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My youngest is quickly approaching his first birthday—which means he's still in the “stick everything in my mouth" stage but is also very eager to learn new things. One thing I'm learning this second time around is that babies really don't need a lot of toys to stimulate them. My little guy is much more interested in an empty cardboard box than, say, a new toy with all the bells and whistles.

I'm often amazed by the senses that babies start to use at this age, especially the sense to “touch" and “see" things. They really start to focus and explore objects, so I want to provide him with adequate crafts and activities that allow his little mind to soar!

That being said, here are 50 perfect for 1-year-old minds—with the added benefit of being super easy for moms to put together.

1. Discovery basket: Fill clear plastic containers you have around the house with little things that baby can explore. Place a lid on them, tape the lid if need be and let the little one spin them around to explore the contents.

2. Paper towel holder and cotton balls: Tape a cardboard paper towel roll to the wall and encourage baby to drop some cotton balls into it. They will catch on and have fun!

3. Mess-free canvas art: Pick up a canvas from your local craft store, dab a few different colors of paint on it, wrap it in plastic wrap and let them push the paint around with their fingers. This little craft is safe, an easy clean up and a great new piece for the living room gallery wall!

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4. Water bottle shakers: Empty water bottle (drink up!) and then fill it with popcorn, rocks, rice, etc. Tape the cap on to be extra safe and you've got a homemade rattle.

5. Hand and foot painting: There are so many fun handprint and footprint animals you can make with your little ones' hands or feet. Plus, it's a fun new sensation for them.

6. Mess-free painting: Fill a ziplock bag with some different types of paint, seal it up, tape it to the highchair, floor or table... And let baby push the paint around. Best of all, you can put it away and pull it out again for another day's entertainment.

7. Water painting: Let your little one paint a masterpiece on some colored construction paper with water and a paintbrush. Bonus: The cleanup is simple and easy!

8. Playing with food: You can “paint" a lot of fun things using yogurt or applesauce. And snack while you're at it. (There will be plenty of time to teach better table manners later.)

9. Sensory bottles: Add a few drops of food coloring to water bottles along with glitter and knickknacks like beads. Tape on the top and watch as your little one is amazed by tipping the bottle around.

10. Cereal necklaces: Let your little one string some Cheerios onto a piece of yarn and create a little necklace. This activity is great for fine motor skills!

11. Sand doodles: Take a small box, draw some squiggly or straight lines on the inside, pour sand over it and encourage your little one to trace along the lines.

12. Music makers: Take an empty tissue box, wrap a few rubber bands around it and you have a makeshift harp! You little one will love plucking the rubber bands and listening to the sounds that come out.

13. Sorting balls with a spoon: Set out two bowls and fill one bowl with ping-pong or golf balls. Then let your little one work on transferring the balls with a slotted spoon to the empty bowl. This is a great activity for hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

14. Sticky note peek-a-boo: Print off some pictures of family members and put a sticky note over the top. Then encourage baby to play “peek-a-book" with the relatives!

15. Handprint keepsakes: Ornaments, wreaths, canvases… capture those sweet little hands and toes while they grow. You'll look back one day and be glad that you did!

16. Sock puppets: Grab a few old socks, draw faces on the tops with a fabric marker and have a puppet show with your babe! You can let them slide the socks on their hands to use, too.

17. Paper window mosaics: Tissue paper and press-n-seal food savers make for great window mosaics. Cut up some pieces of paper, craft a mosaic and stick it to a window that gets a lot of sunlight. Your little one will love watching the colors shine through the house.

18. A life-size portrait: Most home office stores print large, life-size photos for just a few bucks. Print one of your babe, hang it on the wall and encourage them to explore themselves and find their eyes, nose, etc.

19. Cardboard tunnel: Save those Amazon boxes and craft a tunnel for baby to crawl through.

20. Wipe dispenser sensory box: Save your empty wipe dispensers to fill with fabric scraps. You little one will love pulling the straps out and putting them back in. It's like a mini laundry basket for them! (See, you really can get little ones started on “chores.")

21. Whipped cream painting: Spray a little whipped cream on a highchair tray or table and let your little one paint pictures in it.

