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Like many parents, I’ve never been convinced that chemical insect repellents are truly safe to use on my kid. DEET, in particular, creeps me out – once I accidentally sprayed some on a metal door, and the paint on the door immediately blistered up and peeled off.


DEET can irritate skin, but my primary concern was that it might bioaccumulate and cause neurotoxicity or cancer over time. I didn’t know if there was any basis to my fears, so I spent several hours researching my concerns. This is what I found.

Summary: What Actually Works

  • The repellents proven most effective are DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • DEET and picaridin are most recommended by health organizations in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses occur
  • There’s extensive evidence showing that they’re safe for humans when used properly.
  • However, a majority of parents (including me) have doubted this.
  • The percentage of active ingredient in bug repellent doesn’t measure its strength, but how long it’s effective over time.
  • Lower percentage repellents don’t repel bugs for as many hours as higher percentage repellents.
  • Lower percentage repellents need to be reapplied more often; products with less than 10% active ingredient offer  1–2 hours of protection (perfect for playing in the backyard after dinner, for example).
  • Consumer Reports says that “Repellents reach the maximum duration of effectiveness at 30%, so there’s no reason to exceed that level.”
  • Many repellents say they’re “EPA-Approved.” This doesn’t mean that the EPA says they’re effective, only that they’re safe to use.
  • Repellents do not protect all users equally and have varying effectiveness against different species of biting insect
  • Dealing with ticks is a bit different from dealing with flying insects; recommendations on ticks below.
  • Using a minimal amount of repellent based on the local environment and reapplying as needed is the safest bet.
  • Lotions last longer than sprays.
  • Sprays can be applied to clothing, where they’re effective longer than on skin.
  • Where insect-borne disease such as malaria, West Nile virus, or Eastern Equine Encephalitis is common, the danger from those serious illnesses is vastly greater than getting sick from insect repellents.

What I Do For My Kid & Why

Since insect-borne disease isn’t common where I live, DEET-free Cutter Eucalyptus Insect Repellent spray is what I usually use on my kid.

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It’s the highest-rated natural insect repellent on Amazon.com. It’s based on oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is the most effective “natural” repellent – as effective as 7 – 10% concentrations of DEET. This means it has to be reapplied every 2 hours or so.

The CDC has recommended oil of lemon eucalyptus for children older than 3 in regions without malaria or West Nile virus. However, it isn’t super effective against sand flies or no-see-ums.

If my kid is away from the family and outside all day (for example, at day camp), I use Fisherman’s Formula Sawyer Picaridin, which was recently top-rated by Consumer Reports. I only use it on her exposed skin.

I’ve also had good luck with Natrapel picaridin wipes.

Picaridin is registered in over 40 countries worldwide and has been shown to be as effective as DEET, but without the smell, oily residue, or potential irritation to skin and eyes. Unlike DEET, picaridin won’t warp, melt, or discolor plastics and synthetic clothing or camping gear.

The World Health Organization recommends picaridin for malaria prophylaxis, saying  it “demonstrates excellent repellent properties comparable to, and often superior to, those of the standard DEET.”

Picaridin is a synthetic compound based on compounds from black pepper plants. It was developed in the 1980’s, is widely in Europe and Australia, and became available in the US in 2005. It’s rated as the longest lasting repellent with up to 14 hours of protection.

It works against mosquitoes and variety of flies, chiggers, and gnats. While manufacturers claim it’s effective against ticks, I haven’t found any third-party study that confirms this. (Indeed, even DEET seems to have a minimal effect against ticks.)

TICKS

Here’s what you need to know about repelling ticks:

  • There are several types of ticks that spread several types of disease.
  • Only deer ticks transmit Lyme disease.
  • You have 24 hours to find and remove most ticks before they transmit disease.
  • Always check yourself and your kids thoroughly after outdoor adventures. Fair warning: ticks love to crawl up into warm, hidden places.
  • In infested areas, tucking your pants into your socks is dorky but highly effective for keeping ticks from biting.
  • Wearing smoother, light-colored tightly woven fabrics makes it easier to spot ticks vs densely woven fabrics like wool.
  • DEET and Picaridin are fairly poor tick repellents.
  • CDC recommends using products with 20% DEET on exposed skin to reduce biting by ticks.

