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The NICU is not the place you go to meet people. It’s an intensive care unit, not Cheers.


Chances are, if you’re here, it’s a high-pressure situation. The background noise is beeps and buzzes and the whooshing of air in and out of ventilators. There’s a clicking, too, a “tck, tck, tck” of the feeding pumping, counting down the milliliters of milk and vitamins dripping down tubes and into bellies.

This is not the soundtrack for small talk.

And yet, when my son, born prematurely at 30 weeks, was one month into his NICU resort stay and clearly thinking he was on sabbatical and would return shortly to the womb, I met the woman who would become my best friend. I met her on the worst day of my life.

Brain scans are funny. Dots on black and white and gray delineate good from bad, solid from liquid, tissue from bone. On the day in question, my son had a 30-day brain scan, unbeknownst to us. Apparently, this is standard procedure. (Over the next few months – how long it took us to graduate – we would come to learn all the procedures much better than we would have liked.)

It was a sunny and warm day in April, the kind that makes all the kids in all the classrooms stare out the window and wish for summer. Of course, inside the NICU the weather is irrelevant behind tinted windows and fluorescent lighting. But I carried the mood in with me, a spring breeze along with my pumped milk in its little cooler.

The nurse in my son’s room was new. They always were. I never could learn them all. She informed me that the head of the NICU would like to see me. She’d page him, she said. And then she looked at me three seconds longer than was normal. That’s how I knew something was up.

When he entered, the big man himself, he spoke a great many words I did not hear while pointing to gray spots on a picture of my son’s brain. I looked at the scan, and then I looked at my son in my arms, awake and eyeing my like, “You, hey you, I see that milk there. What’s the hold up, lady?”

And then I heard the doctor say, “periventricular leukomalacia.” Eleven syllables to tell me that my child had damage in all four quadrants of his brain. Very gently, I kissed him on his head, which smelled of hand sanitizer, and handed him to the nurse so I wouldn’t drop him. Then I walked out and lost it – lost all control of my body and words and thoughts. I cried and shook and tore at my clothes a little.

Hours later, I went back in and sat in the hospital-issued rocker and held my son again. We looked at each other. He sized me up with an owlish stare and then stretched and pooped, very casually, like he was The Big Lebowski and I, his bowling buddy. No biggie, man. The nurse laughed from her corner where she’d been charting stats. We got to talking.

Five years later, this nurse is in my contacts under “family.” She has a husband and a house and a dog and a mother, and I’ve seen it all. It sounds weird to refer to your “best friend” when in your 30s, like you’re one mall trip away from buying matching necklaces at Claire’s. But she is.

After we came home from the NICU, finally, she called to check in. Nobody actually uses the numbers they swap on the way out the door, but she did. She came over a week later. And she’s been coming over ever since, swapping quips and bringing iced coffee and all the good magazines for the pool. We’ve celebrated birthdays and Thanksgivings and drunk wine at vineyards and made our husbands watch Katherine Hepburn flicks. She’s the one I call when I’m losing my mind over insurance battles with my son’s wheelchair or swim therapy. She’s also the one I call when I watch the newest episode of “Game of Thrones”.

She’s my person. She’s my best friend. She would roll her eyes at this. This is why we work.

You don’t expect to make new friends at my age. You’ve got your standard go-tos locked in, the ones that don’t require effort. You’ve already dated and wooed them. But I wooed a new one. I met the best friend I’ll ever have on the worst day of my life, which I guess moves it up a notch.

Who knew your 30s could be your social growth spurt?

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When you become a parent for the first time, there is an undeniably steep learning curve. Add to that the struggle of sorting through fact and fiction when it comes to advice and—whew—it's enough to make you more tired than you already are with that newborn in the house.

Just like those childhood games of telephone when one statement would get twisted by the time it was told a dozen times, there are many parenting misconceptions that still tend to get traction. This is especially true with myths about bottle-feeding—something that the majority of parents will do during their baby's infancy, either exclusively or occasionally.

Here's what you really need to know about bottle-feeding facts versus fiction.

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

Not all bottles are created equally. Many parents experience anxiety when it seems their infant rejects all bottles, which is especially nerve wracking if a breastfeeding mom is preparing to return to work. However, it's often a matter of giving the baby some time to warm up to the new feeding method, says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician, infant feeding specialist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of California San Francisco graduate School of Nursing.

"For mothers returning to work, if you're breastfeeding but trying to transition to bottle[s], try to give yourself a two- to four-week trial window to experiment with bottle feeding," says Ferraro.

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

So often, the question of whether a parent is using formula or breastfeeding is presented exclusively as one or the other. In reality, many babies are combo-fed—meaning they have formula sometimes, breast milk other times.

The advantage with mixed feeding is the babies still get the benefits of breast milk while parents can ensure the overall nutritional and caloric needs are met through formula, says Ferraro.

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

For parents looking for simplification in their lives (meaning, all of us), cleaning bottles day after day can sound daunting. But, really, it doesn't require much more effort than you are already used to doing with the dishes each night: With bottles that are safe for the top rack of the dishwasher, cleaning them is as easy as letting the machine work for you.

For added confidence in the sanitization, Dr. Brown's offers an incredibly helpful microwavable steam sterilizer that effectively kills all household bacteria on up to four bottles at a time. (Not to mention it can also be used on pacifiers, sippy cups and more.)

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

One of the leading theories on what causes colic is indigestion, which can be caused by baby getting air bubbles while bottle feeding. However, Dr. Brown's bottles are the only bottles in the market that are actually clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to an ingenious internal vent system that eliminates negative pressure and air bubbles.

