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“It itches!” he screeches.

You nod in empathetic agreement and dig out the calamine lotion from the back of old-but-probably-still-usable bin in the linen closet. The whole family has been outdoors for an alfresco barbecue dinner under the stars. Some of you return looking like war-weary soldiers while others are none the worse for wear.


Mean-looking, neon red welts pepper your toddler’s tiny legs. You give up counting at 10. You’re sporting your own collection on the back of your neck, and you’re pretty sure you heard one of those biting beasts in the dining room earlier.

Meanwhile, your tween in shortie-shorts and a halter is sporting entirely bite-free skin (we won’t even discuss how jealous this makes you feel). Your spouse shrugs you off when you insist that something must be done. They’re the lucky ones, somehow invisible to your #1 summer enemy.

In summer’s never-ending battle, the mosquitoes always seem to come out on top. Nobody wants to give up gorgeous summer evenings in the great outdoors. But when the great outdoors makes you miserable, giving it up begins to sound pretty darn good.

 

 

Don’t throw in the towel just yet, Mom and Dad. There is hope for mosquito magnets young and old. It’s a matter of sorting out old-wives’ tales from scientifically-proven solutions. So if you want to win the mosquito battle this year, read on.

What you can’t change

First, the bad news: it’s not your imagination. Only a paltry 15 percent of vulnerability to mosquito bites is explained by factors other than genetics.

The buzzing bastards find about one in five people extra tasty. Mosquitoes will happily fly the extra mile to sidle up to the all-you-can-eat blood buffets these poor suckers (or suck-ees, as the case may be) unwittingly serve up.

For some of that miserable 20 percent, their blood type is to blame. The unfortunates with type O – you can remember the vulnerable type by thinking “OMG that mosquito just bit me” – get about double the bites of those with type A blood. Those with type B blood fall between the type O and type A extremes.

As an added genetic punch-in-the-gut, mosquitoes are wired up to detect chemical secretions that, for some, broadcast our blood types like a huge, neon sign that reads, “bite me.” So if you and your bite-prone kids fall in to the unfortunate 85 percent with this involuntary chemical broadcasting system, you’re at even higher risk.

What you can change

Now for the good news. There are some steps you can take to sidestep your genetic vulnerabilities. None are perfect solutions on their own, but taken together, they can make a difference.

Chill – literally and figuratively

Summer is supposed to be a time for relaxing. And as luck would have it, science says that to fly beneath mosquitoes’ radar, relaxing can be an effective part of your bite avoidance plan.

Mosquitoes can sniff us out via sweat and carbon dioxide exhalation (e.g., breathing hard from exercise). So to make yourself and your children less detectable, put away those running shoes, kick back with a tall glass of water, and enjoy the good life. Staying as cool, sweat-free, and lazy as possible is a recipe for a bite-free body that anyone can embrace!

Choose clothing colors carefully

Mosquitoes see dark colors better than lighter ones. Not only that, but those dark colors also retain more carbon dioxide, which serves as an additional attractant. Choose whites and light (not bright) colored clothes to make you and your kids stand out a bit less to the buzzing menace.

In addition to color, consider wearing fabrics infused with permethrin. Here’s a DIY guide to treating your clothing and gear with it.

Chow down on chili

When you’re working up a menu for that backyard barbecue, remember that what you eat can make you more or less mouth-watering to mosquitoes. Garlic and onions, chili peppers, beans, and tomatoes are on mosquitoes’ “no-bueno” list. Sadly, beer and salty foods appear to be as appealing to this menace of the insect world as they to us as they are. So load up on chili, but skip the beer and Fritos as sides.

Interestingly, the oft-reported banana connection seems to be an artifact driven by self-fulfilling prophecy. Some say they attract the beasts, and others say they repel them. Though the jury is still out, mounting scientific evidence suggests that bananas are mosquito-neutral. If you like them, go for it. Mosquitoes don’t seem to care one way or the other.

