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The delivery room is often the place where the first bonds are formed between mother and child. For Kelsey Davis of Gilbert, Arizona, the delivery room was also the birthplace of the bond between her children.


Davis’ then 8-year-old daughter, Brooke, helped deliver her baby sister, Summer, earlier this year. The moment was a long time coming for mother and daughter. “It meant everything to me to have her in the delivery room,” Davis tells Motherly.

The incredible experience was a healing one for Davis and Brooke, who have both suffered the heartbreak of pregnancy loss. Back when Davis was a mom of one, she told then 3-year-old Brooke she was going to be a big sister. Not long after Brooke’s big sister announcement photoshoot was uploaded to Facebook, Davis suffered a miscarriage.

“Brooke was absolutely heartbroken. She cried so hard,” Davis wrote in a blog post for Love What Matters. “Although they're young they can mourn a loss as well,” Davis tells Motherly.

Davis and her husband continued to try to conceive, but didn’t tell Brooke when the next test came back positive. That pregnancy, too, ended in miscarriage. So did another.

When a pregnancy test came up positive in 2015, Davis was happy, but wary, and didn’t tell Brooke until she was further along in the pregnancy. On January 3, 2016, Brooke was in the delivery room (although not part of the action) as her sister, Ellie, came into the world.

It was a dream come true for Davis, who has two sisters herself and wanted that kind of bond for her daughter, and for Brooke. She was finally the big sister she’d wanted so badly to be.

In 2017, Davis carried another pregnancy to term, and Brooke asked if she could be in the delivery room again while her mama labored. At her next appointment with her midwife, Davis asked about upping the ante on Brooke’s presence in the delivery room. When the midwife said Brooke could cut the umbilical cord this time the 8-year-old was thrilled.

When the big day came, Brooke was right there with the midwife, the nurses and her dad. She touched her sister’s head as she was crowning and her hands (along with dads) were there to catch Summer.


Brooke cried as hard as she had when her big sister dreams were dashed, but this time, every tear was one of hope and happiness. “I couldn't imagine not having her there with us,” Davis says.

Brooke now wants to be a midwife when she grows up, and Davis has some advice for other mamas whose older children want to be there for the birth:

“Let them have full reign over how involved they want to be. Brooke could have stood by my head or outside of the room, but instead she chose to deliver,” she tells Motherly.

With Brooke now a big sister twice over, Davis says her family is finally complete and the mom of three is enjoying watching her trio of sister grow together. “Brooke loves being a big sister. She loves the relationship, having a constant friend there, someone to teach. She's such a sweet kid,” Davis explains.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

BUY


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

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Dana Dewedoff-Carney has a beautiful family. On paper, she's a mom of three. But in her heart, she has five children. She's had two miscarriages, one last year at five weeks, and another this past summer.

"I lost our son in June. I was 14 weeks pregnant, but he had passed away at 12," she tells Motherly, explaining that she and her husband had already named their boy Benjamin.

He never got a chance to live in this world, but he is changing it. His mama is the force behind Project Benjamin, a photo series that is going viral and changing the way people talk about pregnancy and infant loss.


Dewedoff-Carney started Rise for Women, a New Jersey-based organization dedicated to empowering women and connecting them with the resources they need to thrive. Rise for Women was born out of a painful time for Dewedoff-Carney. She was a single mom of three, and she was struggling, although from the outside she looked fine.

After launching Rise for Women Dewedoff-Carney created the hashtag #StruggleDoesNotHaveALook, which took on a whole new meaning this year after she and her now husband lost their babies. She came up with another hashtag, #TheyMatterToo, to remember them, and invited other moms to join in a photo session.

Each mother had her portrait taken with a chalkboard bearing a phase that someone told her after her miscarriage.

In Dewedoff-Carney's case, a doctor who perhaps meant to be kind told her the baby she lost "was the wrong baby." Other women in the photo series were told they could always adopt, or that they should be happy with the children they already have. Dewedoff-Carney says sometimes people don't realize how much their words cut those suffering a loss.

"I know people are not saying these things to be malicious and hurt us, but if they could just be a support and say, 'I am so sorry for your loss, I'm here for you,' that is so helpful," she explains.

Experts agree. Jessica McCormack is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice at The Self Care Path in Burr Ridge, Illinois. She says parents who've suffered a pregnancy loss don't need people to try to offer solutions or minimize their grief, but just to validate it.

"You aren't trying to fix their emotions, you are simply stating, 'I hear you, that was so hard for you, this really sucks right now.' No need to fix, no need to tell someone it will be okay. It's a time to just give a hug and tell them it's okay to feel how they feel. This often creates comfort just by knowing someone is there for you," she tells Motherly, adding that it is totally normal for parents to struggle after a loss.

"It's a completely normal experience to have a bunch of grief, sadness, depression, anxiety, shame, guilt and jealousy of others with healthy successful pregnancies," McCormack explains.


For Dewedoff-Carney, that's exactly what Project Benjamin is all about. She says too often conversations about the feelings one has after a miscarriage or infant death are happening behind closed doors or in private Facebook groups. She hopes her photo series will help people realize they're not alone, and that the woman down the street (or on Instagram) who seems to have it all may be suffering herself.

By having a very public conversation about pregnancy loss, Dewedoff-Carney and her fellow moms are hoping more people will understand what they're going through, and not try to minimize it.

Ashlyn Biedebach is a Registered Nurse and founder of By The Brook Birth Doula. She says "when a woman suffers a loss, at any gestational age, it is truly a loss, not just of a baby, but of hope and an idea of the future."

Biedebach suggests if parents who've suffered a loss encounter loved ones who don't seem to be recognizing their baby, they try to give them some grace, but that doesn't mean you have to pretend it didn't happen.

