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Spending time in nature is so beneficial to our health and well-being. It calms us – reducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger.


It’s also been shown to improve focus and attention, as well as reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It even makes us friendlier and more apt to reach out to others in our community.

Playing outside is one of the best activities for our kids, but what if it’s too cold or too rainy to go outside? Is it possible to experience the benefits of nature from indoors?

Nothing beats actually immersing ourselves in the natural environment outside, but science proves that we can capture the essence of what nature has to offer through images, sounds, and plants inside our home.

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Nature imagery.

Amazingly, just looking at pictures of nature scenes can make us feel similar to actually spending time outdoors. A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that you can reduce stress by simply looking at images of nature. When participants viewed pictures of natural scenes, their stress level decreased because their parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us to calm down) was activated.

Spending time in nature can also make us feel more compassionate – connected to others and our environment. Scientists proved this by observing brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In the experiment, they discovered that when participants viewed scenes from the natural environment, the parts of their brain associated with empathy and love lit up. On the other hand, when they looked at urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated.

Finally, Dr. Marc Berman and researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study in which participants took 10 minute breaks in a quiet room to look at pictures of a nature scene or city street. Cognitive performance improved after the nature break. Although the boost was not as large as when participants actually took a walk outside among trees, it was more effective than taking a walk in the city.

Nature sounds.

Listening to nature can help relax us and improve our mood. A research team at the University of Florida looked at how nature sounds affect people’s mental and physical health. They measured pulse rate, muscle tension, and self-reported stress of a group of people and then had them listen to one of three sounds: silence, music by Mozart, or ocean waves. Then the researchers gave the participants another medical exam and asked how stressed they felt.

There was no significant change for people who listened to silence or classical music, but those who listened to ocean waves had considerably lower muscle tension, heart rates, and stress. These positive changes occurred quite rapidly – within five to seven minutes of listening to the sounds of nature. Imagine how quickly we can calm our children down by playing some soothing nature sounds!

In another study, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Acoustician Jonas Braasch found that listening to natural sounds (specifically birdcalls) during a work break can boost performance afterward. Braash believes that nature sounds have a restorative effect because they create a more comfortable environment where people feel happy and satisfied. He also thinks this idea can be applied to other stressful environments, like hospitals, where nature sounds may potentially help people heal faster.

Experts found, however, that not all nature sounds have the same calming effect. The best sounds are those that give a sense of natural space and mimic the biorhythms of an ecosystem like a forest. Loud chirping and croaking is just not going to cause the same calming feelings as sounds of water, which are very soothing because of their slow, rhythmic whooshing noises.

Plants.

Plants and flowers have long been known to cheer people up. Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has consistently found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on reducing stress and anxiety.

Plants actually boost healing, according to a study at Kansas State University. Researchers learned that viewing plants during recovery from surgery can lead to a significant improvement in physiological responses. Patients had lower blood pressure and less pain, anxiety, and fatigue compared to patients who did not have plants in their rooms. In addition, studies found that patients who are able to view nature scenes or plants in their room experience less pain after surgery. 

How to bring more nature inside.

According to Netta Weinstein, professor at University of Rochester, we can maximize our connections with nature even if we are unable to get outside. She explains, “Because of the hidden benefits of connecting with nature, people should take advantage of opportunities to get away from built environments and, when inside, they should surround themselves with plants, natural objects, and images of the natural world.” 

How can we give our children experiences of nature on the days that we just can’t fit in outdoor play? Here are some ideas to expose your children to the amazing aspects of nature from inside:

  • Visit indoor sanctuaries of nature such as an arboretum, butterfly garden, botanical garden, greenhouse, science museum, or aquarium.
  • Decorate your house with awe-inspiring images of nature. Collect gorgeous pieces from famous photographers like Ansel Adams and Philip Hyde or start a family hobby of taking pictures of nature that you love to display throughout your house. 
  • Display plants throughout your house.
  • Start an indoor garden of herbs and flowers.
  • Watch nature shows, movies, and documentaries as a family.
  • Include pictures and objects of nature that are green and blue in your house, colors known to calm us down.
  • Play nature sounds in your home, especially at bedtime.