22. DIY ball pit: Pull out that plastic pool and fill it with inexpensive plastic balls—or use your pack 'n' play! Either one will do the trick and keep baby entertained for hours.

23. Polkadot sticker art: Using labeling “dot" stickers, let baby create a masterpiece by sticking stickers to a blank piece of paper. They will love figuring out how the stickers work.

24. Sensory rice play: Fill an empty tub with rice, cars, spoons, etc. —and let them dig around. (Just be sure to keep a close eye so they don't down any of the uncooked rice.)

25. Touch-and-feel board: Cover a poster board with different types of things that baby can touch, such as fake fur, sandpaper, bubble wrap and aluminum foil.

26. Plastic egg play: Put those leftover plastic Easter eggs to use by taking them apart and stacking them—and then encouraging baby to try, too.

27. Stack cups: Make cup towers with plastic cups and watch your little one take them down and rebuild them! (Or just take them down. ?)

28. Sort toys in muffin tins: Place an assortment of different balls into muffin tins and let baby play with them. Colored cotton balls are especially fun for older tots interested in sorting by colors.

29. Bottle peek-a-boo: Put a rolled-up piece of paper in an empty water bottle so it covers the bottom portion. Then, stick a cotton ball or rock through the paper roll and show baby how the ball appears when you lift up the paper.

30. Clothes pin drop box: Cut a hole in the lid of an empty coffee can that's big enough for a clothes pin to go through. Then place the lid on the empty tin and show baby how to place the clothes pin inside. Get their little minds thinking by asking questions like, “Where did it go?"

31. Texture walk: Help your little one take a grassy nature walk with bare feet—or bring a few crunchy leaves inside to let them stomp on.

32. Spaghetti play: Boil a package of noodles, cool and let baby play with them. Go ahead and join in on the fun, too… Who doesn't love to play with noodles?

33. Kitchen rock band: Let baby safely explore your kitchen by setting some different utensils and bowls on the floor to explore. My little guy loves measuring spoons, spatulas and plastic bowls!

34. Pretend animal play: Show baby pictures of a few different animals and then act out their sounds and motions, such as a cat meowing and licking her paws.

35. Ring some bells: Browse through your holiday décor for some bells and let the little ones ring away! ?

36. Vegetable peel play: While making dinner, let baby play with those leftover potato, zucchini and carrot peels. They will love the different textures and fragrances.

37. Tub drums: Flip over a few tubs or buckets and you've got some makeshift hand drums!

38. Hanging loofas: Grab a few loofas from the store (they are dirt cheap) and string them on some yard. Then hang them off of a table or the handles of your refrigerator to let your little one bat at.

39. Sensory bags: Sensory bags are a great way to let babies explore and safely touch things that they normally couldn't because of chocking hazards or the simple mess factor. I usually toss things like cotton balls, crayons and other textured items into a plastic bag, zip and tape the top and then tape it to a wall. This leads to hours of entertainment!

40. Noodle necklaces: Similar to cheerio necklaces, but not edible—and work a slightly different fine motor skill with the stringing.

41. Mini sandbox: Grab an empty tub from the attic or the garage and fill it with sand, a few toys, shells, rocks or anything else your little one might like. This is great for the indoors especially in the cooler months. (Just put a garbage bag or towel beneath the tub to help with clean-up.)

42. Snow globes: Using small jars or bottles, glue one of your baby's small animal trinkets upside down to the lid, fill the jar portion with water and glitter and place the lid back on tightly. You now have a homemade snow globe!

43. Stringing pipe cleaners: Poke holes in an old egg carton and stick the pipe cleaners in it makes a loop. Baby can pull these out, place them back in and so forth.

44. Magnetic tubs: Fill a small plastic container with things that are magnetic—such as washers, bolts, etc. Place a lid on it and tape it up really well. Then, using a magnetic stick, let them pull the different things around the container safely!

45. Edible slime: There are tons of edible slime recipes that are baby-safe. Make one and let your babe have some fun. Who doesn't love slime?!

46. Foam window letters: Those foam bathtub letters also work great on windows—and baby doesn't turn into a prune to use them!

