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After having two babies 18 months apart, my husband and I decided to try for our third—and intended final—biological baby. Growing our family with children close together in age made sense for us, and we figured we’d just continue to march through diapers and sleepless nights.


After a longer-than-normal first ultrasound at 12 weeks, the sonographer said, “Here’s your baby...and here’s your other baby!”

While my husband was over the moon, I sank into the chair. If it were my first pregnancy, I would have been over the moon right alongside my husband. But this wasn’t my first rodeo, and I knew how hard just ONE baby was.

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How on earth would we survive having four little humans so close together? Would I ever sleep again? How could we pay for childcare? Orthodontia? College? I was panicking.

When my oldest was 3 years and 3 months old, and my second was 19 months old, I gave birth to two beautiful little girls. The girls are now 19 months old themselves, and while many days I still feel like I’m only just figuring it out, I’d like to think I have learned a thing or two about raising a gaggle of small children.

These five things have saved me:

1. Making my mental health a priority

I do a nine minute meditation every morning (or at least I try to, often with multiple interruptions!). For me, a formula of a three minute devotional, three minutes reflecting on things I’m thankful for and three minutes setting intentions for my day works best. I almost always see a shift in my attitude and response to the chaos that inevitably will come my way when I have taken a few short minutes to prepare for the day.

On really tough days, I do another round in the afternoon!

2. Figuring out my “job description”

Every mother has her own priorities that reflect their personality and family. When our twins were born, my “job description” included keeping two tiny babies alive and filling the love tanks of our two older kiddos, who were 2 and 3 at the time. That took between 16-20 hours of my day.

Equally important were the things not on my list: dishes, vacuuming, folding laundry, and much more. I’m a pretty tidy person, so letting go of what wasn’t in my new “job description” was tough, but I knew it was only for a season. Setting and protecting your priorities will keep you sane. Trust me.

3. Get help. Get more help. Then get even more help.

As a mother, the only way you can take care of your family is to take care of yourself.

If you can identify what you need, you can ask for it. And the people who love you will help you get it. So take a deep breath, and think about what you need.

For me, with four-under-four, I needed help with childcare—and sometimes, to actually feel like I was getting a break, I asked for the help of more than one other adult. But I felt like I could use help beyond that, too.

Remember the vacuuming, dishes and laundry that weren’t in my job description anymore? They still needed to get done, but instead of always doing them myself—I found other people to help with them.

I've actually come to realize that, for me, household help is more important to me than childcare. It's pretty frustrating to hire a babysitter, then find yourself or your partner in the kitchen making dinner (or even worse, cleaning up from dinner) while someone else plays with your children in the living room or reads them a bedtime story, or just watches them play while they're playing independently.

We want to be the ones playing or reading, not scrubbing dishes. So we flipped the script. Ask—or if it’s in your budget, maybe pay—someone to help with cooking and cleaning and laundry so you can use your sparse moments to just be with your kids.

If you have family or friends who can chip in, be very explicit about when you want them to come and what you want them to do. If you’re hiring people to help, be very specific about what you’d like them to do.

I went so far as to put a list on the fridge of things that needed to get done, and when someone said something like, "I want to help you but I'm just not sure how" I would say, "Check the list," and they’d find something they could do. They were happy to help, and I was happy to receive the help. Win-win!

Bonus: If you can “Marie Kondo” your place by getting rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy or isn’t absolutely essential. (I found Motherly’s 48-hour decluttering course to be a great place to start!)

4. Give yourself space—and grace

I know (as in, experienced it this morning) that with multiple small children, all your patience and kindness can be zapped by 5 a.m., and then you're still supposed to be a functioning parent and member of society for the rest of the day. It can be crazy overwhelming.

For me, ‘space’ came through going back to work three days a week. Working gave me professional challenges, a definite reason to shower, a place to go where I could pump and additional income. Work refreshes me from my children, and my children refresh me from work.

Give yourself grace with the choices you make, too.

Your days will be filled with endless decisions to make—from how to feed your babies to how to get them to sleep to what you should do for childcare. Big or small, making these types of decisions is hard! You have to parent with your brain, with your emotional intelligence and with your intuition and instincts. Not everything has to be a big deal, but if something is a big deal to you, make sure your decisions line up with your conscience—regardless of what anyone else says.

5. Stay realistic

Your social life usually changes a bit when you have children—for some it’s more drastic than others. For the first year with four-under-four, we didn’t go anywhere as a family of six beyond occasionally (very occasionally) the arboretum or church. We’d trade off with the kids, but didn’t do fun family outings all together for a while.

I had to remind myself that we have years of adventures ahead with my crew and it was okay to stay home during this time in our lives when naps are so crucial and getting out the door feels like a marathon.