Repellents that work

DEET

According to the scientists at Entomology Today and the Journal of Insect Science, the verdict is in. Spoiler alert: Parents favoring the all-natural approaches may not be very happy about it. There are natural options that can be effective, too, but none are better than DEET.

Though concerns surfaced many years ago that DEET might not be safe for people, science says it is. Like any substance from peanuts to plastic, a small number of people may have unusual reactions to it, and that is a matter of no small concern. For the most part, however, DEET is the way to go if you want a cheap, effective means of keeping the biters away from your kids. The CDC concurs and recommends EPA-registered repellents contain at least 20 percent DEET by volume for maximum effectiveness. They name Deep Woods Off as a go-to brand.

When you’re comparing the risk of Zika or dengue contracted from a disease-carrying mosquito versus the minuscule risk for weird reaction to DEET, for many parents the decision is pretty straight-forward. And as an extra bonus, DEET repels ticks, too.

Non-DEET and organics

Other DEET-free repellents endorsed by the CDC include Picaridin, IRIR35, and 2-undecanone (methyl nonyl ketone). Picaridin is also known as Icaridin. Brand names for Picaridin include Bayrepel and Saltidin. 2-undercanoe is derived from palm kernel and soy bean oils, and is found in a number of insect repellents that are also suitable for pets.

If you shy away from DEET or chemical-containing repellants, go with PMD. PMD is para-Menthane-3,8-diol. Don’t let its chemical-sounding moniker and acronym put you off: It’s actually quite natural. PMD is a botanical derived from Australian lemon-scented gum trees. It is also known as “OLE” or “oil of lemon eucalyptus.” Some research suggests that PMD is nearly as effective as DEET for repelling the vicious vermin.

In addition, the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association has reported promising results for two essential oils. Their testing suggests that essential oils L. origanoides and E. citriodora have both insecticidal and repellent properties against mosquitoes. Specifically, they’re effective against the type of mosquitoes which are vectors for dengue and Chikungunya.

Repellents that don’t work

Don’t be fooled by commercials for the wearable insect repelling bracelets and belt dangles. As promising as they appear, they just don’t work. Science says most of them are an abysmal failure, and just can’t compete against sprays and lotions. Wearables that release Metofluthrin were a singular exception. For the most part, however, wearables are a bust. They are particularly poor at repelling the nastiest of the nasty: the sort of mosquitoes that carry deadly illnesses like Zika and yellow fever.

Other busts in the repellent department include citronella candles and vitamin B1 patches. Though scores of people swear by it, Avon’s Skin So Soft bath oil also falls into this doesn’t-really-work-but-at-least-you’ll-smell-good category. Avon’s Skin So Soft product infused with Picaridin, on the other hand, shows more promise.

From DEET to PMD, and from clothing to food choices, there are a number of options parents can employ to beat the mosquitoes this year. Choose those that seem the best for your family and go out and enjoy your summer, hopefully with much fewer pesky mosquito bites to spoil your fun.

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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

BUY


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

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Hey mama at the end of your pregnancy

So you feel approximately 86 weeks pregnant, everything is swollen to 14 times its original size, and no matter what you do, You. Can. Not. Sleep. Comfortably. Ever.

Sleep is an illusion at this point. It's a distant memory, and now you lie awake at night dreaming about it, as one irrelevant thought after another chases itself infuriatingly through your restless mind.

You can't even toss and turn—if only you were nimble enough for such luxuries!

But have faith—one day very soon (though you probably can't imagine it right now)— you will sleep comfortably again. One day soon, heartburn will be a thing of the past and you will no longer need the giant box of TUMS you keep within arm's reach.

One day soon you may even be able to make it through the night without needing to pee—but if you do need to go, you'll be able to spring up lithely and skip to the bathroom if you want to... rather than lying there having that agonizing debate with yourself about whether or not the relief on your bladder will outweigh the Herculean effort of getting up and walking there.

