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A few weeks ago I was chatting with my friend Audra when our conversation turned to talk of summer. “Soooo, we were going to sign Timothy up for baseball this summer, but I don’t know. We like having our weekends free. And he’s just eight. It can wait a couple of years. Right?” she asked causally. 

I wasn’t sure how to answer her. I don’t think Audra had any idea how complicated that question is. 

Maybe there was an era when Little League Baseball or Mighty Mite football or Pee Wee basketball were just simple childhood pastimes – games that children played in the summer or on weekends. But now kids’ sports are a much, much bigger deal. And the implications of signing your child up for a sport (or not) can be massive. 

What difference does it make?

When Audra causally tossed out the idea of waiting a couple of years, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it might already be too late for their son to play baseball – at least on a serious level. Our youngest son began T-ball at four (a year later than many of his peers), and by seven he was on an all-star team that traveled to compete with other seven-year-olds around the state.

We live in a small town where the talent pool is small, and competition for a position on an all- star team is minimal. But in larger cities, like the one Audra lives in, it can be very difficult for kids to jump in and be competitive when they are already two years behind their peers. 

I’ve seen kids playing T-ball in pull-ups and a young soccer player racing down the field with a binky in his mouth. It was cute. Parents and spectators were delighted, and the kids in each of these scenarios seemed to be having a great time. There was no pressure on these little ones to win or even to understand the game.

But this doesn’t change the fact that an early start is often considered an important factor for a kid’s future in the game. According to Brian Watson of the Finneytown Athletic Association, the earlier kids start playing a sport the better. 

Still, isn’t starting baseball later an option for kids who aren’t interested in highly competitive travel teams?

Maybe. But with more players specializing – starting younger with intense leagues and in many cases private coaching, the structure of kids’ baseball (as well as other sports) has changed dramatically. Often city league baseball just isn’t what it used to be. University of Nebraska researcher David Ogden has said that the high level of play leaves more broad-based organizations, such as Little League and YMCA teams, with “a lot of kids who can’t get the ball over the plate, so the game is less fun and kids drop out.”

So, yes. Children can start playing baseball when they’re older, but they might find themselves playing a watered down version of the game because so many other players have moved on to competitive club teams. As a result, some families find themselves having to choose between highly competitive travel teams and low skill-level city league teams. Unfortunately, the game seems to be missing a happy medium.

Baseball isn’t the only sport or activity that has intensified in this way. A child who begins dance lessons at four is more likely to be selected for a competitive dance troupe than one who starts at 10. A gymnast who begins as a toddler is more likely to progress in the sport than one who begins as a pre-teen. This is simply the reality of youth sports today. Stiffer competition means that parents are looking to give their children every edge – and that edge begins early.

Of course, it isn’t just that kids who start younger are better. It isn’t even necessarily that they have more skill. But the younger a child starts in a sport or activity, the more likely he or she is to gain the attention and admiration of coaches. Coaches look for skill, but many of them also like to work with the same kids year after year and “coach them up” to create their own close-knit, well-oiled winning machine. Sometimes long-term commitment and familiarity trump talent. 

Playing any sport is hard and it’s a huge commitment. The seriousness of youth sports at least partially explains why 70 percent of kids drop out of sports by age 13. They start too young, play too hard, and in many cases burn out too soon. 

Of course for kids and families who are interested in competitive sports, starting early isn’t the only consideration. Usually being on a high level sports team involves considerable financial cost, as well. Often high level youth players receive private coaching with fees the can be nearly a hundred dollars an hour or more. Then there’s the cost of equipment, club and park fees, and of course, travel. This can add up to hundreds, even thousands of dollars per year. The cost of highly competitive sports becomes even more staggering for families with more than one child. 

Naturally, the high price tag of competitive sports contributes to the high pressure. Even the most laid back parents start to feel the need to win when they’ve spent a small fortune for their child to play. The loss is tougher when a family has driven (or flown) several hours, forked over money for a hotel room and meals, and taken time off work in order to compete. 

Yet, while the intensity of youth sports can be overwhelming, not placing your child in a sport could mean missing out on some significant advantages. According to truesport.org, there is a great deal of research to back this up. But really it’s common sense. Sports require discipline, commitment, team work, and the ability to accept victory and defeat gracefully. These are all important life skills that will serve a child well long after he has pitched his last inning or she has lobbed her last volleyball. 

