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Debate Club: Should Schools Be Nut-Free?

Yes, please.

by: Jackie Semmens

How can this be happening? I thought to myself, watching my one-year-old’s body turn red as the hives spread across his chest. We had done everything by the book: I hadn’t avoided nuts during my pregnancy; I exposed him to peanuts early like the pediatricians recommend. But here we were, driving to the emergency room. The allergist later confirmed – my baby was allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts.

Thus began a new set of rituals at our house – meticulously reading each and every food label, digging wrappers out of the trash to find out if he can eat the crackers a friend offered him at a playdate, avoiding restaurants unless we can be sure of what they serve, giving each babysitter a detailed list of instructions on what to do if he has a reaction, and carrying an EpiPen with us wherever we go.

As my son starts preschool this year, we have rehearsed a certain interaction over and over. “What do you say if someone hands you food?” I drill him. “I say, ‘No, thank you! I’m allergic. I have my own.’” We quiz him again and again, reminding him that he is allergic to nuts and to dairy, and that he can never share food with a friend.

We confirmed with the teacher before he started that his room would be nut-free, and knowing that the teacher and fellow parents are willing to help give him a safe environment helps to ease some of my concern. Nut-free environments for our youngest learners helps ensure that all children, even those with food allergies, have access to education while remaining safe and healthy.

Although my son is also allergic to dairy, we’re typically more concerned about his nut allergies when he’s in public, not only because, for him, it’s a more severe allergy, but also because of the nature of nut allergies. As anyone who has ever made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (or fed one to a toddler) knows, peanut butter is sticky and likely to end up spread across multiple surfaces before the meal is over.

Although it’s unlikely that an allergic child will have an anaphylactic reaction from mere contact, young children are forever sticking fingers, toys, and even crayons in their mouth, creating the potential for accidental ingestion. And for an unlucky few, even exposure to airborne particles can be enough to trigger a reaction. While severe food allergies are fairly rare, reactions to peanuts are the leading cause of anaphylaxis and death related to food allergy in the United States.

While some maintain that it’s the duty of families with allergies to prepare their child for the “real world,” the truth is that by the time they are old enough to enter that world, they will have a better understanding of the severity of their allergies and the steps they need to take in order to protect themselves.

We don’t send kindergarteners across the street alone just because they will need to do so when they’re older; we require that they hold our hands. It’s similar with allergies – we need to enlist the help of the community to create a nut-free environment while young children are still learning how to navigate their allergy independently.

I have a great deal of sympathy for parents who are frustrated at schools that don’t allow them to pack the simple and economical PB&J for their child’s lunch, or are annoyed at the difficulty of finding an allergy-friendly treat to bring in for special occasions. I share in those frustrations on a daily basis, and curse under my breath every time I see the price of SunButter.

I know what it’s like to have to deny your child something they desperately want to eat, like when they want to know why they can’t eat the same cookies everyone else at the birthday party is enjoying. I follow these restrictions on a daily basis, and without a second thought, because they could save my child’s life. I don’t wish to minimize what I’m asking other parents to do, because I realize I’m requesting that others make a sacrifice that doesn’t benefit them at all. But it greatly helps my child. And I do know this – I would do it for your kid in a heartbeat, especially if it meant saving their life.

While pediatricians do not recommend avoidance of nuts for children without the allergy, as it can actually increase the likelihood of peanut allergy, for children with the allergy, strict avoidance of the allergen is currently the only recommended way to prevent a serious reaction. Even if a non-allergic child attends a nut-free school, this does not prevent them from regularly enjoying peanuts and tree nuts when they are at home. However, there is no reason that consumption of nuts must be done around children who do have allergies. In fact, accidental exposure to peanuts and severe reactions are actually on the decline, likely due to greater public awareness and accidental exposure prevention strategies. As communities have become more conscious of food allergies, children have been made safer.

Raising children is never a solitary venture. We rely on the support of families, friends, and our community to help create safe environments for our kids. Just as we help our children safely cross the parking lot into the school, as a community, we should pull together to help make sure that all children, even those with severe food allergies, are safe when they arrive.

No, thank you.

by: Varda Epstein

I’ve heard (anecdotally) of a guy who dropped dead at a bus stop in my town after kissing his spouse. She’d eaten a cookie that had trace amounts of peanuts in it just moments before. He died so quickly that no one had time to find and use his EpiPen. That was in the 1980s when trace amounts of ingredients were not yet listed on food labels in my adopted country of Israel.

That has changed. By law, Israeli food labels must now include a warning of possible trace amounts of allergens in food products. Still, there was, and is no thought of banning nuts in Israeli schools, even today.

