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25 ways to improve every parent’s sleep habits

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By Shelley Hopper


We’ve all been there; falling asleep all day long, barely hanging onto the day by a thread, but when we finally get the babes tucked in and asleep, we catch a second wind.

Did I just down two shots of espresso? Did I just go for a rollercoaster ride? Did I just run a marathon? Why in the world am I wired when all I want to do is SLEEP?!

Parenthood is real, and so is society’s increase in sleep deprivation.

Lack of sleep definitely plays a role on our bodies, like nodding off during the day, trying to live off caffeine, immune systems spiraling, increase in headaches, lack of appetite, loss of interest in activities, and having a difficult time concentrating. It can even lead to chronic health problems, like hypertension, obesity, and depression.

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In today’s society, it’s a go-go-go mindset—everyone is constantly busy, always going from one place to the next, checking social media and work emails 12,397 times a day, or surviving off caffeine or bad habits (ahem, I see your nightly glass of wine, craft cocktail, or nicotine addiction and am talking to YOU).

So, what can you do to improve your sleep habits, thus the quality of life?

As a working mom, I’m definitely guilty of dark circles and bags under my eyes as a result of lack of sleep over the years. I mean, what mom isn’t through the newborn and toddler stages, to be honest? But this past year, late bedtimes, interrupted chunks of sleep, and early mornings had my health spiraling. Out of nowhere, I suddenly experienced daily anxiety, lack of concentration, panic attacks and chronic health problems.

I was overwhelmed with the sudden onset of symptoms that were taking over my body and my mind. And you know what caused it? Lack of self-care and non-existing quality sleep, so things had to change.

I sought out specialists to get to the root of my sleep issues, and by trying the following tips and recommendations, I hope you’ll be on your way to better sleep in no time.

Here are 25 tips and tricks to improve your sleep habits and your overall quality of life:

1. Meditate

I really love using the Pranayama app, as it tunes in my breathing and is a natural way to calm muscle tension, heart rate, and the mind by tuning into your breath and your consciousness. I found out about it from attending a biofeedback session, and my ideal breathing rate was 6.5 breaths set for 15 minutes. Play with your breathing rate and see which relaxes you best. Meditating for 15-20 minutes per day can change. your. life.

iTunes’ current top five meditation apps are below:

  • Sattva
  • Calm
  • Headspace
  • The Mindfulness App
  • Buddhify

2. Avoid large meals before bedtime

Ever heard the saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper?” Do that.

3. Avoid caffeine after 3 pm

This includes more than just coffee and tea—foods high in sugar can also be a culprit! So also cut back on alcohol, desserts, fruits, and processed foods before bedtime.

4. Just like you do for your toddler, set a bedtime routine for yourself

Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up the same time each day. Sticking to a sleep schedule can significantly improve your body’s natural sleep habits and help your mind relax.

5. Set emotional boundaries for yourself

Get off social media and anything with a screen at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Instead, grab a journal and write an entry, read a book, or snuggle up with a pet.

6. Cozy up

Don’t go to sleep too cold or too hot. Wear socks if your feet are chilly, or turn on a fan if you’re uncomfortably warm. Get comfortable.

7. Try a white noise machine

8. Use a diffuser with essential oils that may help calm your spirit and help you relax

Although essential oils and their effectiveness is debatable via science, the most commonly used oils to relax and calm anxiety are Lavender, Rose, Vetiver , Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Chamomile, Frankincense . You can also look for “anti-anxiety” or “sleep” blends to diffuse. Be sure to follow the maker’s instructions for usage.

10. Avoid nicotine or other addictive habits before bedtime and whenever possible

11. Brew a glass of calming herbal/decaf tea

But not right before bed, or too many liquids will keep you up at night running to the restroom!

12. Create a calm, tranquil, relaxing environment in your bedroom

Why do we only think we can have clean, relaxing, dream bedrooms at hotels? Bring the hotel vibe to your own room. Invest in nice sheets, a calming paint color for the walls, a throw rug…bring cozy chic into your everyday.