Sports also provide a forum in which kids can naturally exercise, make friends, and what’s most important (or should be), they have a lot of fun. 

It’s hard to overestimate how valuable sports can be in the life of a child. According to the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the benefits of sports also include higher self-esteem, better grades and lower stress.  

So, youth sports are a must. Right?

Given such strong endorsements, it might seem like involving your child in sports at an early age is a no-brainer. But, as with most parenting decisions, there are several factors to consider – especially now that sports have become highly competitive and are a much bigger time and financial commitment than they were a generation ago. 

When it comes to kids and sports, the above benefits make perfect sense – until they don’t. As every parent knows, each child is different. And while the benefits of sports might be numerous they do not necessarily apply to all children. 

For example, sports can be a great way to build self-esteem. A child who is the star pitcher for his baseball team or who wins medal after medal at her swim meets is likely to get a great confidence boost from being in a sport. But the same cannot be said for the child who struggles or who can’t keep up with his or her teammates.

The days of “The Sandlot” are long gone. Remember that movie? When Scottie Smalls moves to a new town he doesn’t know a soul. But he makes friends by playing baseball with a group of neighborhood boys at the nearby sandlot. Scottie is terrible, but the other boys don’t care. They are playing in an abandoned lot, wearing tattered sneakers and using baseballs they’ve scrapped their spare nickels and dimes together to purchase. When Smalls shows up, they are just happy to have another player. 

But kids playing today are wearing expensive cleats and playing at multi-million dollar facilities. They aren’t just looking for somebody else to play. They’re looking to win. Sports are a great self-esteem builder but probably only for kids who consistently contribute to a win. For the Scottie Smalls of the world, team sports can serve as an exercise in frustration and humiliation. 

The MU Health webpage also touts academic benefits as one of the upsides of enrolling kids in sports, reporting that “sports require memorization, repetition and learning — skill sets that are directly relevant to classwork. Also, the determination and goal-setting skills sports require can be transferred to the classrooms.”  

This makes sense. And yet, the article fails to mention that when long weekend tournaments and late night games and practices rob children of precious sleep, the impact on their grades, as well as their mental and social well-being, can be significant.

It isn’t uncommon for 4th and 5th graders to have ballgames on school nights that keep the players out late and deprive them of the recommended amount of sleep for children their age. It can’t be argued that the benefits of sports outweigh the benefits of a good night’s rest, yet families all over the country sacrifice their kids’ sleep for the game on a regular basis. 

As far as sports being a stress reliever, again, that depends. Exercise is an excellent way to burn off energy and relieve tension. But the high stakes nature of many kids’ sports today can add an unhealthy stress component to childhood. Not only do some children feel intense pressure to win and to excel, but the amount of time required to be on a highly competitive team can prevent kids from getting much needed downtime – a crucial factor when it comes to stress relief. 

It’s this downtime that my friend, Audra, is so wisely trying to protect for her family. How do families juggle sports with the need and the desire for a freer schedule and plenty of time to just hang out and be together? How do we encourage our kids to plays sports without ruining childhood?

Balance is key.

It isn’t easy. While my husband and I don’t advocate specialization in just one sport (a practice that is increasingly coming under fire, in part because of the increased chance of injury), we do enforce an off season. Mercifully, off season for all of our children coincided this year. The entire family took the winter off. 

It was glorious. 

We ate dinner together as a family night after night. We were in our pajamas most nights by 7:00. We read books and binged watched entire seasons of “Lost” on Netflix. Most nights the kids were in bed at a reasonable hour — even our two high school daughters who both carried heavy course loads. In short, our winter was relaxing, happy, and sane. Sports are great, but it’s also hard to overestimate the value of quiet evenings at home as a family.

This isn’t to say that an off season is the answer for every family. For some families the balance might lie elsewhere; they might decide against team sports all together. The important thing is realizing that this isn’t 1955 or even 1985. Any decisions parents make about sports will likely have specific and possibly significant consequences for the entire family.

There’s no question that there are very real benefits for children who play sports. There are also very real dangers if sports are taken too seriously. So, what do I tell Audra? 

When (and if) your family is ready, sports are awesome. You will enjoy many hours at the ball field or on the road together. Sports can be a great way to bond as a family and for your child to gain new skills – both on and off the field. So sign him up! Encourage him! Cheer for him!

But whether he plays on a high stakes, competitive team, or he warms the bench for the worst team in the league, don’t forget to have fun!

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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.

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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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