In fact, far from banning nuts from schools and daycare centers, the peanut is urged on babies and children in the form of a peanut-flavored snack called Bamba. Bamba are exactly like Cheese Doodles without the cheese. Or rather, instead of cheddar, the little puffs are flavored with peanut butter.

Bamba takes the place of the Cheerio for Israeli babies. They fit nicely in a baby’s fist and when gummed, melt into goo for easy swallowing. Because they’re so much a part of the infant diet, the Osem company, which produces the little snack puffs, fortifies them with vitamins.

Which is a good thing. Because I don’t know about your babies, but most of mine went through a picky period where they didn’t like anything I tried to feed them. Other than Bamba, that is. Even when they were cranky from teething, they’d eat Bamba. With Bamba I knew my kids were getting their vitamins, eating something, and I didn’t have to worry.

So here’s where it gets really interesting: my second child (of 12) was and is allergic to several foods, including peanuts and other nuts. Yet as an infant, I had no clue this was the case, as she too, did just fine on Bamba. Her allergies never developed to the point of anaphylactic shock, thank goodness, and in light of a March 2015  study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, I do believe that we have Bamba, the peanut-flavored snack, to thank for this fact.

The study in question was the Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial; an attempt to discover whether the “early introduction of dietary peanut could serve as an effective primary and secondary strategy for the prevention of peanut allergy.” The LEAP researchers, based in the United Kingdom, used Bamba, purchased at a discount from Osem, as their primary source for peanut protein.

The findings of the LEAP study suggest that medical advice calling for avoidance of exposure to peanuts had actually caused the rate of peanut allergy among American children to skyrocket. Meanwhile, feeding babies Bamba during an infant’s first year of life, beginning at around age seven months, appeared to lower the risk of developing peanut allergies by 81%. Furthermore, in those children who ate Bamba as babies and then went on to develop peanut allergies (like my daughter, for instance), the allergic responses appeared to be far milder in nature.

This study was groundbreaking. For the first time, researchers had proof that early exposure to allergenic foods could prevent or lessen allergic reactions. The hope going forward is that research will manage to produce similar results using allergenic foods like soy, eggs, and dairy, for instance.

The study of immunization and food allergies has a long way to go, of course. As a teenager, I received allergy shots for pollen and other airborne allergens. But I was told no such therapy was available for food allergies. The Bamba study seems to have blown that myth right out of the water.

But if that’s the case, why are we banning peanuts from all places where children congregate? Places like schools, daycare centers, and yes, summer camps? Here’s the truth: we’ve created a nut-free society because of poor – or at least outdated – medical advice.

Schools would not tremble at the sight of a peanut butter sandwich had we not stopped feeding kids peanut butter. So how did it happen? When did we decide peanut butter was dangerous to the point that we made it dangerous?

It began in the 1990s when a slew of newspaper headlines such as, “Little Girl Drops Dead After Eating PB&J,” appeared. Parents read those headlines and freaked. At the same time, medical journals began to be full of articles about serious peanut allergies. Soon we had an epidemic on our hands.

Peanut Panic

Or did we? Researcher Miranda Waggoner, is convinced the epidemic was more a peanut “panic” than an actual rise in severe peanut allergies. According to Waggoner, severe peanut allergies remain rare. The reported tripling of the rate of peanut allergies was, she says, a social construct (with the aid of experts who spread the fear among the public), rather than an actual contemporary public health issue.

In other words, experts and the media raised awareness of severe peanut allergies to the point of hyper-awareness. As a result, peanut bans were instituted, and this in turn affected the immune systems of our children because we avoided exposing them to nuts. We prevented them from developing their immune systems to the point of resisting peanut allergy, by depriving them of peanut butter.

While the LEAP trial involved giving children Bamba at a very young age, rather than school age, it is quite possible that nut-free schools may actually contribute to nut allergies, by limiting exposure to nuts. No one can say this for sure, right now. What we can say is that if you look at the actual number of children experiencing severe reactions to peanuts, you will find it is a very low number, indeed.

Trying to find the actual number of school children with peanut allergies was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Waggoner found that only 1% of the American population has a reported allergy to peanuts. If you look at how many of those Americans are children, you are looking at a number that is less than 1%.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) says that 400,000 American school children have peanut allergies. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) puts the total number of American school children at 50.4 million. That means that .79% of school children have peanut allergies, but this figure says nothing of the severity of their allergies. How many of those children are going to have a severe anaphylactic shock in response to someone eating a peanut next to them?

If your child has a known, severe allergy to peanuts, it makes sense you’d approach the school and ask that precautions be taken. But nut-free schools in general? They’re hurting more kids than they’re helping.

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Finding the person you want to spend your life with is never easy, but when you're a parent, there's an extra layer of consideration. You're not just choosing the person you will spend lazy Sundays (and hurried weekday mornings) with—you're choosing the person your children will spend them with, too.