About Permethrin

  • The most effective commonly available tick repellent is permethrin.
  • Permethrin must be sprayed on clothes. Never spray it directly on skin.
  • Allow 24-48 hours for clothes treated with permethrin to dry after spraying.
  • In infested ears, shoes, shorts, and pants treated with permethrin, and socks treated from the ankles up are recommended, along with DEET on skin.
  • Commercially-treated permethrin-coated clothes can last up to 70 wash cycles and are recommended for heavily tick-infested areas.

IS DEET SAFE?

When applied as directed, DEET is considered safe by most public health organizations. But concerns endure. In Vermont I choose not to use it. I would use it if I was traveling in an area infested with malaria or other insect borne diseases. The danger of those diseases is greater than the risk from normal use of DEET.

  • Consumer Reports writes that DEET in high concentrations can cause rashes and disorientation.
  • Rare allergic, or toxic reactions have been reported for people with chemical sensitivity.
  • Nearly all of the DEET that is taken in through the skin is eliminated by the body within 24 hours of applying it.
  • Disconcertingly, DEET can warp or discolor some plastics and synthetic fabrics.
  • The EPA found “no toxicologically significant effects in animal studies
  • According the the EPA, DEET is “not classifiable as a human carcinogen”, which means that there is not enough evidence to say that it does or does not cause cancer.
  • The EPA says it has “no evidence that DEET is uniquely toxic to infants and/or children, “but still had “concerns regarding these reported seizures”
  • The Canadian government recommendations limit DEET to 30% in any product and even weaker concentrations for young children (Canada 2012).

Non-chemical ways to avoid getting bitten by bugs:

  • Scented shampoo, soaps, sprays and lotions seem to attract biting insects.
  • Likewise, brighter colors seem to attract insects.
  • Wear a brimmed hat to keep bugs away from the face.
  • Wear tall light colored socks to make spotting ticks easy.
  • Use mosquito nets over strollers and carriers where your baby may be exposed to insects.

GENERAL SAFETY TIPS

  • Pesticides and chemicals and general are more toxic for kids than adults because of greater surface area to body weight ratio
  • Never use any insect repellents on a baby less than two months old. (via the American Academy of Pediatrics)
  • Repellents based on lemon eucalyptus shouldn’t be used on kids younger than 3, because they haven’t been thoroughly tested on them.
  • Don’t apply bug repellent under clothing.
  • Never use products that combine repellent and sunscreen. Sunscreens should be lathered on frequently, bug spray is safest used minimally.
  • The CDC recommends applying sunscreen first, then insect repellent.
  • Keep in mind that sunscreen and bug repellent lose effectiveness when blended.
  • Don’t allow kids to apply bug repellents to themselves.
  • Don’t put repellents on the palms of kids. Apply to your hands and then apply to the child’s skin.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin. Heavy application isn’t necessary for effectiveness. Simply apply a bit more repellent if it isn’t working effectively enough.
  • Do not spray onto face; spray on hands then apply to face.
  • Never use repellents on cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Some kids have sensitive skin, which will be irritated by any insect repellent.
  • Do not put in eyes and mouth (I know you knew that)
  • Apply sparingly around ears.
  • Don’t let residue build up overnight. Wash skin with soap and water or bathe at the end of the day.
  • Pregnant women should take care to avoid exposures to repellents as much as possible.
  • Keep repellents out of the reach of children.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas.
  • Avoid breathing in bug spray.
  • Don’t spray near food.

Contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 1-800-858-7378

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

loleez

When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

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

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The nurses and my husband were pushing the stretcher as I tried to put some makeup on; I have always loved red lipstick and bought a new one for this special occasion. I want to look pretty in the pictures, I can not be seen with this face, I thought.

My brown skin contrasted with the white of the operating room—I was there because twins generally means it's high-risk pregnancy, so this was an extra precaution before starting to push. Doctors were ready; clean and sterilized. My husband was dressed as an astronaut and I? Well, I was disheveled, with huge dark circles and no sleep, but extremely nervous and excited.

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"Push, push, push," they said when everyone was set up, but I was just trying to get my hair in a ponytail. There is nothing glamorous about giving birth.

Labor began shortly before 11:00 in the morning. At 11:04, my daughter was born and by 11:07 my son arrived. The two of them were vaginal deliveries. No cesarean. It was so fast that I didn't have time to put makeup on or do my hair. I had no time to get picture ready even when I had spent 37.5 weeks waiting for this moment.

