Let’s make a baby: My 10-step plan to get pregnant

We're gonna get you so pregnant.

how to plan for a baby

Becoming a mother is one of the most transformational experiences of your life. It can also feel like one of the most overwhelming, but making a baby doesn't have to be so complicated.

We've got your 10-step guide to take you from baby dreams to baby reality. 🍼Here's how to get there.


1. Start the baby talk

The decision to get pregnant often starts as a conversation between two partners who decide they're just wild in love enough to become parents.

How do you know you're ready to become parents? Here are the 10 questions to ask your partner before you make a baby.

You'll also want to...

Have a lot of sex

No, really. New research shows that getting in a lot of sex before conception can prime the immune system for a healthy pregnancy. (Yes, please!) Go ahead, get your practice!

Make sure he's healthy

Dad's fertility matters too, so he'll want to make sure he's as healthy as can be. Read more on how your partner can boost his fertility.

Be in it together

There's also a lot of evidence to show that partners who enter parenthood intentionally have better outcomes for their relationship and for their child.

2. Take a prenatal vitamin and eat a nutritionally-dense diet


Start taking a prenatal 3 months before you start trying to conceive

Take a prenatal vitamin with 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid "every day for at least three months before getting pregnant to lower your risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine," experts say. Care/Of customizes a vitamin pack plan if you're not sure where to start, but always consult your doctor first.

Pro tip: Some health insurance companies even cover the cost of prenatal vitamins, so ask your doctor if she can write you a prescription.

Eat well even before you conceive

A growing body of research also indicates it's also important for hopeful mamas-to-be to eat a nutritionally dense diet in advance of conception.

Choose organic when possible

As you boost your intake of healthy foods and produce, make an extra effort to eat organic, especially avoiding produce on Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list.

Keep away from the Dirty Dozen

As mentioned above, you should try to avoid the "Dirty Dozen"—fruits and vegetables that have the highest rates of pesticides when grown conventionally. Make sure to choose organic for the following foods:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Hot peppers
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Snap peas
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Bell peppers

P.S. It's a good idea to always wash produce thoroughly before eating.

Limit coffee ☕ + alcohol 🍷

Heavy alcohol and caffeine consumption is shown to decrease female fertility. However, our trusted OB-GYNs promise that your one cup of coffee a day is just fine.

3. Stop popping that pill

Before you start actively trying to conceive, you'll need to stop using birth control. You may want to use a condom in the meantime if you're not ready to try for baby quite yet.

Here's when to stop, depending on what type of contraceptive you use:

The pill, patch or ring

Timeline: 3 months before you try to conceive

Dr. Michelle Collins, director of the Nurse-Midwifery Program at Vanderbilt University, explains that after stopping the birth control pill, patch or ring, "a woman may ovulate as soon as two weeks after stopping the contraception, or it may take longer, but generally most women will have a period return by six weeks after stopping the contraception."

Good to know: Studies have shown that "women who had switched from oral contraceptives to a barrier method within three months before attempting to conceive were more likely to become pregnant within 12 months (54 percent) than were those who attempted to conceive immediately after discontinuing oral contraceptives (32 percent)."

IUD

Timeline: 1-3 months before you try to conceive

Collins notes: "After having an IUD (intrauterine device) removed, fertility returns quickly, and conception can occur shortly after removal. The same is true for the progestin implant contraceptive Nexplanon."

Good to know: Studies have shown that women who have used an IUD for an extended period of time may face slightly decreased fertility in the first few months, but fertility rates generally return to normal within 18 months after removal.

Progestin injection

Timeline: 3 months or more before you try to conceive

"Some women who have ceased using the progestin injection Depo-Provera have noticed that it may take some months for the return of menses, during which time they are not ovulating. For women using that particular method of contraception, they may want to discontinue use a few months prior to when they actually want to target conception," Collins explains.

Good to know: It can take up to 12 weeks for injected progestogen to leave the body, so consider this timing in your fertility plans.

What to remember:

When you stop using hormonal contraception or the IUD, your body's natural fertility returns. The sooner fertility returns, the sooner you can track your cycle, pinpoint ovulation and get pregnant.