13. Try adding a Himalayan salt lamp and air purifying plants into your bedroom

Dust, declutter, and stay organized so your bedroom is a sanctuary.

14. Invest in blackout blinds and limit lights where you sleep

Cover up electronic lights, turn off lights in your hallway, and embrace the relaxing darkness of nighttime.

15. Take time for relaxing activities before bedtime

Try yoga sequences targeted for bedtime relaxation, take a warm bath, or try a detoxing and calming face mask.

16. Listen to calming music

My fav? “Chakra Suite: Music for Meditation, Healing and Inner Peace” by Steven Halpern, which was referred to me by Kathleen Jordan, who has 27 years of private practice experience as a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in hypnotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral (CBT), and Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBCT). It’s magic for relaxation!

17. Invest in an old-school alarm clock rather than depending on your phone

Set it up across the room from you so you physically have to get up and out of bed

18. Turn your cell phone OFF or to do not disturb or airplane mode at least an hour before bed

This is so you’re not tempted to keep using it, checking it, or getting texts throughout the night you can’t resist reading and responding to. If you can, even try charging your phone in a different room so you’re not reaching for it (or even just staring at it in curiosity).

19. Relax or calm your muscles

By taking a warm bath, using an ice pack, heating pad (make sure it has an auto shut-off feature), hand-held massage tool, or calming creams and/or lotions or oils. Taking warm baths can literally suck anxiety out of your body, help you relax and make you feel less lonely, actually.

20. If you take rests during the day, limit naps to 20 minutes so they don’t affect your nightly sleep patterns

21. Expose yourself to daily sunlight, and spend time outside in nature before it’s dark

Also, let as much natural light into your home or work environment as possible. You can also use a light-therapy box for dim environments or days filled with dreary weather.

22. Stay hydrated throughout the day and drink plenty of water

Drinking fluids throughout the day can help relieve anxiety, keeps your digestive system moving, help flush waste products, improve mood and help fight fatigue. All of this can help contribute to a more peaceful and restful night’s sleep.

23. Try sleep hypnosis

You can seek a licensed professional near you who can make you personal recordings or sessions, or you can also Google “hypnosis for sleep” and find some generic sleep hypnosis options via YouTube.

24. Go for a brisk walk before bedtime

Fresh air and light exercise can do wonders for the soul.

25. Try to unwind and clear your head

Anxiety or chronic worry can make it impossible to feel calm, thus, sleep. Invest in yourself to get the help you need to learn how to deal with stress management, how to limit worry and how to avoid feeling overstimulated.

The Help Guide says it best: “Worrying can be helpful when it spurs you to take action and solve a problem. But if you’re preoccupied with ‘what ifs’ and worst-case scenarios, worry becomes a problem [and becomes anxiety]. Unrelenting doubts and fears can be paralyzing. They can sap your emotional energy, send your anxiety levels soaring and interfere with your daily life. But chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more positive perspective.”

HelpGuide.org also has great tips that can help you feel less anxious and train your brain to stay calm, and it can also be extremely beneficial to see a therapist that specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

  • Ask yourself if the problem is solvable.
  • Challenge the reality of anxious thoughts.
  • Accept uncertainty.
  • Be aware of how others affect you.
  • Focus on the present rather than the past or future.
  • Confine your worrying to one time period during the day.

Wishing you the sweetest dreams and a nighttime filled with peace, love, and calm.

Originally posted on FIT4MOM.

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As sweet as it may be to cuddle, cradle, or carry your baby all day, at some point you — and your arms — need a break. Naptime offers a brief respite, but what happens when you have more to do than can be accomplished during baby's afternoon snooze?

During Best of Baby Month, Walmart.com is offering big online savings on must-have multitasking products (think exersaucers and activity centers) that allow you to keep an eye on baby while still tackling things like housekeeping, work, or that best-seller you just borrowed from the library. Your little one will be happily occupied (just not, you know, unattended) and you'll be relieved to have the use of your arms again.

