Is it safe to travel with kids during the pandemic?

For many families, travel plans are up in the air.

Woman-traveling-with-child-wearing-masks
Images By Tang Ming Tung

Parents across the country are wondering whether it is safe to travel with kids right now. Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn't straightforward. It depends on your family's vaccination status, who you plan to see, what you plan to do, and how you plan to get there.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated, because "travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19."

The CDC says fully vaccinated people can travel safely within the country. They don't need to get tested for COVID-19 before or after their trips and they don't need to self-quarantine. While the CDC says you don't need to wear a face mask if you're fully vaccinated and outdoors, they do recommend wearing your mask in busy areas, like airports and bus stations, and they recommend masking both indoors and outdoors for those who are unvaccinated, like kids under 12.

Airlines and epidemiologists say that it's safe to fly again thanks to hospital-grade air filtration and rigorous cleaning and screening practices—although, unlike in the early days of the pandemic, planes taking to the air these days are rarely empty enough to allow for 3 feet (never mind 6 feet) of social distancing between passenger groups, especially during peak holiday travel times. On airplanes, proximity to an infected person is the most important factor to be worried about, but the risk of getting infected on an airplane remains relatively low.

Public health experts agree that while there's no such thing as a no-risk trip during the pandemic, there are ways to significantly reduce your family's risk of getting sick, including wearing masks when traveling by plane, train or bus, washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer—especially after contact with high-touch surfaces—and keeping physical distance whenever possible from your fellow travelers.

Here's how to decide whether to travel with your family and how to reduce risks if you do travel.


How do we know if it's safe to travel as a family?

Unless you are fully vaccinated, the CDC still discourages nonessential travel. Because vaccines are only available for those ages 12 and up this may mean that younger members of your family may not yet be vaccinated. In those cases, the CDC encourages individuals to consider the following questions:

  • Is COVID-19 spreading where you're going? You can get infected while traveling.
  • Is COVID-19 spreading in your community? Even if you don't have symptoms, you can spread COVID-19 to others while traveling.
  • Will you or those you are traveling with be within 6 feet of others during or after your trip? Being within 6 feet of others increases your chances of getting infected and infecting others.
  • Are you or those you are traveling with more likely to get very ill from COVID-19? Older adults and people of any age who have a serious underlying medical condition are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Do you live with someone who is more likely to get very ill from COVID-19? If you get infected while traveling you can spread COVID-19 to loved ones when you return, even if you don't have symptoms.

Still not sure whether to plan that family trip? Here's another way of thinking about travel safety during the pandemic.

Epidemiologists identify the risk factors for coronavirus transmission in terms of "time, space, people, place." Put another way, the least amount of risk involves the shortest possible amount of time spent with the most possible space between the smallest number of people in the largest possible place (preferably outdoors). Airline travel, train travel and hotel stays—all of which by definition involve a large group of people confined in a small amount of indoor space—present a challenge for families worried about the risk of virus transmission.

That said, it's up to individual families to decide whether travel feels right and safe for them. If your family includes even a single unvaccinated, immunocompromised or older individual, your tolerance for risk is going to remain low—or close to zero—and you're likely going to want to stay close to home. Likewise, if you are pregnant or the parent of a newborn infant, you might want to remain cautious about travel.

If you live in or are traveling to an area where transmission levels are low and declining, plus you're able to take social distancing and cleaning precautions during your trip and no one in your family belongs to an at-risk group, you might decide that family travel is a risk you are willing to take (with reasonable precautions for yourself and others) for the sake of your mental health and your children. If this is the case, you're taking the position that's right for you. If you decide you're not ready, then that's what's right for your family. You know your family's particular situation best.

Here's how experts break down various kinds of travel risks and how to minimize them if you do decide to travel.

Is it safe to fly right now?

is it safe to fly with kids during pandemic

Airports and airlines are doing everything they possibly can to reduce the risk of virus transmission on airplanes and keep passengers safe, including temperature checks, health screenings, reducing contact points during baggage check, check-in, security and boarding, frequent deep cleaning and modified seat booking. But every airline and airport has different practices (just like the pandemic guidelines for everything else from reopening schools to requiring masks, it's all a patchwork), and no one can guarantee that it's impossible to get sick from flying.

One bit of good news about airline travel and coronavirus: The likelihood of getting sick as a result of filtered and circulated cabin air is low. That's because most planes use the same kind of HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that are used in hospital operating rooms to remove infectious particles and viruses from the air. Airborne viral infection on a plane is only likely if you're stuck sitting near a sick person—not just if a sick person happens to be somewhere on the plane.