My daughter cried softly and my son was tiny. I could only hold them for a couple of minutes, just a short skin-to-skin hug before they were taken to the NICU. They needed more oxygen and some tests.

From the operating room, I had time to send photos to the family, give the good news on WhatsApp and post something on Facebook. Their dad ran behind them as they went to the NICU. I was left alone, but not empty. I was happy, proud and full of love; I don't know if the epidural was working its magic, but I was never afraid.

Then I was back in my room. A nurse bathed me, braided my hair and put a little makeup on my exhausted face. My mom came to see me, probably a little disappointed that the twins were not with me. Everything happened so fast. Just half an hour after the delivery, I was in a wheelchair on my way to the NICU to see those little strangers that had formed in my belly.

They were twins, but completely different. My daughter was a brunette, but my son was more likely to be blond; she was fully awake and he was sleeping. You could definitely tell that she would be the one with a strong personality and he would be the sweet mama's boy. They were two tiny individuals that grew together in my belly.

"I'm mom," I introduced myself in a whisper.

It was the second time they saw me and I made sure that I looked a little bit better this time. It was not the makeup or the hair, love made me look pretty and I was full of that wild and inexplicable new emotion.

Then something happened. It was just a second, a click.

We recognized each other and loved each other instantly. My mom told me about that "magical connection" but I never really believed it until I felt it.

I was a brand new mom with no experience at all (I have to confess that I even took classes to learn how to change diapers and use a stroller). And, of course, I didn't know what to tell them or how to lull them; there are no classes to prepare you for that. It was so unexpected that I, a writer and a journalist, was out of words.

I was so in love that I was speechless. They were so tiny and had so many tubes and machines on them that I was afraid to do or say the wrong thing.

So I sang. I sang every single lullaby in Spanish that I could remember while I rocked them to sleep. In the beginning, it was one by one, in their own rooms and then, together, one on each arm, like the family we've been since then.

I spent my first night as a mother away from them, yearning for them and missing them. I spent the second night in a larger room with no crib or babies. The third, the fourth and even the seventh—and others—I spent in the NICU, with them.

Our boy was still in the hospital and our daughter in my arms. I discovered the magic of motherhood amid pediatricians and nurses, pumps and tubes. But, even with all that chaos, I found true joy and the most frightening fear.

It has been five years now. Today they are no longer babies; they say they are a big boy/girl now. I know it's true. Where did the time go?

They have grown a lot, but they are still my babies; they can bathe alone and brush their teeth making circles as the dentist taught them, but they are still looking for my arms, my kisses, my touch and my words of love.

They think they need me, but in reality, I need them more. We're a team; we are family. We love each other, we accept each other, we challenge ourselves, we—almost always—like each other, we push ourselves to the limit, but with the same intensity we love each other.

I'm so blessed to have them in my life. I'm lucky and beyond. I'm so excited to walk with them in this life and I'm so thankful that they chose me to be their mom.

Larga vida, mis cachorros. Los amo.

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I have a secret to tell you.

I really, really loved breastfeeding my babies. I loved it so much I fed them both from my breasts for nearly two years each. I nursed my first son while pregnant with my second. And man, I loved every single second of it. I cried for two days when I decided to wean my second and last baby. I will always remember the way the tops of their heads looked and smelled as they nursed. It is a memory emblazoned in my soul.

I am afraid to admit this though because I have been told that if I did I would be shaming other moms who struggled to nurse. I would never want to make another mother feel bad about her choice or struggle.

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You see, I think sometimes in an effort to "not shame mothers" (all for the not shaming btw), we have made celebrating our own joys as a sort of shame-inducing thing for other mothers. And man, I think that kind of stinks.

So here is my plea... Moms, dads, SAHMs, working mamas and every kind of mama, can we bring back more of the celebration? Feelings of accomplishment no matter the feat. Praise for a job well done, whatever that job is.

I am never going to say "breast is best" or working moms have it harder, or anything like that. Nope, I am not here for that. I am, however, going to do my very best and do what works for me. I would love some space to feel good about that. And in turn, I would love to praise you for your choices, your accomplishments and your mommy style

I want to hear about how great your kid is at soccer. I really want you to brag as much as possible about her athletic prowess. She scored three goals today? So amazing! We need more of that mom-brag and swag.