Ready to save money and a bit of sanity, mama? Check out these items and more online now through September 30.

Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Step N'Play Piano

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Your little musician will stay busy exploring more than 20 stimulating activities with lights and sounds, including drums, music note sliders, a tambourine, a microphone rattle, and more. They can even play the keyboard with their feet; the soft interactive play mat makes noise, too. Hearing baby entertain themself while you get to multitask will be music to your ears!

Price: $79 (regularly $90)

SHOP

Fisher-Price Infant-to-Toddler Rocker

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Guns 'N Roses got it right when they sang, "Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games!" This colorful jungle-themed rocker will entertain baby with overhead toys that spin and clack. When they're tired of rocking (out), there's a kickstand to hold it in place and calming vibrations to soothe.

Price: 29.98 (regularly $37.87)

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Evenflo Exersaucer Bounce and Learn Sweet Tea Party

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Baby can rock, bounce, spin, and reach in this sweetly designed exersaucer. While you're preparing dinner or scarfing down lunch, your little one can be enjoying their own tea party, complete with stacking cakes, a fun flip book, a self-discovery mirror, and other fine motor activities. Toss the removable seat cover in the washing machine when it needs cleaning because messes are inevitable in the kitchen.

Price: $44 (regularly $59)

SHOP

Graco Blossom 6-in-1 Convertible High Chair

Walmart_BestofBaby

Kitchen tables aren't just for eating—and neither are high chairs! Let your little one keep you company in the kitchen in this adjustable high chair that converts into six different seating options ranging from an infant high chair to a youth seat. Safely secured with your choice of either a 3- or 5-point harness, they can play with toys on the dishwasher safe tray while you get things done.

Price: $112.49 (regularly $134.99)

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Graco DuetSoothe Baby Swing and Rocker

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When baby's acting fussy, give your arms a rest and let this cozy infant swing rock them 'til they're calm. You can even customize it based on your little one's preferences; the music-playing swing can move side-to-side or front-to-back. Plus, there's a plush mobile and mirrored dome to help distract them from whatever was causing that irritability in the first place.

Price: $98.99 (regularly $169.99)

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

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[Content warning: This article references maternal suicide.]

Before she gave birth to her daughter, Dr. Stephanie Liu, a Clinical Lecturer with the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta, expected she would breastfeed, but after extolling the benefits of breastfeeding to her patients for years, nursing did not come easily for Liu—but the guilt did.

"I struggled to get her to latch and when she did latch it was very painful. As a result, my milk supply was insufficient. For the first two weeks, I supplemented with formula and was racked with guilt that I was not doing the best for Madi," she writes for The Conversation

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She is hardly alone in this. A recent commentary in the journal Nursing for Women's Health explains that "[p]sychological pressure to exclusively breastfeed has the potential to contribute to postpartum depression symptoms in new mothers who are unable to achieve their breastfeeding intentions."

Liu points out that a large 2011 study found mothers who had negative breastfeeding experiences were more likely to have symptoms of depression. On a personal level, she understands why.

"Breastfeeding was one of the things I looked forward to most when I was pregnant. In medical school I learned about the bond between mothers and babies when they are breastfeeding. I could not wait to experience this," Liu explains, adding that breastfeeding her daughter Madi turned out to be way more challenging than she had anticipated.

For Liu, this experience changed the way she practices medicine, and she hopes that in sharing it she may change the way other medical professionals counsel their patients.

"As a family doctor, I know that breast milk is the optimal feeding choice for health benefits, but as a mom, I know the extreme pressures that we are placed under as women to produce milk every time our baby needs it," she says.

The extreme pressure to breastfeed

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, but ACOG also officially recognizes that a baby's mother "is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant."

Unfortunately, many moms don't feel that they have a choice. They just want to do what is "best" for their baby, and when they can't they feel like failures.