The beauty of nature is that is has the power to impact us no matter where we experience it. By giving our children a multitude of ways to observe nature through their senses, they can enjoy the many benefits it has to offer on any day of the year.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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I'll admit it: I'm an earbud snob. There I said it. For me, there's nothing like clear, noise-canceling earbuds that allow me to fully immerse myself into music while doing household chores or mindless tasks. I love it. And if they're integrated with a voice assistant so I can be hands-free, it's a complete win-win.

When I was pregnant with my kids, I didn't want to purchase pregnancy headphones. Most are super bulky, overpriced and have horrible sound quality. Instead of buying them, I sang to my babies and hoped they would develop a love for music just like their mama. Turns out, I was onto something. "Even in the womb, little ones respond to the vibrations and later to the beats and melodies that you play for them," says Diana Spalding, author of The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama: Redefining the Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey. "Research also shows that music can help build the foundation for your baby's language acquisition, so you can think of taking a moment to jam out to your favorite songs as educational."

Recently, model Ashley Graham posted on Instagram a photo of her using pregnancy earbuds and I had to do some research. How was she building her baby's language skills using earbuds?

"Baby boy is the size of a coconut this week and already getting some advice from @gayleking on my podcast @prettybigdealpod 💙 Gayle you are wild and I LOVE IT. We fast forwarded your story about the stripper pole 🤣" she captioned.

In the photo, Graham is using mbrio, a patented earbud adapter that turns your earbuds into pregnancy headphones so you can use your favorite earbuds while enjoying music with your baby. Pretty smart, right?

mbrio Clip-On Pregnancy Earbud Adapters

mbrio Clip-On Pregnancy Earbud Adapters

mbrio's patented earbud adapters turn your earbuds into pregnancy headphones. Just pop in any set of compatible earbuds, clip them to your waistband and go. It also uses a thin layer of silicone to reduce sound levels by up to 30 decibels (depending frequency and volume) so it's safe for mama and baby.

$29.95

It eliminates the need for splitters, sticky pads, volume control switches and iPhone plug adapters too so you can just carry one device while you're on the go. It's also been independently tested by a Nationally Registered Testing Laboratory, so it meets the safe audio guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Best of all, the ergonomic design adapts to mama's growing belly throughout the pregnancy. Just pop in any set of compatible earbuds, clip them to your waistband and go!

I'm still not a believer in headphones and still plan to use earbuds wherever I go, but if I ever get pregnant again, or need a cool baby shower gift, I know what to purchase.
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When Anastacia Gencarelli shared the story of how her 2-year-old daughter ended up being hospitalized for milk anemia she was not trying to scare anyone—she just wanted other parents to know that "milk anemia is a thing"because she didn't.

But when her Facebook post went viral and the headlines were super scary that didn't quite tell the whole story.

"Toddler who was nearly killed by COW'S MILK," the Daily Mail's headline reads.

Yes, Gencarelli's 2-year-old daughter Mia was hospitalized after drinking too much milk, but it is more complicated than that, we have learned.

Here is what you need to know about this viral story + milk anemia.

As Gencarelli explained in her original Facebook post, she shared her story to spread awareness of the existence of milk anemia. While it is well documented that overconsumption of milk can have a negative effect on a toddler's iron levels, it's not something all parents know.

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Basically, cow's milk is not a high iron food and what iron it does contain is not well absorbed. So if a child stops consuming breastmilk and/or iron-fortified formula or cereal and starts drinking a lot of cow's milk without adding other sources of iron, they're at risk for anemia.

Anemia can be treated or prevented with supplements, but the preferred method of prevention is through iron-rich foods. "Ideally, we would prevent iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia with a diet consisting of foods that are naturally rich in iron," Dr. Robert Baker, co-author of an American Academy of Pediatrics report on the prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia has previously explained.

"Feeding older infants and toddlers foods like meat, shellfish, legumes and iron-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as iron-fortified cereals and fruits rich in vitamin C, which help iron absorption, can help prevent iron deficiency," he said.