I will tell you right now, my kid is not that soccer star, but you sharing how awesome your daughter is will not make me feel ashamed. I want to celebrate you and revel in your pride even while my kid is taking his 10th water break of a 20-minute game.

Mom life is legit hard right? If you are anything like me, you worry approximately 7,453 times a day about your kids— are they "normal," are they succeeding, am I making sure they are not turning into legit insane monsters?

Mom life is also riddled with self-doubt (hey there, talking about myself again!), insecurity and uncertainness. So I understand the need to make sure we are never shaming another mama. I work hard at this, and I also work hard to make it clear that just because a mama parents differently, it doesn't mean it's better or worse.

Since mom-life has all these stressors, I really want to see if we can let go of the idea that sharing our joys and triumphs means we are shaming one another.

Your kid sleeps through the night every night at 2 weeks old? Um, so I may be the most jealous ever, but goodness, I am so happy for you and genuinely want to celebrate you.

Your kindergartner is reading chapter books and mine is over here coloring outside the lines and still gets confused between his b's and his d's? I am so proud of your buddy and you! Mine will get there, in his own time, as it is meant to be.

Share with me, celebrate with me, beam with pride, mama.

What do you say, mamas? Can we start to share those joys a little more? Celebrate those accomplishments of the tiny humans we are working so hard to raise? Find the joy in our friends' kids and our own?

I'll start. Today my 3-year-old only cried a little when I dropped him off at preschool. He typically screams. Tiny victories Mama, they count too.

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Your to-do list is kind of under control. The kitchen is mostly clean. You just finished that big work project and to celebrate, you scheduled a lunch out with the girls tomorrow while your little one is at school. As you rest your head on the pillow you think to yourself, “Okay! I might actually sorta-kinda have this whole thing under control!"

And then you hear it from down the hallway: cough cough.

Your eyes shoot open. No. It's fine, just a little tickle in her throat. She's fine.

Cough cough cough.

Nope, it's fine. If I lay here and don't move nothing will be...

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“MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYYY I don't feeeeeeel goooooooood."

Sigh.

You break out the humidifier, the Tylenol and the snuggles. And then comes the inevitable question—can they go to school tomorrow? It's not an easy question to answer, for sure.

On the one hand, kids are basically walking booger factories at all times—if we kept them home for every sneeze and cough they'd never go to school. On the other hand, we don't want to put our kids in a situation where they could get sicker—or make other kids sick.

When in doubt, you should always give your pediatrician a call for guidance. Most schools have policies on it as well.

But as a general rule of thumb, here's what to know when your child isn't feeling well:

On fevers

The most clear cut of all symptoms are fevers—if they have a fever, they stay home. A fever is any temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or greater. A child needs to be fever-free for a full 24-hours before they can return to school.

Note: If your newborn has a fever she needs medical attention right away. It could be an emergency.

On stuffy noses and coughs

A mildly stuffy nose, or an occasional cough isn't enough to warrant a day off from school. But if the mucus is really thick and/or the cough is frequent, loud, or just sounds “gross," it's probably best to keep her home.

Coughs can linger for a long time in children, but if it persists for several days, or she has a fever with it, give your doctor a call. If the cough sounds like a seal barking, and certainly if she is having any trouble breathing, get medical attention right away.

On tummy troubles

Or as my daughter's preschool teacher called it, “intestinal mischief." If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home (and should stay home for 24 hours after the last incident). Make sure everyone at home washes their hands really well, as stomach bugs tend to be very contagious.

Remember to encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. If they aren't drinking, call your doctor right away.

On skin issues

This can be tricky—between marker explosions, dry skin and rashes, it seems like my kids' skin looks different every day. Rashes are almost impossible to diagnose over the phone, so if you are concerned, they'll need to be evaluated by their doctor to help determine the cause (and contagiousness) of the rash.

If you suspect your child has lice, they should stay home as well—and you'll probably have to give the school a call so they can ANONYMOUSLY alert the other parents.

Along the same lines is the dreaded conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Usually your child (or lucky you) will wake up with their eyelids crusted shut, or they'll have a very pink eye with lots of goop (sorry—but we're all moms here, we can handle the eye goop convo right?)

