick up your coat and bring it to me." This is greatly aided by increased attention span and the ability to think abstractly.

The parietal lobe is a key brain region in the spotlight during this phase as it's involved in language processing, sensory integration, spatial awareness, numerical cognition and attention. The parietal lobe is shown to need protein (lean meats, fish, chicken, beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.) and iron (winter squashes, pumpkin, sweet potato, mushrooms, algaes like chlorella, kelp and leafy greens, etc.).

While it can be challenging to keep track of what your little one eats (especially when they are picky) here are easy ways to incorporate nutrition:

1. Explore different veggies + fruits.

There are many essential nutrients that support healthy brain development and they aren't all in your basic, everyday fruits and veggies. To make sure your little one is getting the nutrients they need, look to a wide variety of vegetables and fruits like kelp, maitake mushrooms, squash seeds, algal oil and sunflower seeds that have high nutritional density including DHA, iron, zinc and vitamin E.

2. Don't be fooled by baby food packaging.

Flip your food, as it's the nutrition inside that counts. A box, jar or pouch may tout Spinach on the front of the package, but if it only has 2% of a child's daily value of iron, you are probably getting the equivalent of 1 calorie of spinach. It's also important to note that most pouches are packed with sugary fruits as their most abundant ingredient. New World Health Organization (WHO) analysis found that more than 30% of the calories in half the baby foods the group studied came from sugar.

3. Offer veggies over fruit

Look for vegetable-first baby foods, rather than fruit-first foods (which can be jam-packed with sugars). Veggies are where so many good nutrients are.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

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

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Parents everywhere are feeling for Hamilton star Miguel Cervantes and his wife, Kelly, who just said goodbye to their daughter, three-year-old Adelaide. She died on Saturday, October 12.

Adelaide had been battling epilepsy prior to her death. Miguel and Kelly, who also share 7-year-old son Jackson, documented their daughter's life via Instagram, where they frequently shared updates on the little girl's condition.

But this week, they are sharing news of her death. "The machines are off. Her bed is empty. The quiet is deafening. Adelaide left us early Saturday. She went peacefully in her mother's arms, surrounded by love. Finally, she is free from pain + seizures but leaves our hearts shattered. We love you so much Adelaideybug and forever after," both Miguel and Kelly write alongside a photo of the girl's empty bed.

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Miguel, who played the title role in Chicago's production of the musical Hamilton, opened up about his daughter's diagnosis to the Chicago Tribune back in 2016. According to the report, Adelaide suffered around a dozen seizures every day. The seizures began when the little girl was just 7 months old.

Adelaide's mother, Kelly, documented the little girl's heartbreaking battle on her blog. Just a few weeks ago, she wrote her daughter a heartfelt letter. "You will not be getting better this time. The skills you have lost will not be regained. I am so sorry that your body has betrayed you in this way. It is not fair and it really, really, really sucks," Kelly writes."...As we make this transition I will be trying to understand what you want and need to keep you as comfortable as possible. Please forgive the extra pictures and videos I'll be taking, I know I'll want to hold on to all the memories I can. It's the things I can't capture that I will miss the most: the way you smell, and not just after a bath, but your sweet, "just you" smell. The feel of your forever baby soft skin and how tightly you squeeze my fingers even still. The way your hair feels when I run my fingers through it trying to comfort you and the weight of your body against mine in those rare moments when you let me snuggle you."

Our hearts are with this beautiful child's family.

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This new family would like you to know they "don't have to match!"

When we saw Sadie Sampson's story of how her baby boy Ezra came into her life, we just had to know more about this loving new mother and her husband, Jarvis.

Their journey to parenthood was slow and then happened practically overnight. The couple went through a complicated fertility journey and had come to terms with the idea that pregnancy and parenthood would not be in their future.

But everything changes when Sadie got a random text message from a friend: "Would you guys foster/adopt a child?"

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To understand their story you have to go back to the beginning of their story. After getting married in 2017, the Texas couple was determined to have a baby. When Sadie didn't get pregnant she sought medical help, and doctors were quick to suggest her weight was the issue.

" 'Lose weight, and you'll get pregnant right away,' said every doctor I saw," Sampson wrote on Love What Matters. "I had tried to lose weight on my own for so long without success, so I started seeking out other options. In February 2019, I underwent gastric bypass surgery."

Sampson has been chronicling her weight loss since then on her Instagram page. Jarvis joined her, getting his surgery this summer. But still, she couldn't get pregnant.