4. Book a prenatal checkup

It'll get you in the mood

We've never been so excited to go to the OB-GYN than when we headed in for our pre-conception checkup.And we asked a doctor for the 10 preconception questions you should ask your OB-GYN or midwife!

You can talk about your concerns

Your doctor can help you navigate how to adjust behaviors now to have the healthiest possible pregnancy.Our expert OB-GYN shared the 10 questions you should ask your doctor during your preconception checkup.

Questions include:

  • Diet and lifestyle: Are you a vegetarian? Do you run ultra-marathons? Are you underweight or overweight? Do you ever smoke?
  • Medical + family history: Is there a family history of miscarriage or genetic disease? Did any of your close relatives experience pregnancy complications?
  • Medications you take: Do any of the medications you currently take need to be stopped before you try to conceive? Are you taking a prenatal vitamin?
  • Environmental factors: Do you work or live near any dangerous chemicals that you need to limit your exposure to in advance of conception?
  • Any past pregnancies?: Have you had any previous pregnancies, miscarriages or abortions?

5. Start charting your cycle

We get it: You're a busy lady trying to get busy having a baby. The last thing you need is to waste your time on fertility aids that won't work. These five smart solutions use the most cutting-edge advancements in science and tech to get you pregnant faster.

Here are some we've used and loved:

Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor

Full disclosure: There are editors on our staff who call this the "secret miracle worker." Clearblue's monitor generates results personalized to your specific cycle, not based on general hormone data from other women. The monitor will also navigate changing hormones and cycles through urine tests completed each cycle, and it's the only noninvasive method that tracks both LH and estrogen hormones. After your cycle has begun, simple turn on the monitor every day at some point during your six-hour testing window to know your fertile status and whether you need to take another test.

Pro tip: Share the love! This fertility monitor can be reset and shared with a friend once you've gotten pregnant.

Kindara App

The Kindara App is designed to be useful when trying to get pregnant as well as when you're not trying. Based on the principles of the Fertility Awareness Method, it tracks basal body temperature and cervical fluid consistency to help determine your most fertile days. Whereas in the past, women tracking their cycles may have had to use homemade charts to log these fertility signs, the app makes it easy to collect your data and track your ovulation. There's even a smart oral thermometer called Wink that automatically syncs with the app, taking the guesswork out of recording your daily temperature.
Pro tip: To get the most out of this app, you do have to have some knowledge about the Fertility Awareness Method and how to properly log the information. Once you are comfortable with the method, the app will help you understand how your body works. The thermometer is a little on the expensive side, but it can also be used by multiple women—simply wipe the data and hand it on to another soon-to-be mama in need.

Ava

One of the newest innovations in wearable fertility tech is the Ava bracelet. The actual tracker is a round silver pod roughly the size of a silver dollar, which you wear on a soft rubber strap. The strap holds the pod snugly to your pulse overnight and tracks resting pulse rate, skin temperature, heart rate variability, quality and amount of sleep, breathing rate, movement, perfusion (of the process of supplying blood to the tissues of your body), bioimpedance (the resistance of body tissue to tiny amounts of electricity) and heat loss. Using these physiological parameters, Ava can track ovulation and indicate (in most cases) an average of five fertile days per month for you to try to conceive. All you have to do is strap on Ava right before bed, then plug it in to charge when you first wake up and sync with the Ava app on your phone using Bluetooth technology.
Pro tip: Start wearing it as soon as you think you might want to get pregnant. The more you wear Ava, the better it learns your cycles and can help identify fertile days. The information can also help your doctor identify common conception struggles early on.

Clue app

If you want a less-invasive way of tracking your periods and symptoms, the Clue app is a great way to keep track of your cycle. Record symptoms like menstruation, mood, sex drive, energy levels, skin clarity and more every day, and then check your analysis monthly to see how patterns develop. The app can even let you know when your most fertile time of the month, or "fertile window," is opening and closing so you know when it's time to get busy. The more information you log, the easier it will be to spot patterns in your monthly cycle.

Pro tip: Personalize the app by selecting which symptoms you want to track, which can be especially helpful for predicting your period if you're not super regular. Skin is blowing up and you're craving chocolate chip cookies? Might be time to hop in bed.

