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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.

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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.

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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.

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I'll admit it: I'm an earbud snob. There I said it. For me, there's nothing like clear, noise-canceling earbuds that allow me to fully immerse myself into music while doing household chores or mindless tasks. I love it. And if they're integrated with a voice assistant so I can be hands-free, it's a complete win-win.

When I was pregnant with my kids, I didn't want to purchase pregnancy headphones. Most are super bulky, overpriced and have horrible sound quality. Instead of buying them, I sang to my babies and hoped they would develop a love for music just like their mama. Turns out, I was onto something. "Even in the womb, little ones respond to the vibrations and later to the beats and melodies that you play for them," says Diana Spalding, author of The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama: Redefining the Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey. "Research also shows that music can help build the foundation for your baby's language acquisition, so you can think of taking a moment to jam out to your favorite songs as educational."

Recently, model Ashley Graham posted on Instagram a photo of her using pregnancy earbuds and I had to do some research. How was she building her baby's language skills using earbuds?

"Baby boy is the size of a coconut this week and already getting some advice from @gayleking on my podcast @prettybigdealpod 💙 Gayle you are wild and I LOVE IT. We fast forwarded your story about the stripper pole 🤣" she captioned.

In the photo, Graham is using mbrio, a patented earbud adapter that turns your earbuds into pregnancy headphones so you can use your favorite earbuds while enjoying music with your baby. Pretty smart, right?

mbrio Clip-On Pregnancy Earbud Adapters

mbrio Clip-On Pregnancy Earbud Adapters

mbrio's patented earbud adapters turn your earbuds into pregnancy headphones. Just pop in any set of compatible earbuds, clip them to your waistband and go. It also uses a thin layer of silicone to reduce sound levels by up to 30 decibels (depending frequency and volume) so it's safe for mama and baby.

$29.95

It eliminates the need for splitters, sticky pads, volume control switches and iPhone plug adapters too so you can just carry one device while you're on the go. It's also been independently tested by a Nationally Registered Testing Laboratory, so it meets the safe audio guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Best of all, the ergonomic design adapts to mama's growing belly throughout the pregnancy. Just pop in any set of compatible earbuds, clip them to your waistband and go!

I'm still not a believer in headphones and still plan to use earbuds wherever I go, but if I ever get pregnant again, or need a cool baby shower gift, I know what to purchase.
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When Anastacia Gencarelli shared the story of how her 2-year-old daughter ended up being hospitalized for milk anemia she was not trying to scare anyone—she just wanted other parents to know that "milk anemia is a thing"because she didn't.

But when her Facebook post went viral and the headlines were super scary that didn't quite tell the whole story.

"Toddler who was nearly killed by COW'S MILK," the Daily Mail's headline reads.

Yes, Gencarelli's 2-year-old daughter Mia was hospitalized after drinking too much milk, but it is more complicated than that, we have learned.

Here is what you need to know about this viral story + milk anemia.

As Gencarelli explained in her original Facebook post, she shared her story to spread awareness of the existence of milk anemia. While it is well documented that overconsumption of milk can have a negative effect on a toddler's iron levels, it's not something all parents know.

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Basically, cow's milk is not a high iron food and what iron it does contain is not well absorbed. So if a child stops consuming breastmilk and/or iron-fortified formula or cereal and starts drinking a lot of cow's milk without adding other sources of iron, they're at risk for anemia.

Anemia can be treated or prevented with supplements, but the preferred method of prevention is through iron-rich foods. "Ideally, we would prevent iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia with a diet consisting of foods that are naturally rich in iron," Dr. Robert Baker, co-author of an American Academy of Pediatrics report on the prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia has previously explained.

"Feeding older infants and toddlers foods like meat, shellfish, legumes and iron-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as iron-fortified cereals and fruits rich in vitamin C, which help iron absorption, can help prevent iron deficiency," he said.

Gencarelli tells Motherly her daughter was drinking 4 to 6 bottles of cow's milk a day and that while she's not a particularly picky eater she is not a huge fan of meat.

