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For many working women, ending maternity leave (if they get it) and leaving a new baby to go back to work is one of the hardest days of their working life (I would recommend waterproof eye makeup). This one day combines guilt, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, and stress – all while trying to prove that we’re “back.”

Making it harder? For those of us who choose to (or attempt to) continue breastfeeding our babies while working, we have a third job: making milk for the baby during the work day. Planning for the time, space, awkwardness, and physical and mental effort of hooking up to a machine several times a day can be completely, paralyzingly daunting.

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The survival strategies for working and pumping – and the hilarious and surreal stories of real working women – could fill a book. In fact, they are; I’m writing one. I’ve learned that preparation is half the battle….and I’ll cover the basics of the other half -- you know, the actual pumping at work -- later this month. But in the meantime, there are some steps you can take during maternity leave that will make your first day back at work -- with your breast pump in tow -- easier.

1. Establish your milk supply early. Every breastfeeding book under the sun can tell you how to do this, but it is especially important for back-to-work moms. I can’t promise that you will be able to maintain perfect supply while working; some women do, and some simply can’t. But getting a great milk supply in place weeks before you go back to work will give you the best head start possible.

2. Get to know your pump through “Pumping School.” Unless you had to pump in the hospital, you might find yourself wondering who the hell is going to show you how to use this thing. And while a Lactation Consultant can show you, I highly recommend inviting over an experienced friend for a glass of wine and what I like to call “Pumping School.”

Do this while your baby is still little – between weeks 3 and 5. Have at the ready: your pump and all of its parts, breast milk storage bags, and a Sharpie. And that wine you promised. Your friend will wait until you’ve fed your baby (the baby will inevitably screw up the feeding schedule on this day), then set you up with the pump for the first time, hook you up to it, and help you have a totally surreal and pretty uncomfortable experience that will take the mystery out of this bizarre machine.

By the way: I am not a doctor, but many experts say a single drink is fine while breastfeeding, and after my best friend put me through Pumping School, I had a well-deserved glass of red wine. Oh, and it might have been 8 in the morning.

3. Introduce the bottle to your baby. This step seems to strike fear into a lot of new mothers’ hearts. There is a lot out there about “nipple confusion,” but when you’re going back to work, you really don’t have much of a choice about whether to give your baby a bottle. Many experts suggest introducing the bottle between 4 and 6 weeks of age. Have someone else give the bottle, and don’t get discouraged – it takes some babies several tries, over several days, to really get it.

4. Build up your freezer milk stash. Having a freezer full of breast milk is an amazing stress reliever as you head back into the working world. I used to tiptoe into the kitchen at night, open my freezer, and stare at my stored milk. I’m not saying this was a healthy behavior, but having several days’ worth of milk in the freezer removes one worry from your mind.

To get started on this stash, try pumping immediately after feeding the baby in the morning, when your milk supply is higher. This will also give your body time to replenish before the next feeding. You might not get much the first time, but you will probably see a jump after a few days. You can also pump in the late evening if you are lucky (and/or disciplined) enough to have a baby who is sleeping through the night.

(Please, please take note: you do not have to do this additional pumping every single day. Some days you will be tired. Some days your baby will need you, or you'll just plain not feel like it. Give yourself a break.)

5. Go clothes shopping. Bad news: Official nursing “fashion” can be worse than maternity clothes. Good news: you can make a lot of regular clothes work as nursing clothes...and pumping clothes. By and large, if you can nurse a baby in it, you can pump in it. So get out there and get a few staples to get you through the first couple of weeks.

6. Do a dry run. Give yourself an at-home dress rehearsal of what you expect a typical pumping session at work to look like. You will less stressed if you've done the whole routine once through. Get help with the baby, who will need a bottle while you practice. Dress in work clothes. Set up a space that is as much like what you will have at work as possible, including whether or not the door locks, and availability (or not) of a table or other surface area to set your pump and your milk bottles. Try to pump without your baby in the room, so you can work on achieving letdown without your baby there.

Do whatever you think you'll have to do at work: hold the door handle, share desk space with a laptop, work on emails while you pump. Then practice packing everything up and walking across the house to your kitchen sink and fridge. This will help you realize what you need to do before you emerge from privacy. Get the milk into the fridge. Look at what you have the milk stored in and ask yourself if you're comfortable with Tim from Accounts Payable seeing it. At the sink, give the parts a quick wash and put them back in whatever you'll use to take back to your desk.

If you expect to pump in the car, go do it: pump in the garage, the driveway, or driving around your neighborhood. As much as this sucks (literally?), it will take so much of the mystery out of the process.

Now that you’re prepped, enjoy the next few weeks with your babe. And tune in later this month for more info every pumping, working mom must know -- knowing your rights, finding your comfort zone, and gaining the support you need to keep feeding your baby the way you want to. To be continued...

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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).

News

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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