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CDC: US birth rate falls to lowest level in decades

Birth rates are down, but support for parents could bring them back up.

CDC: US birth rate falls to lowest level in decades

The headlines seem to suggest reason for alarm: The birth rate in the United States is at its lowest point since the 1980s according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it isn't necessarily physically harder for women to have babies. Rather, what is more challenging is navigating motherhood itself as a result of ongoing workplace penalties, rising costs of living and other discriminatory social factors.

In fact, 85% of mothers said society doesn't do a good job of understanding and supporting them, according to Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood Survey. So it's little wonder that many women are opting to delay childbirth, have fewer children or forego motherhood all together.

When she had her first child in 2016, Erin H. tells Motherly she was disappointed by how resistant her employer was to respecting her request to scale back from 50+ hour work weeks. "The work culture was very much about exerting yourself at all costs and if you leave at 5 p.m., you're not working hard enough," she says. "I knew I had to leave if I wanted better work life balance, especially with a baby."

She says she had the ability to step back and evaluate her career options because of her husband's income. But in the State of Motherhood Survey, 59% of working moms said their primary reason for staying in the workforce is their "financial need to contribute to household income."

When motherhood and careers feel incompatible, the only practical option for some women is to delay or re-evaluate their family plans. "To the extent that some women would want to be mothers if it was financially viable, but don't want to risk good careers or poverty, that's not a free choice," Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat, an associate professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, tells Huffington Post. "Women are painted into a corner."

The irony is mothers are productive workers who add to the value of their workplaces—yet many are still discriminated against for having children. According to one study published in the American Journal of Sociology, "mothers were judged as significantly less competent and committed than women without children" and were "held to harsher performance and punctuality standards."

Another survey of more than 3,000 employers by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the United Kingdom confirmed these prejudices with one in three bosses saying pregnant women and new mothers are "generally less interested in career progression." As far as what's appropriate to ask during the interview process, 59% of the employers said women should have to disclose whether they are pregnant and 46% of the employers said they should reveal whether they have young children.

Just getting to the interview stage can be tough for a mother, as one study found mothers returning to the workforce after time as a stay-at-home parent were "about half as likely to get a callback as unemployed parents and only one-third as likely as employed parents."

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, the study's author, Kate Weisshaar, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, explains that the bias against working parents both pushes them out of work and keeps them from returning.

Simply put, inflexible schedules, long hours and a lack of legislated parental leave are not likely to result in a rising birth rate.

But there are better ways, as demonstrated in other countries that both see higher rates of satisfied working mothers and fertility rates that are not "plummeting." Specifically, as noted in The New York Times, "developed countries that prioritize gender equality—including Sweden, Norway and France—have higher fertility rates than those that don't."

Germany, a country whose declining birth rate was a source of worry for decades, just recorded its highest number of births since the 1970s, thanks in part to family-friendly legislation like a parental leave policy that sees both parents to receive two-thirds of their prior earnings while on leave, and a legal right to a daycare spot on your child's first birthday.

So while recent headlines would have people believe the current crisis in the United States has to do with fertility, the real cause for alarm is one that many women were already, sadly, too familiar with: Current workplace culture does not do enough to support moms.

Let's keep urging policy-makers, politicians and executives to change that—and chances are we'll have a much bigger pool of potential workers some 20 years from now as a result.

[A version of this post was published on May 29, 2018. It has been updated.]

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I'm a mom of three under 3 so a lot of my time the last couple of years has been spent feeding babies. I started this journey of motherhood convinced that I was going to feed my babies from my chest, but they all had different plans and I had to learn to quickly adapt. So I became an exclusive pumper to provide my babies with as much of my breast milk I could give them.

In these last three years, I've tested almost every single breast pump in the market. I needed to know what pump was best for my needs as a working mom, someone who travels a lot and juggles many kids. I've pumped at home, in the car, on airplanes, at restaurants; whatever place you can think of, I've pumped there.

Yet somehow, I had never used a Medela pump, (mostly because I didn't want an open-system pump, especially after having twins since it meant an extra step and item to clean) except for during my brief hospital stays while recovering from C-sections. After both of my births, my milk took a long time to come in so the nurses suggested I pump to see if I could get some colostrum to feed my babies and help things happen a little faster.

So when I was given the chance to test Medela's new Pump In Style with MaxFlow breast pump, I was super excited—after all, it's a brand moms love, trust and rely on.

Spoiler: I was obsessed. Here's some of my favorite features:

It's super compact.

I was pleasantly surprised when I first opened the box and found a super compact and light pump. Unlike the pluggable pump I used the first time around with my son, this one was small enough to fit in my pumping caddy without the risk of falling out. It comes with a small fabric tab that makes it easy to carry around when needed.

It's super powerful without being uncomfortable.

As soon as I started my first pumping session, I realized that its compact size didn't mean it lacked power. It is mighty. In a few minutes, my pumping bottles were full of milk and needed to be replaced by new ones. But what is more important to me, is that my nipples were so comfortable, which meant I could pump for the 30 minutes the session lasts without any discomfort. I especially liked that the rim of the breast shields is soft, which meant my boobs were also super comfortable while I pumped, and even allowed me to massage closer to the pump to make sure all my milk was coming out. These breast shields are unique to the Medela pump—the oval shaped shields features an 105 degree angle that better fits the breast, allowing milk to flow more freely.

It's a closed system.

The tubes never come into contact with milk, which makes cleaning so much easier since I focus on the bottles and flanges only. It's also so easy to set up the first time, I didn't even need to read the instructions because it's all pretty straightforward and intuitive. Also, the tubes don't tangle; they stay connected to both the bottles and the pump, so there's no readjusting needed to be done mid-session.

It can be used on the go.

This is something that I look for in all my pumps, the ability to move around, because I'm always multitasking. This pump comes with a battery pack that allows you to do just that. It also comes with a bag and ice packs for you to store everything you need while you are out and about with or without your little one.

It increased my milk supply.

I started testing this pump when I was ready to drop a pump a day to have some more free time to do other things around the house. I had been afraid of dropping a session because I didn't want to see a decrease in milk production by doing so. This pump allowed me to maintain the same amount of ounces pumped with one less session, which is literally everything I wanted. This can be credited to the MaxFlow Technology, the first-of-its-kind in the market, the way it works is that it generates a vacuum with micro-vibrations to get more milk, faster, making the process of emptying my breasts much more optimized.

After using it for weeks, I now get why so many moms trust and love Medela pumps. This pump was designed with the pumping mom in mind, and that's why I'm excited to make it my top pump in my roster.

This article was sponsored by Medela. 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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The 6 biggest lies I believed before having kids

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own ideas of how we would absolutely do things differently than everyone else. Others, we believed what everyone else told us would happen would apply to our littles, too. But, that's not always the case, mama.

Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids—and the reality of what actually happened for me.

1. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake

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