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Ask a new mom about her actions after giving birth, and you’ll hear a range of behaviors that would probably sound odd to most non-moms. Watching the baby’s breathing, checking the baby monitor dozens of times, keeping an eye on the front door for potential intruders. To new moms these actions are likely all too familiar. The anxiety that comes with motherhood is something many new moms feel but rarely discuss. And perinatal anxiety – that is, anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period – has received limited attention from researchers and health professionals, according to a 2017 review article in The British Journal of Psychiatry, despite the fact that it is highly prevalent. We are, after all, suddenly responsible for tiny, helpless, precious humans. Who wouldn’t be anxious? This can all lead a mom to wonder, how much anxiety is too much?


Protecting our babies: some physiological explanations

Entering pregnancy, mothers experience a ramping up of their stress systems in order to help them care for and protect their new little beings, explains Mary Kimmel, M.D., Assistant Professor and Medical Director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Inpatient Unit at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and mother of two. “The main hormone from the stress system is cortisol, and that actually increases across pregnancy to support the development of the baby, but it also functions in this role of trying to help mom find the right amount of stress or anxiety once the baby comes,” says Kimmel.

Researchers are working to understand how hormones and neurological reactions foster feelings of protectiveness. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe brain activity in new parents, for instance, researchers at Yale University observed that when new parents heard their babies cry, the parents often experienced an anxious neural response in brain areas associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and with emotions such as empathy. As Anna Abramson and Dawn Rouse report in “The Postpartum Brain,” the researchers believe this neural response is evolutionary and primal: after childbirth, a period of high alert, or vigilant watch, was necessary in order for parents to protect their babies from all sorts of environmental dangers.

At the University of Denver’s Family and Child Neuroscience Lab, under Director Pilyoung Kim, Ph.D., researchers are studying the brain activity of first-time mothers for patterns that are linked to their anxiety or depressive symptoms. Researchers found greater connectivity between the amygdala (the brain’s almond-shaped masses of gray matter associated with emotional awareness) and frontal regions in the brain in mothers with higher levels of postpartum anxiety. “Heightened amygdala activity has been linked to greater fear responses or threat detection and anxiety symptoms,” explains Amy L. Anderson, doctoral candidate at the University of Denver. “Our finding of increased connectivity between the frontal regions (PFC) and amygdala potentially indicates that even in the absence of threat stimuli, mothers with higher levels of anxiety may still be activating regions of their brain that react to heightened emotions or anxious states.”

Defining postpartum anxiety

Defining postpartum anxiety can be difficult, explains Kimmel, since each woman is unique and some women worry more than others. “We all fall on a spectrum, in terms of our personality. It’s not good or bad where you fall, but wherever you fall, if you have no anxiety, that can be problem for you at certain times, and having too much anxiety can be a problem. That makes it harder to define postpartum anxiety. When is it a separate thing from how you are just working within the world?”

Sarah,* who has a 22-month-old daughter, believes she suffered from anxiety after her daughter was born although she never sought treatment. “I was really worried about keeping my daughter alive and her breathing. I kept the lights on in the house at night. I must have checked her breathing 20 times a night.” Sarah did not feel depressed, but she felt exhausted since checking her daughter’s breathing so often interrupted her own sleep. And she had no way of knowing whether checking her daughter’s breathing that often at night was normal. Only after her daughter grew older and less fragile did her worries dissipate and did Sarah come to believe she’d been suffering from anxiety. “When I compare myself to my peers who had newborns at the time, many women seem much calmer and less neurotic about their babies and their breathing,” she says.

Similarly, Katherine, who has a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son, worried about keeping her daughter alive. “I was constantly worried she was going to die,” adding that as a new mother, her lack of mastery over caring for babies left her feeling on edge all the time. “I couldn’t calm myself down when she cried. I had a visceral reaction to it.” Katherine’s anxiety about her baby caused her to become anxious about her own health. A psychologist by training, she recognized her anxiety was interrupting her life and causing her to not enjoy spending time with her daughter, which prompted her to seek treatment and medication.