YONO Fertility Monitor

Accurately predicting your fertility with continuous temperature readings? When you use YONO, the world's first in-ear ovulation predictor, you can do it with your eyes closed. Simply wear the YONO earbud while you sleep at night and the tiny device records your temperature every five minutes. Then you sync the data with YONO's app on your phone to plot a monthly fertility map to help you better identify when it's best to try to conceive.

Pro tip: Wear the YONO bud in the opposite ear than the one you typically sleep on, and charge it every morning for best results.
We only include products we've tested and loved in MotherlyLoves. Through affiliate programs, we may receive a revenue percentage if you purchase through our website.

6. Align your weight

The average woman should aim to gain around 30 pounds during pregnancy, so it can seem counterintuitive to try to lose (or gain) weight before trying to conceive.
It's good for baby
Before conception, keeping your body mass index (BMI) in a healthy range (between 18.5 and 24.9) won't only help you get pregnant, but new research indicates that it may also help sustain a healthy pregnancy.
Check your BMI here
We know it's super hard to stepawayfromtheicecream after a stressful day at work, but the thought of your healthy little one staring back at you just might be all the motivation you need. You can check your BMI here.

7. Workworkworkworkwork

Before you even conceive, it's a good idea to think about what your work life will be like when your little one arrives.

Plan ahead
Now is a great time to ask for a raise or take on extra responsibilities that will set you up you for leadership roles in the years to come. Positioning yourself as a highly valued member of the team can make it easier for you to ask for more flexibility or pay after baby is born, or to find remote working alternatives if you'd rather spend more time at home.
Add value
We're big fans of what Lean In suggests for women trying to make their mark at the office: Shifting from a "What do I get?" to a "What can I offer?" mindset can help you get noticed.
Take on new challenges
This is the time to take on new challenges that can set you up for better options going forward.
Ask for a raise
We love this advice from the boss ladies at Lean In: "You won't get what you don't ask for, so make it a rule to negotiate." Get pumped for asking for more by watching Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Margaret Neale's strategies for making your case.Now rock that negotiation.

8. File that paperwork

Write a will

Sites like RocketLawyer make it easy for you to create a legal will (for free!) online.
Get life insurance
Life insurance is important for women too. With more mothers working (and millennial women actually out-earning their male counterparts in their 20s before kids) it's crucial that women protect their families should something happen to them.
Bundle insurance
To make things easy, check out rates from your car insurance provider, or ask about life insurance at work. It's likely that both offer policies and that might make it easier for you to sign up quickly.

9. Take a peek at the budget, but don't freak out

Budget for baby
Learn the basics of how much pregnancy will cost with our guide to budgeting for baby. Motherly's got you covered.
Think about childcare
You can also start to research the general cost of childcare in your area, but you have plenty of time to get your finances in order, so don't freak out. You're going to take this whole motherhood thing in small (baby) steps at a time. But start now so you won't be surprised by the costs.
What dad can do
Turns out, dads should be concerned about their health too. Our OB-GYN, Dr. Sarah Hartwick Bjorkman, suggests:—Work on fitness and nutrition goals together. Obesity in men is linked to impaired sperm production.—He can also up his vitamin intake. Vitamin C and vitamin E have been shown to slightly increase sperm motility.—Stop smoking ASAP. Smoking is associated with reduced sperm quality. So are anabolic steroids and marijuana, so be sure to curb those too.—Ditch the briefs. Some studies have found that wearing brief type underwear increases the temperature around the scrotum, leading to a decrease in sperm quality.

10. Go wild!

Rock that pre-baby bucket list
On behalf of all the pregnant women not noshing on blue cheese and the new mamas not sleeping in, find ways to cherish these last few months of freedom.
Go out with your girlfriends
Motherhood is going to transform you in ways you can't even imagine, and one day not so long from now you might even forget what it's like to go out with your girlfriends and not worry about heading home to your little one.
Sleep in
There are a lot of late nights and early mornings (What is time?) in new motherhood, so sleep all you can.
Live it up
While you're still free as a bird, we hope you live it up!Head off to Europe. Book a spur-of-the-moment getaway with no need to arrange childcare. Wear that bikini with absolute abandon. Go all in at work.
Amazing things are about to happen. And we're so excited for you. 🎉👭👶

Let's make a baby: My 10-step plan to get pregnant


Need more support? We've got what you need in the Motherly Shop!

