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Living in the age of 'continuous parenting' is burning out parents

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Each day, licensed clinical social worker Ofra Obejas has appointments with a number of parents—with the idea that this is a designated time for them to decompress, turn their attention inward and concentrate on the counseling session. Yet, Obejas says she has noticed a disappointing trend: Many clients don't disconnect for that brief period.

"Parents have sat in therapy session with me and checked every time their phone alerted them, 'In case that's my kid calling me,'" she tells Motherly. "The smart device allows parents to never be away from the child."

Unlike in generations past, today's parents can be always "on" due to everything from high-tech baby monitors to a stream of pictures and updates sent to their phones. That's what we at Motherly have termed "continuous parenting," and the risk is it not only sets parents up for fatigue, but also sends children unhealthy messages about their own boundaries.

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The answer isn't to erase our kids from our minds every so often—because that simply isn't possible. But we can benefit from making the effort to step back from actively "parenting" every now and then.

Parents spend more time than ever with their kids

According to a recent study from The Economist, American moms now spend twice as much time with their children compared with women 50 years ago. That works out to be an average of 125 minutes per day of devoted mom-child time. (Kudos to dads, too: Since 1965, they have tripled the time spent with their kids. It's now up to an average of 59 minutes daily.)

Experts credit this to increasingly flexible work schedules and options to punch in from home. Likely also at play is the fact that the newest generation of moms and dads are embracing the duty like few before, with 99% of millennial parents reporting they truly love parenting.

We're leaning into parenting—but are we overdoing it?

It's one thing to identify first and foremost as a parent and take pride in that role. It's another thing, however, to confuse our sense of worth with our children's accomplishments, which is something former Stanford University dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims says was commonplace among the parents she encountered.

"When I ask parents why they participate in the overprotection, overdirection, hand-holding frenzy, they respond, 'So my kid can be happy and successful,'" she writes in How to Raise an Adult. "When I ask them how it feels, they respond, 'Way too stressful.'"

This constant investment in children's lives can take a toll on the parent-child relationship when the parent doesn't take time for him or herself, too. "The parents feel that they 'sacrificed' their own time for the benefit of the child, even though during much of that time there was no direct engagement with the child," Obejas says of those hours spent shuttling kids around town or waiting outside the doctor's office. "The parents' own emotional and mental cup becomes empty, and when the child asks for more attention, the parents feel like they have already given enough."

The expectation of constant contact 'is draining for the brain'

Even outside the category of helicopter parents, the expectation that we should constantly know what our children are doing is problematic. "'Always on alert' didn't start with children," says Obejas. "It started with devices and apps designed to be addictive. It overtaxes our fight or flight response and leads to toxic stress when levels of cortisol and adrenaline don't ever subside."

Compared with the days when it was the norm for kids to roam free until the streetlights came on, it's commonplace today for parents to expect regular updates of their kids' exact whereabouts either by texts or GPS tracking tools.

"While this can be a safety backup, it increases the type of hypervigilance we know is draining for the brain," says Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "[This] can also cause incredible anxiety as parents hear and read things they wouldn't normally be subject to, that is, let's face it, a normal part of kids growing up."

Roles have reversed

Not so long ago, parents would go to the store or out on a date only with the faith that everything was fine at home. Now? That's almost unthinkable—as we've instead shifted to the mentality that our children or their responsible caregivers should be able to contact us at any given moment. Despite the good intentions at play here, this comes at an expense.

"In what other job do you never get a break? It is truly exhausting to never get to turn off the parent brain," says LMHC Jasmin Terrany, author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

Driving this is the trend toward maternal gatekeeping, which describes the subconscious desire to micromanage child care even when someone else is perfectly capable of holding down the fort. As uncomfortable as this may feel, it's healthiest for everyone when parents can hand over the reigns on occasion.

"We must have regular practices to refuel," Terrany tells Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

This is also how we let our children know another adult can attend to their needs, which is an important step in fostering their sense of independence and confidence. As Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, previously told Motherly, "Let your partner actually figure it out on their own and know that the system survives even when you are not there."

