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What Finnish dads are doing right—and how we can all learn from them

Out of all the developed countries in the world, there is only one where dads surpass moms in terms of average time spent with their school-aged kids: Finland. According to a recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Finnish dads spend eight more minutes with their older kiddos on the typical days than moms.


What that says about the societal structure in Finland that supports such an enviable co-parenting relationship is significant. That’s because this isn’t just about seeing dads play more equal roles, but also about how that empowers moms and benefits kids.

“This is not about the mother’s right or the father’s right—but the child’s right to spend time with both parents,” said Finland’s minister of family affairs and social services, Annika Saarikko, in an interview with The Guardian.

So, how did Finland come to be what the Global Gender Gap called the second most equal county in the world?

1. Families in Finland are supported

In Finland, it’s the norm for moms to continue working full-time, says Saarikko. And that return to work is supported from the start: Finnish women get four months of paid maternity leave, which she can begin even before baby’s arrival. Afterward, they aren’t left with the kind of post-delivery medical bills that are common in the United States.

In fact, they are given some beneficial freebies in the form of Finland’s famous baby box, which includes newborn essentials that are practical and promote safe baby practices. In order to receive the box, expectant mothers must seek prenatal care before the end of their fourth month of pregnancy—which experts tie to Finland’s low infant mortality rate.

2. Dads get impressive paternity leave benefits

Not only do Finnish fathers get nine weeks of paid paternity leave, but couples also get an additional five months of paid parental leave to split. And—with the country’s new “It’s Daddy Time” campaign—fathers are publicly encouraged to take full advantage of it. As Saarikko told The Guardian, this is with the interests of children in mind.

“We are quite sure if we look at the research that the connection between the baby and the father is really important,” she said. “The early years are vital and we believe in investing in that.”

Science backs that up, with parental leave tied to boosted brain development for babies.

3. There is easily accessible, high-quality childcare

When both parents go back to work, they can do so with the confidence their kids are well cared for through quality, universal daycare. Not only does that help parents, but it lays the foundation for superior education as the kids age—with Finnish students outperforming U.S. peers in math, reading and science assessments. (And that’s even with kids in Finland spending far fewer hours sitting at desks.)

4. They take the “life” part of work-life balance seriously

There are few workaholics to be found in Finland, where most people begin their workdays around 8 a.m. and punch out by 4 or 5 in the afternoon. And, at home, moms aren’t as prone to maternal gatekeeping.

“When I am at home, I’m really involved–that’s normal,” one dad told The Guardian. “Dads participate in their kids’ life and kids have a lot of hobbies, in my experience it’s often the dad who takes them.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean moms are on their way out in Finland. Even there, they spend an average 71 more minutes each day with kids preschool-aged and younger. And, outside the home, the work isn’t done with Saarikko saying her country is still far from total gender equality.

But it is a start that most of us elsewhere would feel lucky to have.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There's a lot of concern these days about what is in our food. It's totally understandable if parents are a little worried, given the headlines we've been seeing in recent weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a call for better food regulation, and there's been a spate of food recalls this summer, for everything from crackers to a cereal linked to Salmonella infections.

And now breakfast cereals, in general, are in the food safety spotlight, not because of Salmonella contamination, but for something that is found in food much more often—glyphosate, an ingredient in Monsanto's weed-killer, Roundup.

The Environmental Working Group (a non-profit funded in part by support from companies like Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, Earthbound Farms, Dr. Bronner Soaps, and Beauty Counter) recently released the results of independent laboratory tests it commissioned on breakfast cereals, examining them glyphosate, the chemical that was at the heart of a recent lawsuit in which a California jury found the weed-killer Roundup caused a school groundskeeper's cancer.

What the report found

According to the EWG, 31 out of 45 cereal products tested had higher levels glyphosate than some scientists would like. It's 'some' because regulatory bodies are divided on what level of glyphosate should be considered safe.

California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment suggests a much lower level of exposure than the federal Environmental Protection Agency does, according to the EWG, and while California lists the chemical as "known to cause cancer," the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer declared the substance only a "probable carcinogen." Numerous other national and international agencies have reviewed glyphosate and haven't found it to be a human health hazard.

The EWG says it is though, citing California's classification of the chemical and the recent jury verdict there.

Family favorite cereals like Cheerios, Quaker Dinosaur Egg Instant Oats, Great Value Instant Oats and Quaker Old Fashioned Oats tested too high for the EWG's liking.