Gencarelli tells Motherly her daughter was drinking 4 to 6 bottles of cow's milk a day and that while she's not a particularly picky eater she is not a huge fan of meat.

Doctors recommend toddlers consume 2.5 servings of dairy per day, and a study in the journal Pediatrics found 2 cups a day is the best amount of milk for toddlers.

"We saw that two cups of cow's milk per day was enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels for most children, while also maintaining iron stores. With additional cow's milk, there was a further reduction in iron stores without greater benefit from vitamin D," Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael's Hospital and the lead author of the study has previous explained.

As reported by CBC, drinking from a bottle rather than a cup is linked to a more dramatic decrease in toddler's iron stores. It's possible that serving milk in a bottle contributes to parental underreporting of milk consumption. Parents might not even realize that milk is keeping their child full, which makes it hard to get iron rich foods into them.

So what can parents do to prevent milk anemia?

If you are concerned your child may be anemic talk to your doctor right away and consider offering more iron-rich foods at home.

Kacie Barnes, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), tells Motherly that while extreme cases like the one described by Gencarelli are not common, mild iron deficiency is common. That's why she recommends serving meat, as it contains the best absorbed type of iron.

"Even babies can eat ground or soft cooked, tender meats. Think crockpot, stewed, or braised," says Barnes, who recommends chili as a family-friendly iron-rich meal (just keep the salt and the spicy stuff out of your little one's serving).

She continues: "Beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas contain iron, so I encourage parents of babies and toddlers to serve those often, especially if their little one doesn't eat much (or any) meat. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption, so it's helpful to serve iron rich foods alongside fruit or veggies like citrus, strawberries, or broccoli. Another helpful trick: Cook with a cast iron pan. Small amounts of iron do absorb into food when you cook with it—and this is a good thing!"

The bottom line:

It's important to remember that Gencarelli's story is the story of her individual child, who is currently undergoing further medial care to deal not just with the anemia, but other issues that presented afterward. When her daughter is discharged from the hospital Gencarelli will be continuing to serve iron supplements and says her medical team has provided her with some iron-rich recipes.

Her post went viral not because she was trying to scare anyone away from milk, but because she was trying to save other mamas from being as scared as she was when her little girl got sick. You only know what you know, and now that she knows her daughter was consuming too much milk she plans to serve fewer servings.

We hope that Mia has a quick recovery and we're thankful that Gencarelli shared her story online. Her family is in a lot of pain right now (something made worse by the many mean comments she's received about her daughter's milk consumption) and she just wants to prevent other families from feeling that pain, too.

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When I was very pregnant everyone was determined to make sure I knew how terrible it would be to have a new baby. Forget swollen feet and heartburn that made me vomit, they all swore I didn't know how bad it was going to be until I had a newborn around to ruin my life. As if it were a secret, they told me I would never truly sleep again, would age overnight and lose my identity, my body would sag, I would hate my husband, my marriage would transform into drudgery and red wine, with everything covered in poop.

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The relentless low-grade negativity sent me running to the internet to search "best things about parenting a newborn." The discouraging results warned me of Top Things You'll do Wrong as a New Parent, How to Survive Having a Newborn, and Biggest Mistakes New Parents Make. Not a single one was positive, and I really needed some reassurance around then.

So here I am, safely on the other side of the first eight weeks of newborn parenting and I can proclaim that a lot of it is simply wonderful. Here's why:

Your baby is real!

However it happened, you've successfully had a child. For so long you've been living around the idea that you might one day have a baby. It was so hard for me to feel like my baby was real before she was born. I knew every kick and roll, and I knew that she had hiccups pretty much every day, but she still felt more like a concept.

Now I don't have to wonder what she is like. She changes every day. She still has the hiccups. She also stretches and raises her eyebrows and nods her head as she finishes eating as if to say yum yum yum. Someday she will look at pizza that way.

You are the best at everything.