The many forms of anxiety

About 85 percent of women experience some type of mood disturbances after having their babies, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Women’s Mental Health. For the majority of these women, the disturbances are short-lived and mild. However, for about 10 to 15 percent, the disturbances develop into more severe symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Anxiety can be generalized or specific and affect a mom in a number of ways. A mom may suffer from constant worry, racing thoughts, sleep disturbances, or a feeling something bad will happen. The anxiety may get to a level where she never feels comfortable letting someone else take over, or it could be the other extreme: she is so anxious about doing something wrong she becomes paralyzed and unable to be left alone with her child. Specific anxieties include agoraphobia, literally “fear of the marketplace,” Postpartum Panic Disorder, or Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a form of anxiety where moms experience obsessions, or intrusive, upsetting, often very frightening thoughts, and ritualistic behaviors or compulsions.

For Jennifer, mom of a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, her obsession centered on harming her daughter while feeding her. “I was afraid to feed her because I was afraid to stab her,” says Jennifer. “I was afraid to hold a fork anywhere near her.”

Worries about harming their children are very common obsessions for new mothers, particularly in the postpartum period, says Kimmel. According to the non profit organization Postpartum Support International (PSI), these frightening obsessions are anxious in nature and have a very low risk of being acted on. “One mom’s example was the mom thought, ‘oh, my child can fit in the microwave, what a weird thought, oh my gosh, that’s horrible I was thinking about that,’ and she got stuck on that thought,” says Kimmel. “If you were worried about the microwave then you stop going into the kitchen, you can see how that can be negatively impactful.” Similar are obsessive thoughts about knives in the kitchen. “If you’re having that worry about knives in the kitchen, and that’s keeping you from cooking, and cooking is a thing you love, clearly, that’s gotten to a place that needs to be addressed,” she explains, adding that when a mom’s stress system over-responds – when the anxiety makes her feel uncomfortable, when it keeps her from being able to enjoy things, or when it keeps her from doing things she wants to do – that the woman should seek treatment.

But even Jennifer, who had a history of OCD, had difficulty talking about her thoughts. “I was so worried that if I told people what I was thinking that it would happen or that I wanted it to happen. I was afraid to talk about it because I was afraid they would call Child Protective Services on me.” Jennifer says she feels fortunate her longtime psychiatrist “picked” it out of her and can only imagine how many women, who do not have longstanding care and treatment, are suffering. “Even though I had a history of OCD, I did feel ashamed. How could I be a decent person and have these thoughts about my child?”

Anxiety with or without depression

Thanks to the media and to ongoing education, it may be fair to say many women know about postpartum depression (PPD), but many do not know they can suffer from postpartum anxiety alone, without depression. Anxiety is often subsumed under the umbrella term “postpartum depression,” which means recognizing you may be suffering from anxiety may be difficult if you are not feeling depressed. Plus, “little attention” has been given to postpartum anxiety by clinicians and researchers possibly because of the overlap between depression and anxiety symptoms, according to The MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health.

“Part of where it can be hard for some moms is they don’t recognize as being depressed be-cause they don’t feel depressed,” says Kimmel. “They don’t feel sad. They don’t feel like they’re not enjoying things, they just feel overwhelmed with worry.” She added that when moms are feeling really anxious and overwhelmed, they may begin to feel depressed, too. “That’s why it can be hard to piece the two apart because you can begin to feel a lot of the symptoms of depression, such as guilt and feeling hopeless, when you feel so anxious and worried.”

For Lisa,* who has a three-month-old daughter and was diagnosed with PPD, a lot of her PPD was anxiety-driven: she was on high alert, she would wake up in the middle of the night to stare at her daughter to ensure she was alive, and she had sudden fears she’d drop her daughter while carrying her. Then there were the socks. “When I put socks on my daughter, every time, I was scared I was going to pull one of her toes off,” she says, explaining she had such irrational fears, and she knew they were irrational, but she couldn’t stop them. Eventually, Lisa’s husband found her crying in the bathroom. “I couldn’t even explain why,” she says. “I was so overwhelmingly sad.”

