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It was after dinner, and I was at the sink washing the dinner dishes when my son shrieked.


“It's a raccooooooooooon!" he yelped, jumping up and down in excitement as his eyes bulged. “A REAL RACCOOOOOOOOON!" he trilled.

“Huh?" I stumbled back from the sink and looked around the kitchen.

“ON THE ROOF OF THE BARN!" His entire body was trembling. I followed his pointed finger and watched the fat, banded critter through the window as my son loudly narrated its every move.

When it was gone, I turned to him. “Have you seen a raccoon before?" He looked at me. “Like at the zoo or something?" He stared blankly. “How did you know that was a raccoon?"

He smirked as he strutted out of the room. “I just knowed, Mama."

Later that night, as I made a final sweep through the toy room to tidy a few last things, I found a small plastic raccoon, perched atop some blocks arranged in the shape of a barn. It was my turn to smirk, remembering the wildlife set he got in his stocking as I placed the little raccoon back into its bin amongst gray wolves, grizzly bears, and elk.

Like most parents, I am in constant awe of what my children learn through their interactions both with the natural world and at play. They are always picking up on tiny details that I miss or fixating on particularities that I find unimportant. Children are the observers of the world.

And when it comes to animals and the natural world, I have even more reason to be in awe. Not only does contact with and knowledge of animals, both pets and wildlife, make my kids smarter, but it also makes them healthier.

Physical benefits of animals

The health benefits of pets are well-documented. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devote an entire page to the specific health benefits of having a pet, including increased exercise and outdoor activities along with increased opportunities for socialization.

What's more, exposure to pets can actually decrease the risk of developing allergic sensitization into young adulthood. While scientists have not determined the exact relationship between owning a pet and developing allergies, they suspect that high-dose exposure to certain pet danders and allergens triggers a non-allergic immune response.

Further, simply being in nature has health benefits as well. In fact, children who are regularly exposed to nature experience decreased stress levels and bolstered resilience for coping with stress.

Animals as therapy

Not only can animals prevent children from getting sick, but they can help in treatment, too. Animal therapy has roots going back to the Middle Ages, when doctors in Belgium noticed that patients who rehabbed alongside animals had better prognoses than those who did not.

Animals often have a profound calming influence, unlike that achieved through human interaction or companionship. One study found that simply watching fish swim around an aquarium could lower someone's blood pressure, which might explain the abundance of fish tanks I've noticed in doctor's waiting rooms.

Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they know an appreciation for animals and curiosity go hand in hand.

Another study found that petting a dog decreased the stress hormone cortisol in a stressful environment significantly more than resting quietly did. Visits from pet therapy animals have been shown to decrease the stress hormone epinephrine in cardiac patients, and having a pet present decreases heart rate and blood pressure more significantly than having a friend or family member present.

The therapeutic benefits aren't limited to physical symptoms, either. Animal therapy is often used for psychiatric and behavioral therapy as well. Taking care of animals has been shown to increase children's self-esteem and confidence while helping them to develop empathy and perspective-taking skills. Horse therapy has had proven results for autistic children, improving their subsequent interactions with family pets as well as their general attitude and behavior toward animals.

One of the most successful and ambitious programs to incorporate animals into therapy is the Green Chimneys residential program in New York. Here, children aged six to 18, many of whom have experienced extreme neglect or abuse, develop a sense of self-worth as they learn to care for pets, farm animals, and even hawks and falcons. Some children tend to injured animals or go on to become guides or caretakers for the animals when visitors come to experience farm life for a day.

Environmental benefits

Our kids aren't the only ones who benefit from learning about and appreciating animals. Our environment benefits, too. The more students know about local wildlife, the better they absorb ecological lessons about the environment and conservation. This, in turn, leads to a generation more likely to value pro-environmental behaviors.

Children who play outside and are exposed to wildlife regularly form emotional attachments that last well into their adult years and translate into pro-environmental behaviors, like recycling and alternative energy use.

How to get started

How can a parent set their child up for successful interactions with animals? How do we ensure that the first experiences with a family pet or new wildlife are positive ones?