The reality is that until you do it, you don't know for sure that you can. Because babies need about six things on repeat, you get really good at everything. Within hours if not days, you will have it down. The diapers, the feeding, the tiny clothes. Most of it isn't that hard.

The first time I got my baby to latch in the middle of the night without turning the light on, I felt like I was a superstar. When you are able to transform a primal ragged scream of hunger or discomfort into pure silence, and then your baby gives a little sigh and falls asleep on your chest, you will be the champion of parenting.

You can watch all the TV and read all the books.

You have a legitimate reason to spend hours and hours motionless on the sofa and demand that someone refills your water and brings you a snack because obviously the baby wants you to have another cookie.

Watching your partner become a parent is full of unexpectedly sweet moments.

I have so loved watching my husband become a dad. I don't have to tell you it broke me when I came home from picking up take-out to find him tunelessly singing '70s rock ballads while she gazed up at him adoringly. I love seeing my parents as doting grandparents who want nothing more to cuddle her and buy her things she doesn't need. My husband said that parenting isn't like a new chapter of a book, but like you turn the page and end up in another dimension. And I get to watch that happen.

Newborn poop doesn't smell bad and is water-soluble.

Truly, it smells like cereal and washes out of things. Most of the time, it is contained. Parents don't help future parents by describing that one time they got smeared with poop just before a wedding. They forget to mention the literally hundreds of times they deftly changed a diaper and walked away spotless.

Your body is yours again.

Forget all of that business about getting your "body back" in a cosmetic Instagram way, and enjoy that instead of having to lug the baby all over town inside your enormous belly. You can hand them over to someone else to carry! No one is physically pressing on your bladder, stomach, or other organs. Your body may have changed, but it is yours. What a relief.

Rest assured, babies are even cute and a little bit hilarious when they are screaming. Maybe the others weren't all wrong when they told you how hard it would sometimes be, but they probably also spent hours making faces at their baby to see what would coax out the sweetest smile in the world. They just forgot to tell you that part, and that it will all be worth it.

Life

Temperatures are dropping, Christmas decorations are flooding the shelves, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. But take a break from prepping for the holidays, mama, and check out the headlines that made waves this week.

Here at Motherly we know mamas are busy, so we make sure to keep track of everything you may have missed on the Internet this week.

There are the viral stories making Team Motherly smile right now:

This judge went viral for supporting a new mom + new lawyer in the most wonderful way

Juliana Lamar just accomplished something major: She graduated law school and was sworn into the Tennessee bar...and she did it all while raising her 1-year-old son. Doing all of this at the same had to have been incredibly difficult, but oh so rewarding. She celebrated her incredible achievements as a working mother in the most special way, thanks to a wonderful judge.

Judge Richard Jinkins encouraged the mama to bring her son along when she was sworn into the state bar, and he even held on the little boy while his mother recited her oath. Not surprisingly, the incredibly sweet video of the judge carrying the 1-year-old as he watched his mother officially become a lawyer has gone viral.

"On the day of my swearing-in, right before we began, Judge said he wanted Beckham to take part in the moment," Lamar, who counts the judge as a major inspiration and supporter, tells Buzzfeed. "And I am so glad he did because to have my son take part in one of the greatest moments of my life was truly a blessing."

Lamar's colleague shared footage of the incredibly sweet incident. "Y'all. Judge Dinkins of the Tennessee Court of Appeals swore in my law school colleague with her baby on his hip, and I've honestly never loved him more," a tweet from the colleague reads. "She's one of four women in our class who became moms while in law school. Women are amazing."

Why this refreshingly honest birth plan from Reddit is going viral

Pregnant people talk a lot about birth plans. You might even type out a few different versions before settling on the one you want to show your medical team. But the thing is, even if you spend months planning out the perfect birth plan, things can change so quickly.

That's why the internet is loving this birth plan that was uploaded to Reddit. The person who typed this up is so realistic, so honest and so authentically advocating for herself.

"I don't have a plan," reads the first bullet point.

"I've never done this before," she notes in the second.

"I have no idea what I am doing," she explains in the third bullet.

So many first time mamas can relate to this feeling, and also to a passage that is highlighted.