Mom Jen Harper was convinced that breastfeeding was the way to go, and felt devastated (and exhausted) when no matter what she tried, it just didn't work for her and her son. "I'd been conditioned to think that since I was a woman, breastfeeding would be the most natural thing I've ever done," Harper writes.

She finally found relief when an ear, nose and throat specialist told her that not every baby is a fit for every breast.

"I had to give up the notion that this was, in fact, a failure, because it wasn't. I had to let go of my notion that everyone around me was judging me for pulling out a bottle and powder instead of delicately unclipping my cute nursing bra," she explains.

Harper came to terms with the fact that supplementing with formula was better for her son than having "a sobbing mommy."

But research shows a lot of moms are sobbing over this issue and don't get the advice Harper did.

"Breast is best" was a super successful public health campaign, but it has created a maternal mental health crisis. A growing number of new moms are dying by suicide, and some of the fathers left to raise babies as single dads are speaking out about the role the extreme pressure to breastfeed can play in fatal cases of postpartum depression.

Vancouver father Kim Chen lost his wife Florence Leung in 2016 shortly after they became parents. Their dreams were coming true, but Leung was under so much pressure and died by suicide.

"I still remember reading a handout upon Flo's discharge from hospital with the line 'Breast Milk Should Be the Exclusive Food For the Baby for the First Six Months.' I also remember posters on the maternity unit 'Breast is Best.' While agreeing to the benefits of breast milk, there NEED[s] to be an understanding that it is okay to supplement with formula, and that formula is a completely viable option," Chen wrote in a Facebook post after his wife's death.

Their son thrived on formula after his mother died. He was in the 90th percentile.

Support is best

According to Suzanne Barston, the author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn't, it's time for those who support mothers—physicians like Liu, but also midwives, doulas, and those leading mom and baby support groups—to offer "solid, sensitive, personalized advice" to all mothers.

It's been over a decade since Barston launched her blog, The Fearless Formula Feeder and witnessed the evolution of online discussion of infant feeding go from "breast is breast" to "fed is best", but she says the conversation really needs to be a lot more nuanced than three word catch-phrases.

In 2018 she spoke to Motherly about why moms who use formula often feel unsupported in our society, and noted that while there has been a big shift in the last decade in terms of how people speak to and about moms who choose to supplement with formula, the choice to not breastfeed altogether is still not seen as a legitimate choice.

Moms feel like society doesn't support them overall, but when it comes to infant feeding, moms feel very unsupported. Moms are told they must do everything possible to succeed at breastfeeding, but that's extremely difficult in a society where many parents must go back to work when their infants are mere weeks old.

Yes, breastfeeding rates in America are lower than the World Health Organization would like, but this isn't because moms aren't educated about the benefits of breastfeeding. There are few among us who don't know the benefits of breastfeeding. In many cases, moms would like to breastfeed but can't because they don't have the support system to actually make it work.

"Whether you're feeling physically uncomfortable from your birth or you have to make dinner for your two other kids or you have to go back to work in three weeks, those are all very real issues that women have to deal with and no amount of awareness or education about breastfeeding changes," Barston told Motherly.

How to help mothers

Like Barston, Liu harnessed the power of the internet after her own infant feeding journey, and now supports other mothers in theirs through her blog, her blog Life of Dr. Mom.

It took having her own postpartum experience for Liu to learn that breast isn't always best, and she's changed the way she supports new mothers as a medical practitioner. There's just so much more nuance to this than "breast is best." You can't fit her thoughts as neatly on a poster, but her words are worthy of maternity ward walls and pamphlets and could save the lives.

"I always support the idea to breastfeed if you can, to reach out for support, and if you are struggling, there are other safe and healthy options to ensure your baby is well fed," she explains.

If you are struggling with postpartum depression, here are the resources you need.

If you are feeding your baby formula, breast milk or both, know that we support you and that you are a good mother.

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News

Fall is officially here! And whether you're excited about it or not, it's the perfect time to introduce little ones to fall crafts.