By bringing realistic animal-themed toys and books into the home, parents can introduce both pets and wildlife in a controlled and safe environment. These toys, books, and games can spark conversation, inspire questions about how to act appropriately around new animals, and get your child excited about meeting them.

These kinds of toys can even prepare your child for broader lessons. In one study, preschool children who participated in guided play with animal toys were better able to absorb a subsequent lesson about the food chain.

You can support your child by role playing how to approach a new animal using realistic animal toys. If it's a wild animal, this might mean giving the animal plenty of space and not moving erratically. If it's someone's pet, it may mean asking permission before you greet it and offering a hand to sniff before petting. Children who talk about and practice new interactions go into them with increased confidence and a higher likelihood of success.

Teaching your child different animal names and breeds will build even more interest and confidence around animals. For more ideas about introducing your child to the wide world of animals and preparing them to reap the rewards of a lifelong relationship with nature, check out some of the many free activities and resources available online.

Children who care for and about animals enrich their lives physically and emotionally and are more likely to grow up to be stewards of the environment.

Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they know an appreciation for animals and curiosity go hand in hand.

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Whether you're filling out your own registry or shopping for a soon-to-be-mama in your life, it can be hard to narrow down what exactly new moms need (versus what will just end up cluttering the nursery). That's why we paired up with the baby gear experts at Pottery Barn Kids to create a registry guide featuring everything from the gear you'll use over and over to the perfect gifts under $50.

Check out the picks below, and happy shopping (and registering)!

MUST-HAVE BABY GEAR

These five gift ideas are designed to make #momlife easier while solving some of the most common parenting dilemmas.

1. Doona All-In-One Infant Car Seat/Stroller

One of the first things you learn when you become a mom? Those infant car seats are heavy. Which is what makes the Doona All-In-One Infant Car Seat/Stroller so genius. It's the world's first completely integrated mobility solution, quickly transforming from safe car seat to functional stroller without any extra parts. Simply pop out the wheels, pull up the handle bar, and you're ready to roll.

Doona All-in-one Infant Car Seat / Stroller, $499

BUY


GIFTS THAT CAN BE PERSONALIZED

Even the most utilitarian gift feels a little more special with some personalization. Here are some of our favorite options that can be customized with baby's name or monogram.

1. Nursery Blankets

You'll never forget the blanket you bring your newborn home in. And with Pottery Barn Kids' assortment of blankets, there's a wrap to suit every new mama's style. Choose from fuzzy neutral patterns or stylish printed options, and add baby's name for an extra personal touch.

Nursery Blankets, Starting at $39.50

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GIFTS THAT GROW WITH THEM

Save money and space by gifting items that will last long after baby's first year. These clever gift items will have mama saying "thank you!" for years to come.

1. west elm x pbk Mid-Century Convertible Crib

A convertible crib is an investment in years of sweet dreams. We love this mid-century-style option made from sustainably sourced wood with child-safe, water-based finishes. When your baby outgrows their crib (sniff!), it easily converts into a toddler bed with the matching conversion kit.

west elm x pbk Mid-Century Convertible Crib, $399

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GIFTS UNDER $50

Sometimes the littlest gifts mean the most. Here are our favorite gifts under $50 they'll be sure to cherish.

1. west elm x pbk Dot Muslin Swaddle Set

When you're raising a newborn, you can never have too many swaddles. Perfect for naptime, burp cloths, stroller covers, and spontaneous play mats, a muslin swaddle will always come in handy. And we especially love this neutral patterned collection in platinum, nightshade, and peacock.

west elm x pbk Dot Muslin Swaddle Set, $45.50

BUY

Learn more and explore all Pottery Barn Kids' registry must-haves here.

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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They say there's no use in crying over it, but for pumping mamas, spilled milk is a major upset.

When you're working so hard to make sure your baby has breast milk, you don't want to lose a drop, and Chrissy Teigen knows this all too well.

The mom of two posted a video to social media Wednesday showing her efforts to rescue breastmilk from a tabletop. She used various utensils and a syringe to try to get the milk back in the bottle.

"I spilled my breastmilk and this is how important it is in this house," she says while suctioning up milk with what appears to be a baster.

In a follow-up video Teigen continues to try to rescue the spilled milk.

"We're trying," she says as she suctions up a drop or two. "I got some."