One day soon you'll be able to relinquish that enormous maternity pillow that takes up 45% of the bed and acts as an intruder in the night—a barrier between you and the husband who used to sleep with an arm around you. That's if he's even still there and hasn't decamped to the guest room to escape your snoring. (I know... we don't like to talk about it but don't worry mama—the snoring will stop one day soon, too!)

Very soon you will have your baby sleeping next to you instead of attempting amateur acrobatics inside you, using your womb as their dance floor and your bladder as their trampoline the moment you lie down to rest. One day your body will be your own again and, believe it or not, you will fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow, the sweet snuffles of your newborn the only sound that will fill the room.

One day soon your mind won't need to play tricks on you in the dark of the night. Because you will know that your baby is exactly where they're supposed to be.

You won't have to wonder what kind of mother you're going to be and if you're up to the task—because you'll be right there in the thick of it, up to the task in every single way—surprising yourself with the strength you'll find as if from nowhere, and doing your best for that beautiful little bundle every moment of the day and night.

Yes mama, it's the truth: one day—very soon—you will sleep comfortably again.

But here's the other truth: you'll never again sleep the sleep of your past. You may never again sleep soundly.

This is something you can't imagine right now—because if you could, it would be overwhelming. Mama—everything is about to change, the stakes will be higher, and although your body will be your own again, your heart will always—always and forever—be elsewhere.

You will be more in love than you ever imagined.

You will find yourself tuned into that little person more than you ever believed possible. When he's hungry you'll respond, when he cries from reflux you'll feel his pain, and when he's wet you'll change him no matter how exhausted you are.

When she needs soothing for no reason other than that she's been attached to you for the last nine months, you'll walk as you bounce her up and down. When her tiny fingers close reflexively around yours you'll ache with the perfection of her.

This is the eternal truth of motherhood. Your body is returned to you but everything else is given away, gladly, forever. And it's hard to explain. I think that's because on some level—it's magic.

But for now, mama, prop yourself up on cushions. Be thankful for that maternity pillow. Drink plenty of water but not in the two hours before bed. Sleep on the side closest to the bathroom. Read a book that's not about babies when you can't switch off your mind.

Breathe. And wait for the magic. It's coming any day now...✨

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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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So you want that Instagram-worthy nursery, but safety is a top priority? It's totally possible to have both. Fortunately, more and more brands have stepped up to provide fashion-forward furniture and décor that keep people and the environment out of harm.

Here are four ways to create a safe and stylish nursery for baby.

1. Sleep on it.

With the crib "bare is best," meaning a baby should sleep alone (no pillows, bumpers, or toys) leaving only three pieces to consider; the crib, crib mattress and crib sheet.

That doesn't mean you won't have any fun picking out those three items. However, if you're on a budget we do suggest saving on the actual crib and splurging on a healthier choice for the mattress and crib sheets. Your baby will be spending 8-12 hours a day coming in contact with those elements, so these are two places to be mindful. Plus, you can get a safe crib at every price point and every style.

Beyond being organic, check that the product you are considering is GOTS certified organic. Going with a premium 100% organic product made GOTS certified means there is nothing touching your child's skin except a safe, comfy and breathable material.

Check out the Naturepedic Organic Crib Mattress collection, the entire finished mattress is GOTS certified organic. It provides firm support and has an organic cotton filling and quilted exterior made without common allergens, flame retardant chemicals or any other questionable materials.

Next, cover the organic mattress with an equally safe, as well as stylish crib sheet. We love the photo-worthy designs by Rookie Humans like Love Blooms in organic cotton; RH Baby&Child's collection of chic prints like the organic Linen ABC design; and how fun is the whimsical Organic Milk and Cookies print made of organic flannel by Crate&Kids?


If you're a minimalist and prefer crisp, classic white, we highly-recommend a zippered sheet. The unique secure fit means it can't slip or be pulled off by baby who could get wrapped up in the loose material. We love the Quickzip organic cotton—and it's also chemical free.