It reads: "I am not trying to be a hero! Please assume that I want every option available to me for pain management and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know in real and update time if any of the pain management options are nearing the point where they are no longer available to me as I progress through labor."

This is a mama who knows herself and also knows that birth plans can change so quickly.

Mom's photo of laundry Christmas tree goes viral on Instagram 

sincerelymumsy

Australian mom and Instagrammer Jessi Roberts (aka @sincerelymumsy) is going viral this week thanks to her hilarious Christmas tree hack.

Instead of dealing with her laundry, this genius mama made it into festive decor.

It actually happened last year, when Roberts family was about to go on a trip. "Last years Christmas tree 🤣 We where going away for 2 weeks and I couldn't and didn't have time to do the washing... so Like any creative person... I improvise 💁🏼♀️ I left it up for 2 weeks... @thebaysidedentist [Roberts' partner] wasn't impressed," she writes on Instagram.

Roberts' original caption back in 2018 was equally hilarious: "The best way to avoid doing the washing - turn it into a Christmas tree," she wrote. "It's free. I'll wash this after Christmas or maybe the 'elf on the shelf' can help me."

This is a Christmas decor hack we can totally see catching on.

A FB moms group help this baby get a liver—and went viral for it 

Moms groups on the internet sometimes get an unfair reputation. You say "Facebook moms group" and people often imagine an online space where mom shaming is common, and while that may be true in some instances, these communities are more often sources of support, not shame.

No story highlights this better than Robin Bliven's. When she posted about how her private group ended up connecting mamas and getting a liver for a baby boy who needed one, the story made national headlines and proved how supportive these groups can be. Internet communities are real communities, and some are amazing places to be.

"You can talk smack about mom groups on Facebook all you want... but don't talk smack about mine, because we crowd sourced a freaking organ," Bliven wrote on Facebook.

When one member of the Facebook group, Beth Rescsanski, learned her baby, Cal, needed a liver transplant over 100 moms in the group were screened to see if they were potential donors. That's 100 fellow parents who were willing to have surgery for someone else's baby. That's the definition of a supportive community!

In the end, single mom Andrea Alberto was a match and donated part of her own liver to baby Cal. The mom of two says it wasn't hard choice.

"I knew organ donation was something I would be willing to do, so when I found out Cal was being listed for transplant, it was a very easy decision," Alberto told TODAY Parents."If there is someone in need and there is something you can reasonably do to help them, why wouldn't you do it? I like to think that if it was one of my kids in need, someone from my extended network would step in to help."

American Girl celebrates diversity by including model with Down syndrome

The American Girl dolls taught a generation about history and showed children reflections of themselves in an era where diverse dolls were hard to come by. Now, in 2019, the company continues to highlight diversity and give children the representation they crave. This can be seen in the new holiday catalog where 4-year-old Ivy Kimble is among the young models.

"There's not a lot of print or media with a lot of kids with Down syndrome," her mom Kristin Kimble told WLS-TV.

Kimble told Today she's so proud of Ivy, and so happy that American Girl is celebrating all girls. "I'm so proud of Ivy," Kimble says. "She's showing the world, 'Look at me, I'm here. I'm doing it. I'm an American Girl.'"

Gal Gadot perfectly captures our feelings about motherhood in this viral Instagram post 

You never really understand the meaning of the phrase "time flies" until you become a parent. Another thing you don't quite understand until you welcome your children? How deep your capacity to love really is. Actress Gal Gadot just nailed both of those ideas in a single social media post.

The famous mama shared a note to her daughter, Alma, on her eighth birthday. "I'm so lucky to be your mother. Thank you for teaching me so much about life without even knowing you are and for giving me the most precious title I could ever ask for. I promise I'll do anything for you, love and protect you forever," she wrote in the Instagram post.

The mama continued: "Just please, don't grow up so fast," she writes. "Take your time. I can't believe you're 8 already . Love you to the moon through all galaxies double the number of grain of sand in the universe."

ALL. THE. FEELS. Hasn't she just perfectly captured what it feels like to watch your children grow?

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