This is highly contagious, so they should for sure stay home from school. Depending on if it's viral or bacterial, you doctor may prescribe medicine that clears it up quickly.

On pain

This one is tough—kids often complain about various boo-boos, especially when it means that they get a Frozen Bandaid out of the deal. If they complain of pain persistently, if the pain prevents them from playing, and of course if you witness a bad injury, keep them home and get medical help right away.

Remember that you know your child best. Ultimately, you get to make the decision. Your pediatrician will be there to guide you, and one day, ONE DAY, you really will get that whole to-do list tackled... we think?

You've got this.

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"I understand what you're going through."

"That happened to a friend of mine."

"Everything happens for a reason."

"It wasn't meant to be."

Silence.

On the rare occasion that I open up about our experience with family expansion losses, disappointments and tragedies, I almost always find myself faced with a loving person who has no idea what to say or do. Reactions typically range from awkwardness to avoidance. And while it certainly hurts to watch friends fumble, I get it.

The reality is, there is no perfect way to respond. It is tricky terrain. But here are some thoughts I encourage you to consider before sharing your words of support.

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No, you probably can't relate. We all have different experiences in life.

Not all failed pregnancies are the same. My husband and I have had a failed pregnancy when the stakes were low—early in our efforts when we were younger. We've had a failed pregnancy when the stakes were high—after countless cycles of crushingly expensive, time-consuming, emotionally draining IVF with the last healthy embryo we'd (likely) ever create. They weren't the same.

Not all failed adoptions are the same. We've had a failed adoption that cost us zero dollars. We've had a failed adoption that cost us 40 grand. We've had a failed adoption that happened within a week. We've had a failed adoption that happened after 6 months of dreaming and planning. We've had a failed adoption in which we never met the child. We've had a failed adoption in which we held, fed, changed and photographed ourselves with the child.

Thankfully, we've never experienced a failed adoption where the child was removed from our home after a year. But this has happened to families we know.

Even if you've had an experience related to the same topic, please don't assume you can understand the experience. It's highly likely that you can't, and that's okay.

You don't need to tiptoe around the topic like you're on eggshells.

If you treat a person like they're broken, they may start to feel as if they are. They're in pain. They're hurting. Their dreams may have been shattered. But they are not broken.


There have been times when friends haven't included us in their joyful moments because we weren't experiencing ours at the same time. I'm sure they thought it was kinder to do so as they likely deemed the events not "relevant to us" and being present might cause us pain. But the reality is that blessings in their lives are not things we want to avoid. If someone I know is pregnant while I'm not, nothing they do will make me forget my reality.

Assume the best.

I believe that most people can be happy for others even if they haven't received the same gifts. I know I can. For instance, I don't fly first class to exotic locations around the world, but one of my best friends does. When she returns from her adventures, I love to hear her stories and look through her pictures.

I do wish that someday I can join her on an adventure, but for now, I am simply happy for her. She's living her best life, and that's exactly what I'd wish for her.

I have a big heart, and it has space for the joys of my loved ones. If you're bringing another child into your family, that's a blessing. Might I sit in envy for a little while? Maybe. Might I shed some tears wishing I could have what you do? Possibly. But that's human. A true friend will work to carry themselves through those feelings. Assume they will.

Please don't judge. It isn't about anyone else but those going through it.

Along this journey, I'm sure there have been times we haven't been "ourselves." All we needed from those around us was a little patience until we were feeling better again. Sometimes that can take longer than usual. Trauma can do that to a person. Repeated trauma certainly can.

I had a tendency to drown myself in work. Sometimes we distanced ourselves from friends. Occasionally we didn't leave the house for an entire weekend. As long as people kept inviting us out, even when we repeatedly declined, we felt supported. Eventually, we rejoined them.

The last thing we ever needed while going through those hard moments in our lives was to feel guilty for the things we weren't doing with our friends. It was a period of grief or us, and getting through it took every ounce of our energy.

We remember.

We have anniversaries that no one else may know about. We can't and won't forget about them because they've been part of our journey. We haven't needed others to know about them or remember them if they were told. All we continue to need is the grace to let us handle those times in our own way, and be kept in their hearts.

As for where we are right now…

Are we through our pain? To some degree.

Do our hearts continue to heal daily? They do.

Will we always need our friends and their loving hearts? We will. We always will.

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