Being 'always on' can degrade quality time, too

Much of being "always on" is a two-way street: Not only do we bring our children into our work days and social lives, but we also bring other obligations home with us in the form of emails sent to our smartphones and mid-playtime breaks to check social media.

"Our children need us, the parents to be 'there,'" says Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. "They need us to talk to them, play with them and be present with them. This is literally impossible if we are multitasking between the iPhone and our interactions with them."

As expert as we may consider ourselves at multitasking, there is also something to be said for setting boundaries. "In today's world it's become difficult not to carry that phone around you all the time, even more so when your job is tied to it," says Klich. "Set boundaries for yourself for when you will check, even if it's once an hour, and stick to that making it clear to the kids what you are doing and why."

And when we're away from the kids, remember this hack: Calls from favorite contacts can still come through when you're on do not disturb mode. So tell your partner or your babysitter or your kids to call if it's a true emergency—and then allow yourself to go off the clock. You'll be better for it.

[This post was first published June 25, 2018.]

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

Pink opened up about her family's fight against coronavirus late Friday, taking to Instagram to make a big announcement.

"Two weeks ago my three-year old son, Jameson, and I are were showing symptoms of COVID-19," Pink revealed, noting that she tested positive and has since recovered.

She continued: "My family was already sheltering at home and we continued to do so for the last two weeks following the instruction of our doctor. Just a few days ago we were re-tested and are now thankfully negative. It is an absolute travesty and failure of our government to not make testing more widely accessible. This illness is serious and real."

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After dealing with the virus on a personal level and recognizing her privilege in being able to access testing, Pink decided to donate $1 million to fight coronavirus and hopefully protect others.

"In an effort to support the healthcare professionals who are battling on the frontlines every day, I am donating $500,000 to the Temple University Hospital Emergency Fund in Philadelphia in honor of my mother, Judy Moore, who worked there for 18 years in the Cardiomyopathy and Heart Transplant Center. Additionally, I am donating $500,000 to the City of Los Angeles Mayor's Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund," she announced via Instagram.

Pink ended her update by thanking the brave healthcare workers on the front lines and reminding the rest of us to stay home.

For more information on COVID-19 and how it is impacting families, visit mother.ly/coronavirus.

News

On Friday President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control is now advising people to wear a cloth mask if they need to go out in public in a place where social distancing would be hard. The CDC is not asking people to wear masks all the time, just when you're going somewhere public like the grocery store, the pharmacy or using mass transit—places where it may be hard to keep your distance from others.

What the CDC says about cloth face masks:

The CDC says it's recommending cloth face masks because recent studies show that people can have COVID-19 while asymptomatic, meaning they feel fine and because they don't know they are sick they might still be going about their daily routine in their community.

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Basically, masks don't protect the wearer as much as they protect people from the wearer (who might not know they are sick) by blocking respiratory droplets "So it's not going to protect you, but it is going to protect your neighbor," Dr. Daniel Griffin at Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases, tells NPR.

CDC experts are "advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

They say if you're going somewhere where it's hard to maintain the proper social distance of six feet, like a grocery store or a pharmacy, then it's a good idea to wear a simple cloth mask.

"The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance," the CDC states.

"You may need to improvise a cloth face covering using a scarf or bandana," the agency notes on its website.

A DIY cloth mask is an extra layer of protection:

The CDC still says that staying home and practicing good hand hygiene is the best protection against COVID-19, but a cloth mask would be an extra layer of protection if you must go out to get food or unavoidable medical care.

According to Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, certain types of fabric are better than others when it comes to making a mask. While he CDC says improvised bandanas or scarfs are better than nothing, Segal says DIY mask makers should aim a little higher for the masks to be effective.

"You have to use relatively high-quality cloth," Dr.Segal, who is researching this topic, tells NBC News.

According to Segal you don't want to use a knit fabric (like an old T-shirt) but rather a woven fabric. He suggests a double layer of heavyweight cotton with a thread count of at least 180 (like quilters cotton). If you don't have a cotton with that high of a thread count, line it with flannel.

For more tips on how to sew a fabric face mask, check out these instructions from Kaiser Permanente.