A week after deciding she was going to put her dreams of parenthood aside, Sampson heard from a good friend of hers who had a random question for her.

"Well, a friend of mine, and her boyfriend are considering foster care or adoption for their son," the friend said. "I told them that I thought you guys would be a great fit."

The Sampsons said yes. They were even prepared to be only temporary foster parents for the baby, who was born prematurely. Just over a week after that phone call, a caseworker informed them that the birth mother would like them to adopt.

"We went from not having any children, to the possibility of fostering one, to, 'You guys are parents!,' overnight," Sampson wrote.

Her whole family had been away on a cruise while this was happening, and returned the day before the adoption took place.

"My mom was very confused at first," Sampson told Motherly. "But once I was able to explain everything we stood in the kitchen and jumped up and down and then ran into the living room and told everyone else."

Because this was happening privately, they needed only a lawyer and no agency involved in the paperwork. They were able to greet baby Ezra in the NICU just an hour after he became theirs.

"The first time I saw him it was so hard for me to grasp the fact that he was mine," Sampson told us. "It took a while for me to realize that he is my son and I am his mom."

Ezra is the name his birth parents, who are white, had chosen for him. "When Jarvis and I looked up the meaning, which is 'helper,' we couldn't think of a better fit."


Sadie and Jarvis posed for photos proudly proclaiming their adoption story. "Not Showing Still Glowing" reads Sadie's shirt, while Jarvis' tee says, "Families Don't Have to Match #Adoption." Friends and followers on Instagram helped the new family, buying baby supplies on their registry and donating funds for their final adoption process. Now, social media is where they're sharing all the typical milestones of new parenthood.

"We had one plan and God changed the game completely," she wrote on Instagram. "Ezra has given us a larger purpose and we've learned so much from him in the short two weeks he's been with us. Families DON'T have to match! They are built on LOVE!"

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As an ESPN anchor Kevin Negandhi talks to a lot of pro athletes. But as a parent he knows that sometimes raising kids is as hard as training for the big leagues (seriously, science proves that kids energy levels surpass endurance athletes' and parents are running after those kids).

Negandhi knows what it's like to be face-to-face with athletes that so many people idolize, but he also knows that a parent can be more influential than any big league idol, and that's why he's working with Dove Men+Care SPORTCARE to put real dads in the spotlight.

"We have a platform to showcase what they do as everyday athletes, but also as everyday men, everyday fathers," says Negandhi, who has three kids himself. He tells Motherly he tries to make sure he's active with his kids—playing sports with them so that they understand the importance of staying active—but also staying active with the kids when the touch football ends and the real parenting endurance test begins. Like many modern fathers, Negandhi is committed to doing more childcare than his own father did.

"My mom did everything in our house," he tells Motherly. "My dad worked, but my mom worked as well. And she did everything. She raised us. But at the same time she showed me another side. And many times growing up I said, 'How can I be different than my father?'"

Being involved with his kids and doing more of the unpaid work in his household than his own dad did is how Negandhi is doing it, and he's taking time to showcase three fellow dads who—while sharing their names with professional athletes—certainly don't get as much credit as the pros.

That is actually something of a problem in media right now. According to a recent survey by Dove Men+Care, 70% of men wish regular guys who are athletes (but not professionals) got more attention in sports media. Because as much as winning the Superbowl or making it to the major leagues should be celebrated, being a dad who is physically active and active in raising his kids should be celebrated, too.

Research shows that when kids grow up seeing dads exercise they are healthier, and while these three men happen to share their names with famous athletes, they don't get the same glory. So Negandhi and Dove Men+Care are giving these hard working dads some recognition.

Alvin Suarez

Alvin Suarez is teaching his kids that having a disability doesn't disqualify you from being an athlete. As a visually-impaired person, Alvin isn't the standard athlete we see represented in media. He plays Goalball, a sport that relies on keen ear-hand coordination, and he is certainly a keen father, chasing after his twin girls.

Alvin says the difference between sports and fatherhood is that you can train for sports, while parenthood takes you by surprise. "I try to be a good role model for my daughters and I want everyone to know that everyone has potential and that there is no such thing as a nobody."

Alvin has won championships as a Goalball player, but says holding his daughters in his arms for the first time was like winning a medal but multiplied by a million.

Sean Williams

Sean Williams is committed to his community and his kids. He uses physical fitness to connect with his kids and to, literally, save lives. A volunteer firefighter, Sean keeps fit so that he can use his body and energy to maximum impact. He isn't just changing the lives of people impacted by fires, but also his fellow dads.