Believe or not, I’m regularly struck by how much joy fills our lives and I am truly loving this season with four young kids. It sure can be hectic, but it’s so incredibly beautiful, too.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

Our Partners

The holidays are almost here. The next months will be filled with twinkling lights, delicious food and the gathering of friends and family. This is a joyous time, but it can be a stressful one, too. If someone in your life has recently become a parent, they likely have a few extra concerns on their minds. From keeping the baby healthy to figure out their new normal, they have a lot going on.

I know you love them and want the absolute best for them and the baby. It's just that sometimes when there's a new baby, it's hard to remember what we should or shouldn't do; because #allthesnuggles.

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Don't worry, we've got you.

Here are 10 rules to remember when spending time with newborns for the holidays:

1. Wash your hands

The holidays are smack in the middle of the cold and flu season. And new babies are particularly susceptible to illnesses—they likely haven't had vaccines yet, and their tiny immune systems are just firing up.

Combine both of these factors, and you get parents who are anxious about germs.

Reduce their stress level by washing your hands (without them having to ask). A simple, "let me just wash my hands before I pick up the baby" will show them that you are aware of the concern and doing your part—and that means they'll be more willing to give you plenty of baby-snuggle time.

And now to be the real Scrooge: if you're sick, please stay home. Passing an infection to an adult is one thing, but it can genuinely be life-threatening to a newborn.

2. Don't kiss the baby

Pediatricians tell new parents not to let other people kiss their newborns. Kissing is one of the easiest ways to pass an illness on to a baby (even when you don't have any symptoms yet). The parents are likely feeling awkward about this—they do not want to ask you not to kiss the baby. So, do them a favor and say, "I won't kiss them, I promise." If they do ask or need to remind you (we get it, the baby is SO kissable!), please try not to be offended. It's not you at all.

3. Respect the sleep schedule—yes, it really is that important

It can be tempting to want to throw schedules and routines to the wind during the holidays. But for parents of new babies, it may not be a possibility. These new parents know all too well that skipping that nap and delaying bedtime (by even 20 minutes) can wreak total havoc on their baby's sleep and the parents' well-being.

Support new parents as they hold firm to their routine. Don't ask them to "relax" or "break the rules just this once." Instead, offer to help them in their routine! Maybe you can assist with the baby's bath, or even take a middle of the night feeding. Instant family hero.

4. Don't comment on how she feeds her baby

The way a mama chooses to feed her baby is a personal, often very involved decision. Trust that she has made the best decision for her baby, herself and her family, and avoid commenting. If she brings it up, by all means, engage—please just do so without criticizing.

Here are a few comments to avoid:

  • "Why aren't you breastfeeding?"
  • "You're not going to breastfeed until they're a toddler, are you?"
  • "Are you sure you're making enough milk? The baby looks small."

Here are a few great comments (if she brings it up first):

  • "Oh, my baby had colic too! We loved this brand of bottles for that."
  • "Where would you feel most comfortable feeding the baby? There's a comfy chair right here, or you can use my bedroom upstairs."

5. Anticipate last-minute changes

Babies and unpredictability go hand-in-hand. Feeds, diaper blow-outs, fussiness and the inevitable "wait, I thought you packed the diaper bag" moments are bound to happen.

Keep in mind that there's a good chance that new parents will be late, or have to leave early; or both. They may also need to escape for bits of time throughout the event. Remember that this is stressful for a new parent, so do your best to respond with understanding and grace. They will appreciate your compassion.

6. Consider your gifts

I know, I KNOW! There is nothing more fun than shopping for a new baby. By all means, go for it, with a few considerations.

  1. Check her registry. If the baby was born recently, there's a good chance there are still unpurchased items on the registry. Check there first so you can be sure to get a gift that they really need.
  2. Size-up. You are not the only person who has been excited to shop for this new baby! She may have drawers full of clothing with the tags still on them. If you want to buy sweet baby clothes, buy a few sizes too big so that the baby can grow into them.
  3. Ask. Surprises are such fun, but new parents are often pretty strapped for cash—there may be something they really need but can't afford. So instead of going for that totally-adorable-but-not-super-necessary blanket (they already have five of them, by the way), call the new parents up and ask what they might need.
  4. Consider the parents. Let's be honest, the baby has no idea when you've given them a gift. Do you know who does? The parents. Instead of buying the baby something, what about getting the parents something that they may not treat themselves to? Let them know you're thinking about them too, and that they are still important (albeit not as cute as the baby).

7. Avoid commenting on what she's eating

If mama is breastfeeding, you might find that you are inadvertently paying more attention to what she is eating. It's because you love her and the baby, I get it! But, do your best not to comment.

There's actually very little scientific evidence that says women need to restrict their diet in any way while breastfeeding. If there is a severe allergy or issue, she might need to, but she'll be well-aware of what she needs to change. This goes for alcohol consumption, too. Let her enjoy her meal—and then bring her seconds. Favorite relative status granted.

