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As a new mom who did not successfully breastfeed, I have so often felt like a lesser mother over the past year whenever someone asked me, “Are you still breastfeeding?” Which is usually followed by, “Oh no, what happened!?” I have heard so many references to breastfeeding that at times I have felt as though mothering is breastfeeding, and because I am not doing so I must be less of a mom.


The “breast is best” mantra-turned-guilt-trip started for me before my daughter was even born. In my last group prenatal meeting, one woman said she planned to feed her baby formula, but felt like the healthcare community would only give her information on breastfeeding. After a deafening silence, the lactation consultant said, “That’s because we now know that breast milk is better.”

As if that icy tidbit wasn’t enough, she went on to caution, “I will just warn you that this is a very pro-breastfeeding area.” I swallowed hard, internalizing this information as a non-negotiable item, like so many women must do.

When our daughter Summer came, she came with a force. For the first week of her life, we called her “the tomato.” In nearly all of her waking moments her little newborn face was scrunched up and beet red, her lungs working over-time with what we called “the bird call cry.” One of the nurses on the labor and delivery unit asked us, “what is wrong with her?” Very reassuring to brand new parents.

When we got home from the hospital, disaster struck. Summer just couldn’t seem to get the milk she needed. She would worked up and arch her body into the most extreme contortions. I would arch along with her and try to aim my nipple into her mouth. Even when I got to her when she was still sleeping, the beginning of breastfeeding sent her into a tizzy. I was naked more than I was clothed, soaked in my own milk as my daughter cried, bit my nipple, bent her body, and flailed about.

For the first 72 hours of her life, my husband Nick and I slept for a total of three hours. I was so tired that at one point Nick had to remind me of Summer’s name. I began to get scared by how I felt – that I had no control over anything. The baby blues were also setting in and I couldn’t stop the tears. I would sit and cry as my milk leaked and stained my shirts, the couch, the floor. I studied the breastfeeding diagrams that made it look so easy. All the while Summer would wail uncontrollably in my arms.

We called the hospital lactation consultant who gave us advice over the phone. We called to make an appointment with that joyless lactation consultant from the prenatal group, but she was on vacation. We spoke to the midwife who told us not to worry, that Summer would get it soon. The pediatrician told me to supplement with pumped milk if I felt Summer was not getting enough to eat.

Not once in all these discussions did anyone mention formula.

On Summer’s one week birthday, I was tearfully sitting at the kitchen island, trying to nurse while Nick was at the grocery store. My sister-in-law sent me a text wishing Summer a happy one-week birthday. I read the text as if looking at it from a million miles away.

Happy? That word was not a part of a lexicon to which I could remotely relate. When Nick came home from the store and found me sobbing in the same place he left me, he said we needed to make a change.

We brought out the breastpump – something I had been nervous about, as the lactation consultant had ominously warned about introducing a bottle “too soon.”

Summer drank much better from a bottle. For the first time she showed us that her needs were met. For the first time, we regarded her with something other than pure terror. Pumping and bottle-feeding offered more of a solace, but the schedule was relentless. Pump, feed a bottle, tiny break, pump, feed a bottle – I never felt that I was bonding with my baby because it was too hard to hold her while I was pumping, which was most of the day.

Moreover, that humorless machine with all its wires was a bear on my nipples. Wearing clothes over my chafed breasts was excruciating, no matter how much nipple cream I applied. The pump kept us tethered to home, because, really, who is going to pump in public? I hoped to break the need for it, and so kept trying to teach Summer how to breastfeed. Alas, it always provoked a nearly violent reaction in her, which was hard for her (and me and Nick) to recover from.

When Summer was five weeks old, Nick broke his arm and couldn’t hold Summer. As he sat in the emergency room, I sat in bed with my mind racing. He came home, and we jointly agreed: it was time to switch to formula. Nick and I have strived to create an egalitarian household since the day we met. He advocated for formula from the minute breastfeeding proved a complicated endeavor. I surprised myself by declining that route at first because of the pressure I felt from society, although I knew that it was at the cost of our household’s peace.

After we began to formula feed, we got our groove as parents. We shared equally in caring for Summer, and Summer was well-cared for! By ditching the pump we could hold her as much as she needed. Feeling confident that we could meet her needs, our parental love flowed.

I look back at that time and feel rage, rage at society for pushing that breast is best – that if you don’t breastfeed, your child will die of SIDS, or be sick all the time, or have diabetes later in life, or be obese, or have a lower IQ. These cure-all claims by the breastfeeding-or-bust community are at best flawed and at worst pose a threat to new parents’ mental health. Unsurprisingly, recent studies point to correlation, not causation, with breastfed children, and look at what else is going on in a child’s life to help them advance. One such study found that when socioeconomic considerations are accounted for when measuring childhood IQ’s, “the standalone effect of breastfeeding seemed to disappear.”

Common sense suggests that all this pressure poses a risk for postpartum depression. Unsuccessful breastfeeding is a physical strife that feels emotionally harrowing as you’re unable to fulfill your baby’s needs. You then also have to battle society’s unceasing chorus that you’re creating risks for your child if you don’t breastfeed, challenging your very vulnerable identity as a new mother. One UK study found that women who unsuccessfully attempted to breastfeed were “two-and-a-half times more likely to develop postnatal depression, compared to women who had no intention of breastfeeding.” Not once did this risk for postpartum depression come up with any healthcare provider as Summer and I (and Nick) struggled through this chapter.

Being a mother is more than producing milk. Being a parent is not a job – it’s a state of being. We don’t need to give ourselves peer reviews and grades. The ultimate goal is to be the love of one another’s lives, and do what needs to be done to feel that way. Hanna Rosin says it best in her 2009 article on breastfeeding: “It seems reasonable to put breast-feedings’ health benefits on the plus side of the ledger and other things…on the minus side, and then tally them up and make a decision.”

That is exactly what our family did – only I wish we did it on day two instead of day 37. It would have saved a lifetime of tears and allowed us to bond with our baby a month earlier than we did.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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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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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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As parents, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure our babies' brains are developing as quickly as possible. But the irony is, for many years the best way our little ones can learn and grow is through play. In fact, research has shown that reading stories, playing simple games, and engaging with toys is one of the best ways to boost baby's brain development for years to come.

It's those kind of findings that fuels the work at People Toy Company, a Japanese-based toy company that believes in encouraging the natural development of children through research-backed toys. Every toy in their line is developed to make playtime engaging for parents and children alike while helping little ones achieve developmental milestones through play.

Here are 10 of our favorite toys for engaging little minds and encouraging motor development from baby's first weeks and beyond.

TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS BEFORE 6 MONTHS

1. Mochi Double Pendant Necklace (newborn on)

It's a fact of life that babies love to explore their world with their mouths. Save your jewelry by swapping in this teething necklace made from rice. Babies will love the easy-to-hold shape and textured design—you'll love the neutral color palette that goes with any outfit.

Mochi Double Pendant Necklace, Amazon, $15.99

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TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS AFTER 6 MONTHS

1. Magic Reflection Ball (6 month)

Encourage independent play from six months on with this constantly changing reflection ball. Use the suction cup to attach it to different smooth surfaces to encourage pulling up and standing later on.

People Magic Reflection Ball, Amazon, $8.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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