No-sew methods:

If you're not a sewer you can still fashion a mask, and there are plenty of no-sew tutorials online showing you how. Use heavyweight woven fabric like Segal suggests and make one of these without a sewing machine.

How To Make a Pleated Face Mask // Washable, Reusable, No-Sewing Required youtu.be

Should kids wear masks? Talk to your doctor.

The CDC says "Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance." Babies' faces should not be covered, they should not wear masks.

For older kids, the CDC is not recommending masks if you're just going for a walk around the block or playing in the backyard (which is the extent of most kids' outings these days). The masks are more for grocery runs, which many parents are opting to do alone these days.

But solo parents and those with partners who are in the military know that leaving the kids behind isn't always an option if you're the only adult in the home. If that's your circumstance, choose delivery options when possible to avoid taking your children to public places like grocery stores and pharmacies (the kinds of places the CDC recommends masks for).

If you are concerned that you may need to take your child somewhere where a mask would be required, call your pediatrician for advice on whether a mask is appropriate for your child's age and circumstances.

If you have no one to watch your children while you get groceries and cannot get them delivered try contacting your local government, community groups and churches for leads on grocery delivery help. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who can fetch groceries for you so that you don't have to take your children to the store with you.

The President says it's not a rule but a recommendation.

"It's really going to be a voluntary thing," President Trump told reporters Friday, contradicting the CDC recommendation. "I'm not choosing to do it."

First Lady Melania Trump is urging others to do it, howeverm tweeting, "I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone—we can stop this together."

[This post was originally published April 3, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to be felt around the world, parents have particular questions about how to keep their families safe and healthy. We've collected answers to some of the most common questions parents have asked about coronavirus. Because the situation is evolving so rapidly, advice may change as new information comes to light.

Knowledge is power—and we want you to feel empowered, not panicked. Here are answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions from parents about coronavirus.

1. What should we do if there are coronavirus cases nearby?

Experts advise that the best course of action is to avoid transmitting or spreading the virus by social distancing: Basically, avoid unnecessary travel, stick close to home and limit your time spent in places where large groups of people gather. Currently, health experts are asking Americans to practice social distancing through at least April 30, 2020.

Hearing about canceled events and closures due to social distancing may be stressful, but health experts say this is actually a good thing. As stressful as it is to hear that schools and churches are closing, social distancing is an important weapon in "flattening the curve" of the infection's spread. And the best news is the social distancing measures that have been enacted so far seem to be having an effect on the rate of infections.

For more resources:

2. What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

symptoms of coronavirus

Symptoms of coronavirus include high fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. Unfortunately for parents everywhere, those are also common symptoms of colds and flu. This chart breaks down how the symptoms of coronavirus differ from the symptoms of cold, flu, RSV and seasonal allergies.

3. What can I do to keep my family from getting sick?

While there's no silver bullet that will prevent coronavirus, experts recommend frequent hand-washing, cleaning high-touch surfaces in the house regularly (here's how to clean your house to prevent coronavirus) and paying close attention to hygiene.

There are also some simple actions you can take to help boost your family's immune systems overall, such as getting enough sleep and eating healthful foods. And of course, social distancing is the top method health professionals recommend to prevent yourself—and others—from transmitting the virus.

More resources about how coronavirus impacts children, babies, and moms-to-be:

4. If anyone in my family has symptoms, what should we do?

The CDC advises that you call your doctor or health care provider if you are showing symptoms of coronavirus that include high fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Unless you recently traveled to an affected area or had direct contact with someone who had a confirmed case of coronavirus, it's still likely to be difficult for you to get tested, even if you are showing symptoms such as a sore throat and fever.

After an earlier rumor that people with suspected cases of COVID-19 should not be taking ibuprofen, the World Health Organization has clarified its position. If you're trying to treat a child's fever the WHO does not oppose the use of either ibuprofen (Children's Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Children's Tylenol).

Other steps to take, as recommended by the CDC:

  • Stay home except to get medical care.
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home as much as possible.
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor.
  • Wear a face mask if you are sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items.
  • Clean all "high-touch" surfaces every day.
  • Monitor your symptoms and call your doctor immediately if your symptoms worsen.

