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Legit ways to get free baby items—from diapers to formula 🙌

Whether you're a minimalist or a maximalist, a first-time parent or not, your child will need some basic resources to thrive, and it's likely that you'll be the one paying. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average family will spend $233,610 to raise a child from birth to age 17.

Of course, every family has different priorities and resources, and your location is a major factor in determining costs. But, in general, the breakdown of expenses is as follows:

  • Housing is the largest portion (29%).
  • Food is the second largest (18%).
  • Childcare and education is third (16%), and that doesn't include paying for college.

The cost of raising a child will increase with your child's age, but children probably go through the most tangible resources (diapers, formula, clothing) in their first year of life.

The good news is that there are many ways to get necessities for free. From rewards programs to goodie bags to charitable organizations, it's likely you can find a way to get what you need without spending much money.

How to get free diapers

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, one in three families in the United States has a hard time affording diapers. Here are some resources for free diapers.

Eco by Naty

This company sends a free trial box of diapers. You must sign up as a customer at the online checkout.

Honest Company

This company will send you a one-time free sample pack of diapers and wipes, but the shipment will automatically sign you up for a monthly membership of diapers that you will need to pay for unless you cancel it.

To take advantage of the free trial, sign up online, but remember to cancel your membership before 7 days are up or else you'll be automatically charged for the next shipment.

Friends

Ask your friends if they have unused diapers in sizes that their child has grown out of. Babies grow so fast, it's common to have unfinished boxes of diapers in smaller sizes left behind.

Rewards programs

Pampers and Huggies reward customers with coupons. Sign up online and use a phone app to scan every item you buy to redeem points online. Points can be applied toward buying new diapers or other baby gear.

Giveaways

Follow diaper companies on social media to hear about free giveaways. Companies use this like advertising, and they hope that if you like their diapers, you will become a customer.

Hospital

You can count on being sent home with a few diapers after labor and delivery in a hospital. If you need more, ask.

Cloth diapers

Cloth diapers are washable and reusable so can be passed down from kid to kid. You may be able to find gently used cloth diapers on Craigslist or in a local parent Facebook group.

How to get free bottles

Registry welcome gift

Many stores give a welcome gift bag when you create a baby registry with them. These gifts often include at least one free bottle.

Surprise mailing

When you sign up for a store registry, it's common for the store to give your contact information to partner companies who will also send you free samples. Many moms receive free formula and baby bottles this way, though you can't exactly count on it.

Friends and parent groups

Ask friends if they have any bottles they aren't using. Whether their kid grew out of using a bottle, or it's a bottle their baby never would take, it's likely they have some they could easily give away.

How to get free formula

Samples

Many companies will send you free samples if you use the contact form on their website. Companies known for giving free samples include:

Rewards

Enfamil and Similac offer rewards to loyal customers. To qualify, you must sign up with the company online. Every purchase will turn into points that go toward earning free formula or other baby gear.

Doctor's office

Pediatric and OB-GYN offices often get free samples from companies to pass on to their new and expecting parents. Ask your doctors what they have when you visit.

Hospital

Many hospitals can also send you home with formula after you deliver your baby. Be sure to ask if it's free or if it will be added to your bill.

How to get a free breast pump

Every insured, expectant mother in the United States is entitled to a free breast pump, paid for by their health insurance company, thanks to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. This is how it usually works:

  1. Contact your health insurance provider to let them know you are pregnant and you would like to order a free breast pump.
  2. They will tell you when you qualify to purchase the pump (it may be within a few weeks before your due date).
  3. They will likely have your doctor write a reference.
  4. They will direct you to a medical supply company (likely online) where you sign in and order the pump.
  5. The pump will be mailed to you for free.

Is it safe to use a used breast pump?

Breast pumps are medical devices, and it's not recommended that you borrow a used one from a friend.

If you do decide to use a second-hand pump, be sure to fully sterilize the pump before use. You should also purchase replacement parts for the breast shields, tubes and pump valves.

How to get free clothing + gear

Parent groups

Many towns and neighborhoods have Facebook groups where you can connect with local parents and trade baby gear. Search on Google and Facebook for a group in your area.

If you're looking for something specific and don't see it listed, feel free to post that you're "in search of" said item.

Some neighborhood groups also organize "swaps" where people bring baby items they no longer need and take home any new-to-them items they find.

Coworkers

When your coworkers hear that you're expecting a baby, they might offer gently used items they have lying around. It's very common for baby items to get passed around, and people are usually more than happy to let go of something they don't need anymore.

If you're exceptionally close with your coworkers, you could even ask them directly if they have something specific that you're looking for.

Craigslist

This online forum allows direct communication from sellers to buyers for used items. Search listings daily since the quality items go fast.

Baby gift registry

A baby registry is your chance to share with family and friends what new items you've picked out for your baby.

If someone throws you a baby shower, you can share that you've registered at a certain store and people can either find your wish list online or they can print it up in the store.

Some registries (like Baby List or Amazon) are exclusively online and allow you to register for items from multiple stores.

