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Here’s how our nightly boob-fest goes down.


Rachel cuddles up in the crook of my arm and starts her drift off to sleep. Her breathing slows. Her thumb sucking ceases. And then I feel it. The familiar pull at the top of my shirt before she slips her tiny hand inside and begins her descent down. There’s a brief stroke of my right boob, a slow hover over my nipple and then she reaches her final destination, cupping the bottom of my breast in her hand. And a squeeze.

At first our struggle is silent. I pull my two-year-old’s hand out of my shirt and lay it back on her belly. But she soon returns. I remove her hand once again and gently roll her so she’s facing away from me. This move rouses her and she turns her body into me again and, this time more forcefully, thrusts her hand down my nightshirt.

“No,” I hiss at her, once again removing her hand from my boob.

“Fop,” she yells and rubs the last bit of sleep from her eyes.

“You stop,” I say louder.

“Both of you stop,” my husband yell-whispers from across the bed while holding our five-year-old. “Joy just fell asleep.”

Rachel and I lock eyes. It’s on.

She reaches and I block her. Again, she reaches and I block her. Reach and block. Reach and block. I’m pretty sure we look like two guys imitating a girl fight, but I don’t care. Finally, I cross my arms over my chest. But Rachel won’t be broken. With a surprising near-herculean surge of strength, she pries my arms off of my chest and finds my boob. She has won. Squeeze.

I’m not sure when the “cup and squeeze” started. My guess (that I loosely validated with a cursory google search for “toddler grabbing boob”) is that it has to do with breastfeeding. I weaned Rachel when she was a year old, but the “cup and squeeze” has persisted.

Rachel’s grab business is unfortunate because she really is an otherwise charming child. She welcomes me home by racing into my arms and yelling “Mommy came back” (which, by the way, makes me wonder what Daddy and Rachel talk about when I’m gone). She “dances ballet” for anyone who inadvertently glances in her direction and she can belt out the chorus of “Country Roads” like a miniature Taylor Swift. When she’s tired or stressed or overwhelmed, though, my little princess turns into a gropey 14-year-old boy.

“Is this normal?” my husband asks as Rachel and I duke it out in bed next to him.

“Some kids use a teddy bear to comfort themselves. Others have a blankie. Rachel uses my boob.”

“Maybe she’s gay. I mean it’s fine if she is, but maybe…” he trails off.

Silence.

“Anyway, she’s too attached to you. You’re going to lose your mind.”

“You think?” I say while wrapping the sheet around my chest like Saran Wrap as Rachel snatches at it.

“Maybe you should start wearing turtlenecks.”

“It’s July.”

“Well, they’re your boobs,” he says. “Do what you want.”

I explained my predicament to our pediatrician and she said that I needed to be clear that the groping makes me uncomfortable and not to cuddle with Rachel when she does it. “She’ll learn that in order to be close to you, she can’t do that anymore.”

That night, I put her down when she snuck her hand inside my shirt after dinner. “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Rachel wailed at the same pleasant tenor of a car alarm. I picked her up and put her hand on my boob to make her stop.

My mother suggested a soft doll.

After I let Rachel choose the doll she wanted to sleep with, we cuddled up in my bed and I placed Funshine Bear in her arm closest to me. “Thank you, Mama,” she said. Her eyelids fluttered. I’m free! I thought. And then she deftly switched hands and found my breast.

When we found out that my older daughter would have to spend an evening in the hospital, my husband and I strategized about who would stay with which kid. I was the obvious choice for Rachel, but we thought (maybe) we could break her of this habit if my boobs were not available. I kissed Rachel goodbye that afternoon and hoped that I would return to the house the next day with liberated breasts.

The following morning, my husband reported that he had been jolted from a deep sleep by Rachel slipping her hand down his shirt. “Then her head whipped around like a spinning top, her pupils flashed red and she started talking in a creepy Darth Vader voice.”