2. Wall-to-wall—from wallpapers to paints.

Paint is our favorite way to transform the nursery whether that is a fresh coat of clean white or a do-it-yourself mural. The one important thing to look for is that the paint is Zero or Low VOC. VOC stands for, Volatile Organic Compounds and are often found in paints, some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects. We highly recommend Colorhouse paint for their commitment to healthier and sustainable products for people and the plant with superior coverage.

Now if you have your eye on one of those gorgeous, trending wallpaper designs, be sure and check the product description to ensure it's made with non-toxic materials. A favorite brand of ours that checks all the boxes for style, safety and variety are the PVC-free products from Anewall. Their popular designs are printed with non-toxic latex inks that are free of nickel and other chemical pollutants.

3. Safely clean up messes.

The nursery is a place where messes happen. From spit-up to blowouts, there can be lots of things to keep clean. That's why we love products that make mom's life easier and safer for baby.

Being able to keep your flooring looking good and bacteria free is essential. Two of our go-to washable rug brands are Kroma Carpets and Lorena Canal. Between these two companies, they offer tons of on-trend designs from a cozy little cloud shape for tummy time or a larger area rug that covers and protects your knees and your hardwoods.

If you don't want a traditional fiber rug, maybe due to allergies, but still want a stylish option for a cushy place for you and babe to play, there are some really stellar options out there. Both Ruggish and Little Nomad playmats answer the call from style-conscious moms everywhere. These brands offer beautiful, on-trend designs that are manufactured responsibly with non-toxic materials.

4. Big furniture + products.

Not only do small items and décor pieces provide health conscious, designer options, but you'll also find plenty of safe styles for larger furniture and fixtures. Important, because these are the items you and your child will come in contact with daily and possibly keep around for years to come.

Brands like Oeuf and IKEA have been leading the way in non-toxic, sustainable and environmentally manufactured products. That's because they are regulated by European environmental standards that are higher than those in the United States. They also list various important and specific manufacturing details on each product's buy-page so you can easily determine what works for your home goals.

Designing a stylish nursery doesn't mean you have to skimp on safety. Make sure to do your research and read product descriptions to find the best options for you and baby. Happy decorating, mama!

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We're supposed to be the ones comforting them, but sometimes, our children are the ones comforting us. If you've ever had a bad day at work and found your stress melting away when you got to sit down with your little one, you have something in common with Serena Williams.

In a new interview with Mamamia, Williams explains that after losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open, it was her 1-year-old daughter, Olympia, who kissed her better.

"I got in the car, and Olympia was in the car. It was so weird, and she started giving me kisses, she never gives me kisses. She doesn't even know to give kisses, and she just grabbed me, and I was like this little baby is so smart. It's just hard to be too down when you have a little one… when you have someone to take care of," Williams told Mia Freedman for an upcoming episode of the podcast, No Filter.

"Like I have to take care of this person, and I have to do this type of stuff, it puts everything in perspective," Williams explains.

This isn't the first time Williams has talked about how motherhood has changed her perspective. Before she had Olympia her career was first. But now that she's a mom, Williams is trying to take care of all of Olympia's needs, but also recognizes that she can't ignore her own.

"I'm working on it," she told TIME. "I never understood women before, when they put themselves in second or third place. And it's so easy to do. It's so easy to do."

It is easy to do. According to a recent survey by REDBOOK and HealthyWomen (a non-profit dedicated to providing women with health information), 45% of women over 30 do not make time for their own health, and a recent study revealed that when women have time off from work, we're often spending it watching our kids or doing chores around the house.

In short, we're always making sure our children's needs are met. We're good at that. But sometimes, when they make sure our needs are met (like Olympia did with those kisses) they remind us of what really matters.

When you're a parent, your worth isn't defined by how clean your laundry is, how many promotions you get at work, or (at least in William's case) Grand Slams. Sometimes, it's found in kisses from a toddler.

Your baby loves you, mama. So you should love yourself, too.


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