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Many girls coming into my office are high achievers, spreading their time between athletics, community and a bustling social life. For all practical purposes it would seem their future college résumé will write itself. However, these qualities don’t impress me much.

As a mental health focused family therapist, what I am concerned with is another much less obvious internal résumé. One that seems to be seriously lacking and causing anxiety and depression that you almost can’t see unless you look close enough.

In many different ways shapes and forms, our girls learn at a young age to be pleasers, fixers and to be “nice.” The dangers that lie in these labels are not from parents’ aspirations of raising young girls who are respectful and polite. The dangers lie in the connotations these titles can hold if they go unchallenged and unacknowledged by families.

What harm can come from the label of nice? Turns out a decent amount, as often being a nice girl comes at the expense of being a real girl. Somewhere along the way, nice begins to translate to selfless, modest, quiet, and above all perfect. Turns out girls don’t have to wait until adulthood to experience the cultural perception that women can, or should, have it all, do it all, be it all.

Studies consistently show that girls feel they are under pressure to please both peers and adults, and as they grow into their teens are increasingly more likely to describe themselves as stressed and unhappy. It appears when we over-emphasize the doing side of the coin, we are at risk of forgetting about the aspect of their being. What are we missing in helping to guide our girls towards living authentically and comfortably in their own skin?

Communication skills

“I’m having a hard time with my friends,” say 90 percent of the grade school aged girls who walk into my office. As we discuss the problem and possible solution of talking things out with the peer usually the comment is met with a reaction resembling confused shock and awe. “Tell her what I’m thinking?! She might get mad at me!”

Somewhere along the way it seems we’ve stifled our girls’ ability to communicate, and in the process our girls have developed many maladaptive means of conflict resolution, many of which can be conceptualized as relational aggression. In a nutshell, relational aggression is a covert means of hurting another through behaviors such as excluding, ignoring, gossiping or manipulation.

When adults help girls to navigate the territory of speaking up for themselves in a straightforward and respectful way, they provide a roadmap for healthy conflict resolution, showing them it is possible to honor their own thoughts and opinions without diminishing the character of another.

When adults encourage girls to be assertive, speaking up to express their needs and opinions – especially when they are in disagreement with ours – they are validating essential skills of self-advocacy as well as promoting courage to be confident enough to stay true to their own wants, needs, and desires. In doing so we are helping our girls to find their voice.

Emotional intelligence

A simple definition of emotional intelligence, “The ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness, problem-solving, and managing, emotions. When girls learn early on they should assume the role of peacekeeper and avoid conflict at any cost they are robbed of the ability to develop skills necessary to manage their emotions.

When girls are taught that certain emotions, such as anger and sadness, are unacceptable they will naturally shy away from expressing a full and genuine range of emotion. When girls shut down, avoid, and essentially stuff their feelings they are closing off a piece of themselves which is of great detriment to their emotional well-being, to say the least.

When adults have a healthy relationship with their own emotions and model this for their daughters, this sets the stage for emotional intelligence to be developed. What does a healthy relationship with our emotions look like? Acceptance, validation and healthy expression.

When adults allow space for their child’s anger and sadness to be expressed as healthy emotions, validate these feelings through listening and empathy, and support and teach safe and appropriate expression of these powerful emotions, they are modeling and teaching critical coping skills that will pay off long beyond childhood.

Challenging our culture’s emphasis on appearance

Seven in ten girls report being concerned about their appearance, specifically their looks and weight. Of course this is not surprising given the relative obsession our culture has around girls and unrealistic ideals of beauty. Girls are constantly slammed with a barrage of information which aims to reduce them to their appearance.

Parents need not feel powerless in the face of our skewed culture. Simply having an awareness of these harmful messages will help increase awareness around the signals and messages you are sending day to day. Taking a proactive approach in continuously challenging media images and gender stereotypes while creating an ongoing dialogue around this subject is powerful.

How are girls typically portrayed on TV or in movies? Does this align with both yours and your daughter’s experiences? Emphasizing girls’ skills, strengths, hard work and successes ahead of appearance goes a long way to model that what counts in the long run, not what’s on the outside.

Helping them discover their spark

If I had a quarter for every girl who sat across from me in silence when asked about their personality strengths and character traits, unable to generate a single one I’d have at least a jarful. If we as parents, the people who know and value who they are as a person more than anyone else, don’t take the time to teach and talk to them about their unique strengths and gifts, who else will?

As parents, we can make a point to observe and acknowledge all the amazing attributes we see unfolding in our child. Pointing out what appears to energize and excite our girls and reflecting this back is a great way to cultivate awareness and start conversations on what brings them meaningful joy and fulfillment. Providing options and encouraging girls to try variety of different activities also goes a long way to help them gain insight into what they love and what gifts they have to offer the world.

Teaching the value of mistakes

When we value perfection over perseverance we set ourselves up for stress and disappointment. When we fail to notice and commend our girls’ effort and hard work, only reinforcing achievements of which society sets the standards, we set the stage for perfectionism and risk-aversion.

Research shows us that girls are more likely to assume that the outcome on any given endeavor is based on ability as opposed to effort, when in fact the reverse is true. We know that when girls value hard work and effort over a fixed trait or ability, they increase task performance and set themselves up for resiliency in the challenges they will face throughout their development.

When a girl has the ability to take risks and open herself up to the vulnerability of rejection or failure, she is able to confront a challenge head on. Parents can also point out their own mistakes and learning curves, modeling that it is a crooked path to mastery and not a straight shot.

Many adults are unaware of the invisible pressures crippling girls in our culture. I am holding out hope that as these dynamics continue to be brought to light, small shifts can lead to big changes. I will always see girls in my office facing the challenges life inevitably hands us. How amazing would it be to see girls facing these same challenges equipped with a strong voice, convicted emotion, perseverence, a solid sense of self, and the confidence to never quit giving it all they’ve got? Pretty amazing.

When that day comes, look out world.


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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

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

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.


A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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