Doctors recommend toddlers consume 2.5 servings of dairy per day, and a study in the journal Pediatrics found 2 cups a day is the best amount of milk for toddlers.

"We saw that two cups of cow's milk per day was enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels for most children, while also maintaining iron stores. With additional cow's milk, there was a further reduction in iron stores without greater benefit from vitamin D," Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael's Hospital and the lead author of the study has previous explained.

As reported by CBC, drinking from a bottle rather than a cup is linked to a more dramatic decrease in toddler's iron stores. It's possible that serving milk in a bottle contributes to parental underreporting of milk consumption. Parents might not even realize that milk is keeping their child full, which makes it hard to get iron rich foods into them.

So what can parents do to prevent milk anemia?

If you are concerned your child may be anemic talk to your doctor right away and consider offering more iron-rich foods at home.

Kacie Barnes, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), tells Motherly that while extreme cases like the one described by Gencarelli are not common, mild iron deficiency is common. That's why she recommends serving meat, as it contains the best absorbed type of iron.

"Even babies can eat ground or soft cooked, tender meats. Think crockpot, stewed, or braised," says Barnes, who recommends chili as a family-friendly iron-rich meal (just keep the salt and the spicy stuff out of your little one's serving).

She continues: "Beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas contain iron, so I encourage parents of babies and toddlers to serve those often, especially if their little one doesn't eat much (or any) meat. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption, so it's helpful to serve iron rich foods alongside fruit or veggies like citrus, strawberries, or broccoli. Another helpful trick: Cook with a cast iron pan. Small amounts of iron do absorb into food when you cook with it—and this is a good thing!"

The bottom line:

It's important to remember that Gencarelli's story is the story of her individual child, who is currently undergoing further medial care to deal not just with the anemia, but other issues that presented afterward. When her daughter is discharged from the hospital Gencarelli will be continuing to serve iron supplements and says her medical team has provided her with some iron-rich recipes.

Her post went viral not because she was trying to scare anyone away from milk, but because she was trying to save other mamas from being as scared as she was when her little girl got sick. You only know what you know, and now that she knows her daughter was consuming too much milk she plans to serve fewer servings.

We hope that Mia has a quick recovery and we're thankful that Gencarelli shared her story online. Her family is in a lot of pain right now (something made worse by the many mean comments she's received about her daughter's milk consumption) and she just wants to prevent other families from feeling that pain, too.

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When I was very pregnant everyone was determined to make sure I knew how terrible it would be to have a new baby. Forget swollen feet and heartburn that made me vomit, they all swore I didn't know how bad it was going to be until I had a newborn around to ruin my life. As if it were a secret, they told me I would never truly sleep again, would age overnight and lose my identity, my body would sag, I would hate my husband, my marriage would transform into drudgery and red wine, with everything covered in poop.

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The relentless low-grade negativity sent me running to the internet to search "best things about parenting a newborn." The discouraging results warned me of Top Things You'll do Wrong as a New Parent, How to Survive Having a Newborn, and Biggest Mistakes New Parents Make. Not a single one was positive, and I really needed some reassurance around then.

So here I am, safely on the other side of the first eight weeks of newborn parenting and I can proclaim that a lot of it is simply wonderful. Here's why:

Your baby is real!

However it happened, you've successfully had a child. For so long you've been living around the idea that you might one day have a baby. It was so hard for me to feel like my baby was real before she was born. I knew every kick and roll, and I knew that she had hiccups pretty much every day, but she still felt more like a concept.

Now I don't have to wonder what she is like. She changes every day. She still has the hiccups. She also stretches and raises her eyebrows and nods her head as she finishes eating as if to say yum yum yum. Someday she will look at pizza that way.

You are the best at everything.

The reality is that until you do it, you don't know for sure that you can. Because babies need about six things on repeat, you get really good at everything. Within hours if not days, you will have it down. The diapers, the feeding, the tiny clothes. Most of it isn't that hard.