Rae's Roots mama to be wellness tea set

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Premama birth control cleansing drink

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After years on birth control, your body may need some TLC to get primed for TTC. The Birth Control Cleanse is a powder drink mix designed to help women regulate hormones and cycles — whether preparing for pregnancy or trying to promote uterine health. Think of this hormone balancing cleanse drink as a first step once you've stopped taking birth control or if you are naturally out of balance.

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When you ask any two mamas to share their experience with breastfeeding, you are bound to get very unique answers. That's because while the act of breastfeeding is both wonderful and natural, it also comes with a learning curve for both mothers and babies.

In some cases, breastfeeding won't be the right path for everyone. But with the right tools, resources and social support systems, we can make progress toward the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to continue breastfeeding through the first year of a child's life. After all, breastfeeding helps nourish infants, protects them against illnesses, develops their immune systems and more. Not to mention that mothers who breastfeed experience reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

With National Breastfeeding Awareness Month this month, it's a great time for mamas (and expectant mamas!) to gather the supplies that will support their feeding journey—whether it looks like exclusively breastfeeding, pumping or combo-feeding.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Designed for regular use, this double electric breast pump allows mamas to customize the cycle and vacuum settings that work for them. The 100% SoftShape™ silicone shields on this pump form-fit to a wide range of breast shapes and sizes—which means more comfortable, more efficient pumping. And every pump comes with two complete Dr. Brown's Options+ bottles, giving you everything you need to go from pumping to feeding.

$159.99

Dr. Brown’s™ Breast Milk Collection Bottles

There's no need to cry over spilled milk—because it won't happen with these storage bottles! Make the pump-to-feeding transition simpler with Dr. Brown's Milk Collection Bottles. The bottles adapt to Dr. Brown's electric pumps to easily fill, seal and transport, and they work with Dr. Brown's bottle and nipple parts when your baby's ready to eat. (Meaning no risky pouring from one bottle to another. 🙌)

$9.99

Breast Milk Storage Bags

With an extra-durable design and double zip seal, your breast milk will stay fresh and safe in the fridge or freezer until it's needed. Plus, the bags are easy to freeze flat and then store for up to six months, so your baby can continue drinking breast milk long after you are done nursing.

$9.99

Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump with Options+™ Bottle & Bag

Here's something they don't tell you about breastfeeding ahead of time: While feeding your baby on one side, the other breast may "let down" milk, too. With this one-piece Silicone Breast Pump, you don't have to let those precious drops go to waste. The flexible design makes pouring the milk into a bottle stress-free.

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Dr. Brown’s® Manual Breast Pump

No outlet in sight? No worries! With this powerful-yet-gentle Manual Breast Pump, you can get relief from engorgement, sneak in some quick midnight pumping or perform a full pumping session without any electricity needed. With Dr. Brown's 100% silicone SoftShape™ Shield, the hand-operated pump is as comfortable as it is easy to use. Complete with Dr. Brown's® Options+™ Anti-Colic Wide-Neck Bottle, a storage travel cap and cleaning brush, consider this the breastfeeding essential for any mama who has places to go.

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Options+™ Anti-Colic Baby Bottle

With the soft silicone nipple and natural flow design of these bottles, your baby can easily switch between breast and bottle. Clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to the vent, your baby can enjoy a happy tummy after feeding sessions—without as much spit-up, burping or gas! By mimicking the flow and feel of the breast, these bottles help support your breastfeeding experience.

$7.99

This post is sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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7 hacks for simplifying after-school snacks

Prepping delicious and nutritious foods shouldn't take all day.

When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

1. Prep snacks on Sunday

This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

2. When in doubt, go for fruit

Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

3. Pair snacks with a dip

Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

4. Have high-protein options readily available

Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

5. Always keep the pantry stocked

Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

6. Make cracker tartines

I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

  • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
  • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
  • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

7. Pre-make smoothie pops

The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

Family Foodies

15 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.


Stomp Racers

As longtime fans of Stomp Rockets, we're pretty excited about their latest launch–Stomp Racers. Honestly, the thrill of sending things flying through the air never gets old. Parents and kids alike can spend hours launching these kid-powered cars which take off via a stompable pad and hose.