But Jennifer, who had braced herself for PPD, was caught off-guard when she was met with anxiety. “I was bracing myself for possible PPD but never about panic attacks about my daughter and obtrusive thoughts about my daughter,” she says. “I’d read a lot about PPD, but the hospital never asked me the right questions. They didn’t notice I was panicking every time I was alone with my daughter.”

Getting treatment

Unlike PPD, a classic screening tool does not exist for postpartum anxiety. Instead, a combination of screening tools are used, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), used for PPD, and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), but these may not detect all symptoms, such as OCD symptoms, which are predominant. Accordingly, these tools may not identify all women with clinically relevant anxiety. “We’re still trying to figure out how to get at some of these diverse groups of symptoms that may be going on,” says Kimmel. Only recently, in 2014, did researchers in Western Australia develop the Perinatal Anxiety Screening Scale (PASS), a 31-item questionnaire – the first survey to date – to detect perinatal anxiety.

But even if women, themselves, recognize they are suffering, finding the right treatment can be difficult. Lisa, who suffered from PPD, was told by her daughter’s pediatrician that she needed to get help. But when Lisa contacted her prenatal care provider, she had to wait over two weeks to talk with a therapist, at which time she was told she had PPD. Lisa’s provider told her that she would be prescribed medication on the condition Lisa find a different provider for postpartum care and that the medication could take six to eight weeks to kick in. “I felt like no one was helping me from a medical perspective,” says Lisa. “So I got angry and channeled that anger to figure out how to help myself.” For Lisa, helping herself meant being honest about her feelings and talking about them: she decided to stop lying that having a baby was all wonderful. “The more I talked about it, people said, ‘oh, I felt that way, too.’ So why don’t more people talk about it?” she asks. “We don’t, as women and mothers, talk about it enough. We’re left feeling like something’s wrong with us.”

Moms need time to talk about their experiences so they can find and receive the support they need. “We’re moving towards this system of these really short [medical] appointments,” says Kimmel, “and we need to have time. These are hard things to talk about.” Kimmel suggests that a multidisciplinary approach – a team of people who can address the mom’s unique needs and background and offer the most effective support, whether that’s medication or therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness – is important.

One resource is Postpartum Support International, which provides a network of volunteers in each of the 50 states to contact for support. Anyone may call its toll-free Warmline (1-800-944-4773) for basic information and resources. It hosts “Wednesday Chats for Moms” and “First Monday Chats for Dads,” free live phone sessions where parents can connect with other parents and talk to experts.

Thankfully, more steps are being taken to increase awareness and to address the many facets of maternal health. In 2015 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists began recommending clinicians screen women at least once during the perinatal period for depression and anxiety symptoms. And in 2016, Congress passed groundbreaking legislation, enacted as part of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016, to fund screening and treatment programs for maternal depression. Some states, like New Jersey, Illinois, and West Virginia, already require screening of new mothers for postpartum depression.

Steps are being taken. Still, many more need to be.

For information on additional perinatal mood disorders, visit Postpartum Support International.

*Names have been changed per requests not to be identified.

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We're a busy people, this family of mine. And we like it that way. But we're still always looking for simple ways to reconnect.

And most of the time, those moments happen around the dinner table.

I'm not embarrassed to admit we've become homebodies—we vastly prefer nights in watching movies and meals at home to the stress and cost of evenings out. While my husband and I still try to schedule a few legit date nights out now and then, by the end of our busy days, we like relaxing at the table as a family, then putting our daughter to bed to spend time together catching up on our shows or watching a movie. Most of our dates happen on the couch, and we're okay with that.

Dinner itself is a tradition I grew up valuing. As one of five kids, it seemed to be the only time our family was really all together, catching up on our days, making plans, or even just being physically present together. (This reminds me so much of the table we would gather around every night!)

Now that I'm my family's connector, I make sure to prioritize that time (even if most nights it's all I can do to get my wiggly toddler to sit still long enough to get a few bites of her dinner).

Whether we're relishing a home-cooked meal or simply noshing some pizza (because mama is tired, folks), nothing can replace the feeling of reconnecting—or leaving the table with satisfied bellies.