8. Share the baby

Are you tempted to retreat into the corner with the baby all night long? We hear you! But, remember that everyone there wants to love on the baby, too, so make sure you're giving everyone their turn.

Psst: And then tell her that you want to babysit soon. She gets an evening out, and you get an evening of uninterrupted solo time with the baby.

9. Give the new baby + new mama some space

Some new mamas may want to be in a constant cocoon of love and support. Others may feel a bit overstimulated and crave some downtime. If you notice that the new mom and her baby have separated from the group, you can definitely check on them (in fact, it would be a nice gesture to do so). But then, give them some space.

The new mom may need a few moments of quiet, or she may be trying to give her baby a break from the noise and stimulation. They'll come back to join you soon, and be recharged and ready for more attention.

10. Remember her

A good friend spent her first Christmas as a mama at her in-laws. She had a great time, but she went upstairs to nurse the baby, and when she came back down, she found that they had opened almost all of the presents without her.

No one wants to eat cold food and delaying present opening can be tough. But remember that new moms often feel invisible, so do what you can to make sure the new mom feels included. Wait a few extra minutes so that she can be involved with as much of the festivity as possible. Ask her questions about her, not just the baby.

Let her know that she's still important, as a person, not just the baby's mom.

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Most of the time, being inclusive isn't that hard. Actually, it's so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That's the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: "Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you."

Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that's not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.

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And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, "It's just something that women do," hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.

But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.

"Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I didn't use the language of women have periods because it's not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn't had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I'm sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds... ya think?"

Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus "female" symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to "people with periods." Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.

Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That's an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.

But at least we can still enjoy Smith's concluding words, "It's not insulting to women, it's not discrediting women," she said of this change of wording. "It's opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don't identify as women but still have periods."

The world isn't always black and white and it's time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.

News

Throughout my life, I have set really high standards for myself. I've always expected the absolute best. Inevitably, I set myself up for failure. Once I'd reached a goal, there was always a higher one to attain. I rarely stopped to enjoy and celebrate my successes. They always felt somehow anticlimactic. Instead, I wondered what I needed to set my sights on next.

I never stopped to wonder what I was trying to prove. And to whom.

It was only when I became a mom that I realized my pursuit of perfectionism couldn't continue.

Ironically, striving to be the perfect mom made me a worse mom.

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I couldn't achieve all the targets I set myself; I couldn't maintain the standards I had previously strived to meet. I couldn't work until I dropped.

Why?

Because my little one needed me.

My failed attempts at trying to complete household chores with a toddler in the room entailed that I had no choice but to let go of perfect. I didn't have control over things anymore: No matter how many parenting books I read, there was no manual for the unpredictable little creature who had abruptly transformed my life.

Striving to look like a supermodel wasn't even a remote possibility anymore (like it ever was?!), and I had to redefine what attaining a healthy body meant – losing pounds suddenly wasn't the most important thing anymore.

Suddenly, I needed to do things that I had previously perceived to represent procrastination and had, therefore, forbidden myself from doing… like taking care of myself. Relaxing. Napping.

I realized that if I continued trying to chase "perfect," I'd drive myself crazy. I'd drain myself. I'd break down. I'd scream and cry more often. I'd be the opposite of the role model I wanted to be for my daughter. I'd be the opposite of the calm, strong parent she needed. I'd be showing her that I couldn't make myself happy and that I would never be enough.

What's more, I wouldn't enjoy being a mom.

Our babies change so quickly. If we continually chase our shoulds, we kind of miss the fleeting moments of our babies' childhoods, the moments in which we make a connection with them.

That was exactly what I had been doing.

I recently made a list of all my shoulds, and the results scared me a little.

  • I should work more to achieve my business goals – I am constantly behind, especially compared to others.
  • I should write more – it is my passion, and my work and should be a priority after all.
  • I should be more active in social media
  • I should be a better steward of our finances and spend less money.
  • I should connect more with friends.
  • I should network more.
  • I should exercise more and be slimmer.
  • I should spend more time with my daughter.
  • I should spend more quality time with my husband.
  • I should be a more productive and efficient homemaker (an endless list of cleaning shoulds to feel guilty about).
  • I should educate myself more and learn to be a better parent.
  • I should be a better, more patient mom.

Yep… The list goes on.

However, one thing was particularly scary about my list of shoulds: I had to confront myself with the fact that I couldn't let myself be happy, couldn't let myself feel enough, couldn't let myself stop and enjoy life RIGHT NOW.

I was postponing my happiness, my life, my connection with my daughter.

I lived in the "if I do this, then ..." mode. If I am a better homemaker, a better parent, slimmer, had a more successful business…then. Then I can stop and relax. Then my life can start properly. Then I can be ... what? The perfect version of myself that would be allowed to be happy and be present? If I could just get all that work out of the way, I would have earned the trappings of perfectionism.