$19.99

Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

Tiny thrill-seekers will love this kid-powered coaster which will send them (safely) sailing across the backyard or play space. The durable set comes with a high back coaster car and 10.75 feet of track, providing endless opportunities for developing gross motor skills, balance and learning to take turns. The track is made up of three separate pieces which are easy to assemble and take apart for storage (but we don't think it will be put away too often!)

$139

Secret Agent play set

Plan-Toys-Secret-agent-play-set

This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Stepping Stones

Stepping-stones

Kiddos can jump, stretch, climb and balance with these non-slip stepping stones. The 20-piece set can be arranged in countless configurations to create obstacle courses, games or whatever they can dream up.

$99.99

Sand play set

B. toys Wagon & Beach Playset - Wavy-Wagon Red

For the littlest ones, it's easy to keep it simple. Take their sand box toys and use them in the bath! This 12-piece set includes a variety of scoops, molds and sifters that can all be stored in sweet little wagon.

$17.95

Sensory play set

kidoozie-sand-and-splash-activity-table

Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$19.95

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Foam pogo stick

Flybar-my-first-foam-pogo-stick

Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.

$16.99

Dumptruck 

green-toys-dump-truck

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyard or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? It's made from recycled plastic milk cartons.

$22

Hopper ball

Hopper ball

Burn off all that extra energy hippity hopping across the lawn or the living room! This hopper ball is one of the top rated versions on Amazon as it's thicker and more durable than most. It also comes with a hand pump to make inflation quick and easy.

$14.99

Pull-along ducks

janod-pull-along-wooden-ducks

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$16.99

Rocking chair seesaw

Slidewhizzer-rocking-chair-seesaw

This built-to-last rocking seesaw is a fun way to get the wiggles out in the grass or in the playroom. The sturdy design can support up to 77 pounds, so even older kiddos can get in on the action.

$79.99

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$79.99

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$24.75

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

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Even 5 hours of screen time per day is OK for school-aged kids, says new study

Researchers found screen time contributes to stronger peer relationships and had no effect on depression and anxiety. So maybe it isn't as bad as we thought?

MoMo Productions/Getty Images

If you've internalized some parental guilt about your own child's screen time usage, you're not alone. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to significant amounts of screen time in children leads to an increased risk of depression and behavioral issues, poor sleep and obesity, among other outcomes. Knowing all this can mean you're swallowing a big gulp of guilt every time you unlock the iPad or turn on the TV for your kiddo.

But is screen time really that bad? New research says maybe not. A study published in September 2021 of 12,000 9- and 10-year-olds found that even when school-aged kids spend up to 5 hours per day on screens (watching TV, texting or playing video games), it doesn't appear to be that harmful to their mental health.

Researchers found no association between screen usage and depression or anxiety in children at this age.

In fact, kids who had more access to screen time tended to have more friends and stronger peer relationships, most likely thanks to the social nature of video gaming, social media and texting.


The correlations between screen time and children's health

But those big social benefits come with a caveat. The researchers also noted that kids who used screens more frequently were in fact more likely to have attention problems, impacted sleep, poorer academic performance and were more likely to show aggressive behavior.

Without a randomized controlled trial, it's hard to nail down these effects as being caused directly by screens. The study's authors analyzed data from a nationwide study known as the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study), the largest long-term study of brain development and children's health in the country. They relied on self-reported levels of screen time from both children and adults (it's funny to note that those reported numbers differed slightly depending on who was asked… ).

It's important to remember that these outcomes are just correlations—not causations. "We can't say screen time causes the symptoms; instead, maybe more aggressive children are given screen devices as an attempt to distract them and calm their behavior," says Katie Paulich, lead author of the study and a PhD student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Also worth noting is that a child's socioeconomic status has a 2.5-times-bigger impact on behavior than screens.

Weighing the benefits with the risks will be up to you as the parent, who knows your child best. And because we live in a digital world, screens are here to stay, meaning parents often have little choice in the matter. It's impossible to say whether recreational screen time is fully "good" or "bad" for kids. It's maybe both.

"When looking at the strength of the correlations, we see only very modest associations," says Paulich. "That is, any association between screen time and the various outcomes, whether good or bad, is so small it's unlikely to be important at a clinical level." It's all just part of the overall picture.