Because something strange happens when you have kids. Suddenly, time seems to enter a warp. One day (usually the days when nap time is short and the tantrums are long), time will drag on endlessly, making each minute feel like an hour until my husband gets home and can help with the kids. But most of the time, when I stop and really think about where we are in this busy season of life, I feel like time is flying by.

I look at my daughter, and I feel like someone has snuck in during the night and replaced her with this big-little girl because I swear she was just born a few months ago. I hug my son, unsure where the time has possibly gone because didn't I just take that positive pregnancy test yesterday? And I marvel at this rapidly growing family my husband and I have built because, really, wasn't he just asking me to be his girlfriend a year or two ago? (Try 10, self. That was 10 years ago.)

As fast as time races by, I don't have any answers for how to slow it down. If anything, the pendulum seems to swing quicker and quicker as our days fill with new activities. With jobs and responsibilities, with more and more activities and play dates for the kids.

But at the dinner table, I feel like time slows down enough for me to pause and look at this little family. I imagine us two, five, 10 years down the road (gathering around a table just like one of these). More little (and then not so little) faces peering at me over the table, asking for another piece of bread or more milk as my husband makes them giggle with a silly face or story.

I imagine them as teenagers, telling me about an upcoming test or asking if they can borrow the car after dinner. I even see them as adults, coming back to visit with their own kids for the occasional family dinner. (Hey, a mom can dream, right?)


No matter where life takes us—or how quickly—I'm grateful for this time and this place where we can always come back together.

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A barking cough echoed over the baby monitor at 5:00 am. My eyes hadn't even opened and in a hoarse morning voice I asked my husband, "You heard that too, right?" Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought. But he agreed, and I groaned, knowing what my day—already planned to the hour—would now look like.

My husband is a teacher with a hefty commute and not always a lot of flexibility, so things like sick kids, vet appointments and oil changes usually fall to me. While I'm thankful for a job that essentially allows me to work anywhere—like car dealership waiting areas, my kitchen table or even waiting in line at the grocery store (thanks, email app!)—I still flinch at any disruption from my usual schedule.

I knew the barking baby seal probably meant Croup and because my older kiddo had also been battling a nasty cough and cold, I made plans to take both kids to the doctor. Four hours of meetings scheduled? No problem. I'd make the kids appointments, change my in-person meetings to conference calls, get the kids comfortable with some PBS and pillows and get on with my day working from home.

Two doctors appointments, a breathing treatment (due to unforeseen wheezing) and a trip to the pharmacy later, the girls and I were back home. I had 10 minutes to spare before a call with my manager. Barely breaking a sweat, I thought. Oh, the smug confidence.

I texted a quick update to my mom who'd asked how the girls were. Exasperated, my 3-year-old began pacing in circles in the kitchen. She might have been sick, but somehow her energy never faltered. She gestured with frustration— her palms up and little fingers spread wide, "It's not time for texting, Mommy. It's time for lunch!"

Some people have the type of kids who get colds and melt into the couch for days. They sleep more than usual, they're quieter and they are more than happy to zone out to a movie. I do not have such children.

But she was right. I apologized and sloppily slathered some peanut butter and honey on stale bread ends. Then added bread to the running grocery list.

Five minutes to spare.

As I served up a gourmet lunch, of PB&H and a juice box, I fumbled around to find the conference code when I heard the splat of baby barf hitting the floor (it's possible there is no worse sound.)

"Mommy! Ew! She barfed!"

I made a mental note to talk to the toddler about using the word, 'barf.'

My confident attitude about taking the day head on was now in a swift downward spiral. Sure, I could still join my meeting. I could half listen on mute and soothe the coughing baby with some gentle hip bouncing. But I'd likely have to answer a question and unmute myself, no doubt as the baby started crying again or the dog barked at a UPS truck.

I could make it happen and later face my oldest asking why I'm always on the phone or always texting and never playing. Basically, I could make it work, but not work well.

So, here's what I did.

I sent one final text to my manager that said, "Thought I could make today work but can't. Two sick kids. Need to reschedule."

I then breathed a huge sigh of relief for making one decision and not trying to squeeze in 50 things. I was able to refocus my attention to the little people who actually needed me. My manager sympathetically—and genuinely—responded, "Mom job comes first."