If you have family in multiple cities or older relatives who are more comfortable shopping in a real store, stick with "big box" places like Target and Walmart that are easy to find.

How to get registry welcome gifts

Many stores will thank you for making a registry by giving you a goody bag of free items and coupons. Items may include free bottles and samples of soap, lotion, or diaper cream. They may also include pacifiers, wipes, and diapers.

The following stores are known to give welcome gifts:

Stores may also offer "completion discounts," meaning you get a percentage off the price of anything you buy from your own registry after you have a baby shower.

Budget blogs

The Penny Hoarder website has a list of baby items that you can receive for free and only pay shipping. Items include:

  • nursing cover
  • car seat cover
  • baby leggings
  • nursing pillow
  • baby sling
  • baby shoes

You can also search online for other budget blogs to follow for tips and giveaways.

Books

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library sends a free book every month to kids in qualifying areas. Check here to see if your town qualifies.

How to get a free car seat

It's not recommended that you use a second-hand or borrowed car seat since it may not be in the best shape. And this is one item you really want to be in perfect condition for your new baby.

Car seats expire, and they also become unusable if they've been in any accident. Since you don't know the history of a used car seat, it may be unsafe. So never accept a free car seat if it's previously used.

That said, car seats can be quite expensive. Rest assured that every car seat sold in the United States must meet safety standards, no matter how inexpensive they are.

The following organizations can help you get a free or discounted car seat if you need help:

Free resources for low-income families

Different organizations and government programs provide resources to low-income families. These include:

  • National Diaper Bank Network. This organization provides free diapers to families who cannot afford them
  • WIC. WIC is focused on the health of moms and kids. It provides food vouchers, nutrition support, and breastfeeding support for qualifying families.
  • Cribs for Kids. This organization teaches parents how to keep babies safe during sleep and provides free cribs and other baby gear for participating families.
  • Essential Community Services. Dial "211" in the United States to speak with Essential Community Services. They can help you navigate your needs from health to employment to supplies.

It's no secret that the cost of baby gear can quickly add up, but there are a lot of creative ways to find free samples, rewards, and hand-me-down items.

If you're overwhelmed, remember that babies only truly require a few basics to keep them safe, fed, and warm. Don't be afraid to ask you family, friends, and doctor for help. People can point you in the right direction, offer resources, and encourage you.

Originally posted on Healthline.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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

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As any parent knows, newborns need to eat a lot to keep fuel in those tiny tummies. For breastfeeding mamas, that can translate to nursing sessions anywhere, any time of day—which can make it feel like a full-time job. So, what's a mama to do when she has other things on her to-do list?

Let's take a look at some celebrity mothers who are showing the world that mamas have legendary multitasking skills. 👊

Jessie James Decker is a backseat breastfeeder

By the time her third child was born, Jessie James Decker had a few tricks up her sleeve when it came to breastfeeding on the go—including how to get situated in the backseat of the car to nurse her son while he was strapped into the car seat.

Decker doesn't recommend mamas go without a seatbelt like she did, but sometimes, a bad day out with the baby calls for extreme measures. When little Forrest couldn't stop crying on the way home from his mama's photo shoot, his mama did what she had to do.

"I hopped in the back seat with Forrest and fed him with boob out leaned awkwardly over the car seat to calm him down," Decker says. "On the way home I cried, I got stressed and anxiety, and I was just a mom trying to do my best just like we all are no matter the situation."

Pink takes a hike

When son Jameson was a baby, Pink proved that breastfeeding didn't have to mean sitting at home in a glider. With some assistance from a baby carrier and a perfect position for Jameson, the multitasking mama was able to go about her hike like it was no big deal.

Gisele Bündchen 'grammed her breastfeeding glam session

In 2013, the super model proved she's also a super mama by multitasking a full-on beauty session while breastfeeding. Recognizing what a team effort it was, Bündchen captioned the post, "What would I do without this beauty squad after the 15 hours of flying and only three hours of sleep."

Tess Holliday was inspired by her fellow supermodel mama 

Tess Holliday followed in Gisele's footsteps after her youngest was born, posting this photo to Instagram. It that proves that breastfeeding mamas can not only multitask, but also don't have to conform to certain body ideals to look amazing postpartum. Any size, any shape, any time, anywhere—breastfeeding mothers like Holliday are normalizing breastfeeding and our bodies.

Padma Lakshmi proves you don't need a team

Without a beauty squad on call, Lakshmi took her multitasking to "level 💯" by using a nursing pillow to free up her two hands. It takes a brave woman to attempt mascara while breastfeeding, but the Top Chef host clearly pulls it off.

Whether a mama is trying to feed her baby on the go or while she's getting glam, it isn't always easy. Motherhood is about trying to do your best even when it feels like 100 things are going on at the same time—and yet we manage, like the super mamas we are.

[Update, September 23: This post was originally published June 12, 2018. It has been updated to include Tess Holliday's Instagram post]

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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  3. Nicole Phelps pumping in an evening gown is the ultimate definition of a multi-tasking mama 👏
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