47. Busy board: Grab some latches, zippers, locks and anything else that you could place on a wooden board for your little one to safely explore. Busy boards make for awesome little homemade gifts as well.

48. Touch and feel frames: Using empty frames, remove the glass and tape sensory objects to the back portion of the frame. Great items to use are sponges, dusting cloths, sandpaper, bubble wrap, etc. Place the frame back around it, close it up and TA-DA!

49. Bathtub painting: Stick baby in a water-free tub with some washable paint and let them get creative. When they are done, rinse the bathtub out and give them a quick wash.

50. Busy basket: I use a busy basket almost every day with my little guy. I keep it tucked away so when I pull it out, it's all new and fresh to him. It's filled with odds and ends, such as blocks, baby-safe kitchen utensils, sensory bottles, music makers and more.

The beauty of these activities is that they promote brain-development, let baby have fun—and usually give mama a few moments to have her hands to herself!

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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It's 5 pm. You just got home from a busy day at work, dinner is nowhere close to being started, and the afternoon shenanigans have taken ahold of your little ones. They need some time to decompress from their busy day and, let's be honest, you need a few moments to transition into the last part of yours, too.

Your child asks, "Mooooom? Can I watch a show?"

Cue parenting inner-dilemma.

You want to say yes, but you also have fears about technology. How much is too much? Is it bad for my children? Will it isolate my children from me?

Sara DeWitt, the vice president of PBS KIDS Digital, said in her TED Talk that this last question is a big concern for parents. We desperately want to be connected to our children, and for our children to be connected to the world.

Unfortunately, she says, the "fear and skepticism about these devices hold us back from their potential." The truth is, high-quality educational screen time can actually build connections (more on that in a minute). Even more exciting, did you know that the right screen time can help your child develop empathy?

Empathy is a skill, but as a society, we are losing it. A shocking study found that empathy drops by about 40% by the time kids get to college. In a world fraught with inequities, divisiveness and conflict, rebuilding empathy is paramount. Motherly mamas agree. In the 2019 State of Motherhood survey, you told us that your top priority was to nurture kindness with your children.

But how do we do this? Telling our child to "be a kind person" is great, but in order to truly understand, they need to see empathy in context. By using digital content as a prompt for communication and conversation, it becomes one of the many tools we have at our disposal to help guide our children on the path to becoming empathic, kind people.

Enter PBS KIDS.

Raun D. Melmed, MD, FAAP, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, and author of the Monster Diary series told us that, "our children have unprecedented access to wonderful educational opportunities through digital media. Interactive, nonjudgmental apps can enhance cognitive development (processing and organization, visual-spatial awareness, pattern recognition and even reading), social and emotional awareness, and even moral development."

When we control technology—and not the other way around—the potential is enormous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that "media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it's critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS."

Researchers looked at the impact of watching PBS KIDS' series, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and the results were pretty inspiring. Children who watched the show for 30 minutes each day for two weeks demonstrated improved empathy, the ability to recognize emotions and increased social confidence.

But, here's the catch: In order to experience this growth, children needed to have recurrent conversations about what they saw with their parents.

Nicole Dreiske, Executive Director of the International Children's Media Center and author of The Upside of Digital Devices: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart encourages parents to utilize screen time "in the same way that they would use story time: to build trust, emotional intelligence, and empathy." By spending just 10 minutes discussing what happened in a show, children can experience significant benefits.

Knowing the science behind the benefits of screen time is great. But when that afternoon struggle hits, it can be hard to remember exactly what to do, so DeWitt encourages parents to make a plan—here's how.

How to make a screen time plan for your family

Ask yourself the following two questions:

1. What do I want my kids to get out of their digital media time?

Do you want them to have an opportunity to be creative and think outside the box? Pull up PBS KIDS ScratchJr. Is there something going on at home or in school that requires learning about sharing? Share the "Daniel Shares his Tigertastic Car" episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood with them.

Consider your goals, and then choose media accordingly.

2. What do I want my kids to get out of their digital media time? How can it support our family schedule and priorities?

It is okay to factor your needs into the equation, mama. Deriving benefit from your child's screen time is no need to feel guilty. Go ahead and start dinner, or send that email, or yes (gasp), put your feet up and relax for a bit.