Because let's face it—my 3-year-old doesn't care that my inbox is full and my calendar is back-to-back. All she knows is this: When I'm home she wants to play.

And just because I can work anywhere, doesn't mean I should. I have to learn to stop "making it work." Some days it just doesn't work. I need the reminder to put the phone down. Close the laptop. Focus on what's in front of me. Find a way to shut off the part of my brain that's yelling and anxious about everything I need to do.

Sometimes I need to just s l o w d o w n.

My career isn't going to come to a screeching halt because I spent a few hours or even a few days with sick kids. But I'd like to think my kids will remember the times I spent snuggling and relaxing with them when they were sick. I'd rather they hold on to those memories than ones of me texting and scheduling and over-scheduling and trying to make ALL of it work.

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Motherhood is likely to be the most demanding gig you'll ever have, which is why having the right tools for the job is essential. Of course, even first-time mamas know they'll need a place to sleep, feed and change their newborn—but, there some key ways to set up the baby's room that will make each of those activities less stressful.

Here they are:

1. Re-think lighting

Youthful Nest

An average room has a single ceiling light centered in the middle of the room. Since that isn't where you'll place a changing table to change diapers, rethink how to shed some light on this and other essential caregiver tasks.

First, install a dimmer on the main overhead lighting so you can control the brightness for stealthy middle-of-the-night responsibilities, like feedings and diaper changes. You don't want be attempting these to-dos fumbling around in the darkness nor under bright lights that completely waken you and baby to the point that makes going back to sleep impossible.

Then, add in strategic task lighting. Key spots are near the changing table and next to the glider. If possible, even near the crib. This can be done with floor or table task lamps, preferably with adjustable brightness control, battery-powered motion sensor lights or baby nightlights.

2. Make one space to do multiple tasks

Youthful Nest

Motherhood brings a whole new meaning to the term multitasking. You might be nursing, snacking and emailing all at the same time. Even if you are handling one task at a time, you'll want to have the proper workstation to do your thing.

Wherever you place your glider, be sure to have a decent surface space within arm's reach where you can access items without having to get up from that comfy spot or move baby.

Think about setting up your glider area like you might a work desk. Have baby and mom necessities just a swivel away, including your feeding supplies, books, throws, drink cups, cell phone charger set on a side table or shelf system.

This same principle goes for the changing table area. For safety reasons, you don't want to leave your baby unattended so make sure you can grab the essentials with one hand. (Especially for those moments when the other hand is covered in poo. 💩)

Ensure the changing table area can hold the essential wipes and diapers and a couple sets of clean clothing, rash cream, nasal aspirator, nail clippers, boogie wipes and any other must-have baby toiletries.

3. Create comfort + support for you, mama

Youthful Nest

You deserve to put your feet up, mama. That means you'll want to include a pouf, ottoman or other type of footrest in your nursery. Using one will allow you to elevate your feet during feedings, naps and everything in between.

Your body will go through enough physical wear and tear during pregnancy and postpartum so help your body by using a footrest to improve blood circulation in your legs. Since you'll be sitting for extended periods of time in the glider, putting your feet up will keep those unwanted varicose veins away and could even prevent blood clots.

Like a pouf, a décor pillow isn't just good to bring into the nursery because it looks super stylish. It will actually work hard to support your back during all those feedings and occasional naps you accidentally take in the glider.

Pick one you love the look of, but also be sure that it is big enough and comfortable to lean back on evenly. Longer lumbar pillows are great because they fit nicely in the glider, giving you optimal support.

I would also suggest having a second décor pillow, one that you can tuck under your arm to get the height just right especially while feeding or reading. Too often gliders' armrests are not quite at the perfect height for everyone so a smaller throw pillow can be just enough support.

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It's on the walls of OB-GYN offices and maternity wards, and on the lips of friends, family and sometimes even strangers in the formula aisle. At times it's all a new mama can hear, even when she's sitting in silence with her thoughts.

When it comes to infant feeding, there is no phrase mothers hear more often than "breast is best" but new research, experts and moms who've lived a different truth say that while this message is amplified with the best intentions, new mamas need a lot more than those three words.

