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“Wow, Mama, what kind of bug is that?” my son asks, squatting in the dirt and peering at a tiny bug that I would have never noticed.


“I’m not sure, honey, we will have to look it up later,” I say, watching the multi-legged creature try to make a quick getaway.

“Okay!” he replies, before running off to find another hill to climb.

My youngest comes toddling down the trail, a wooden stick in hand. “Hike! I hikin’, Mama!” he proclaims proudly, carefully placing his newly found walking stick with each step he takes down the tree lined path.

A moment later, a creek is spotted, and the boys quickly abandon their entomological and ambulatory pursuits in order to throw rocks into the water. They ignore my pleas to keep their feet out of the water, and then a follow-up request to at least roll up their pants, and moments later they’re covered in water, mud, and smiles.

This is childhood, I think to myself. It’s a constant pursuit of knowledge, joy, and adventure, fueled by a drive that’s only found in the youngest among us. As parents, we hope to offer our children a healthy start, a sense of duty to help others than themselves, and an opportunity to experience the simple delight of being a child. Playing outdoors gives our children an excellent opportunity to fulfill all of these needs.

Overall Importance of Outdoor Play

There are several reasons I take my children outside on a daily basis. Some of these are less noble than others, primarily that my children seem to take better naps if they’ve spent the morning running around in the sun. I also find that I have to spend less time performing the more tiresome aspects of parenting, like constantly harping, “Use your indoor voices! Don’t jump on the couch! Give your brother some space!” When we’re outside, things just seem to go a little bit more smoothly.

Outdoor play has been a fundamental part of childhood until recently, and there are grave consequences associated with this shift. One study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that roughly one half of the preschool aged children surveyed did not walk or play outside with a parent once per day. Even more concerning, the study found that the girls in the study were 15% less likely than boys to have daily outdoor play.

When children do make it outdoors, other studies have shown that the time they spend out there is short, with the average child spending only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that children should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that 2 to 5 year olds may need two or more hours per day of physical activity. Even if toddlers seem to be constantly active, they still require dedicated time for physical play. 

Pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg of the AAP, while testifying before a federal subcommittee, described the importance of outdoor play for children:

“Play in an outdoor, natural environment allows children to explore both their world and their own minds…. Nature places virtually no bounds on the imagination and engages all of the senses. For all children, this setting allows for the full blossoming of creativity, curiosity, and the associated developmental advances.”

While I might personally be motivated to run my kids ragged with the hope they’ll burn off some energy, the benefits of nature play extend far beyond an earlier bedtime. Playing outdoors offers children opportunities that can’t be replicated in a classroom or even a gym – opportunities for better physical and mental health, a better world, and even a better childhood.

Physical Health Benefits 

This lack of outdoor play time has its consequences for children’s health. Numerous studies have found relationships between the time children spend outdoors, their proximity to a park or greenspace, and being of a healthy weight. One Australian study found that the older children who spent time outdoors were more likely to be physical active and were significantly less likely to be overweight. This outdoor playtime can help spark lifelong health habits, as being overweight in childhood puts a child at risk of being overweight as an adult.

The health benefits of playing outdoors aren’t limited to helping children maintain a healthy weight, however. Vitamin D, which is produced in the body after skin is exposed to sunlight, is increasingly becoming recognized as an important nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium and is essential for bone production and health. Deficiency in Vitamin D, which has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes, is common, with roughly 70 % of U.S. children not getting the amount they need, according to one study.

Even eyesight can be affected by a lack of time spent outdoors. The risk of myopia, or nearsightedness, is reduced by two-thirds for children with nearsighted parents if they spend more than 14 hours per week outside.

Mental Health Benefits

If the only benefit of playing outdoors was avoiding having to buy a new pair of glasses each year, we could debate whether or not it is worth it. But the mental health benefits of encouraging children to play outside erase any doubt to the question.

I have had my fair share of days where the constant whining, the insurmountable piles of laundry, and the boredom of the daily routine has built up inside of me until I am ready to explode and buy myself a plane ticket to Fiji, or at least drive to the nearest hotel and check myself in. On these days, I know what we need to do is get ourselves outside and into nature, our backyard, or on a walk through the neighborhood. When we finally make it out the door, I feel my stress level drop and watch the kids run around, much happier than when they were bouncing off the four walls of our living room.

It’s not just in my imagination, either; time spent in nature has been associated with better mental health for adults. Researchers found that adults who took a 90 minute walk in a natural setting were less likely to ruminate (focusing on negative parts of yourself, a behavior associated with mental illness) than those who walked in an urban setting. Other studies have shown that exercise in green environments, particularly those with water, lead to improved mood and self-esteem, two things from which most parents could benefit.