Once you've figured out your 'why,' it's time to consider the 'how.'

1. Communicate the plan to your kids (and be clear about limits).

Kids do best with clear boundaries and expectations. This will be especially important if you are implementing changes to how screen time is done in your home.

You could say, "You can play the Wild Kratts game for 30 minutes while I work on dinner, and then we are going to go outside and flap our wings as bats do! Do you think we should eat mosquitos for dinner like they do?!"

Before you start the show, Dreiske recommends planting the communication seed: "Today we're going to notice what we're feeling and what the characters are feeling."

2. Discuss what your kid played or watched.

When screen time is over, strike up a conversation. Dreiske suggests open-ended questions that help to "[create] a special space in which your child feels safe enough emotionally to confide in you about their experiences. Let the child's emotion or feelings 'lead' the talk rather than being obscured by your feelings." You can try the following starters:

  • How did you feel when… ? Why?
  • How do you think that character felt?
  • What if that happened to one of your friends?

3. Find a balance of activities.

Like everything in life, screen time is best in moderation. It is important that children know that screen time is one of the many options they have for activities. Exercise, outdoor play, reading, coloring and more are also incredibly important.

If there is a show or game your child particularly loves, DeWitt suggests finding the non-screen time version of it. "For example, if the kids in Dinosaur Train start a nature collection, suggest a nature walk through your neighborhood after they've watched. If your child likes Ready Jet Go!, use the Ready Jet Go Space Explorer app to look at the stars together and then continue exploring the night sky away from the screen. In other words, we can make digital media as a jumping off point for family fun!"

Sara DeWitt writes, "It helps to remember digital media is simply a tool, just like books, toys and art supplies. As parents, we have the power to decide how and when to use these tools with our kids."

When used thoughtfully, and with love, high-quality screen time is an incredibly powerful way to foster empathy and kindness in the next generation.

This article is sponsored by PBS KIDS. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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On Tuesday Connecticut became the eighth state (including D.C.) to pass and enact a paid family and medical leave program when Governor Ned Lamont signed the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill into law.

Today was a win for family leave advocates in Connecticut, as it's been a long road to getting this bill passed. At one point it was even suggested that Lamont would veto the bill, but in the end, lawmakers came to a consensus that it is in the best interest of parents, babies and basically everyone in Connecticut.

"We all agreed on the need to pass this landmark support for working families so they don't have to choose between the job they need and the family they love, or their own health," Lamont said earlier this month.

On Tuesday, he spoke again about how this was a victory for lawmakers and workers.

"Adopting this program means that workers who need to take time off for a new baby or recover from illness are not punished financially, and businesses do not risk losing good workers during those emergencies," he said.

Connecticut's plan is widely regarded as the most generous in the United States because workers will get 12 paid weeks of work to take care of a new baby, sick family member or take care of themselves. The benefits cover 95% of lower wage earner's pay, up to $900 a week.

Oh, and anyone experiencing complications from pregnancy can take an extra two weeks of paid leave to recover from that.

👏👏👏

Workers in the state will be able to start collecting these benefits in 2021 and the plan is funded through a 0.5% payroll tax, much like what other states and countries do.

In a statement to Motherly, Catherine Bailey the Deputy Director or Campaign for Paid Family Leave at Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund explained the campaign (a coalition of more than 75 organizations that has fought for paid family and medical leave) applauds the paid family and medical leave plan.

"Paid leave is a critical step forward for women's economic security, especially for low-wage workers and women of color who are an increasing number of primary breadwinners to their families."

She believes the plan will "provide economic stability when women and families need it most - when they need to care for themselves or a loved one, or welcome a new child."

Good job, Connecticut.

[Correction: A previous version of this post said 12 weeks is 4 months, it's not quite 3 months. We regret the error.]

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There are many heartwarming stories out there about people with different disabilities defying the odds. So many that Leigh Merryday Porch, mom to a 10-year-old autistic boy from Florida, felt the need to share her story—which paints a different perspective—on Facebook.

Merryday Porch told People in an interview "the accomplishments are beautiful, what's disturbing are the lessons people try to take away—that if you just follow the formula someone else did, that any child with a disability can do the same. It's oversimplified and ultimately hints that any other outcome is less worthy."