But the EWG's safety benchmark for glyphosate levels in cereal is 160 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency's limit is 30 parts per million. The folks at Health did the math, converting the parts per billion to parts per million, and found that "even the highest concentration found in the new EWG report—1,300 ppb, or 1.3 ppm—is still in line with what the FDA announced previously, and still lower than the EPA's tolerable threshold".

As Slate's science editor, Susan Matthews, writes, "the EPA threshold [for glyphosate], which was set in 1993...is 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (140 milligrams per day for the average adult). That's the reference dose that's considered safe to consume daily throughout a lifetime. None of the foods tested by EWG passes that threshold—they don't even come close."

What the cereal companies have to say

CBS reports Quaker issued a statement saying it "proudly stand[s] by the safety and quality of our Quaker products. Any levels of glyphosate that may remain are significantly below any limits of the safety standards set by the EPA and the European Commission as safe for human consumption," and that General Mills told CBS News its products "are safe and without question they meet regulatory safety levels. The EPA has researched this issue and has set rules that we follow."

The Guardian quotes a Kellogg's spokesman as saying: "Our food is safe. Providing safe, high-quality foods is one of the ways we earn the trust of millions of people around the world. The EPA sets strict standards for safe levels of these agricultural residues and the ingredients we purchase from suppliers for our foods fall under these limits."

In a statement emailed to multiple media outlets, EWG President Ken Cook called the responses of Quaker and General Mills "tone-deaf" and disappointing, and calls on the companies to "take the simple step of telling their oat farmers to stop using glyphosate as a harvest-time desiccant on their crops."

What parents can do

If you are concerned about glyphosate in your child's cereal, you can find oat-based food that don't contain any in the organic aisle. The EGW says none of the 16 products made from organically-grown oats contained levels above its safety benchmark. A few of the organic brands did have traces of glyphosate, but not at levels the EWG is concerned about.

And as Matthews points out in her coverage for Slate, the EWG's report "was simply published to the internet, rather than in a scientific journal or after peer review," something parents should consider when deciding whether or not to remove Cheerios from their child's breakfast menu.

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This week many parents were left questioning the contents of their cupboards when new information from Consumer Reports sparked a flurry of headlines about heavy metals in packaged baby food.

Parents are understandably worried after learning cadmium, lead, and inorganic arsenic are present in those little jars and pouches, but the Chief Scientific Officer for Consumer Reports, James H Dickerson, tells Motherly the study was meant to inform citizens, not freak us out.

"Don't panic. The issue is a chronic exposure issue, not an acute exposure issue," he explains. "Chronic exposure means long-term exposure over months and years of repeated exposure. Acute exposure means a single time, or five times or 10 times of exposure, consuming these foods would lead to a risk. That's not the case at all."

The report

Consumer Reports tested 50 popular ready-made baby food products for heavy metals, and every product had measurable levels of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, or lead. According to Dickinson, what makes those test results worrisome is that 68% correspond to elevated levels of potential risk for cancer development, neurological problems or respiratory problems.

That doesn't mean that your child is going to get sick from eating a jar of baby food, but it does mean that, in some cases, (like with sweet potatoes or rice-based cereals and baby snacks) parents should serve the foods in moderation, and mix in other kind of grains, veggies and protiens as much as possible.

"Having a variety goes a long way to help mitigate this issue and ensure your children grow up happy, healthy and safe," he tells Motherly.

A call to action

Consumer Reports is calling on baby food manufacturers to take a long hard look at their supply chains when making food for growing babies and kids, in addition to stricter policies and controls to prevent contamination during the manufacturing process.

"If they are very vigilant about making sure the food they source already has very low levels of these heavy elements, that goes a long way to increasing the probability that the final product, the final food ends up having low levels," he explains, adding that Consumer Reports also has some ideas for the FDA.

"The first one is to set very clear goals for manufacturers to have absolutely no measurable levels of the heavy elements in any baby food, any toddler food at all. That's an ambitious goal, so to help manufacturers get to that goal, we'd like the FDA to set very clear benchmarks along that pathway to that goal and then enforce those benchmarks," Dickerson explains.

"Lastly, there are currently pending, agreed upon guidelines that the FDA is considering that we would like them to finalize by the end of 2018," he notes. Those guidelines would limit the amount of inorganic arsenic acceptable in infant cereal and fruit juices.