Fall DIY crafts are especially fun to do during that tricky gap between errands and dinner. It's not easy, but I try to do a couple of weekly crafts with my kids during this time. Lately, we've been inspired by the changing leaves and dropping temperatures, which we're channeling into some pretty cool artwork. If you're looking for fun fall activities, we've got you covered.

Here are 50 fall-themed crafts that are perfect for doing with little kids:

1. Fingerprint trees

With stamp ink or paint, make leaves on drawn-out trees using your fingerprints. These are fun, easy to make and easy to clean up!

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2. Popcorn music makers

Save those old tissue paper rolls, tape the ends with wax paper and fill them with popcorn kernels. Let your little ones decorate the outside and create some music!

3. Apple painting

Slice apples in half, paint and use them to stamp on paper. That makes for a fun afternoon—and good use of those excess apples.

4. Leaf art

There are so many different things you can do with leaves, but one of my favorite is to just create simple fun pictures with them. You can make animals out of them, trace around them or create a cool collage. The options are endless!

5. Leaf people

Take googly eyes, leaves, toothpicks, glue and construction paper and you can create one fun leaf dude!

6. Paper plate pumpkins

Paint paper plates orange, add a green construction paper stem and a brown pipe cleaner for a squiggly vine. Then let your toddler get creative with some finger paint for the face!

7. Fall wreaths

Using the leaves your little one collected this fall season, craft a fun leaf wreath for the backdoor.


8. Acorn handprints

Using two different shades of brown paint, paint the top of you little one's hand with the darker shade and the bottom with the lighter shade. Press their hand down on a piece of construction paper and you've got an acorn!

9. Pumpkin painting

Spread some newspaper out on the table or floor, grab a few pumpkins and paint the day away.

10. Cheerios on the cob

Cut out a few pieces of paper shaped like corn cobs and let your little one glue on some cheerios to make kernels.

11. Sucker ghouls

Wrap tootsie pops or dumdums with coffee filters, tie the underneath portion with a small piece of string and take a black marker to make two eyes. You've got cute little ghouls with something sweet underneath!

12. Scarecrow puppets

Using paper bags and some construction paper, make scarecrow puppets. These are fun to make—and play with!

13. Q-tip skeletons

Help your little one craft a skeleton with Q-tips glued to black paper.

14. Tissue pie slice

Cut up some pieces of tissue paper and a slice of construction paper. Then let your little one glue away! Try orange paper for pumpkin pie, brown for pecans and green for apples.

15. Thankful tree

Draw a tree on a piece of paper and write the things that your little one is thankful for on smaller pieces of paper. Let me glue those pieces to their tree and continue to go over the things they are thankful for and why they are thankful for those things.

16. Pumpkin rocks

Paint rocks with orange and black to create pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. Hide a few around town if you are feeling up to it!

17. Paper plate bat

Paint or color paper plates and coffee filters black. Glue the coffee filters to the sides of the paper plate to mimic wings. Add some fun eyes, sharp teeth and a piece of string at the top and hang these from the ceiling.

18. Gauze mummies

Grab some gauze out of the first aid kit that's tucked away in the closet, cut it up and let your little one make some funny gauze mummies. Add a set of googly eyes to the mummy when done.

19. Paper plate owls

Using paper plates, muffin tin liners and brown paper bag trimmings, make an owl to hang on the refrigerator.

20. Leaf mobiles

Tie some fallen leaves from the backyard to some fishing wire and hang them on an embroidery hoop. You can hang these in their room or even outside for some fun, seasonal decor!


21. Apple suncatchers

Cut the an outline of an apple and stick it to contact paper. Then cut out small pieces of tissue paper, fill the inner apple with those pieces, top with addition contact paper, cut out and hang it on your window. When the sun sets in the evening, it will catch the apple just right and beam a ray of fun colors throughout your house.

22. Bubble wrap corn

Save that bubble wrap that comes in your weekly Amazon shipment, cut it out in the shape of a piece of corn, paint it and let dry.