The mental health benefits extend to children, too. Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are able to concentrate better after spending time outdoors, according to numerous studies, and time spent in nature can also help to reduce stress in children. We often forget that children are not immune to the stresses of the world and require an outlet to relieve some of the anxiety and pressure they may feel. Playing outdoors helps them return to their most natural state – simply being a kid.

Conservation Benefits

But here is where things start to get really interesting. Our children are facing a world that is unlikely the one that we grew up in. While we may have heard vague rumblings about a hole in the ozone layer, acid rain, and disappearing rainforests in our childhood, the threat of climate change has become fully realized in this generation. June of 2016 was the hottest June on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and was the 14th month with record breaking high temperatures in a row.

With climate change moving from a theory to a reality, the need for citizens who are concerned about the well-being of our environment and all of those who live in it is greater than ever. But instead of fostering a connection between children and the outdoors, we’ve divorced nature from childhood, putting conservation efforts in jeopardy.

There is good news, however. Children who have a high sense of connection to nature are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behavior, such as recycling, turning off lights, and saving water, according to a recent study. This connection to nature is influenced by a family’s attitude to nature and having positive experiences in nature.

The same idea holds true for adults as well. Adults who recreate in nature, whether they are bird-watching or hunting, are more likely to actively participate in conservation efforts, such as habitat preservation or donating to conservation organizations.

When I am hiking with my children, my mind will often jump down the path, ten, twenty years ahead of us. I wonder what kind of world they are going to grow up in. Will they ask me what a glacier was when we visit Glacier National Park? Will the nightly news be bombarded with one environmental calamity after another? Will my generation be able to clean up our mess in time, or will we have to trust that our children will be able to figure out better solutions than we have?

If we want to enable the next generation to become good stewards of the environment, we cannot expect it to happen organically. Instead, it will take a concentrated effort to ensure that all children are able to access nature and experience the joy of playing outdoors. For our children (and for adults as well), melting ice caps and vanishing rainforests might sound like far off threats, but they can more easily understand the importance of keeping a river they love to fish in free from pollution, or why cleaning up trash along their favorite trail is necessary to preserve the habitat. Letting children experience nature first hand gives them understanding and an investment in their local ecosystems.

On The Right to be a Child 

The best part about playing outdoors with children is that it is one of those rare parenting moments when what I believe my children need, and what they want, actually intersects.

Childhood should be a time of excitement, learning, and adventure. The look of unbridled joy on a child’s face is one that no parent can get enough of. There are many times I have seen that look in my kid’s eyes – on Christmas morning, when they watch their grandparents get off of the plane, or when we tell them that yes, tonight they can have ice cream after dinner. When we are outside that look is not a rare one. I see it bubble up when they are splashing in puddles on rainy days, running at full speed across a field, or tumbling down a hill.

The concrete benefits of outdoor play are numerous, but even if they were non-existent, our children would still deserve the chance to run outside if for no other reason than it is part of what it means to be a kid. Chasing fireflies after bedtime, making mud pies, and building forts are all essential elements of the childhood experience. Sure, these activities inspire creativity, assist gross motor development, bolster burgeoning language skills, but more importantly, they are part of a season of joy in a child’s life that is often all too short.

Our children have a right to experience all of childhood, whether it is the view from the top of a tall tree or their first skinned knee, picking wild blackberries, or even bad case of poison ivy that will twist into a tall tale they till their own children about one day. At their heart, children are wild things, and we should let them grow up where the rest of the wild things are.

Like most parents, I worry about the start I am giving my children. I fret over if the food I give my children has too many pesticides on it, or if the pacifier my child has held onto for too many years is full of chemicals yet to be discovered as harmful. I try to teach them the importance of kindness and service to others, and pray that it will stick somewhere in their subconscious. I google milestones and activities to help them develop important skills they will need to know in life.

But the truth is, one of the simplest activities I can do, and the one they enjoy the most, is to simply head out the door and into nature. Playing together outside is not only beneficial for our physical and mental health (theirs and my own), but helps to lay a foundation for a lifestyle that respects the world we live in.

The time our children spend play outdoors is rapidly diminishing, and this has ramifications not only for their own health, but for our larger communities if are our children grow up without a connection to the environment. But even more simply, we should hold dear the importance of outdoor play as a foundational part of childhood because our children have the right to be kids.

My oldest son still talks about the time he found a frog fishing with his dad last summer. I am not surprised, as most of my best childhood memories were also formed outdoors. I want my children to know the beauty of eating s’mores by a campfire, swimming in a creek, and traipsing through a forest, because, more than anything, I believe it can bring them a good dose of joy.

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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.

We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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