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Why moms need support to increase breastfeeding rates in America

Despite volumes of evidence that nutrients from breast milk are ideal for mothers and babies, there is a major discrepency at play worldwide: Among babies born in the United States, about 26% are never breastfed. Elsewhere, particularly in middle- and low-income countries, virtually every baby is breastfed for some period of time.


So, what explains this significant "breastfeeding gap" and its persistence in high-income countries like the United States? According to a wide-spanning new report from UNICEF, "cultural and political contexts" continue to disadvantage mothers and babies in places like America, Ireland and France. Not only are the fixes theoretically simple, but they are also undeniably effective—as the examples of high breastfeeding rates in other countries goes to show.

"In higher-income countries, we see that the proportion of children who have never been breastfed is significantly higher than the number of children in low- and middle-income countries. That is a fact," Victor Aguayo, UNICEF's Chief of Nutrition, tells CNN. "We need to create environments—including in the US—that make breastfeeding the norm."

According to the report from UNICEF's Global Database, the breastfeeding rate tops 99% in countries like Bhutan, Peru and Madagascar. At the other end of the spectrum, the rate is just 55% in Ireland and 71% in France—contributing to an average 79% of babies in countries designated as "high-income" receiving breast milk versus an average 96% in middle- or low-income countries.

Worldwide, UNICEF estimates improving breastfeeding rates would save the lives of some 820,000 children annually due to the positive influence of breast milk on growth, development and immunities. The organization also notes there are ample benefits for breastfeeding mothers, including protection against postpartum hemorrhaging, depression and some forms of cancer.

"Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother, rich or poor, can give her child, as well as herself," says Shahida Azfar, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director, in a press release.

But, as the statistics suggest, whether or not a woman will breastfeed is a complicated matter. The report states:

"Positive social norms that support and encourage breastfeeding, including in public spaces, serve to empower mothers to breastfeed. In communities, support from trained counsellors and peers, including other mothers and family members plays a key role. The support of men, husbands and partners cannot be underestimated."

The report notes that factors such as the cost of formula and lower rates of women in the workplace also contribute to higher breastfeeding rates in some countries. However, previously reported case studies from communities around the world prove that social support is also key.

For example, among the Himba people in Namibia, older family members basically serve as lactation counselors when helping new moms establish breastfeeding. And while women there reported the same struggles commonly associated with nursing anywhere else—trouble with latching, pain, supply issues, etc.—they were largely able to overcome them thanks to guidance from other women.

There seems to be a trend toward this happening in the United States, where a growing number of digital tools aim to support mothers' breastfeeding goals—and may have something to do with the rising breastfeeding rates among new moms.

Still, there's no denying that more needs to be done to normalize and facilitate breastfeeding. In the report, UNICEF officials recommend doing more to establish breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, enacting paid parental leave and workplace breastfeeding protections, regulating the marketing of infant formula and just generally doing a better job of empowering women with breastfeeding.

This report focused primarily on the rates of babies who were ever breastfed, which is important as studies have shown that breastfeeding any amount during the first two months of a baby's life cuts the SIDS risk in half. UNICEF as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months and continuing to provide breast milk through the child's second birthday. (The AAP says one year versus two.)

Weighing in on the report, Pamela Mulder, assistant professor at the University of Iowa's School of Nursing, tells CNN it is important to recognize and promote the "benefits of breastfeeding." She adds, "They can also combine breast milk and infant formula feedings, and they can breastfeed for the time they choose, whether that be two weeks or six months."

It's also worthwhile to recognize that breastfeeding rates are improving in the United States—and that trajectory will likely only continue to improve with more awareness brought to the subject through reports like this.

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When you become a parent for the first time, there is an undeniably steep learning curve. Add to that the struggle of sorting through fact and fiction when it comes to advice and—whew—it's enough to make you more tired than you already are with that newborn in the house.

Just like those childhood games of telephone when one statement would get twisted by the time it was told a dozen times, there are many parenting misconceptions that still tend to get traction. This is especially true with myths about bottle-feeding—something that the majority of parents will do during their baby's infancy, either exclusively or occasionally.

Here's what you really need to know about bottle-feeding facts versus fiction.

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

Not all bottles are created equally. Many parents experience anxiety when it seems their infant rejects all bottles, which is especially nerve wracking if a breastfeeding mom is preparing to return to work. However, it's often a matter of giving the baby some time to warm up to the new feeding method, says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician, infant feeding specialist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of California San Francisco graduate School of Nursing.