The facebook post, which has been shared over 250 times, reads:

"If you have an autistic child, you've seen the stories. Friends tend to tag you in them or PM you to share. They're stories of autistic kids who didn't talk but do now, children who sing the national anthem, young women who compete in beauty pageants, and those on the spectrum who graduate from college. And you don't mind the stories, because human beings persevering in the face of adversity is a beautiful thing.

But invariably, somewhere in the story is a quote that goes something like this:

"When experts told her her son would never talk, never have friends, never graduate, she declared 'Over my dead body.'"

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Those quotes are all sorts of inspirational—for some. But if you have a child whose disability is severe, such quotes are felt like a slap. Because some disabilities cannot be overcome. They can be accepted, worked with, planned for, and accommodated, but no amount of parental love and determination can erase them. Callum is not going to go to law school. He's simply not wired for that, and I can't rewire him. The fact that I can accept that and love him unconditionally does not reflect him having not been raised by someone willing to try harder.

Because—over my dead body—will he be relegated as somehow less worthy for not doing the unexpected and unrealistic. The presence of an autistic adult in the world who doesn't make the newspaper is not a statement of failure. Not of society, not of his family, and certainly not of himself. And other than steadfastly insisting he be given every reasonable opportunity any other person has to live, learn, and grow, no other declarations need be made—and no dead bodies required."

Thank you for your honesty mama.

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Life

You can write up a birth plan and pack your hospital bags well in advance, but here's the truth: Having a baby doesn't always go according to plan. You can anticipate a vaginal delivery and wind up having a C-section, go into labor before you've completed your nursery, find yourself very pregnant days after your due date has passed...or, in rarer cases, you could end up having your baby before you've made it to the hospital or birthing center where you'd planned to deliver.

Take Jessa Duggar Seewald, for example. The Counting On star recently gave birth to her third child, a little girl named Ivy Jane Seewald. But while the TV personality didn't plan on having a home birth, that became her reality when she went into labor ahead of her due date.

"My water broke right here in the kitchen," Jessa explains in a video from TLC. "Our birth plan through this whole pregnancy was that we would deliver at a birthing suite at the hospital with a midwife there. However, the morning that my water broke was the morning that my midwife had left town for a week."

Jessa and her husband, Ben, go on to explain that she was about 10 days ahead of her due date and wasn't expecting to have the baby early at this point. When Jessa and Ben realized they'd inevitably deliver before they could proceed with their plan, they decided to call another midwife in and go for a home birth. At that point, Jessa opted to speed up her labor with the help of a castor oil smoothie (note: You should chat with a medical professional before trying this at home) and some light exercise.

The video follows the mother of three through much of her labor and, eventually, the birth of her baby girl... which happened right there on the Seewald's couch. Don't worry: The sofa was covered with pads before the big moment!

Home births are totally an option for some moms 

Unfortunately, Jessa encountered something pretty scary after she delivered: Her bleeding wouldn't stop, which prompted the family to call 911. Luckily, all appears to be well with both the mama and her sweet daughter now.

Jessa's home birth wasn't like most home births, which can be a totally viable option in specific situations.

"Home births are a wonderful option for women with low-risk pregnancies, who want to have low intervention births in the comfort of their own home," says Diana Spalding, Digital Education Editor for Motherly, who is also a pediatric nurse and midwife. "ACOG [the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] states that while they believe hospitals and in-hospital birthing centers to be the safest place to have a baby, women should be supported when they choose home birth in the presence of [a qualified midwife]. If you are considering a home birth, a bit of research is involved. Reach out to local home birth midwives to have in-depth conversations about your specific scenario. And don't forget to contact your insurance company—it's not always covered."

As wild as her birth experience was, Jessa isn't the only celeb mom to have had a home birth—she follows in the footsteps of fellow mamas like Hilary Duff. It just goes to show that delivering a baby looks different for each mama, but whether it goes according to plan or not, it's all pretty beautiful.

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Some women are more at risk than others when it comes to being pregnant. Black moms are up to four times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth and another group, Native American and Alaska Native women, are also dying from complications in childbirth at a disproportionate rate.