"Well-meaning family members may intentionally choose to move past painful experiences, even if you are still deep in the grief of the loss of your baby. Bringing up your loss in a gentle way, or having an intentional conversation with those who are moving on can help, but also talking with a counselor, too."

As a therapist, McCormack agrees. "Since it's roughly 1 in 4 women that have a pregnancy that ends in miscarriage, women need support," she tells Motherly, recommending that women who've had a loss talk to their OB-GYN or family physician and ask if there are any support groups in their community.

If your doctor doesn't refer you to a support group you can find a therapist yourself. McCormack suggests women simply search the psychologytoday.com therapist directory by entering their zip code along with the keywords "miscarriage" and "fertility." The therapy doesn't have to be just for mom, either. Sometimes dads need to talk, too.

"I also encourage couples to go to therapy after something like this, as men tend to feel lost and uncertain as to how to process their own feelings while supporting their partner," says McCormack.

Both McCormack and Biedebach agree that talking about this kind of loss, whether in person or over social media, is important. Biedebach says, for some parents, honoring their baby through a social media post is their way of remembering and recognizing their importance. McCormack notes that a social media post can also be a good way to invite a larger quantity of people to support you in your time of need.

"It also reduces the stigma by bringing to light that it is completely normal for women to experience something like this," she explains.

That's Dewedoff-Carney's goal, and while she can't travel the county photographing mothers herself, she's inviting anyone to join the conversation by taking their own photo, sharing their story and using the hashtags #StruggleDoesNotHaveALook and #TheyMatterToo. Since her photos went viral, women have been commenting and sharing their stories publicly, and it's brought Dewedoff-Carney to tears.

"They're naming the children that they lost," she explains. "They're doing that, they're speaking their truth, and they're letting it out."

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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Jessica Simpson will soon join the mom of three club! The singer-turned-fashion mogul announced on Instagram today that she is expecting a baby girl.

"This little baby girl will make us a family of five," said Simpson, who shares 6-year-old Maxwell and 5-year-old Ace with husband Eric Johnson. "We couldn't be happier to announce this precious blessing of life."

The news may come as a surprise to Simpson's fans, considering she's been pretty vocal about feeling as though her family was complete. "I have two beautiful children, and I'm not having a third," she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. "They're too cute. You can't top that."

Earlier this year, Simpson revealed to Entertainment Tonight she had developed a case of baby fever, but said it would "definitely have to be a miracle" to have a third baby. Today's joyful announcement is proof that plans can change and that's part of the fun of life. All that really matters is that Simpson's family—including the two big siblings—certainly seem excited.

Besides, the designer of a line for Motherhood Maternity shouldn't have any problem with being just as fashionable as ever through her third pregnancy. 😉

Congrats to the growing family!

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Parents buy wheeled baby walkers with the best intentions: We want to help our babies prepare to eventually walk unaided, and give them a little more freedom to explore in the meantime.

But pediatricians are asking parents to please not use wheeled baby walkers, and are calling for a ban on such products. The call comes as a new study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals that more than 2,000 babies each year are treated for injuries sustained while using these walkers.

Between 1990 and 2014, more than 230,000 children under 15 months old were seen in emergency rooms after being hurt while using a baby walker.

Most of the injuries, more than 90%, were injuries to the head and neck, including concussions or skull fractures. Many walker-related injuries are due to falling—either out of it or while in it—but babies can also very quickly end up in places they shouldn't be (like near staircases, fireplaces or swimming pools) because the wheels can make them surprisingly speedy, catching parents off guard.

According to the study's lead senior author, Dr. Gary Smith, the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, the wheels on a walker give babies some pretty incredible speed, allowing them to cover up to 4 feet per second.

"Children at this age are curious, but do not recognize danger," Smith told CBS News. As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, Smith says he's been seeing these injuries in ERs since the 1970's, and the shocked parents often tell him that their baby moved so quickly they just didn't have time to stop them before they were injured.

"These are good parents, who were carefully supervising their children and using the baby walker as intended," Smith explains. "Their only error was that they believed the myth that baby walkers are safe to use."

Calling for a ban

The number of baby walker-related injuries has declined in the last few decades. In 1990 20,650 babies were hurt, and in 2014 that number was just 2,001. It's good news, and something Smith and his colleagues say is due to stricter safety standards in recent years.

However, the doctors don't think safety standards are enough. They want baby walkers off store shelves and out of American homes—something the American Academy of Pediatrics has been calling for since the 1990s.

"We support the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that baby walkers should not be sold or used. There's absolutely no reason these products should still be on the market," Smith told NPR.

America doesn't have to look far to find another country that's taken such measures. Across the border in Canada, it's been illegal to import, sell or advertise baby walkers since 2004. Parents who sneak them in from the United States may have their walker seized by customs. Selling a baby walker in Canada can see a person facing steep fines, or even jail time.

"It is also illegal to sell baby walkers at garage sales, flea markets, or on street corners. If you have one, destroy it so it cannot be used again and throw it away," the Canadian government notes on its website.

Safe alternative for babies

Smith and his colleagues agree with the Canadian government and suggest American parents who have walkers take the wheels off and dispose of them.

He recommends parents look into safer alternatives to rockers, "such as stationary activity centers that spin, rock, and bounce, but do not have wheels that give young children dangerous mobility. And good old fashioned belly time, where a child is placed on their belly on the floor and allowed to learn to gradually push themselves up, then crawl, and eventually walk."

A lot of parents use walkers with good intentions, wanting to help their baby learn to walk faster, but studies suggest they can actually do the opposite, slowing down development while letting babies propel themselves at unsafe speeds.

This is one case where slowing baby down might speed them up in the long run.

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