5. Myth: Bottles are all you can use for the first year

By the time your baby is six months old (way to go!), they may be ready to begin using a sippy cup. Explains Ferraro, "Even though they don't need water or additional liquids at this point, it is a feeding milestone that helps promote independent eating and even speech development."

With a complete line of products to see you from newborn feeding to solo sippy cups, Dr. Brown's does its part to make these new transitions less daunting. And, for new parents, that truly is priceless.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

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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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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In the space between birth and raising a baby is a mama who is rediscovering who she is and letting go of what she was. Except there is no road map that guides you on this unknown path. There is only the void, the feeling of overwhelm that comes at the juxtaposition of new motherhood, where piecing together our past and present seems like a disjointed collage.

With this space brings a tide of emotions that ebb and flow as you become acquainted with this new person birthed alongside your sweet babe. Pregnancy is just the beginning of a transformational journey that is motherhood.

But when that void is met with fear, lacking support, and confusion, it is easy to feel like you are grappling in the dark unknown. It is common to feel like you have lost yourself, like you no longer recognize the person that was when you look in the mirror. And that can be a frightening feeling.

New identities, postpartum bodies and weight loss

Coupled with this transition are the gnashing messages that play to our fears: "Get your body back," "Lose the baby weight," creating an illusion that the way to rediscover who we are is by returning to the body that once was.

This is the trap we easily fall in during our most vulnerable moments, in the identity crisis of crossing into motherhood. We are defined by how quickly we lose weight or if we get back into those pre-pregnancy clothes. In the space of the unknown, taking charge of our body size and weight gives a pseudo-sense of control; when in fact, we are seeking a defining sense of self when everything we once knew has changed.

When diet culture takes on the disguise of control, familiarity, and wellness during a time of change and uncertainty, it's no wonder we cling to its false promises, even after everything our bodies have shown to be capable of in the growth and birth of new life.

In its sneaky way, diet culture takes on many different forms, like fasting, skipping meals, cutting out food groups, counting macros and so on. It becomes easy to justify these things for the sake of wellness, but any way you are manipulating food to somehow trick your body to think it needs less nourishment falls into a dieting mentality.

Postpartum dieting is not healthy

Wellness in postpartum has been watered down to mean weight loss, which puts more value on the appearance of our bodies as opposed to its functioning. This dangerous mentality can cause poor body image and overall body dissatisfaction, which is connected with many potential problems postpartum.

Postpartum moms often see themselves as needing to lose a certain amount of weight, which has been shown to trigger body image concerns, increased mental health issues, and eating disorders.

Research has also found that high levels of body dissatisfaction in the postpartum period may be connected with disordered eating behaviors and lower breastfeeding self-efficacy. In many ways, the pursuit of weight loss in postpartum and putting greater emphasis on appearance over function of our bodies could create a vicious cycle that negatively affects both mother and baby during a critical time of development.

Could it be that the overwhelming desire to lose weight after having a baby is related to something deeper, like the fear that is connected with a loss of identity? Is the possibility of regaining your pre-baby body mean more about finding yourself again?

As women, the postpartum period is a time when we are experiencing tremendous change (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc), coupled with pressures from society to meet unrealistic appearance standards. Focusing on weight loss as a solution for "control" during such a stressful time can only further complicate things.

What if you could take a step back and figure out how to redefine new motherhood without focusing on weight loss postpartum? What if you took dieting out of the equation? How could you best support yourself and be kind to yourself during this vulnerable time of transition in postpartum?

Redefining postpartum wellness

For starters, here are some ideas for things you can do to support your postpartum recovery and healing, while being gracious to yourself during a time where there is increased pressure to make health mean dieting or getting down to a certain weight through ways that can be self-sabotaging.

Honor your postpartum body be eating intuitively

Research has found that new mothers who follow a more intuitive style of eating actually had greater postpartum BMI and weight decreases. More importantly, postpartum women who practice intuitive eating principles have positive improvements in mental health and lifestyle behaviors. Tell me which diet can offer that to a postpartum mom?

Respect your postpartum body with gentle movement

A majority of new moms who feel pressured to lose weight may engage in exercises that are actually harmful to their body that is recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. Instead of punishing yourself at the gym or rigid exercise program, move your body in ways that feel good to you in order to reap maximum benefits.

Celebrate with a postpartum closet edit

Hanging on to clothes that don't fit your changing, postpartum body will only worsen your body image and make you feel bad about yourself. Take the time to go through your closet and get rid of clothes that no longer fit your current body, style, or the season of life you're in. A postpartum closet edit can free up so much mental space to focus on what really matters and support a positive postpartum body image.

Let go of unrealistic expectations

There is no denying the internal and external pressures we face to change our bodies in the postpartum period. But what if you could let go of some of those unrealistic expectations? Choosing to care for your body by not forcing an arbitrary standard of weight loss does not mean you are letting yourself go. It means you are proactively being kind to yourself and your body for all it has brought you though.

Do you deserve anything less than that?

The postpartum transition is one of the most grueling times we experience as mothers, and the added pressure to lose weight only makes things more difficult. By being gentle with yourself and caring for your body, mind and spirit, you are creating a secure foundation from which you and your family will blossom.

In the process, you will learn to become better acquainted with the new mother birthed along this journey. You will find that within her is sound wisdom and innate sense of worthiness that has always been there. You just need to give yourself care, compassion, and time to bloom where you have been planted in this new season of life.

In the end, when you step back and look at the big picture, you will realize that those mismatched pieces you were piecing together have in fact created a mosaic, a stained glass picture of your one and beautiful life.

Originally posted on Crystal Karges.

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