The founder of The Dad Gang, an organization committed to celebrating and telling the real story of black fatherhood, Sean has created a space for dads to connect with their children and each other while staying active.

"One of the challenges we put out on social media is where you do pushups with our kids on our backs and that merges fatherhood and fitness," he explains.

If there was a Super Bowl for community service, Sean would be wearing the ring.

Chris Paul

A Marine Corps veteran, Chris needs a ton of energy to keep up with his blended family. It started out as an "all-girl Brady Bunch" he explains, as his wife and he had six daughters between them, but they've since added a boy to the family which now included seven kids. .

He's basically got his own sports team at home so it makes sense that Chris is super committed to staying fit for them. The Marine turned realtor takes time to help other dads in his community stay fit and knows when to draw boundaries to protect his time with his kids.

He's got some good endurance, but he's not going to work 15 hours a day when his kids are waiting at home for him. Chris says in former times dads were often passive figures in their kids' lives as the child rearing was done by others.

Like the other men, he's changing that. "I'm an active participant and I want to make sure that I can contribute to my children's lives."

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Back in 2017 when we learned Beyoncé was starring in a new remake of The Lion King I was thrilled. My son (my only child) was almost 2 years old and I told my partner I wanted The Lion King to be our son's first movie theatre experience. Going to see the original Lion King in a movie theatre was a big deal to me as a kid and I wanted to recreate that experience for my son.

Flash forward to July 2019 and The Lion King is in theaters—but my son and I are not. Turns out I really overestimated how long 3-year-olds can sit still. While my son loves watching 1994's Lion King at home (he always stands on the couch and lifts his stuffed animals to the sky during "Circle of Life") he's just not quite subdued enough for the cinema yet.

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So we have been waiting to see The Lion King at home, and now we finally can! October 11 marks the film's digital home video release, and the Blu-ray hits stores on October 22.

Rob Legato, a VFX supervisor on the film, tells Motherly that "the visuals are so well preserved on 4K and newer television sets that it is literally the mini theatre experience and you're not missing much by seeing it at home."

Basically, the digital version is going to be just as awesome as seeing it in theaters, except that we will be able to pause for potty breaks and my kiddo can stand on his seat pretending to be Rafiki without blocking anyone's view.

The movie is, of course, incredible, but so are the animals it's based on. Screening the movie at home is an amazing way to start conversations with your kids about the various animals in the film as they are of course more similar to the real animals they are based on then their animated counterparts were in 1994.

The filmmakers went to Africa to research the animals they were bringing to life and they also spent a ton of time at the Harambe Wildlife Reserve inside Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida watching various species to try to make their movements as realistic as possible. There, 34 species live on 110 acres and the filmmakers got to watch them closely, making this film incredibly detailed.

Some of the animal experts who work with these animals on a daily basis say that when they watch The Lion King, they can actually tell which characters are based on which of the animals they know in real life.

"This film presented a really wonderful and unique opportunity to bring the production crew to the animals here at Disney's Animal Kingdom. They spent about 6 weeks here collecting reference footage of the animals here and we partnered really closely with the animal care teams at Disney's Animal Kingdom to make sure that all of the filming that we were doing, the impact to the animals was minimized," says Jon Ross of Disney's Animals in TV and Film department

The film crew watched the animals from a distance, which is something families can also do at Disney's Animal Kingdom by taking the Kilimanjaro Safari or staying in Jambo House at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where giraffes and other animals can be seen right from hotel balconies.

But the work Disney is doing with the animals is more than a tourist attraction. The company is serious about conservation and protecting the animal species featured in the park and in its films. "Tied to the Lion King film we launched the Protect the Pride initiative," Claire Martin of Disney's Conservation & Partnerships team tells Motherly. "We realized that we'd lost half of the world's lions since the first Lion King film debuted and we want to turn that around, so we're working with the Wildlife Conservation Network's Lion Recovery Fund to help their vision to double the amount of lions in the wild by 2050," she explains.

Marin suggests that parents watching The Lion King with their kids can use the film to talk to their children about conservation issues and continue the education long after the end credits roll. "We encourage people to learn more, visit the website, get involved and learn more about how they can make an impact on lions and other wildlife across Africa," says Martin.

Through the website, parents can even download an activity packet (you can print it and make your kids a cool book) with all kinds of information and cool activities and to help kids feed their lion obsession in an educational way even when screen time is over.

The Lion King is available to stream now and will be on Blu-ray October 22 (with even more educational features about the animals!)

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