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5 Birthday Gifts that Give Back

Bonus point: these meaningful gifts won't crowd your house!

5 Birthday Gifts that Give Back

The thought of my kids being given yet more stuff at their birthday parties fills me with dread. It’s one thing to be gifted thoughtful and carefully monitored (read, overbearingly controlled by moi) gifts by family members and like-minded friends, it’s another to be given the inevitable surplus clutter that comes from your little one’s 25 fellow schoolmates, no matter how well intended it is. What if there was another way? Turns out, there IS! And what’s more, it’s an important, educative and quite brilliant way of showing our children how they can make a meaningful difference to the world.

Requesting charitable donations in lieu of gifts is an enduring trend amongst adults that has crossed into the child’s arena at full tilt. It is a valuable means of fostering the idea of giving to those in need, building a social awareness and nurturing kindness and altruism at a time when both consumption and self-absorption seem to be at a depressing peak. Not to mention, you get less crap in your house.

How so, you ask? Some philanthropic pointers, below.

USE THE DAYMAKER PLATFORM.

Daymaker is an innovative online kid-to-kid giving platform designed to help parents “create habits of compassion and generosity in their children.” Partnering with non-profits including The Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Communities in Schools, the website enables children to give to others their own age year-round, with targeted projects. May’s focus is named Summer Swing and provides opportunity to deliver books to low-income children. Come July the Back to School drive will enable young humanitarians to fulfill individual wish lists for the new school year. We love Daymaker’s ability to overcome the limits of seasonal giving and its smart format for children to proactively direct their generosity in a modern and very tangible way.

BUY A GIFT CARD FOR SOMEONE IN NEED.

With an alarming amount of natural disasters happening on US soil, gift cards are a well-practiced way to help child victims of hurricanes, floods and the like, closer to home. Donated via the usual suspects -- Amazon,Target et al -- your child can then take on the ultimate challenge (and, one hopes, pleasure) of purchasing items not for themselves, but for children in real need. Have goods mailed directly to charities on the ground, including Save the Children and Portlight or contact local community organizations who are living it daily. Alternatively, some groups have registries set up that you can employ; Sheltering Arms NY is just one example, with its registry on Amazon. We’ve encountered this idea often, most recently in support of child hurricane victims in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.

NAME YOUR CHARITY.

If a particular charity is close to your family’s heart, request that donations be made in your child’s name. The downside here of course is the lack of physical affirmation, although some organizations will provide a letter of thanks, or similar. Regardless, monetary gifts are not to be sniffed at and the model of generosity still upholds. Choose something meaningful to your child (like Art Start or Free Arts for your creatives, or a local animal shelter for your pet lover) or simply keep it closer to home - and more relatable - by opting to help a group who’s good work your family can see in action (local food banks, community groups). Good opportunities also arise with those who’s causes are currently in the news and hence top-of-mind, such as UNIDOS or CFVI.

SUPPORT A SCHOOL WITH DONORS CHOOSE.

When a child is particularly privileged or simply lucky enough to attend a well-funded school, here’s a sure way to show them just how fortunate they are. Another monetary led option, this one is much more interactive than a simple donation. Here, your child can use their birthday cash to fulfill specific requests made by teachers – whether it be for basic materials or a specific upcoming project - and later, see exactly how their donations have helped other children in the classroom. Every donor gets a thank-you letter from the teacher, photos from the classroom and a report of how each dollar was spent. Top marks to Donors Choose for simultaneously cultivating an appreciation of just how important our schools are.

RE-GIFT!

It’s an oldie but a goodie -- instead of passing a gift along to someone else on the birthday schedule, take these items to a local homeless shelter or charitable group. Even better, make your intent known to your party attendees beforehand, so that their gifts can be bought with purpose. New York-based charities like Toys for Tots and Room to Grow are excellent resources to help facilitate donation drives. You can take it one step further and give your (older) child a reality check with a trip to the shelter to hand over said gifts in person. In the same vein, I have some California friends whose accidental order of an oversized cake became a lesson in giving when they took it and their children to LA’s Skid Row. Handing out slices of your birthday cake to the homeless, alongside food trucks donating their own surplus, is what you call a stellar teaching moment. Happy birthday, kid!

Fay Cantor-Stephens; a Brit by birth but NY-er at heart, is a former fashion editor and PR gal who now juggles three children, a dog and her old sense of self. There’s a husband in the mix there too and a strange, unrelenting desire to increase her child army tenfold.

Photography via Daymaker.

After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

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

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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