5. Is it okay to take kids out to public places? Can we go to the playground?

Especially if you're living in an area where the number of cases is rapidly rising, experts recommend using an abundance of caution and staying home as much as possible. That means not scheduling any unnecessary social gatherings like birthday parties, sleepovers and play dates. Playgrounds are also not advised right now.

Social distancing for families is hard, but it's so important to take it seriously. Taking kids to ride bikes or play in the park—where it's easy to maintain space between people—is okay, but taking kids to shopping centers, playgrounds and other public places where large numbers of people gather in close contact is discouraged.

Right now, the best places for kids to play are either indoors, or outdoors in the yard or at parks, hiking trails and nature preserves (go early to avoid crowds).


More ideas for keeping kids busy during the coronavirus pandemic:

6. Is it safe to travel with kids?

The answer is changing every day, but experts say that local travel by car is perfectly safe. It may be wisest to postpone family vacations through the summer, though. (And Disneyworld is closed, anyway.)

7. How do I tell my kids about coronavirus?

Talking to your kids about coronavirus is important, whether you're soothing their worries or simply reminding them about the importance of good hand washing. The potential for disruption to daily life is high, but the CDC still says the risk to children is low.

Be calm, meet your child where they are in terms of their interest level in the news and remember that it's okay not to have all the answers.

More resources for talking with kids about coronavirus + social distancing and managing their fears:

8. What do pregnant women need to know about coronavirus?

Here's everything we know about giving birth during the coronavirus pandemic so far.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has noted precautions that pregnant women and nursing women should take to help limit their exposure to coronavirus and stresses that pregnant women should stay in touch with their care providers to be advised of the most recent protocols.

Here are the current guidelines for pregnant women from ACOG:

  • Pregnant people should be treated as an at-risk population.
  • Pregnant people should report concerning symptoms immediately: these include fever, cough, and chest tightness or difficulty breathing.
  • Providers will be following a detailed algorithm when deciding when to test pregnant people for COVID-19. The primary criteria involve assessing the presence of coronavirus symptoms.
  • Regarding travel, pregnant women (like all people) should adhere to the Centers for Disease Control recommendations for specific areas, in addition to consulting with their providers.
  • ACOG does not currently recommend that women change their labor + delivery plans in response to the pandemic.
  • ACOG also does not endorse that women plan to give birth at home rather than at their hospital, noting that "ACOG believes that the safest place for you to give birth is still a hospital, hospital-based birth center, or accredited freestanding birth center" as opposed to giving birth at home.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 while pregnant, you should know that it does not appear that COVID-19 can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus, according to studies. That said, pregnant women who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will need to take special precautions during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Here are the current guidelines from ACOG for pregnant women who have tested positive:

  • Follow advice from the CDC, your OB-GYN and your primary health care provider.
  • Stay home except to get medical care. Avoid public transportation.
  • Speak with your health care team over the phone before going to their office. Get medical care right away if you feel worse or think it's an emergency.
  • Separate yourself from other people in your home.
  • Wear a face mask when you are around other people and when you go to get medical care.
After delivery, your doctor or midwife may recommend your baby be cared for in another part of the hospital temporarily. This is done as a protective measure for the infant and only in certain cases, with careful consideration. The CDC says that when it comes to separating a mother and baby due to COVID-19 concerns, the risks and benefits should be explained to the mother, and it should not be considered the first or only option.

12. Can I start IVF during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you are about to start IVF, you should speak with your reproductive endocrinologist about whether they are starting any IVF cycles at this time, and about the risks of going forward with your cycle. Motherly's education editor and certified nurse midwife Diana Spalding recommends that people consider freezing their embryos and not do a fresh transfer right now—we are still learning a lot about the impacts of coronavirus on pregnancy so delaying conception a bit may decrease the chance of potential risks associated with the infection.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), little is known about the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women and infants, and it is unclear if COVID-19 can cross the placenta. Since pregnant women are at higher risk of complications from similar respiratory infections, pregnant women are considered an "at-risk population" for COVID-19.