"For mothers returning to work, if you're breastfeeding but trying to transition to bottle[s], try to give yourself a two- to four-week trial window to experiment with bottle feeding," says Ferraro.

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

So often, the question of whether a parent is using formula or breastfeeding is presented exclusively as one or the other. In reality, many babies are combo-fed—meaning they have formula sometimes, breast milk other times.

The advantage with mixed feeding is the babies still get the benefits of breast milk while parents can ensure the overall nutritional and caloric needs are met through formula, says Ferraro.

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

For parents looking for simplification in their lives (meaning, all of us), cleaning bottles day after day can sound daunting. But, really, it doesn't require much more effort than you are already used to doing with the dishes each night: With bottles that are safe for the top rack of the dishwasher, cleaning them is as easy as letting the machine work for you.

For added confidence in the sanitization, Dr. Brown's offers an incredibly helpful microwavable steam sterilizer that effectively kills all household bacteria on up to four bottles at a time. (Not to mention it can also be used on pacifiers, sippy cups and more.)

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

One of the leading theories on what causes colic is indigestion, which can be caused by baby getting air bubbles while bottle feeding. However, Dr. Brown's bottles are the only bottles in the market that are actually clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to an ingenious internal vent system that eliminates negative pressure and air bubbles.

5. Myth: Bottles are all you can use for the first year

By the time your baby is six months old (way to go!), they may be ready to begin using a sippy cup. Explains Ferraro, "Even though they don't need water or additional liquids at this point, it is a feeding milestone that helps promote independent eating and even speech development."

With a complete line of products to see you from newborn feeding to solo sippy cups, Dr. Brown's does its part to make these new transitions less daunting. And, for new parents, that truly is priceless.

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

The bottle warmer has long been a point of contention for new mamas. Hotly debated as a must-have or superfluous baby registry choice, standard models generally leave new moms underwhelmed at best.

It was time for something better.

Meet the Algoflame Milk Warmer, a digital warming wand that heats beverages to the perfect temperature―at home and on the go. And like any modern mama's best friend, the Algoflame solves a number of problems you might not have even known you needed solved.

As with so many genius gadgets, this one is designed by two parents who saw a serious need. It's currently a Kickstarter raising money for production next year, but here are 10 unexpected ways this brilliant device lends a hand―and reasons why you should consider supporting its launch.

1. It's portable.

Every seasoned mama knows that mealtime can happen anywhere. And since you're unlikely to carry a clunky traditional milk warmer in your diaper bag, the Algoflame is your answer. The super-light design goes anywhere without weighing down your diaper bag.

2. It's battery operated.

No outlets necessary. Simply charge the built-in battery before heading out, and you're ready for whatever (and wherever) your schedule takes you. (Plus, when you contribute to the Kickstarter you can request an additional backup battery for those days when your errands take all.day.long.)

3. It's compact.

Even at home, traditional bottle warmers can be an eyesore on the countertop. Skip the bulky model for Algoflame's streamlined design. The warmer is about nine inches long and one inch wide, which means you can tuck it in a drawer out of sight when not in use.

4. It's waterproof.

No one likes taking apart bottle warmers to clean all the pieces. Algoflame's waterproof casing can be easily and quickly cleaned with dish soap and water―and then dried just as quickly so you're ready to use it again.

5. It has precise temperature control.

Your wrist is not a thermometer―why are you still using it to test your baby's milk temperature? Algoflame lets you control heating to the optimal temperature for breastmilk or formula to ensure your baby's food is safe.

6. It's fool-proof.

The LED display helps you know when the milk is ready, even in those bleary-eyed early morning hours. When the right temperature is reached, the wand's display glows green. Too hot, and it turns red (with a range of colors in between to help you determine how hot the liquid is). Now that's something even sleep-deprived parents can handle.

7. It's adaptable.

Sized to fit most bottles and cups on the market, you never have to worry about whether or not your bottles will fit into your warmer again.

8. It's multipurpose.

If you're a mom, chances are your cup of coffee is cold somewhere right now. The Algoflame has you covered, mama! Simply pop the wand into your mug to reheat your own beverage no matter where you are.

9. You can operate it with one hand.

From getting the milk warmer out to heating your baby's beverage, the entire wand is easy to activate with one hand―because you know you're holding a fussing baby in the other!

10. It's safe.

Besides being made from materials that comply with the FDA food contact safety standard, Algoflame boasts a double safety system thanks to its specially designed storage case. When put away in the case, the built-in magnetic safe lock turns the milk warmer to power-off protection mode so it won't activate accidentally. Additionally, the warmer's "idle-free design" prevents the heater from being accidentally activated out of the case.

