My baby came a month early—before I was ‘ready’

“Accept what is. Let whatever happens happen.”

My baby came a month early—before I was ‘ready’
photo by Bella Baby Photography

For #MotherlyBirthStories |

Today was my son Bowie's due date, which I can't quite believe.


I often wonder what I'd be doing right now if he decided to arrive when he was supposed to, still content in the womb.

I have a romanticized vision of myself nesting around the house, sipping red raspberry leaf tea, reading a novel, having quiet conversations with baby before settling in for our 3rd nap of the day.

Or taking photos of our finished nursery nook, cleaning the house so guests can visit after the birth, packing our hospital bags with the utmost thought and care. M

Maybe even some last minute pampering - a pedicure, massage, gentle yoga and long walks under orange October leaves.

If anyone was NOT ready for their baby to arrive a whole month early, it was me!

But like all unexpected circumstances, it makes for a great story.

One that has taken me quite some time to sit down and write—let alone find the time between feedings to piece it all together.

It's long and detailed and a bit graphic, but I want to be able to look back on this 20 years from now and remember every single moment of the happiest day of our lives.

On September 19th, we attended our friends' 80's-themed wedding reception in full costume.

I wore an oversized shoulder-padded blazer over a short sequined mini dress and nude nylons with crimped, teased hair.

Hal wore pegged jeans, suspenders down around his waist, and straightened his hair with a deep side part so it strategically fell over one eye.

We took a few awkward prom pics, danced to the Spazmatics (for as long as I could in 3-inch pointy pumps) and were sitting down for a rest when I felt a small gush in my underwear. I

excused myself to go to the restroom. But the little gush turned into a larger one as I scurried across the dance floor—leaving a trail behind me!

This can't be my water, it just can't.

In the bathroom, I stripped down my pantyhose and gushed some more.

I texted Hal: “bring my bag - I think my water broke!"

My heart was racing when we got in the car. Is this really happening?


Panic set in as I listed off all the things we didn't get done.

The car seats weren't installed, the IKEA-hack dresser / changing table wasn't complete, our house was a complete disaster zone.

I lamented over all the business projects I didn't get a chance to finish.

And tears welled up in my eyes when I thought about the maternity photoshoot we would have to cancel.

Hal convinced me to not jump to conclusions and call the hospital for advice.

So I left them a message and we waited for a response.

At home, I continued to gush on the toilet when our midwife called me back.

Even though I wasn't feeling contractions, she wanted us to come in to make sure it was indeed my amniotic fluid that was leaking.

If not, she'd send us back home.

But if it was, she said GET READY TO HAVE A BABY TONIGHT! Gulp.

Hal relayed the information to my parents and our doula. I hung up the phone and began to cry.

Please be a false alarm.

Please be a false alarm!

Racing around the house in a packing frenzy, I grabbed the smallest set of newborn pajamas I could find and searched for something to wear myself when I realized I hadn't done laundry!

Disgusted, I threw some dirty clothes into the bag and tried not to think about the cute birthing outfit, robe, socks and other hospital “essentials" I was planning to acquire later that week.

I hadn't even emailed the Birth Preferences worksheet to our midwives yet.

So I printed out a few copies to give to the staff upon arrival.

After a nervous 10-minute drive to the hospital, we were escorted to the very last birthing room available.

Apparently, everyone in Seattle was having a baby that night!

We'd been told just one day prior that they're rarely at full capacity.

I couldn't help but wonder what big celestial event was going on to warrant so many babies being born.

As it turned out, that weekend fell smack dab in between the two September eclipses, hmmm.

The nurses hooked my belly up to the monitor and ran a few tests. They concluded that the fluid was definitely amniotic, as suspected.

This is really happening.

Around 10pm, our midwife came in and explained that labor would need to start very soon, because there's a high risk for infection after your water breaks.

She gave us time alone in the room to see if the contractions would start naturally.

If they didn't, she recommended Pitocin to get the ball rolling. I wanted a drug-free birth with no interventions, so that wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear.

Hal put on some Nina Simone as I paced the room, waiting for contractions to start.

Every now and then, I'd feel some mild cramping, which Hal started timing.

Later, he told me that it was hard to take me seriously walking around with my crimped 80's hair!

Since I was 4-weeks early, the baby monitor had to stay permanently strapped to my belly throughout the entire labor.

And it wasn't cordless—so I had to haul it around like a purse everywhere I went, even in the shower or tub.

I remember getting tangled up in it often.

Highly annoying and itchy, but I grew to appreciate it later on as it showed the peaks of my contractions and let us know that the baby was okay.

My parents arrived around this time, but I wasn't in the best of moods.

I was worried about the potential complications of a preterm birth. Would our baby be fully developed?

Would he have to stay in the NICU?

Already, nothing seemed to be going as planned. Which is laughable really.

Because if you've ever given birth, or know someone who has, you'll know it very rarely does.

Maybe it was the daily positive conditioning from my Hypnobabies tracks, but not once did I consider how I'd react if the birthing experience was anything other than what I imagined.