23. Tissue paper bird feeder

Empty tissue paper rolls make great bird feeders. Let your little one smear peanut butter on them, roll them in birdseed, string them and hang them outside.

24. Tissue candy corn

To recreate this yummy snack, use yellow, orange and white tissue paper to create the shape of candy corn.

25. Puffy cotton ball ghosts

For this fun activity, all you need are cotton balls, black construction paper and some googly eyes. These are super cute and fun to touch!

26. Paper plate spider webs

Using a hole puncher, cut holes around the outside of a paper plate and let your little one string yarn throughout the holes. This little craft is great for those fine motor skills!

27. Clothes pin bats

Paint coffee filters and clothespins black, clip them together and string them with some fishing wire. These make for great pieces of Halloween decor!

28. Corn painting

Use a few ears of corn to paint with. The patterns are fun and who doesn't love to paint with food!

29. Tissue acorn

Using tissue or torn paper, craft an acorn and glue it to some construction paper. You can make these big or small!

30. Name leaf tree

Pick up some faux leaves from your craft store and spell your little one's name out with them and glue them onto a construction paper tree.

31. Felt apple pie

Take a small pie pan and line it with felt. Add colored pom-poms to make an “apple filling" and cut addition felt strips for the top. Encourage your little one to make a lattice on top of the pie with the felt strips. This craft is one that they can play with over and over again!



32. Potato leaf stamping

Cut the end of a potato in the shape of a leaf and let your little one stamp on a piece of paper.

33. Popsicle stick apple cores

Cut out the shape of the top and bottom of an apple, glue popsicle sticks in the middle for the core, add a few dots for seeds and glue a magnet on the back!

34. Cookie spiders

Snack crafts are always fun and these cookie spiders are yummy and so easy to make. Stick pretzel sticks into the sides of Oreos (to create spider legs) and add a few edible eye to the tops.

35. Edible bones

Add small marshmallows to the end of pretzel sticks and dip into some white chocolate. They will look like “bones" and be a perfect Halloween snack!

36. Candy corn hands

Paint your little ones hand to mimic a candy corn and press it down on a piece of paper. Hand-printing is always a hit with the little ones!

37. Pumpkin stamping

Cut a pumpkin up in various sizes and let your little ones use the pieces to stamp on construction paper.

38. Handprint scarecrow

Paint your little one's hand three different colors for the scarecrow face, shirt and pants. Stamp their hand down, let them add some hair and eyes and you've got a handprint scarecrow.

39. Popsicle stick spiders

Glue together four popsicle sticks, paint black and top with googly eyes!

40. Apple bird feeders

Cut an apple in half, core out a small hole with a spoon, top with birdseed and set outside. These are great for wildlife and 100% edible, which means no mess is left behind!



41. Paper plate scarecrows

Make a scarecrow out of paper plate, glue it to a popsicle stick and stick it in your flower beds!

42. Nature mural

Using all the sticks, leaves, acorns and other nature finds, glue them to a large poster board to create a nature collage. Then help your little one with identifying the different objects!

43. Hand-traced turkey

A great way to encourage fine motor skills and writing is by tracing. Encourage your little one to trace their hand on a piece of construction paper, cut it out and create a turkey out of it. All you need is a beak, feet and some wings!

44. Tissue tree

Similar to the above tissue paper crafts, make a tree using tissue paper for the trunk and leaves.

45. Owl rocks

Paint rocks to look like owls or other fall creatures.

46. Gratitude book

Print out pictures of your little one with family members, pets, etc, place them in a photo book and let them flip through the pages.

47. Franken feet

Instead of hand painting, paint your little one's foot green, place it on a piece of paper upside down, add some eyes, stitches and black hair.

48. Paper plate footballs

Cut paper plates into the shape of footballs, paint them and add some yarn for the laces. This is a perfect Sunday craft!