The data on coronavirus infections in pregnancy is minimal. Providing care for pregnant women with severe infections will possibly be more difficult and resource-intensive. Some of the drugs that are being considered for treatment may not be usable in pregnant women, for instance.

It may be best to postpone your cycle for multiple reasons, including unknown risks of infection during pregnancy, desire to minimize in-person interactions, and preserving medical resources for urgent COVID-19 patients.

9. When will kids go back to school?

As of this update, school closures have impacted public and private schools and preschools in all 50 states.

It's not clear when schools will reopen, and the timeline for ending school closures depends on where you live. As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., extended school closures are looking like an unavoidable reality for most communities.

This is nothing short of a crisis for working parents who depend on public schools to provide a safe learning environment for their children during the day while they're at work, and it reveals a gaping hole in our country's support network for parents.

The good news is, there's almost never been a better time for kids to learn at home, thanks to improvements in educational technology like remote learning platforms and educational apps. And there are hundreds of ways to make the time at home meaningful, thoughtful and educational, whether that's through spending family time together, or through math, art, science, and music projects you can do at home.

Here are resources to bookmark that may be helpful:

10. What should I do if I can't pay my bills because I'm out of work?

We understand this is a tough time right now, mama, and not everyone is getting paid while they're out of work. The federal government has announced relief payments for people affected by the pandemic and pushed back the tax deadline to July 15, although if you qualify for a refund, you should file earlier. There are a few additional things you can do if you're facing hardship:

  1. Call your landlord or the bank that holds your mortgage and discuss your options during a pandemic. Some states are seeking to ban evictions during the pandemic.
  2. Contact your credit card company and ask about payment plan options, or if there are any interest deferrals during a time of crisis.
  3. If you have student loan payments, interest payments on federal loans have been paused during the pandemic. Speak to your loan provider to see if there are any other resources available.
  4. Contact your local diaper bank if you cannot afford more diapers. You can find one close to you here.
  5. Here's what to do if you cannot afford baby formula, or if you cannot find baby formula in your area. We're also tracking places where parents can find formula, diapers and wipes.
  6. Here's where to find free and low-cost food during the pandemic.
  7. Call your representatives in state and municipal government. Some areas are making plans to help those hit by financial hardship during this time.

11. How do I work from home with kids around?

With offices across the country encouraging workers to clock in remotely, and schools closing in district after district, finding a way to work from home with kids is a high priority for a growing number of parents. It's definitely possible—and we've got lots of work from home strategies to help (the entire staff at Motherly works from home—almost all of us with kids—so we're all right there with you, mama).

News

Last month Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom announced some big news: The engaged pair are expecting a baby!

Perry announced her pregnancy when the music video for her single, "Never Worn White" showed her rocking a bump and this weekend she announced she's expecting a girl...by posting a photo of Bloom's face covered in pink frosting.

She geotagged the photo "Girls Run the World" and captioned it "💕 It's a girl 💕."

Clearly, this man is thrilled about becoming a #girldad.

Perry is due in the summer, as she previously noted on Instagram.

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"Let's just say it's gonna be a jam packed summer..." she captioned her original pregnancy announcement.

"OMG, so glad I don't have to suck it in anymore," Perry tweeted after the big news went public.

"I am excited. We're excited and happy and it's probably the longest secret I've ever had to keep," Perry explained in a live stream with fans.

Of course not long after Perry announced her pregnancy the world changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the pandemic, Perry and Bloom have postponed their wedding, according to People and are pretty much just laying low at home trying to enjoy Perry's pregnancy as much as possible during this difficult time.

Perry recently told Stellar Magazine that the wedding is about more than throwing a big bash, so while it would be totally normal to be disappointed by having to postpone it, the mom-to-be seems to be in a good place regarding her nuptials.

She told Stellar: "It's not about the party. It's about the coming together of people who will hold us accountable when things get really hard. Those are just the facts when you're with someone who challenges you to be your best self."

The little girl Bloom and Perry are expecting will have a lot of people to love on her. While this is the first child for Perry, Bloom is already a dad to a 9-year-old boy who will soon be a big brother.

Congratulations to Perry + Bloom!

News
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