A recently published study, "The best of intentions: Prenatal breastfeeding intentions and infant health," suggests that there is a high societal cost to simplifying the the cultural conversation around infant feeding into a three-word slogan.

The study found that moms who intended to exclusively breastfeed but ended up using formula had children with health outcomes similar to exclusively breastfed infants. They also, in many cases, have a lot of undue guilt.

A mom's perspective

When Nicole Rivet-Barton welcomed her first child nearly four years ago she fully intended to breastfeed, but it was a struggle from the start.

"My expectation for myself was that my body would provide what it needed for my baby and when that didn't happen and I had to accept that and transition [to supplementing with formula] I felt like I was failing somehow," Rivet-Barton tells Motherly.

"I felt like less of a person," she explains, adding that whenever she had to have an encounter with a medical professional that wasn't her regular family doctor, she felt judged. On more than one occasion nurses chided her for bottle feeding, telling her "breast is best" without knowing those words were already never far from her thoughts.

"It wasn't the 'best' that I could give her. She was still hungry. My breast milk didn't have what she needed to grow properly," she says.

With the help of a breastfeeding support group and a lactation consultant, Rivet-Barton was eventually able to shift her mindset from "breast is best" to "you do you" and says she felt lighter for it.

"We went to a lactation consultant to help get my milk up and she basically said to me one day, 'You're going to pick your path and you're going to do what's right for your baby. Don't feel guilty.' And I guess I heard her that day, and I let it go," she recalls.

A lactation consultant who doesn't say "breast is best"

Leigh Anne O'Connor is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice. She's not the lactation consultant Rivet-Barton turned to, but she certainly shares the same views when it comes to acknowledging that infant feeding can't be boiled down to three-word slogans.

"I've never embraced that phase, 'breast is best' or 'fed is best.' They're both divisive terms. It creates a division in parenting and it creates conflict," she says. In place of catchphrases, O'Connor advocates for a more nuanced, thoughtful conversation on the topic.

She believes we can have individual and cultural discussions that both normalize breastfeeding and encourage parents to get their baby fed in the way that works for them, whether it's through nursing, pumping, using donor milk or formula.

"It's complicated. It's not one size fits all," she says. "Breastfeeding isn't always all or nothing, and there's a place for supplementation."

When "you do you" is best

For Rivet-Barton, supplementing allowed her to keep breastfeeding as much as she could for six months after both of her daughters were born.

She says that by the time her second daughter came along, she felt more confident in her parenting choices, and gave herself a lot more grace when it came to her infant feeding choices.

"I got into my stride and got confident enough to listen to my gut and not other people," she tells Motherly, adding that she wishes medical professionals and society would use more than three words when trying to educate new parents about infant feeding. "Give them options without putting expectations on them," she suggests.

More research and more support needed 

There is a massive body of research suggesting that breastfeeding is great for babies. That's not in dispute at all. But the researchers behind that recently published study suggest that the link just isn't as simple as "breast is best."

"Our results suggest that formula offers similar health benefits for our relatively advantaged sample of infants, once we take prenatal intentions into account," the study's authors note.

The research suggests that moms like Rivet-Barton really have nothing to feel guilty about.

The authors—Kerri M. Raissian, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut and Jessica Su, an assistant professor in University at Buffalo Department of Sociology—explain that it's not actually the intention to breastfeed that makes the health difference, but rather the fact that mothers who intended to breastfeed often have a certain kind of privilege: They're the mothers who have more access to medical care and therefore more access to information about infant health.

Raissian and Su suggest that instead of amplifying the phrase "breast is best" and potentially overstating the benefits of breastfeeding, society would do better to give mothers the support they need during pregnancy and beyond.

This means making sure that everyone has access to perinatal care, and the kind of parental leave that makes it possible to breastfeed in the first place.

"The U.S. is the only developed country with no federal paid parental leave, and only about 12 percent of mothers in the private sector have access to paid leave," Su explains. "Paid maternity leave likely increases breastfeeding success, and also seems to have additional health benefits for mothers and infants. If we have concerns about disparities in infant health we need social policies that support these recommendations and also go beyond simply encouraging breastfeeding over formula."