And when that person has children of their own, things get even more complicated. Blending two families isn't easy, but it can be beautiful, as Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez prove.

Each half of this power couple has two children each, and they're doing their best to make their relationship work not just for each other, but for those four children, too.

"We love each other and we love our life together," Lopez recently told People. "I was so loving to his kids and he was so loving and accepting of mine, and they embraced each other right away. [It was] 'I get a new bonus brother and sisters to hang out with all the time and it's nice.'"

A Rod agrees, telling People: "Our kids have become best friends and that keeps us both grounded and appreciative."

Here are five ways J Lo and A-Rod are totally #parentinggoals when it comes to balancing the needs of their blended family.

1.They bring the kids together

Lopez and Rodriguez each spend time with their own children, but they also bring all four kids (Lopez shares 10-year-old twins Maximilian and Emme with her ex, Marc Anthony, and Rodriguez shares daughters Ella, 10, and Natasha, 13, with his ex, Cynthia Scurtis) together for fun family outings, like ice cream dates and basketball games.

Research indicates that about 14% of kids in step families don't feel like they belong in their family, and report that their family doesn't have fun together. By bringing the kids together for fun family times, Lopez and Rodriguez are encouraging a sense of family belonging outside the relationship they have with each of the kids individually. Studies suggest an adolescents' sense of family belonging is linked to their overall well-being. So this ice cream date is actually healthy, in a way.

​2. They consider their children's other parents family, too

If their Instagrams are any indication, Rodriguez and Lopez have a great time hanging out with their blended family, but they understand that their children have other family members, too, and they don't mind hanging out with them.

A recent Instagram post proves Rodriguez considers Marc Anthony #famila, and that's how it should be.

Studies show supportive communication between a parent and their ex-partner's new partner is good for the family as a whole. Likewise, when the relationship between a parent and a stepparent is antagonistic, relationships beyond their own stuffer. It's truly better if a parent's co-parent and their current partner can hang.

3. They’re a united front with their co-parents

Rodriguez considers J Lo's ex family, and he also doesn't forget that (despite legal disagreements) his ex-wife plays a big role in his daughter's lives. So he celebrates their big co-parenting moments, like parent-teacher night.

Lopez, too, celebrates the times she and Anthony get together for their twins' big moments, recently telling Kelly Rippa the two are now in a really great place, and basically best friends. "The kids get to spend time with the two of us more together and see us working together," she said."It's just good for the whole family," says Lopez.

4. They make time for each other without the kids

Having all four kids together at once looks like fun, but hanging out with three 10-year-olds and a teen also sounds like it could be a little exhausting. That's why the couple takes time to unwind, without the kids, when they can.

As J Lo wrote in a recent Instagram post, "it's the lil quiet moments that matter the most."

5. They're doing it their way

Back in April Lopez was asked whether or not she and A Rod would be getting married soon (thanks to a Spanish language single "El Anillo," which is Spanish for "The Ring"), she told People, she's not in any rush, despite the song.

"I've done that before. I'm a little bit more grown up now, and I like to let things take their natural course," she said. "I know people are going to say that… we are really kind of good for each other and are really having the best time, and our kids love each other and all that."

[A version of this story was originally published July 12, 2018.]

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If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.

The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)


The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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Here at Motherly, we're all in on pregnant mamas. We love all things pregnancy science: from how a woman's body absorbs her baby's cells, and the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss. We fawn over the latest + greatest in baby names. And we adore a good celeb baby bump picture.

So we're thrilled for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, royal newlyweds expecting their first child together in the Spring of 2019.

And recently, when the Duchess presented a British Fashion Award to the designer behind her wedding dress (Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller) we were not thrilled when headlines suggested Markle "showing off" her bump by cradling it during the awards show.

Here's the deal: When media outlets make note of a pregnant woman whose bump is visible, they often report that the woman is out "flaunting" her belly.

PSA: Pregnant women do not "flaunt" their bodies.

They aren't "showing off their baby bumps."

They're not "taking their bellies out for a day on the town."

They're simply women who are pregnant, going about their daily lives.

This might seem like a small point, quibbling about particular words about pregnancy.

But in reality, acting like pregnant women are "flaunting" their bellies reflects a society that sees pregnancy as a sideshow, rather than a natural part of womanhood. It makes pregnant women feel like weirdos, rather than integral bearers of the future of humanity. It tells women, yet again, that their changing bodies are up for public critique. And it implies to women that the natural changes in their bodies are strange, rather than a normal evolution in life.

So yes, Meghan's baby bump is visible. How exciting for her!

She's not 'flaunting it,' proud mama-to-be though she is.

Meghan Markle is simply rocking her life as a modern woman (and royal), and pregnancy looks amazing on her.

[A version of this story was originally published October 24, 2018]

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