In a statement emailed to Motherly an FDA spokesperson explains: "Toxic elements are naturally occurring so it is not possible to remove or completely prevent arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury from entering the food supply, but our goal at FDA is to limit consumer exposure, especially in children, to the greatest extent feasible."

The FDA says it welcomes the data from Consumer Reports and "will review it in its entirety to further inform our efforts in reducing heavy metals in the food supply."

What we can do to reduce the risks

Manufacturers and regulatory bodies are aware of the issue of heavy metals in baby foods, and thanks to Consumer Reports, now a lot more parents are, too. While we can't control how fast changes come to the way baby food is made, we can control the menu at home.

"Our recommendation is for balance, balance, balance," says Dickerson. "What that means is that you should feed your children a balance of grains, a balance of fruits and vegetables, a balance of proteins."

In short, one serving of jarred sweet potatoes or a rice-based baby snack isn't going to increase your child's risk for cancer development, neurological problems or respiratory problems, but eating those things all the time could, so mix up the menu. It not only reduces your child's risk of exposure to heavy metals, but exposes them to new foods and textures, too.

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Store-bought baby food is a staple for a lot of busy parents, but new data from Consumer Reports has everyone talking about what's in those jars, along with the purees.

According to Consumer Reports, which tested 50 popular ready-made baby food products for heavy metals, "every product had measurable levels" of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, or lead.

The headlines may seem shocking, but we all actually ingest arsenic in some form, because, as the FDA explains, it's naturally found in soil and water and absorbed by plants. That's why many foods, including grains (especially rice) and fruits and vegetables contain arsenic. It's also why many snack-type foods like bars, cookies, crackers, crisps, puffs, and rice rusks tested particularly high for heavy metals "generally because of their rice content," Consumer Reports notes.

As FDA spokesperson Peter Cassell said when the results of a similar study was released last year by the Clean Label Project, "it is important for consumers to understand that some contaminants, such as heavy metals like lead or arsenic, are in the environment and cannot simply be removed from food."

Just because heavy metals are detectable in baby foods doesn't mean our children are going to get sick, but manufacturers should be aiming for the lowest level of heavy metals possible. Consumer Reports did find that 16 of the products tested has such low levels of contamination that daily servings should not be limited. This suggests "that all baby food manufacturers should be able to achieve similar results," notes Consumer Reports.

Gerber's Lil' Entrées Chicken & Brown Rice With Peas & Corn, Beech-Nut Organic Peas, Green Beans, and Avocado pouch, Gerber Graduates Puffs Strawberry Apple Cereal Snack and Happy Baby Organics Purple Carrots, Bananas, Avocados & Quinoa pouch were among the baby foods that can be served multiple times per day without concern over heavy metals, according to Consumer Reports.

However, about 68% of the products tested didn't just have measurable levels of heavy metals, but worrisome levels, and 15 of the foods could pose potential health risks to children who eat just one serving per day, so Consumer Reports suggests parents limit kids' intake to half a serving.

For example, "all the samples of Beech-Nut Classics Sweet Potatoes, Earth's Best Organic Sweet Potatoes, and Gerber Turkey & Rice had concerning levels of lead," Consumer Reports notes.

Here's what parents need to know:

Most of the products tested are from the two largest baby food manufacturers in the U.S., Beech-Nut and Gerber. Baby Mum-Mum, Earth's Best, Ella's Kitchen, Happy Baby, Parent's Choice (Walmart's store brand), Plum Organics, and Sprout were also tested.

According to Dickerson, eating these baby foods doesn't mean a child will get sick, but it may increase their risk for health problems. Genetics and exposure to heavy metals from other sources (like lead paint or contaminated water) also play a role.

The companies producing the baby food tested (including including Sprout, Gerber, Beech Nut, Baby Mum Mum, Parent's Choice, Happy Baby and Plum Organics) responded to either Consumer Reports, Good Morning America or both, stressing the importance of safety, supporting the guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and some did note that that heavy metals can be naturally occurring.

Sign the petition

Consumer Reports is calling for government action on this issue and has set up a petition for parents to sign, asking the FDA to set a goal of having "no measurable amounts of cadmium, lead, or inorganic arsenic in baby and children's food and "limit inorganic arsenic" in certain foods by the end of this year.

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