To get involved and help bring the Algoflame Milk Warmer to new mamas everywhere, support the brand's Kickstarter campaign here.

This article is sponsored by Algoflame Milk Warmer. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Toxic masculinity is having a cultural moment. Or rather, the idea that masculinity doesn't have to be toxic is having one.

For parents who are trying to raise kind boys who will grow into compassionate men, the American Psychological Association's recent assertion that "traditional masculinity ideology" is bad for boys' well-being is concerning because our kids are exposed to that ideology every day when they walk out of then house or turn on the TV or the iPad.

That's why a new viral ad campaign from Gillette is so inspiring—it proves society already recognizes the problems the APA pointed out, and change is possible.

We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film) youtu.be

Gillette's new ad campaign references the "Me Too" movement as a narrator explains that "something finally changed, and there will be no going back."

If may seem like something as commercial as a marketing campaign for toiletries can't make a difference in changing the way society pressures influence kids, but it's been more than a decade since Dove first launched its Campaign for Real Beauty, and while the campaign isn't without criticism, it was successful in elevating some of the body-image pressure on girls but ushering in an era of body-positive, inclusive marketing.

Dove's campaign captured a mainstream audience at a time when the APA's "Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women" were warning psychologists about how "unrealistic media images of girls and women" were negatively impacting the self-esteem of the next generation.

Similarly, the Gillette campaign addresses some of the issues the APA raises in its newly released "Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men."

According to the APA, "Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health."

The report's authors define that ideology as "a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."

The APA worries that society is rewarding men who adhere to "sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men's ability to function adaptively."

That basically sounds like the recipe for Me Too, which is of course its own cultural movement.

Savvy marketers at Gillette may be trying to harness the power of that movement, but that's not entirely a bad thing. On its website, Gillette states that it created the campaign (called "The Best a Man Can Be," a play on the old Gillette tagline "The Best a Man Can Get") because it "acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture."

Gillette's not wrong. We know that advertising has a huge impact on our kids. The average kid in America sees anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 commercials on TV each year, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics, and that's not even counting YouTube ads, the posters at the bus stop and everything else.

That's why Gillette's take makes sense from a marketing perspective and a social one. "As a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man," the company states.

What does that mean?

It means taking a stance against homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment and that harmful, catch-all-phrase that gives too many young men a pass to engage in behavior that hurts others and themselves: "Boys will be boys."

Gillette states that "by holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come."

Of course, it's not enough for razor marketers to do this. Boys need support from parents, teachers, coaches and peers to be resilient to the pressures of toxic masculinity.

When this happens, when boys are taught that strength doesn't mean overpowering others and that they can be successful while still being compassionate, the APA says we will "reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide."

This is a conversation worth having and 2019 is the year to do it.

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No one decides to be a stay-at-home mom for the paycheck—but if we were to earn one, it would put us in league with some CEOs. Although it doesn't do much for the bank account, a survey that calculated what the average salary would be for a stay-at-home mom is mighty validating. (Remember this next time anyone asks what you do all day.)

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Anna Faris understands that divorce isn't the end of a family, it's just the evolution of one.

Faris shares her 6-year-old son Jack with ex-husband Chris Pratt, who took to Instagram Monday to announce his engagement to Katherine Schwarzenegger.

When Pratt posted the good news Faris was quick to show up in the comments section with kind words. "I'm so happy for you both!! Congratulations!" she wrote on Monday.

Still family after divorce

Faris and Pratt announced they were separating in back in August 2017.

In a joint statement made at the time the two actors stressed that it wasn't an easy decision to come by, and that while they were no longer a couple, they would always be a team for Jack.

"Our son has two parents who love him very much and for his sake we want to keep the situation as private as possible moving forward. We still love each other and will always cherish our time together."

Not long after they separated, Faris was publicly linked to her new boyfriend, cinematographer Michael Barrett, and in December 2017, Pratt filed for divorce. It was finalized 10 months later in October 2018, making Faris and Pratt both legally single.

Pratt and Schwarzenegger have reportedly been dating since the summer of 2018, although neither acknowledged a relationship publicly until December, when Pratt posted a romantic birthday message for Schwarzenegger on his Instagram.

People reports the two couples spent Halloween together, taking Jack trick-or-treating, and on a recent episode of her podcast, Anna Faris is Unqualified, Faris shared that she and her ex-husband have been very mindful of how their post-divorce relationship can impact Jack.