“Is this your way of telling me that she tried to grope you and lost her mind when she realized it wasn’t me?”

“Yes.”

As I laid in bed that evening, with one boob in Rachel’s hand, I wondered how I let this get so out of control. Is this my fault? Am I enabling an unhealthy attachment between us? I decided to take this to the next level – and get a psychologist’s opinion.

I asked Dr. Rika Alper, a developmental psychologist in my hometown of Montclair, NJ, who specializes in children and families. “Most kids get very attached to something sensory that is comforting to them,” she explained. “It can be an elbow, an upper arm that’s soft, an earlobe…. Your breast combines food with softness.” As soon as she said this I remembered stroking the inside of my mother’s wrist when I was Rachel’s age. It made her nuts.

“So what should I do about this?” I asked.

“Substitute. Substitute. Substitute,” she said. “Introduce something else, but together with your breast. She can cuddle both and then you transfer both of her hands to the object as she falls asleep.”

It’s worth a shot, I thought. I never tried the “together with” part.

It took two nights, but Rachel finally took Funshine Bear from my hands, cuddled him, rolled over and fell asleep. I laid next to her in her bed and stared up at the ceiling – in shock.

It hasn’t been like that every single night since. But it happens more and more often. And, in general, she has graduated to stroking my chest rather than cupping my breast. I have considered telling my husband that my breasts are once again “up for grabs,” so to speak.

But, for now, I think I’ll keep them to myself.

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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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For many families, getting out the door in the morning is one of the biggest hurdles in our day, whether you've got one kiddo or multiples. Mama needs to get ready, children need to find that missing sock, and everyone needs to find something to eat—all while making it to the car before the entire day is running behind.

So we asked Chairman Mom members for their best tips and tricks to getting out the door faster in the mornings. Here's what they shared:

1. Get your kids to help prep the night before

"The simplest thing you can do to streamline the morning is prep everything that can be prepped the night before. Often easier said than done. But once your kids are old enough, they can own a lot of this."—Amy

2. Set an alarm using your kid's favorite song 

"Something small that saves us a few minutes: I put on an alarm with my 3 three year old's favorite song at 7:42, he knows it signals it's time to get his shoes and coat on."—Nogo

3. Use smart technology 

"We use Google Home (I'm sure Alexa would do this too) to read kids a story. So much easier to stop after the story is over then telling her to shut off the tv from watching a show!"—Maven

4. Try wearing a mom uniform 

"I don't wear make up, and my hair is an inch long, so I do not spend any time styling anything. I have an Office Casual Uniform arrangement of clothing, shoes, and jewelry, so there is no real choice involved. I have a coffee maker that is programmable, so I set it up the night before to brew at 6:15am."—Melinite

5. Simplify your beauty routine

"I do mascara and tinted sunscreen. Lipstick that I can put on without a mirror."—Julie

6. ...and your kid's beauty routine

"I brush and braid my daughter's hair the night before so that we don't have to deal with tangles in the morning. This saves the morning from going off the rails..."—Crystal

7. Hire extra help just for the mornings 

"I have a nanny for 45 minutes every morning that comes to help us. That's the best hack my husband and I have found to have happy and stress free mornings and be working or at work by 8 or 8:30 am."—Maria

8. Make breakfast super easy 

"Keep breakfast food at my office (instant oatmeal, nuts + dry fruit) that I eat at my desk while doing the first round of email."—Petya

9. Find those lost socks

"Whenever I have a MOMENT I prep lunches, fix sandwiches, put them in Tupperware, chop fruit, etc. (Oh! I even let the kids earn extra spending money by chopping the week's fruit for me on Sunday with butter knives) And get uniforms and SOCKS ready. Finding socks can eat up a good 10 minutes of my morning routine."—Sarah

10.  Take the guesswork out of what your kid will wear

"I have a toddler who hates changing out of her PJs so we just dress her in her day clothes the night before—one less battle to fight in the morning."—Jess

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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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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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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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