Breastfeeding is great, but maybe "support for mothers" would be a better three-word slogan.

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I sometimes wonder how many times in a day small children hear "good job." It is so ingrained in the way we talk to kids, but in the Montessori classroom, you will not hear that phrase.

This is not to say that we don't offer positive reinforcement and encouragement, but our language is different. Montessori teachers try to use phrases of encouragement that protect the child's intrinsic motivation, and that focus on the child's process rather than the end product of his efforts.

"Good job" implies that we are the ones who judge our children's work and behavior, rather than empowering them to reflect upon their own efforts.

There are many ways to offer positive reinforcement that help your child evaluate themself. Here are 10 to try!

1. “You worked for a long time on that.”

When your child brings you a picture or shows you an elaborate block creation, try focusing your comments on their process, rather than the final product.

Let them know you saw how long it took them to make the creation and how hard they worked. This emphasizes to the child that creative process, concentration and their willingness to try new things are what matters, not how their final work looks.

2. “What was the most fun part of making that?”

Asking your child questions about their work shows them that they are the one who should be judging what they create, not you. It keeps their process from becoming adult-driven. The goal is for them to make and create things for the joy of it and to challenge themself, not to please you, or anyone else for that matter.

3. “What do you like best about your work?”

Prompt your child to be their own critic. Ask what they like best about their creation. Help them build the habit of reflecting on their own progress and skills, rather than always looking to others for praise.

4. “Tell me about your picture.”

Often when children bring us a piece of art they've made, they just want to share it with us and talk about it. They don't necessarily need or crave any real feedback from us. Simply asking your child to tell you about what they've made will show you're interested and give them a chance to tell you about what they've been working on.

5. “How did you choose what colors to use?”

If your child is a bit older, ask more specific questions about their process. Ask how they decided what colors to use in their picture, or what type of blocks they used for their structure. Show that you're genuinely interested in their process, and help them think through it on their own.

6. “You used so much detail!”

If your child isn't satisfied without some sort of feedback from you, find something specific to praise, rather than a general "good job." Comment on how they painted the whole page, covering every inch in color. Notice how they used so much detail that you really can tell it's your house they painted.

This type of comment lets them know you really see what they've done and helps them appreciate their own work in a deeper way.

7. “That was so helpful.”

Good behavior is another time when it's so tempting, even automatic, to say "good job." Try saying something more meaningful and commenting on what exactly you liked about your child's behavior.

"That was so helpful," or, "Thank you for helping" are good phrases to use when your child cleans up, opens the door for you, or helps you with household tasks like folding laundry or putting away dishes.

Children love to be part of the community and to feel like they are helping in a real way, so let them know!

8. “You got dressed right away today and we had extra play time, that was fun!”

Commenting on the positive results of your child's good behavior can be a powerful way to cement in their minds what a positive experience it was to make good choices. Help your child notice all of the positive effects of their actions.

9. “Your sister looked so happy when you read her that book.”

When your child is kind to someone, help them notice how it makes the other person feel. Let them know that their hug or kind words made your day. Tell them how happy their friend looked when they gave him a turn with his bike or how proud their little sister looked when they showed her how to water the plants all by herself.

We often comment on how our children's negative behavior makes people feel, but it's just as important to help them notice how their positive actions impact others.

10. “You put all of your toys away, everything looks so nice and neat.”

Comment on the specific thing your child did that you appreciated, and how it was helpful. This is a much more meaningful way to show your appreciation for your child's efforts than a blanket "good job."

There are so many meaningful, sincere ways to show our children that we appreciate what they do. The hardest part of branching out beyond "good job" is breaking the habit.

We are simply used to telling children "good job" for every little thing they do. While this is certainly meant to be kind and supportive, it can, in reality, take away from their sense of accomplishment and over time, can encourage them to seek out adult approval.

Try noticing when you say "good job" and start thinking about something more specific, or less adult-driven, you could have said instead. With practice, you will form new habits and ways of encouraging your child. It will feel more and more natural each time you try it.

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