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The business of making a baby is about nothing if not preparedness. A birth plan? I’d made one. A hospital bag? Mine was packed a good month in advance of my due date. When my husband and I returned home with our two-day-old daughter, our apartment was filled with all manner of bottle systems and stroller contraptions and handkerchief-sized items of girlie clothing.

For a while there, everything was more or less under control: the baby was still alive. Her older brother had given up his campaign to rename her "City Bus" and was all about the hugs and kisses. Just as my maternity leave was nearing its end, though, I had a new army of scenarios to fret about.

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Which is why I summoned Emily Crocker and Jennifer Mayer, two of Brooklyn’s finest doulas, to my doorstep some three months after the birth of my daughter. They’d come over to walk me through the rather fraught business of jumping back into the working world.

Emily and Jen, along with doula London King, are co-founders of Baby Caravan, a band of six baby workers that focus on birth and postpartum doula’ing. To round out the continuum, the company has just launched its back-to-work program, which entails a mix of private sessions and group classes aimed at providing support for mothers returning to the grind. Clients typically receive one private session, a follow-up written plan, and phone, text and email support after they report to the office.

“Women make up more than 50% of the workforce and are responsible for 100% of the baby making in this world, and yet we have no support when we go back to work. It’s utterly astounding,” says Emily, a postpartum doula and mother of two. “We have worked with and spoken to women in all types of fields including OB/GYNs, heads of PR of large advertising firms and small business owners—and they are all extremely anxious about leaving their babies at home.”

Jen has been a birth doula for a decade, is a certified holistic health coach and is expecting her first baby this winter. “This program was inspired after I followed up with my clients a year or more after their births,” she says. “Many had amazing maternity leaves and really enjoyed that time with their little ones. Then they went back to work, and the rug was pulled out from beneath them. It’s something people don't talk about—you’re supposed to ‘just pump and get on with it.’ But it’s a big deal. And it's okay to feel ambivalent.”

A few days before our visit, Emily and Jen emailed me an intake form with some lay-of-the-land questions. I was asked to share my childcare plans, the names of my family members and where I stood on the issues of exercise and take-out’s role at the family dinner table. I was also asked to rank in order of concern six aspects of returning to work, including sleep, my pumping plans and sharing duties with my husband.

Once we were seated in my living room, Emily and Jen used my answers as jumping off points for what would become one of the fastest two and a half hour conversations in history. We talked about why I love my job, and why it's important to me that my kids see their mother thriving out of the house. Then we moved on to the logistics and unpacked each aspect of my return to work, discussing my plans and nifty little ways to tweak them.

“There’s no one size fits all answer, we can help moms make their decisions about pumping strategies or getting dinner on the table every night,” says Emily.

I wasn’t too concerned about pumping, but preserving family dinner was preying on my mind. “It would be easy if I could just make pasta every night and never have to think about it,” I said. Emily and Jen actually thought that was a brilliant idea, and soon we were in agreement that I should put aside any Ottolenghi-esque ambitions and my household would eat the same quartet of super-easy meals Monday through Thursday. “We did that when I was a kid,” Emily said. “Taco Tuesday was everybody’s favorite.”

Another thing I’d been worrying about—handling all the family-related emails that I can never seem to stay on top of —didn’t faze Emily and Jen. “That’s an important part of parenting,” said Jen. “I call it ‘kinkeeping.’ Women tend to do the bulk of it. If you’re the main kinkeeper, it’s important to remember all the work your partner does that makes your life easier.” Telling them about all the things my kids’ father takes care of made me feel grateful, and less overwhelmed. Emily had a practical suggestion. “Why don’t you allow yourself to forget about these things except when you’re pumping? That can be your time to deal with any kinkeeping.” This seemed eminently doable.

When I voiced what might be my biggest concern—that I will sorely miss my children—Emily had these words: “You’ll see them for dinner, and that’s the sweetest part of the day. There’s so much less aggravation than when you're on your own with the kids in the middle of the day.” My mind flashed to a particularly messy scene from the previous afternoon, and I smiled.

A few days after our meeting, Jen and Emily emailed me my plan. It ticked off the things that I seem to have in good order, and offered a few suggestions for ways to make the trickier parts of my transition easier. They urged me to call another new mom at my office to chat about the mothers' rooms before my first day back, and to set aside a couple nights a month for post-work drinks or a yoga class. They even gave me homework, asking me to come up with a list of dinner "musts" (e.g. Must get vegetables on the table more nights than not) and "must nots" (e.g. Must not serve bagels for dinner... twice in a row), aimed at helping me establish a low bar for what counts as success.

Of course, there are limits to what Emily and Jen can do. Were they able to assure me that I'll never get an emergency call informing me that my toddler had locked himself in the bathroom? Could they guarantee that every morning I’d wake up fresh-faced and my work dresses would emerge from the closet unrumpled? If only. But it felt bizarrely comforting to give voice to the stress that had been building up within, and remember why I’m so excited to top up my Metrocard.

Baby Caravan's back-to-work program costs $300 and includes the one 2 hour private session, a follow-up written plan, and phone, text and email support after a mom reports to the office. Additional hours are available.

Image source.

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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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