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It's not your imagination: childcare slots are super hard to find right now.

File under "already-difficult things the pandemic has made much, much worse."

It's not your imagination: childcare slots are super hard to find right now.
@nslebedinskaya via Twenty20

Locating good childcare wasn't exactly a breeze before COVID-19 showed up. Parents could swap stories of years-long waiting lists and the need to start looking basically the moment the pregnancy test came back positive. As the writer Liz Tracy put it last year, "trying to find affordable childcare is not the job I wanted," yet it's the one many parents (particularly mothers) find themselves saddled with.

Like so many parts of life, the pandemic has made the work of finding childcare so, so much worse.

Start with the fact that the overall supply of childcare in the U.S. is currently constrained. According to a recently released survey from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and MorningConsult, 32% of a nationally representative sample of parents reported their childcare is still temporarily closed, while for 9%, the closure is permanent. The latter is most concerning, given how scarce slots were to begin with.

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The numbers aren't theoretical, they're tragic: California has already seen 1,200 childcare programs shut their doors for good, taking out capacity for nearly 20,000 children. Pennsylvania has lost 200 of their 7,000 licensed providers, and could lose another 1,000 in the coming months. All told, data suggests nearly 4.5 million childcare slots could be permanently lost unless states and the federal government step up to stabilize the industry.

Childcare closures are happening because Covid wasn't so much the straw that broke the camel's back as a monster truck.


Childcare economics have long been precarious. The U.S. makes the sector operate more like restaurants—reliant on paying customers—than a public good like schools or libraries that have consistent funding. This choice, marinated in a history of sexism and devaluing care, creates extreme fragility in the system.

Childcare is expensive to provide (as it should be!) due to very low adult-to-child ratios that require high personnel costs. Yet with pitifully low amounts of public funding, programs can't charge the true cost of care, so instead they slash employee salaries to the bone and get by on tiny operating margins, even though parents are paying a migraine's worth of fees. That $10,000 you're shelling out for childcare may feel like it should buy a car, not barely get a program to payroll. Unfortunately, the fact is programs are taking a loss when they can't charge you the $30,000 they should in order to sustainably run a quality program with well-compensated educators.

Enter the pandemic. A combination of temporary closures, reductions in group sizes and increased costs and safety demands have collectively blown a hole in an already leaky boat. "At this point, we're working about 12-hour days Monday through Friday and on off hours we're required to sanitize," one family child care provider who recently scaled back to only opening two days a week told The Los Angeles Times, "It's nonstop. It's tiring."

Even among programs that are staying open, there are fewer available slots. Although childcare providers in some states have returned to pre-pandemic group sizes, many still operate under deep restrictions. For instance, programs in Minnesota and Oregon can only have a maximum of 10 toddlers per classroom, where they could normally have 20. Many, like the L.A. provider, have also scaled back hours or days of service; 10% of the BPC survey respondents noted their provider had reduced hours.

This dire state of affairs is already (surprise, surprise) falling on the shoulders of mothers. According to the Center For American Progress, "Millennial mothers are nearly three times more likely than Millennial fathers to report being unable to work due to a school or childcare closure," with fully one-third of Millennial mothers currently out of work unable to return to the labor force due to childcare challenges. This doesn't even take into account the millions of pregnant and soon-to-be pregnant women who will need infant care, already the unicorn of childcare slots.

What's to be done? Advocates have been calling on Congress for major financial relief that would stabilize the sector. The House of Representatives passed $50 billion in dedicated childcare funding, while the Senate passed $15 billion. Moving forward, there is a need to wholly rethink the way we fund childcare to take the fragility out of this critical piece of infrastructure. Of course, Congressional negotiations are currently stalled and going nowhere fast, so parents and providers are being left to suffer.

In the end, whether there are available childcare slots for today's and tomorrow's children may come down to how loudly parents are willing to push their elected leaders. Nonpartisan efforts like Care For All Children and Child Care Relief have cropped up to provide easy avenues for parents to make their voices heard.