49. Tree bark coloring

This craft is a favorite of ours and such a fun thing to do outdoors. Wrap a large piece of paper around the base of a tree and let your little one color on it. The tree bark will come through making for a unique pattern and work of art!

50. Pumpkin cheerio tracing

Print off a picture of a pumpkin and let your little one trace the outline with cheerios or fruit loops!

Fall crafts are such a fun way to celebrate the season with little ones—and then for you to tuck away for cherishing in years to come.

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Learn + Play

It's on the walls of OB-GYN offices and maternity wards, and on the lips of friends, family and sometimes even strangers in the formula aisle. At times it's all a new mama can hear, even when she's sitting in silence with her thoughts.

When it comes to infant feeding, there is no phrase mothers hear more often than "breast is best" but new research, experts and moms who've lived a different truth say that while this message is amplified with the best intentions, new mamas need a lot more than those three words.

A recently published study, "The best of intentions: Prenatal breastfeeding intentions and infant health," suggests that there is a high societal cost to simplifying the cultural conversation around infant feeding into a three-word slogan.

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The study found that moms who intended to exclusively breastfeed but ended up using formula had children with health outcomes similar to exclusively breastfed infants. They also, in many cases, have a lot of undue guilt.

A mom's perspective

When Nicole Rivet-Barton welcomed her first child nearly four years ago she fully intended to breastfeed, but it was a struggle from the start.

"My expectation for myself was that my body would provide what it needed for my baby and when that didn't happen and I had to accept that and transition [to supplementing with formula] I felt like I was failing somehow," Rivet-Barton tells Motherly.

"I felt like less of a person," she explains, adding that whenever she had to have an encounter with a medical professional that wasn't her regular family doctor, she felt judged. On more than one occasion nurses chided her for bottle feeding, telling her "breast is best" without knowing those words were already never far from her thoughts.

"It wasn't the 'best' that I could give her. She was still hungry. My breast milk didn't have what she needed to grow properly," she says.

With the help of a breastfeeding support group and a lactation consultant, Rivet-Barton was eventually able to shift her mindset from "breast is best" to "you do you" and says she felt lighter for it.

"We went to a lactation consultant to help get my milk up and she basically said to me one day, 'You're going to pick your path and you're going to do what's right for your baby. Don't feel guilty.' And I guess I heard her that day, and I let it go," she recalls.

A lactation consultant who doesn't say "breast is best"

Leigh Anne O'Connor is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice. She's not the lactation consultant Rivet-Barton turned to, but she certainly shares the same views when it comes to acknowledging that infant feeding can't be boiled down to three-word slogans.

"I've never embraced that phase, 'breast is best' or 'fed is best.' They're both divisive terms. It creates a division in parenting and it creates conflict," she says. In place of catchphrases, O'Connor advocates for a more nuanced, thoughtful conversation on the topic.

She believes we can have individual and cultural discussions that both normalize breastfeeding and encourage parents to get their baby fed in the way that works for them, whether it's through nursing, pumping, using donor milk or formula.

"It's complicated. It's not one size fits all," she says. "Breastfeeding isn't always all or nothing, and there's a place for supplementation."

When "you do you" is best

For Rivet-Barton, supplementing allowed her to keep breastfeeding as much as she could for six months after both of her daughters were born.

She says that by the time her second daughter came along, she felt more confident in her parenting choices, and gave herself a lot more grace when it came to her infant feeding choices.

"I got into my stride and got confident enough to listen to my gut and not other people," she tells Motherly, adding that she wishes medical professionals and society would use more than three words when trying to educate new parents about infant feeding. "Give them options without putting expectations on them," she suggests.

More research and more support needed

There is a massive body of research suggesting that breastfeeding is great for babies. That's not in dispute at all. But the researchers behind that recently published study suggest that the link just isn't as simple as "breast is best."

"Our results suggest that formula offers similar health benefits for our relatively advantaged sample of infants, once we take prenatal intentions into account," the study's authors note.

The research suggests that moms like Rivet-Barton really have nothing to feel guilty about.