Native American and Native Alaskans make up just 2% of the total U.S. population but account for the second highest number of maternal deaths in the only industrialized country where maternal deaths, overall, are rising. They are approximately 3.3 and 2.5 times more likely, respectively, to die while pregnant or as new moms than white women are.

Alarming statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May 2019 show that between 2011–2015, black women had the highest maternal death rate at 43 deaths per 100,000 live births, followed by American Indian and Alaska Native women at nearly 33 deaths. Thirteen white mothers died in the same time period.

"Racial disparities in maternal mortality are staggering" 

"More women die in the US from pregnancy-related complications than in any other developed country," the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states on its website. According to the ACOG, the "racial disparities in maternal mortality are staggering…"

According to the CDC, 60% of maternal deaths are preventable. The leading causes of deaths during pregnancy, birth and the first year after childbirth include cardiovascular conditions, infection, and hemorrhage, but preventative strategies—including improving access to care and how it is coordinated and delivered—could save lives.

And in order to save lives, we have to acknowledge that Native American and Native Alaskan moms are dying because the health care system is failing them.

Meet Nicolle Gonzales 

Nicolle Gonzales is a Dine' Nurse-Midwife and the founder of the non-profit Changing Woman Initiative (CWI), in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A Native American-centered women's health collective, CWI aims to improve the health of expectant mothers, but Gonzales tells Motherly that she's been frustrated by a lack of information around native women's health available to medical professionals.

"When I attended conferences where they claimed to focus on Native American women's health, I found them sharing data that did not tell the full story about why our health outcomes were so bad," said Gonzales. "Further, blames seemed to be placed on native women and that it was their behavior that was the cause. I also saw the same old health frameworks being used to address known health disparities and then they would sit back and wonder why the outcomes were still terrible."

Gonzales witnessed many Native American women struggling with navigating the western medical healthcare system throughout her career. She saw assimilation practices from birth and on, that stopped Native American families from "bringing their loved ones into this world in a culturally supported and ceremonial way."

The disconnect helped inspire Gonzales to launch CWI in the fall of 2018.

Prenatal care can be culturally centered and accessible

It's on a mission to renew cultural birth knowledge, promote reproductive wellness, to support healing through holistic approaches and to strengthen women's bonds to family and community. The non-profit organization also provides training to increase the number of Indigenous midwives and encourage policy advocacy related to native women's health.

Gonzales believes some of the reasons behind the higher rates of birth mortality in Native American women are socio/economically and culturally linked. There are longer wait times to see obstetricians and/or midwives in native communities because of the remoteness of some reservations, she explains. Sometimes it's a lack of having a Medicaid card at the time of appointment, having no transportation or not making prenatal care a priority, Gonzales continues.

She believes taking the initial steps to seek medical care are crucial and wants to see moms better supported to do so. "First-trimester prenatal visits are very important. They identify health risks early, genetic screenings can be done sooner, and social circumstances and resources can be brought in," Gonzales says.

According to Gonzales' expertise, native women are at higher risk for adverse birth outcomes due to higher rates of gestational diabetes, hypertension, obesity, blood clotting disorders, drug addictions and limited access to healthcare education.

A less talked about cause of birth mortality rates for Native American women is intimate partner violence, she added. "There are limited places Native American women can go for safety and they are more likely to experience this or die from violence during their pregnancy."

The Changing Woman Initiative

The CWI also provides expectant mothers with access to healthy foods, plants and traditional medicines and time with a traditional doctor commonly called 'a medicine person.' It's a one-of-a-kind approach to a serious problem and the CWI is working to change the statistics from within its own community.

In the next three years, it aims to provide an Indigenous doula and peer counselor training to over 100 women in New Mexico.

The CDC study states that reducing pregnancy-related deaths requires reviewing and learning from each death, improving women's health, and reducing social inequities across the life span, as well as ensuring quality care for pregnant and postpartum periods, and for providers and patients to work together to optimally manage chronic health conditions.

America cannot save the lives of Native mothers if it doesn't understand why they are at risk, and supporting women who can provide culturally appropriate care—and listening to them—is vital.

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