Very little good is coming out of our current moment, but one positive step would be a childcare system where parents are able to find affordable, quality care that works for their family without a carafe of cortisol. There weren't enough slots before, and there are hardly any unfilled ones now. That's a policy choice, and a different, more abundant future is possible.

By its very nature, motherhood requires some lifestyle adjustments: Instead of staying up late with friends, you get up early for snuggles with your baby. Instead of spontaneous date nights with your honey, you take afternoon family strolls with your little love. Instead of running out of the house with just your keys and phone, you only leave with a fully loaded diaper bag.

For breastfeeding or pumping mamas, there is an additional layer of consideration around when, how and how much your baby will eat. Thankfully, when it comes to effective solutions for nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, Dr. Brown's puts the considerations of mamas and their babies first with products that help with every step of the process—from comfortably adjusting to nursing your newborn to introducing a bottle to efficiently pumping.

With countless hours spent breastfeeding, pumping and bottle-feeding, the editors at Motherly know the secret to success is having dependable supplies that can help you feed your baby in a way that matches lifestyle.

Here are 9 breastfeeding and pumping products to help you no matter what the day holds.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's electric pump

For efficient, productive pumping sessions, a double electric breast pump will help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Quiet for nighttime pumping sessions and compact for bringing along to work, this double pump puts you in control with fully adjustable settings.

$159.99

Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Dr. Brown''s hands free pumping bra

Especially in the early days, feeding your baby can feel like a pretty consuming task. A hands-free pumping bra will help you reclaim some of your precious time while pumping—and all mamas will know just how valuable more time can be!

$29.99

Manual Breast Pump with SoftShape™ Silicone Shield

Dr. Brown's manual breast pump

If you live a life that sometimes takes you away from electrical outlets (that's most of us!), then you'll absolutely want a manual breast pump in your arsenal. With two pumping modes to promote efficient milk expression and a comfort-fitted shield, a manual pump is simply the most convenient pump to take along and use. Although it may not get as much glory as an electric pump, we really appreciate how quick and easy this manual pump is to use—and how liberating it is not to stress about finding a power supply.

$29.99

Nipple Shields and Sterilization Case

Dr. Brown's nipple shields

There is a bit of a learning curve to breastfeeding—for both mamas and babies. Thankfully, even if there are some physical challenges (like inverted nipples or a baby's tongue tie) or nursing doesn't click right away, silicone nipple shields can be a huge help. With a convenient carry case that can be sterilized in the microwave, you don't have to worry about germs or bacteria either. 🙌

$9.99

Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's silicone pump

When you are feeding your baby on one breast, the other can still experience milk letdown—which means it's a golden opportunity to save some additional milk. With a silent, hands-free silicone pump, you can easily collect milk while nursing.

$14.99

Breast to Bottle Pump & Store Feeding Set

After a lifetime of nursing from the breast, introducing a bottle can be a bit of a strange experience for babies. Dr. Brown's Options+™ and slow flow bottle nipples were designed with this in mind to make the introduction to bottles smooth and pleasant for parents and babies. As a set that seamlessly works together from pumping to storing milk to bottle feeding, you don't have to stress about having everything you need to keep your baby fed and happy either.

$24.99

Washable Breast Pads

washable breast pads

Mamas' bodies are amazingly made to help breast milk flow when it's in demand—but occasionally also at other times. Especially as your supply is establishing or your breasts are fuller as the length between feeding sessions increase, it's helpful to use washable nursing pads to prevent breast milk from leaking through your bra.

$8.99

Breast Milk Storage Bags

Dr. Brown's milk storage bags

The essential for mamas who do any pumping, breast milk storage bags allow you to easily and safely seal expressed milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Dr. Brown's™ Breast Milk Storage Bags take it even further with extra thick walls that block out scents from other food items and feature an ultra secure lock to prevent leaking.

$7.99


Watch one mama's review of the new Dr. Brown's breastfeeding line here:

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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