Hal took me for a walk around the hospital halls to get my head straight and put things into perspective.

Accept what is.

Let whatever happens happen.

And focus on what's important—bringing our beautiful boy into the world.

And that's when I decided to stop letting my fears ruin the experience, as they were no doubt inhibiting my body from doing what it was supposed to.

Around 1am, the midwife checked in on us, suggesting Pitocin yet again.

I refused, knowing deep down that my baby would come when he was ready.

She offered to give us a few more hours.

Perfect.

We set out my mom's crystals, diffused some lavender essential oil, and settled in for the night.

Hal on the couch, my mom in the rocking chair, and me in the bed with headphones listening to my Hypnobabies tracks.

The threat of being induced motivated me. I remember silently talking to our baby, begging him to make his move sooner rather than later.

He must have heard me.

The mild cramping became stronger, waking me up from a light sleep.

Around 5am, active labor had officially begun!

Hal called our doula, Vivianne, to let her know it was time. She arrived soon after and helped me with the breast pump because nipple stimulation is a great way to speed things up.

I remember being intimidated by the breast pump, not knowing what to expect - my nipples are extremely sensitive!

But it wasn't so bad, just a strange and slightly irritating sensation.

After a while on the pump, my contractions were definitely getting stronger.

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First I labored in a semi-squatting position on the bed.

They placed a handrail near the foot of the bed so I could hold onto it during contractions.

There was a giant mound of pillows behind my back to lean back on in between.

This felt good for early labor, but the constant squatting eventually got to me.

One thing I wasn't expecting was the shakes!

My adrenaline was so pumped up, I shivered during most of early labor.

I felt like a newborn fawn whenever I tried to walk to the bathroom to relieve myself.

The nurse kept taking my temperature to make sure I wasn't getting a fever.

We tried a few other positions to get comfortable.

One was standing up and holding onto Hal for support, but I wasn't having it.

I felt a strong urge to sit down and lean forward during the pain.

Someone brought in a birthing ball for me to sit on.

This felt wonderful.

During contractions, I'd lean into a pile of pillows on the bed, rotating my hips on the ball.

Around this time, I started to get in a good groove with my support team.

Vivianne was right beside me during each contraction, telling me when they were almost over.

My mom and Hal took turns placing cold washcloths over my neck and bringing me water to sip through a straw with occasional bites of applesauce.

They gave me so much positive encouragement, telling me how strong I was, how proud they were. This was invaluable.

When your water breaks, they try not to check your cervix too often to eliminate the risk of infection.

But after awhile, I got curious about my dilation.

It felt like I was laboring intensely for quite some time - I had to be pretty far along. I requested a check and to my extreme disappointment, I was only 4 cm.

I remember looking at Hal with tears in my eyes, not knowing how I could continue laboring for another 6 cm.

Someone suggested a shower to relieve some pain.

I was ready to try anything. I stripped down and sat on a stool in the shower stall while Hal sprayed hot water on my back.

It felt wonderful.

But that was short-lived. The shower stall was tiny and I was beginning to feel claustrophobic.

After the shower, we found another good position to labor in.

I sat on the foot of the bed and leaned into the birthing ball during contractions, which I noticed were coming less frequently.

I welcomed this break, as I was able to lean back on pillows and fall asleep in between the pressure waves.

I always knew my expert narcoleptic sleeping skills would come in handy!

However, it was a strange sensation because I wouldn't exactly call it sleep.

I was in a beautiful, spiritual space—peaceful beyond words. That place you go in deep meditation, almost out of body.

The nurses came in to check on us, as they noticed the contractions getting further and further apart.

We were regressing. If they didn't start speeding up in the next hour, they would need to start inducing.

Again, the threat of Pitocin revved me up.

I played Hypnobabies again using one headphone earbud, while listening to thunderstorms, ocean waves and singing bowls (ASoftMurmur.com) on our bluetooth speaker.

At the same time, Vivianne did acupressure on my hands and feet.

Almost immediately, my contractions sped up.

This is when things start to get a little foggy.

The pain was SO intense with very short breaks in between.

As soon as one contraction ended, another one began with no time to relax.

I remember getting into a powerful rhythmic rocking movement with the birthing ball, swaying from side to side, while Hal and my mom switched off rubbing my lower back.

All my concentration was on the breath.

At one point, I felt a major urge to poo. They told me that was a good sign - that the baby has dropped. So they checked my cervix and I was 7 cm.

Progress! Soon the urge became more than an urge—I felt a strong NEED to push!

They told me not to, because I wasn't fully dilated. Easier said than done. Not pushing felt nearly impossible. I surprised myself with loud, guttural grunts. He wants to come out now!

Someone suggested the birthing tub, since water slowed things down for me earlier. They would just need 15 minutes to get it ready.

During which time, Vivianne reminded me to focus on my breathing like never before. If I broke concentration for even a millisecond, the urge to push overcame me and I'd be gasping for air.

Instinctively, I moved onto the bed on all fours when the nurses said the tub was ready. The midwife decided to check my cervix one last time and amazingly, I had gone from 7 to 10 cm in those 15 minutes of tub preparation!