"Chris and I work really hard 'cause we have Jack, that is sort of the long game idea and making sure Jack is really happy, which makes us really happy," Faris said. "We have sort of the luxury of circumstance. You know, we are both in other loving relationships."

The long game

For Faris, Pratt and so many other parents who are no longer coupled, Jack's current and future wellbeing is so much more important than their past relationship problems.

Research suggests joint physical custody (which Faris and Pratt have) is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse" (so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their coparenting relationship positively.

Simply put: Shared parenting is good for kids, and getting along after a divorce is good for shared parenting.

An evolution, not an end

As clinical hypnotherapist Susan Allison wrote in her book, Conscious Divorce: Ending a Marriage with Integrity "It's time to replace terms like 'broken' or 'split' family for terms like 'bi-nuclear' or 'blended' family, showing that the unit is not lost but restructured, that the bonds of kinship continue long after a divorce."

They really do. A couple can uncouple, but they will always be co-parents. It's a different kind of bond, but it is still beautiful.

Writing for Motherly, Tara Rigg, whose parents divorced when she was 10, explains how she is now so thankful for the way her parents made co-parenting a priority and a consistent practice after their divorce.

"From the very beginning, special days were spent together. My dad would come over to my mom's house for our birthday dinners. He was always with us on Christmas morning when Mom would make a big brunch and we'd open presents together. We walked out together, one parent on each arm, at halftime in the Homecoming football game when I was a member of the court. Everyone was present and sitting together at my graduations," Rigg wrote.

Now a mother herself, Rigg refers to her parents divorce as beautiful, but admits, "This isn't to say there was never tension, or that everything was perfect. Even so, I knew deep down that my parents really did care for our best interests and were trying hard for us kids. I knew because of the way they treated each other in front of us."

Like Rigg, Faris isn't pretending that her divorce from Pratt didn't hurt, and that they haven't had tough moments since deciding to split. On her podcast, Faris made sure to acknowledge "that there is bitterness and pain with all breakups." There is pain and hurt, but there's also love—for Jack, and for each other.

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It's official: There is nothing Joanna Gaines can't do, because the mom of five who is juggling multiple businesses and plans for her own TV network is now launching a children's book (which she wrote with help from her kids—13-year-old Drake, 12-year-old Ella, 9-year-old Duke and Emmie Kay, age 8).

On Monday morning Jo posted the first public images of the book, called We Are the Gardeners, to Instagram. She noted that while it doesn't officially launch until March 26, it's available for pre-order now.

"We wrote this children's book together to tell the story of our journey in the garden—a story of trying and failing and trying again and never giving up," Jo captioned her Instagram post. "We hope it inspires you and your little ones to get outside, get your hands dirty, and grow something great!"

This is Jo's first foray into children's literature, but the woman knows her way around a best-seller list, having published Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave and Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering, as well as The Magnolia Story, which she co-wrote with her husband Chip.

Joanna Gaines has a way with words, and we're excited to be able to share those words with the next generation.

"The garden has always been a place that inspires me. There's something about digging deep into fresh soil or watching new life burst from what was not long ago just a tiny seed that reinforces what a gift life is," Jo said in a press release Monday. "I think that's part of why my kids have come to love spending time in the garden just as much as I do. It can be a great teacher, if we pause long enough to notice all there is to learn. Where every day can be a lesson in hard work, and sometimes even in failure, but where there's also growth worth celebrating. This book is our way of sharing what the garden means to us, and the many adventures we've had along the way!"

The 40-page hardcover book ($20 USD) is full of lessons on resiliency as the Gaines kids "chronicle the adventures of starting their own family garden" and all the challenges they face (like bunnies who eat their crop) while learning to grow their garden.

As Karen Petty, a professor of early childhood development and education in the Department of Family Sciences at Texas Woman's University wrote for Texas Childcare Quarterly, "Books that tell stories of characters faced with challenges or problems to solve are best because they can become the background for talks about the elements of resilience."

Basically, parents can help build resiliency in their kids just by reading them books that tell these kinds of stories.

"Helping children to become more resilient may be the most important thing that caregivers can do in providing a buffer against emotional hardships," Petty explains, noting that choosing story books in which characters are resilient in the face of some kind of adversity is a really simple, low effort way for parents to do this very important thing.

Some of Petty's recommended reading for parents looking to raise resilient kids includes The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems, Blackout by John Rocco, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.

We can't wait to put We Are the Gardeners on the shelf next to those modern classics.

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