The authors—Kerri M. Raissian, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut and Jessica Su, an assistant professor in University at Buffalo Department of Sociology—explain that it's not actually the intention to breastfeed that makes the health difference, but rather the fact that mothers who intended to breastfeed often have a certain kind of privilege: They're the mothers who have more access to medical care and therefore more access to information about infant health.

Raissian and Su suggest that instead of amplifying the phrase "breast is best" and potentially overstating the benefits of breastfeeding, society would do better to give mothers the support they need during pregnancy and beyond.

This means making sure that everyone has access to perinatal care, and the kind of parental leave that makes it possible to breastfeed in the first place.

"The U.S. is the only developed country with no federal paid parental leave, and only about 12 percent of mothers in the private sector have access to paid leave," Su explains. "Paid maternity leave likely increases breastfeeding success, and also seems to have additional health benefits for mothers and infants. If we have concerns about disparities in infant health we need social policies that support these recommendations and also go beyond simply encouraging breastfeeding over formula."

Breastfeeding is great, but maybe "support for mothers" would be a better three-word slogan.

[This post was originally published October 19, 2018.]

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Back when my husband and I were creating our wedding registry, it was a fun, low-pressure opportunity to select some new dishes and linens. After all, I knew a thing or two about stocking my home and making the "wrong decision" with thread count was the only thing that posed any risk to my sleep at night.

Fast-forward a few years to when I created a baby registry before the birth of my first child—and I found the experience to have a much steeper learning curve. Unlike those sheets, it felt like a bad swaddle or bassinet selection would be catastrophic. Unsure of what to expect from motherhood or my baby, I leaned heavily on advice from friends who already ventured into parenthood. (Starting with their reminders to take deep breaths!)

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Now a mom of three little ones under the age of four, I'm happy to be in a position to pass along some baby registry wisdom.

Go shopping with a veteran parent

As first-time parents, my husband and I barely knew the difference between a bouncer and a swing, let alone what specific features we would want. So when a mom friend recommended we head to Walmart to build my registry together—because she found them to carry the trendy brands she loved AND make registering a breeze during her pregnancy—I leapt at the chance.

By walking through the aisles together and actually getting to see the products, I was much more confident in my registry selections. Thanks to that quick, in-store tutorial from my friend, I understood exactly how to match a perfect infant car seat with an extra base and stroller—which is something I would have been clueless about on my own.

Include items at a variety of price points

When it comes down to it, a registry is really a wish list. So, while I had a personal budget for a stroller if it had to come out of my own pocket, this was an opportunity for me to ask for the stroller of my dreams. And, wouldn't you know it? A few family members went in on it together, which made a bigger price tag much more manageable.

At the same time, it's nice to include some of the smaller ticket items that are absolutely essential. I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I was to skip buying my own diapers for those first few weeks. (With super cute patterns, these are also surprisingly fun to give, too!)

Think about the gifts you would like to give

The first time I bought a mom-to-be a gift after my own child was born, I knew immediately what to look for on her registry: a diaper bag backpack, which I had come to have very strong opinions about after battling falling straps with my first diaper bag. This allowed me to feel like I had a personal touch in my gift, even if I brought one pre-selected by her.

I also appreciate it when my friends clearly incorporate their style into their registry choices, like with adorable baby outfits or nursery decor—and there's no sweeter "thank you" than a picture from a friend showing your gift in use.

Ask for things to grow with your child

Even though it's called a "baby registry," there's no need to limit yourself to gifts used before the first birthday. (To this day, I still have people who attended my baby shower to thank for the convertible bed that my oldest child sleeps in!) Knowing that, I would have included more options with long lifespans into my registry.I'll also be honest: I'm jealous of people creating their baby registries today. Although it's just been a few years since I made mine, the options out there at big retailers and online are even better.

I'm just thankful I have such a cute selection when I'm perusing friends' registries—and that I could strongly suggest a "baby sprinkle" of my own if our family continues to grow.

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