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I started hand expressing milk when I went back to work and was trying to keep up with my baby’s bottle intake. It was just an addendum to pumping then, and I never considered that it could be more than that. That is, until my very first trip without baby, when I forgot some of my pump parts.

This meant that if I didn’t want my milk supply to drop significantly during my trip, I would need to find another way to get the milk out. And so I did -- with my hands, and to my surprise, I got 29 ounces in the first 24 hours I was gone, which is, by anyone’s standards, some solid output.

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That’s right -- hand expression can be an efficient, pain-free, and time-saving way of getting the milk your baby needs -- no pump needed. In fact, it can even make your life (parenting and otherwise) easier. But there are a lot of misconceptions about hand expression that stop new and seasoned nursing moms from realizing that, yes, their bodies are enough. From thinking that hand expression is too hard or too time consuming to believing, like I once did, that it’s only for emergencies, here are 7 myths about hand expression, debunked.

1. Hand expression takes too much time. “But doesn’t it take forever?,” people will ask me. If it took forever, I wouldn’t be telling you to give it a go. We’re busy parents who’ve just created and birthed humans from our bodies. Our time is so precious! A hand expression session can take anywhere from 2 to 30 minutes, longer if you take breaks. For many, it can be more efficient than pumping.

2. The pump is more efficient. Both electric and manual pumps rely on negative pressure, which is created when you pull away from an environment. But when a baby is nursing at the breast with a nice, wide latch, the nipple is pulled into their soft palate while the tongue presses into the breast tissue, creating a different kind of pressure that pushes into the breast. A baby uses both kinds of pressure, and this is why babies who have a good latch can remove far more milk than a pump can.

Hand expression allows a lactating parent to more closely replicate the action of a baby’s mouth: your hand grips your breast, and your fingers press into it. For many people, these two different motions together are more effective than the pump.

3. Hand expression is far more work than the pump. Once you get good at hand expression, it can be less work than the pump. After a hand expression session, there’s nothing to wash except bottles (or whatever clean vessel you used) and lids. Adding hand expression to your breast/chestfeeding toolbox also means having to pack less if you’re pumping at work or when traveling.

4. Hand expression is only for emergencies. This widespread misconception is likely due to the fact that hand expression is most commonly taught to parents whose babies aren’t latching, whose breasts are too full to be comfortable for baby and parent, or who are separated from their babies for some reason. This teaching is often done in the hospital by a lactation professional who puts their hands on the mother’s breast, either instructing her to press back into the chest wall and squeeze at the nipple, or just doing it for her.

But hand expression is another strategy to add to our menu of options for removing milk, and if we learn it outside of an emergency situation, we have a better chance of feeling comfortable with it to use it whenever we want or need to.

5. Hand expression is painful and tiresome. As a rule, hand expression should not be painful. Learning to massage and compress your breast or chest enough to remove milk, without causing pain, is a valuable skill that will serve you well. Worried about carpal tunnel, or a sore wrist or fingers? Focusing on your posture and using a method of compression that feels comfortable for you can prevent such problems.

6. Hand expression is impossible. I thought this too, and I hear it from almost every nursing parent I talk to. I get it. When I first watched the video of the women hand expressing after pumping, I thought, “There’s no way I could do that!” Others will say: “I tried and it didn’t work for me,” “my breasts are too small/large,” and “I can’t get more than a drop or two.” But there are a lot of different ways to massage and compress. So dabble, and see how it goes. Don’t give up -- find the way that works for you.

7. Hand expression is weird. Maybe it is, but I don’t really care. It makes my life easier. We sometimes have issues with touching our own bodies, and being in tune with them. Hand expression allows us to get to know this incredible part of our bodies that is making food for small humans.

Touching our breasts or chest with our hands creates oxytocin, the same hormone that helps us fall in love with our kids the moment we see them, further helping the milk flow. It’s also a breast self-exam every single time we hand express, which can help us take note of any changes in our breasts or chest. So is it weird? Maybe. But it’s also helpful for reasons that support us, and our families, in the short and long term.

Pumped to learn more? Check out Go Milk Yourself: You Have Power. Express It! by Francie Webb, available on Amazon Prime. Prefer to learn live? Looking for a video? Take an online workshop, book an event, or rent a video from Francie’s company, TheMilkinMama.

Francie Webb is a mom of two who lives in Harlem, NYC. As founder and CEO of TheMilkinMama, she is dedicated to helping parents have more power, more freedom, and less stress. Francie loved (almost) every minute of the fourteen years she spent teaching middle school, yet she discovered a new calling as a doula and lactation professional after her two transformative births. She is currently studying to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

Photo by Laura Vladimirova of NYC Doula Love.

Want more info on hand expression? Check out our interview with Francie Webb.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

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Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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