A novel look at screen time in adolescents

The researchers cite a lack of studies examining the relationship between screen time and health outcomes in this specific early-adolescence age group, which is one of the reasons why this study is so groundbreaking. The findings don't apply to younger children—or older adolescents, who may be starting to go through puberty.

Screen time guidelines do exist for toddlers up to older kids, but up to 1.5 hours per day seems unattainable for many young adolescents, who often have their own smartphones and laptops, or at least regular access to one.

Of course, more research is needed, but that's where this study can be helpful. The ABCD study will follow the 12,000 participants for another 10 years, following up with annual check-ins. It'll be interesting to see how the findings change over time: Will depression and anxiety as a result of screen time be more prevalent as kids age? We'll have to wait and see.

The bottom line? Parents should still be the gatekeepers of their child's screen time in terms of access and age-appropriateness, but, "our early research suggests lengthy time on screen is not likely to yield dire consequences," says Paulich.

Children's health
@9_fingers_/Twenty20

As a mom, I say the phrase 'let me just…' to my kids more times a day than I can count.

Yes, I can help you log into your class, let me just send this email.
Yes, I can play with you, let me just make one more call.
Yes, I can get you a snack, let me just empty the dishwasher.

I say it a lot at work, too.

Yes, I can write that article, let me just clear my inbox.
Yes, I can clear my inbox, let me just finish this meeting.
Yes, I can attend that meeting, let me just get this project out the door.

The problem is that every 'let me just' is followed by another 'let me just'... and by the time they're all done, the day is over, and I didn't do most of the things I intended—and I feel pretty bad about myself because of it.

I wasn't present with my kids today.
I didn't meet that deadline.
I couldn't muster the energy to cook dinner.
The house is a mess. I am a mess. The world is a mess.

It's okay, I tell myself. Let me just try again tomorrow.

But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes and the list of things I didn't get to or didn't do well bears down on my shoulders and my heart, and all I can think is, "I am failing."

And I think that maybe I'm not alone.


Every mother I talk to these days, whether she has one child or five, whether she is a working mom or a stay-at-home-mom, whether she's homeschooling or not—feels like she is failing—no mother has it easy right now (or ever has, for that matter).

For working moms, the constant struggle is feeling like we are letting everyone down: our kids, our partner, our co-workers, our boss...and ourselves? We're not even on the list of priorities.

But mama, it's not our fault.

Society is not set up to support us—it wasn't before the pandemic and it certainly isn't now. The infrastructure we live in makes it unrealistic to get through the day accomplishing all the things we set out to do. The pandemic means that the resources and support we did have—the daycare, the grandparents, the steady flow of income—are gone for many of us. To put it plainly, it is impossible to get everything done.

Let me say it again: It is impossible to get everything done.

And speaking of which, let's talk about the 'everything.' The expectations placed on mothers are ridiculous. Our society prioritizes progress and work above presence and rest, and it's infiltrated our sense of worth—we feel guilty for everything. We go to bed at night focused on all the things we didn't do, and all the ways we let people down, rather than focusing on all the good we did.

But the thing is, there is so much good. Look at us! Seriously, look at what we are accomplishing every day.

It's not pretty or graceful, but my goodness, we are getting it done—during a pandemic, in a society that doesn't show us that we are important. Without resources, without help, without the security that we are going to be okay. We. Are. Getting. It. Done. I'm not sure anything could be further away from failure.

So here is what I vow to myself (and to my children and mamas everywhere):

I am going to do the best I can. Sometimes my best is exceptionally executed work projects, and sometimes my best is telling my boss that I need to take a mental health day. Sometimes my best is a magnificent day of virtual learning and home cooked meals, and sometimes it's missed assignments and cereal for dinner. I am going to allow space for all of it.

I am going to be gentler with myself, even if just a little. When my self-judgment flares and the words "I failed again" start to run through my head, I am going to place my hand on my heart, and say, "Shh. No, mama. You didn't fail. You did the best you could under ridiculous circumstances. You are worthy. You are good."

Let me just remember how hard I work every day.
Let me just acknowledge the unprecedented challenges we are facing.
Let me just love myself.
Let me just trust that I am enough. The rest will fall into place.

For the mama who needs to remember that she is more than enough.

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Work + Motherhood