Also, we know a lot more about how the coronavirus can spread during air travel than we did at the beginning of the pandemic, and the news is mostly reassuring. The main infection risk of air travel during the pandemic, as recent studies have suggested, isn't touching the seat-back tray table or even breathing the air in the plane, but rather coming into close, sustained contact with an infected person on the plane with you. Some studies suggest that your risk of infection on an airplane is surprisingly low as long as everybody (including your family) wears masks.

If you do decide to fly, there are ways to reduce your family's risks—but they involve advance planning, preparation and a not-minuscule amount of tolerance for the hassle. Here's how to minimize your risks if you do fly:

  • Become an expert on your local airport's check-in, screening and security procedures—these are changing often, and you don't want to be surprised.
  • Download your airline's app and have your boarding passes pre-loaded on your phone.
  • Choose a window seat, or wherever you can be seated farthest from other passengers.
  • Some experts suggest checking bags to reduce the number of touch-points for your stuff—but the fact is any luggage you bring is going to be in contact with a lot of surfaces regardless.
  • Wear a mask, obviously—all major airlines still require them for passengers older than 2 years of age, except when eating or drinking, and the CDC has provided guidance encouraging airlines to eject passengers who won't wear masks.
  • Eat before or after you go to the airport, so you don't have to remove your mask to eat while on your flight or to eat in the airport.

Is it safe to fly internationally right now?

Nonessential international travel is discouraged by the CDC unless you are fully vaccinated. However, even vaccinated individuals can still get and spread COVID-19. Restrictions also still apply to international travel to and from many countries. The CDC asks all international travelers to get tested with a viral test three to five days after returning from any trip abroad, and to self-monitor for any symptoms.

If you do need to fly abroad, be sure to follow local and national public health and travel guidelines for your destination, and during the flight, follow the suggestions above.

Something to be aware of: The CDC has created a global COVID-19 risk assessment map that you can consult here. If you're planning international travel, you might want to consult this map to learn more about potential risks and restrictions.

Another important note: All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States.

Is it safe to stay at a hotel right now?

Let's be real: Hotels are full of people you don't know (who come from all over the place) staying indoors for lengthy periods of time. They definitely don't meet the optimal "time, space, people, place" criteria for lowering the risk of transmission.

That said, if your family limits time spent in public areas like the lobby, elevators, restaurant or an indoor pool, that can reduce your risk. Wearing masks and maintaining distance outside your room are also must-dos.

Send one person from the family to the lobby to check-in, ride the elevator with as few other people as possible (in some hotels, lobby waits may be long as elevators are restricted to one family unit per ride), wash hands as soon as you enter your room or touch any high-contact surfaces, and ask that housekeeping be suspended during your stay in order to minimize the number of people entering your room.

Is it safe to take a road trip right now?

Driving in a car with members of your family that you've already been in daily close contact with is safe, experts say. That said, states' travel restrictions vary, so if you're crossing state lines and staying for longer than it takes to refill your gas tank, you will want to be aware of where self-quarantine is expected from out-of-staters.

Is staying with another family safe?

If both families have been limiting their exposure and can agree on certain safety considerations without damaging a valuable relationship, vacationing with another family can be a safe family travel option.

In the best-case scenario, according to experts, both families have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus within days of departure; both families have been quarantining and limiting their exposure to others; both families agree in advance about what constitutes safety precautions before and during the trip; and, crucially, both families keep to themselves and limit exposure beyond their "bubble" while they are staying together.


[This was originally published June 4, 2020. It has been updated.]

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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.

$14.99

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.

$29.99

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

Mom and gorilla bond over their babies at the zoo: ‘It was so beautiful’

The new mothers shared a special moment at a Boston zoo.

Franklin Park Zoo/YouTube

Motherhood knows no bounds.

When Kiki the gorilla spotted a new mom and baby visiting her habitat at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, she immediately took a liking to the pair. Emmelina Austin held her five-week-old son Canyon to the glass so Kiki could get a better look.

The gorilla spent nearly five minutes happily pointing and staring at baby Canyon.


Emmelina's husband captured the sweet moment on his phone, in a video that's now gone viral.

Mother shares unique maternal bond with gorilla (FULL VIDEO) www.youtube.com

Why was Kiki so interested in her tiny visitor? Possibly because Kiki's a new mom herself. Her fifth baby, Pablo, was born in October.

Near the end of the video, Kiki scooped up Pablo and held him close. The new moms held their baby boys to the glass and shared a special moment together: just a couple of mothers, showing off their little ones.

"When I walked into the zoo that day, I never could've imagined that we would have had that experience," Austin told ABC News. "It was so beautiful, and we walked out just over the moon."

We can't get enough of the sweet exchange. There's something special about sharing your little one with the world. Mothers of all ages, races–and it turns out, species–understand.

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