Teigen is currently breastfeeding baby Miles, her son with husband John Legend, and has been very public about the fact that she pumps a lot as a working mom.

She's also been open about the fact that milk supply has always been an issue for her, not just with Miles but with Luna, too.

"I actually loved [pumping] because I'm a collector of things, and so when I found out I could pump I [did it] so much because I knew the more you pumped, the more milk you'd make," she told POPSUGAR back in March. "So I loved collecting my breast milk and seeing how much I could get, even if it was very, very little."

Like a lot of moms, Teigen did struggle emotionally when a pump session wouldn't get her the ounces she wanted.

"I wasn't producing a lot of milk, and it was frustrating. When you're frustrated, [it can also make you] not produce that much."

Research backs her up. Stress has been linked to lower milk production. Because of that, she's trying to stay positive this time around, but captioned her video post "EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THIS HOUSE" because, well, they do.


So many mothers can relate. Have you ever tried to save your breastmilk?

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What is it about networking that's just kind of...awful? Typically inconvenient and often awkward, formal networking events rarely yield the results most women (and especially mamas) are looking for.

Whether you're reentering the workforce post-baby leave or simply looking to make a complicated career switch as a busy mom (or just struggling to juggle play dates and professional meetings), making the right connections is often a hurdle that's difficult to surmount. And more and more often, networking comes up short in providing what moms really need.

When time is truly at a premium—a session swapping business cards can be hard to prioritize. Shapr wants to change all that.

Designed with busy people in mind, Shapr is an app with an algorithm that uses tagged interests, location, and professional experience to match you with 10-15 inspiring professional connections a day. You swipe to indicate interest in networking with any of them, and if the interest is mutual, you're connected. (But don't worry, that's where the similarities to that dating app end.)

It makes it easier to connect with the right people.

From there, you can chat, video conference, and even meet in person with potential mentors, partners, and investors while growing your real-life network. No more wasting hours trying to pick someone's brain only to discover they don't have the right experience you need. And no more awkward, stilted small talk—even suggests a few preset icebreakers to help get the conversation rolling more quickly.

The best part? You could do virtually all your connecting from your couch post-bedtime.

It simplifies switching careers or industries.

Sysamone Phaphone is a real mom who was fed up with traditional networking options. When she quit her full-time job in healthcare to pursue founding a startup, she quickly realized that in-person networking events weren't only failing to connect her to the right people, they were also difficult for a single mom of two to even attend. "I was complaining to a friend that I was so tired and didn't know how I was going to keep doing it this way when she recommended the Shapr app," Phaphone says. "I tried it right there at dinner and started swiping. [Later], in my pajamas, I got my first connection."

From there, Phaphone was hooked. Her network suddenly exploded with developers, potential partners she could work with, and even people to hire for the roles she needed. She was also able to connect with and empower other women in tech. Now, checking in with Shapr connections is just part of her routine. "I look for connections after drop-off at school and on my commute into the city," she says. "Then after bedtime is done, I go on to check if there is anyone I've connected with."

It helps you find a mentor—no matter where they live.

Another common roadblock Shapr removes? Location. While you probably wouldn't fly to LA from New York for a networking event, the Shapr app lets you connect and chat with the person who best meets your needs—regardless of where they're based. Even better for parents, the "mom penalty" many women contend with when trying to get back into the workforce doesn't exist on Shapr—if you have the right experience, the connections will still come.

To connect, simply create your account, enter up to ten hashtags you want to follow (either industry related like #film or #tech or by person you're seeking, such as #developer or #uxui), preset what you're looking for (investors, collaborators, etc.), and indicate how you prefer to meet. To connect with more people at once, Shapr also has community groups within the app around interest topics that you can join. And even though the connection begins in the digital space, it often results in the in-person experiences mamas crave.

"I wish I could encourage more moms and dads to use it because it has been a lifesaver for me," Phaphone says. "It empowered my career and career choices, and it provides so much convenience. I can put my kids to bed and not go to an event, but still meet 20 people in a night."

For women looking to grow their business, position, or simply achieve a little self-growth, Shapr is changing the way we connect. This powerful new app could change everything, mama. Download it today to get started.

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