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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.


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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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.


"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!


In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.


Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]


Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."


Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).


Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.


Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.


A fellow mama

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