The first time I got my baby to latch in the middle of the night without turning the light on, I felt like I was a superstar. When you are able to transform a primal ragged scream of hunger or discomfort into pure silence, and then your baby gives a little sigh and falls asleep on your chest, you will be the champion of parenting.

You can watch all the TV and read all the books.

You have a legitimate reason to spend hours and hours motionless on the sofa and demand that someone refills your water and brings you a snack because obviously the baby wants you to have another cookie.

Watching your partner become a parent is full of unexpectedly sweet moments.

I have so loved watching my husband become a dad. I don't have to tell you it broke me when I came home from picking up take-out to find him tunelessly singing '70s rock ballads while she gazed up at him adoringly. I love seeing my parents as doting grandparents who want nothing more to cuddle her and buy her things she doesn't need. My husband said that parenting isn't like a new chapter of a book, but like you turn the page and end up in another dimension. And I get to watch that happen.

Newborn poop doesn't smell bad and is water-soluble.

Truly, it smells like cereal and washes out of things. Most of the time, it is contained. Parents don't help future parents by describing that one time they got smeared with poop just before a wedding. They forget to mention the literally hundreds of times they deftly changed a diaper and walked away spotless.

Your body is yours again.

Forget all of that business about getting your "body back" in a cosmetic Instagram way, and enjoy that instead of having to lug the baby all over town inside your enormous belly. You can hand them over to someone else to carry! No one is physically pressing on your bladder, stomach, or other organs. Your body may have changed, but it is yours. What a relief.

Rest assured, babies are even cute and a little bit hilarious when they are screaming. Maybe the others weren't all wrong when they told you how hard it would sometimes be, but they probably also spent hours making faces at their baby to see what would coax out the sweetest smile in the world. They just forgot to tell you that part, and that it will all be worth it.

Life

Temperatures are dropping, Christmas decorations are flooding the shelves, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. But take a break from prepping for the holidays, mama, and check out the headlines that made waves this week.

Here at Motherly we know mamas are busy, so we make sure to keep track of everything you may have missed on the Internet this week.

There are the viral stories making Team Motherly smile right now:

This judge went viral for supporting a new mom + new lawyer in the most wonderful way

Juliana Lamar just accomplished something major: She graduated law school and was sworn into the Tennessee bar...and she did it all while raising her 1-year-old son. Doing all of this at the same had to have been incredibly difficult, but oh so rewarding. She celebrated her incredible achievements as a working mother in the most special way, thanks to a wonderful judge.

Judge Richard Jinkins encouraged the mama to bring her son along when she was sworn into the state bar, and he even held on the little boy while his mother recited her oath. Not surprisingly, the incredibly sweet video of the judge carrying the 1-year-old as he watched his mother officially become a lawyer has gone viral.

"On the day of my swearing-in, right before we began, Judge said he wanted Beckham to take part in the moment," Lamar, who counts the judge as a major inspiration and supporter, tells Buzzfeed. "And I am so glad he did because to have my son take part in one of the greatest moments of my life was truly a blessing."

Lamar's colleague shared footage of the incredibly sweet incident. "Y'all. Judge Dinkins of the Tennessee Court of Appeals swore in my law school colleague with her baby on his hip, and I've honestly never loved him more," a tweet from the colleague reads. "She's one of four women in our class who became moms while in law school. Women are amazing."

Why this refreshingly honest birth plan from Reddit is going viral

Pregnant people talk a lot about birth plans. You might even type out a few different versions before settling on the one you want to show your medical team. But the thing is, even if you spend months planning out the perfect birth plan, things can change so quickly.

That's why the internet is loving this birth plan that was uploaded to Reddit. The person who typed this up is so realistic, so honest and so authentically advocating for herself.

"I don't have a plan," reads the first bullet point.

"I've never done this before," she notes in the second.

"I have no idea what I am doing," she explains in the third bullet.

So many first time mamas can relate to this feeling, and also to a passage that is highlighted.

