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Before I became pregnant, I heard so many horror stories about pregnancy that I mentally braced myself for what I thought would be the most miserable nine months of my life. I quickly realized that the well-intentioned mamas who tried to prepare me weren't exaggerating about the physical and mental challenges of this extraordinary journey. (But, I’ve realized, they were leaving out a lot of the fun, surprising-in-a-good-way, amazing parts of pregnancy.)

The challenges are there—believe me. Nausea (and not just in the morning). Extreme fatigue. Body parts that ache 24/7. Food aversions. Labored breathing. Running to the restroom before I leave the house only to realize five minutes into a car ride that, yep, I needed to pee again.

Unsolicited comments on everything from the appearance of my bump to whether or not my husband and I were "trying" to why we weren't finding out the gender of our unborn child. The roller coaster of emotions—laughing one second then crying the next. A little voice of self-doubt whispering whether I truly have what it takes to be a good mother.

But the most shocking development of all is that I have never felt more empowered, powerful and confident in my own skin. And—dare I say it—I have never felt sexier than I do now at 20 weeks pregnant. ?

My growing bump is a source of pride. My husband makes it a point every single day to crouch down to kiss my belly and to marvel at the life we've created. I feel blessed to be able to bring a child into this world, and all of the other sacrifices pale in comparison.

Tracking my baby's progress each week has given me a newfound appreciation for the strength of the female body—beautiful in all its stages. There is something so liberating about focusing on the incredible feats it can accomplish instead of merely what it looks like on the outside.

It wasn't always this way, though. In the beginning, after confirming the life-changing news, I was euphoric but overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. The reflection in the mirror felt as uncomfortably foreign and intimate to me as staring into a stranger's eyes.

With how-big-can-they-possibly-get breasts (little did I know...), painful acne, widening hips, and a bloated belly reminiscent of the freshman fifteen (it took a longer time than I imagined to develop that cute bump), I was taken aback by this traumatizing second puberty.

It was a far cry from my bikini-clad figure just a few months prior during our summer vacation in Europe. I was in that awkward in-between stage where old clothes no longer fit yet I was swimming in maternity items.

Two months after finding out I was pregnant, we celebrated my husband's best friend's wedding. I recall contorting and panting to get a floor-length black gown over my newly-earned curves, nervous my body would betray the secret that I held close to my heart.

Rather than playing it safe sitting in the corner, I abandoned all of my insecurities to dance the night away with my oldest and dearest friends, and indulge a little too much in the dessert hour (pregnancy does have its perks!). My happiness must have been palpable because a few people stopped in their tracks to tell me I had never looked better.

It wasn't until I surrendered control, and started owning the miracle within me that my mindset drastically shifted.

We don't lose our beauty overnight when we become mothers. If anything, it magnifies tenfold because of the life we are carrying.

We don't have to choose between being motherly OR sexy, fierce, career-driven, funny—we can still be *all* of those things. ? Even if our entire wardrobe now consists of leggings (FTW!) and underwire bras are a distant memory.

So mamas, the next time you get down on your appearance during pregnancy:

Remember that your body knows exactly what it’s doing to nourish and develop this remarkable little person that you have dreamed about for so long. (Ditch the scale—you don’t need a number to tell you what you’re worth.)

Remember that when your partner tells you that you look beautiful, you should believe them. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people and energy during this time.

Remember that you deserve to splurge on some maternity items that are super comfortable, fit well, and make you feel more like your fabulous self.

Remember that watching our bodies transform is so many things—confusing, awkward, wild, amazing, and empowering. It’s totally okay to loathe the process but love the hard-earned outcome.

Although you might not believe it now, one day you might look down at your tummy and miss those precious kicks and movements. ? It’s going to be over before you know it.

And, mama, mostly what I want you to remember is that motherhood looks amazing on you. ?

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.

The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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