The problem is that there is always more work. There is always more to do. There is always someone else to compare me to. There is always the next thing I need to attain. There is always a new, better version of myself I'd need to become. Because nobody would say to me: "It's okay, it's enough. You've done it." I would have to be able to say that to myself. I would have to feel it.

In the meantime, my daughter would be missing the "mom right now." That was the only mom she needed. Me, because I was her mom, by design, however imperfect or unsuited for the job I felt.

Me, there, present.

Having realized all this, do I still read tons of parenting books and worry about what I should be doing? Sure.

Do I still have professional, personal, and even motherhood goals? Yes, most definitely.

I want to live my dreams and having goals is part of achieving this. However, I have contemplated to what end I want to reach those goals. I have defined what is important to me and what success actually looks like for me. And being present with my family and making a connection with my daughter is right at the top of that list. Breaking the habit of perfectionism is hard. So I make a habit of reminding myself every day: In motherhood, you need to find a balance between doing your best and giving yourself grace. You need to find joy in the imperfect now instead of waiting for the perfect "if I have achieved this, then" future.

You need to surrender.

Life

Is anyone else absolutely freezing right now? Seriously, this cold is the REAL DEAL. In addition to facing unbearable temperatures, parents have the extra challenge of entertaining their kids—and themselves—during the long and dark months of winter.

Heading outside is such an awesome activity for newborns through adults—but what happens when it is absolutely freezing? Can you still take your sweet little bundle outside?

The answer is: maybe.

Children, especially babies, are more sensitive to temperature changes than adults. “Because they are less able to regulate their body temperature than adults, children can quickly develop a dangerously low body temperature (ie, become hypothermic). Newborn infants are prone to hypothermia because of their large body surface area, small amount of subcutaneous fat, and decreased ability to shiver," says The American Academy of Pediatrics.

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So, you are not overreacting by being nervous about taking them outside! The good news is there are ways to do it safely.

How to dress your baby for the cold weather

To keep warm, layers are the key (for adults and babies). But, it's very important not to overheat your baby by putting on too many layers—since overheating is dangerous for babies, too.

The general rule of thumb is that your baby should be dressed in one more layer than you feel comfortable in. If you are good with one long sleeve shirt, your baby should probably have a long sleeve onesie, plus another shirt on top of it.

If you're going for a stroller walk, dress baby warmly, then add a blanket or footmuff to keep them all snuggled up.

When playing outside, in addition to a winter coat and warm pants or snow pants, don't forget a hat and mittens. The most vulnerable parts of a little body are their chin, nose, ears, fingers and toes.

Remember, babies should not wear a winter coat, very thick clothing or blankets under the straps of their carseats—the straps will not cinch tightly enough around the baby if they do, which is unsafe in a crash.

Temperature guide for babies in the winter

Extreme cold starts to become a factor when the temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). You can still go outside, but it should not be for very long.

Once temperatures start to drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it's best to stay inside if you can. Be sure to factor in wind chill when you're checking the weather—the wind can feel much, much colder, especially on sensitive baby skin.

When you're inside, the ideal temperature for your thermostat to be set at is 68-72 degrees. Remember that babies cannot have blankets (or anything) in the crib with them as it poses a risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. If you're concerned about baby being cold at night, we recommend sleep sacks!

What to watch out for

Keep a close eye on your baby (we know you always do) when you're playing outside. If you see any of these symptoms (from the Mayo Clinic) develop, give your pediatrician a call right away (or just call 911):

Hypothermia:

  • Shivering (note, babies don't shiver!)
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Clumsiness
  • Sleepy or very low energy
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bright red, cold skin (in babies)

Frostbite:

  • Cold skin
  • Prickly, pins-and-needle feeling
  • Numbness
  • Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
  • Hard or waxy skin
  • Clumsiness and stiffness
  • Blistering

A few other tips

  • Have an emergency kit in your car in case you break down. Edmunds has a great emergency kit list of things like blankets, flashlights, granola bars and bottled water. You'll also want to make sure your gas tank is near full and the car's maintenance is up to date to avoid issues.
  • Consider pre-warming your car, but NEVER in a garage—even an open one.
  • Protect everyone's skin with baby-safe lotion or balms
  • Consider using a cool-mist humidifier to keep baby's air moist

The bottom line

You can still go outside, you just have to be aware. Dress babies in layers, follow safe carseat guidelines, and watch closely for any signs that baby is too cold. Don't stay out for too long, and if it's less than 20 degrees out, avoid going outside at all (a quick walk to a preheated car is okay).

Hang in there, mama. This season can be hard. Go into hibernation mode, focus on some real self-care and snuggles, and before you know it, the flowers will be in bloom and you'll be spending every waking second outside.

Learn + Play
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