It reads: "I am not trying to be a hero! Please assume that I want every option available to me for pain management and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know in real and update time if any of the pain management options are nearing the point where they are no longer available to me as I progress through labor."

This is a mama who knows herself and also knows that birth plans can change so quickly.

Mom's photo of laundry Christmas tree goes viral on Instagram 

sincerelymumsy

Australian mom and Instagrammer Jessi Roberts (aka @sincerelymumsy) is going viral this week thanks to her hilarious Christmas tree hack.

Instead of dealing with her laundry, this genius mama made it into festive decor.

It actually happened last year, when Roberts family was about to go on a trip. "Last years Christmas tree 🤣 We where going away for 2 weeks and I couldn't and didn't have time to do the washing... so Like any creative person... I improvise 💁🏼♀️ I left it up for 2 weeks... @thebaysidedentist [Roberts' partner] wasn't impressed," she writes on Instagram.

Roberts' original caption back in 2018 was equally hilarious: "The best way to avoid doing the washing - turn it into a Christmas tree," she wrote. "It's free. I'll wash this after Christmas or maybe the 'elf on the shelf' can help me."

This is a Christmas decor hack we can totally see catching on.

A FB moms group help this baby get a liver—and went viral for it 

Moms groups on the internet sometimes get an unfair reputation. You say "Facebook moms group" and people often imagine an online space where mom shaming is common, and while that may be true in some instances, these communities are more often sources of support, not shame.

No story highlights this better than Robin Bliven's. When she posted about how her private group ended up connecting mamas and getting a liver for a baby boy who needed one, the story made national headlines and proved how supportive these groups can be. Internet communities are real communities, and some are amazing places to be.

"You can talk smack about mom groups on Facebook all you want... but don't talk smack about mine, because we crowd sourced a freaking organ," Bliven wrote on Facebook.

When one member of the Facebook group, Beth Rescsanski, learned her baby, Cal, needed a liver transplant over 100 moms in the group were screened to see if they were potential donors. That's 100 fellow parents who were willing to have surgery for someone else's baby. That's the definition of a supportive community!

In the end, single mom Andrea Alberto was a match and donated part of her own liver to baby Cal. The mom of two says it wasn't hard choice.

"I knew organ donation was something I would be willing to do, so when I found out Cal was being listed for transplant, it was a very easy decision," Alberto told TODAY Parents."If there is someone in need and there is something you can reasonably do to help them, why wouldn't you do it? I like to think that if it was one of my kids in need, someone from my extended network would step in to help."

American Girl celebrates diversity by including model with Down syndrome

The American Girl dolls taught a generation about history and showed children reflections of themselves in an era where diverse dolls were hard to come by. Now, in 2019, the company continues to highlight diversity and give children the representation they crave. This can be seen in the new holiday catalog where 4-year-old Ivy Kimble is among the young models.

"There's not a lot of print or media with a lot of kids with Down syndrome," her mom Kristin Kimble told WLS-TV.

Kimble told Today she's so proud of Ivy, and so happy that American Girl is celebrating all girls. "I'm so proud of Ivy," Kimble says. "She's showing the world, 'Look at me, I'm here. I'm doing it. I'm an American Girl.'"

Gal Gadot perfectly captures our feelings about motherhood in this viral Instagram post 

You never really understand the meaning of the phrase "time flies" until you become a parent. Another thing you don't quite understand until you welcome your children? How deep your capacity to love really is. Actress Gal Gadot just nailed both of those ideas in a single social media post.

The famous mama shared a note to her daughter, Alma, on her eighth birthday. "I'm so lucky to be your mother. Thank you for teaching me so much about life without even knowing you are and for giving me the most precious title I could ever ask for. I promise I'll do anything for you, love and protect you forever," she wrote in the Instagram post.

The mama continued: "Just please, don't grow up so fast," she writes. "Take your time. I can't believe you're 8 already . Love you to the moon through all galaxies double the number of grain of sand in the universe."

ALL. THE. FEELS. Hasn't she just perfectly captured what it feels like to watch your children grow?

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