We were regressing. If they didn't start speeding up in the next hour, they would need to start inducing.

She gave me the green light to push.

“You're having a baby!" she exclaimed.

And I hear Hal break down with emotion.

I never felt so much love for him as I did right then.

He grabbed my hand as I began to push.

And strangely enough, the act of pushing, although painful, was a huge relief from the struggle of not pushing.

In between contractions, I leaned back in child's pose to rest and muster up enough energy to push some more.

Maybe 10 minutes had passed before I felt the sharp “ring of fire" during crowning.

But it was a temporary pain. And before I knew it, our midwife asked me if I wanted to touch the head. I reached down in between my legs and was amazed by how squishy it felt.

A few more final pushes and one primal roar... his head emerged!

Then his shoulders and body followed. At 12:36 pm, OUR BABY WAS BORN!

I flipped onto my back as they brought him to rest on my belly.

Our sweet beautiful boy.

He was warm and familiar.

Extra alert, taking in the world.

We immediately locked eyes, through tears, communicating love without words.

That moment will stay with me forever.

After delivering the placenta, my mom cut the umbilical cord after it stopped pulsing and they brought him up to rest on my chest.

Hal and I laughed and cried together, marveling over this perfect tiny being we created.

Those long fingers, big ears and wispy blonde hair!

I had a very minor vaginal tear that was stitched up while holding him my arms.

But I was too busy cuddling our babe to care.

When asked his name, I initially told the nurses we hadn't yet decided between the two we were considering.

We wanted to wait and see what he looked like.

But Hal said he knew.

And with that, so did I. Bowie Ocean was introduced to the world.

Thinking back on this day, I feel empowered and proud.

I trusted and surrendered to my body and my baby.

I found a strength in myself I never knew existed.

And despite his surprise early arrival, we ended up having the birth I had imagined after all - relatively short (7 hours), unmedicated and uncomplicated.

Although weighing only 5 lbs, 14 oz, he was healthy and we were released from the hospital in 24 hours. I feel so very fortunate.

Bowie, if you're reading this one day—you've made your Papa and I the happiest we've been.

Thank you for choosing us as parents and allowing us to experience this incomparable, indescribable, unconditional love.

xo

Shannon Eileen is a Seattle-based mama, artist-designer, singer-songwriter, reiki healer and lifestyle blogger at Happiness Is.

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In This Article

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    When you ask any two mamas to share their experience with breastfeeding, you are bound to get very unique answers. That's because while the act of breastfeeding is both wonderful and natural, it also comes with a learning curve for both mothers and babies.

    In some cases, breastfeeding won't be the right path for everyone. But with the right tools, resources and social support systems, we can make progress toward the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to continue breastfeeding through the first year of a child's life. After all, breastfeeding helps nourish infants, protects them against illnesses, develops their immune systems and more. Not to mention that mothers who breastfeed experience reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

    With National Breastfeeding Awareness Month this month, it's a great time for mamas (and expectant mamas!) to gather the supplies that will support their feeding journey—whether it looks like exclusively breastfeeding, pumping or combo-feeding.

    Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

    Designed for regular use, this double electric breast pump allows mamas to customize the cycle and vacuum settings that work for them. The 100% SoftShape™ silicone shields on this pump form-fit to a wide range of breast shapes and sizes—which means more comfortable, more efficient pumping. And every pump comes with two complete Dr. Brown's Options+ bottles, giving you everything you need to go from pumping to feeding.

    $159.99

    Dr. Brown’s™ Breast Milk Collection Bottles

    There's no need to cry over spilled milk—because it won't happen with these storage bottles! Make the pump-to-feeding transition simpler with Dr. Brown's Milk Collection Bottles. The bottles adapt to Dr. Brown's electric pumps to easily fill, seal and transport, and they work with Dr. Brown's bottle and nipple parts when your baby's ready to eat. (Meaning no risky pouring from one bottle to another. 🙌)

    $9.99

    Breast Milk Storage Bags

    With an extra-durable design and double zip seal, your breast milk will stay fresh and safe in the fridge or freezer until it's needed. Plus, the bags are easy to freeze flat and then store for up to six months, so your baby can continue drinking breast milk long after you are done nursing.

    $9.99

    Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump with Options+™ Bottle & Bag

    Here's something they don't tell you about breastfeeding ahead of time: While feeding your baby on one side, the other breast may "let down" milk, too. With this one-piece Silicone Breast Pump, you don't have to let those precious drops go to waste. The flexible design makes pouring the milk into a bottle stress-free.

    $14.99

    Dr. Brown’s® Manual Breast Pump

    No outlet in sight? No worries! With this powerful-yet-gentle Manual Breast Pump, you can get relief from engorgement, sneak in some quick midnight pumping or perform a full pumping session without any electricity needed. With Dr. Brown's 100% silicone SoftShape™ Shield, the hand-operated pump is as comfortable as it is easy to use. Complete with Dr. Brown's® Options+™ Anti-Colic Wide-Neck Bottle, a storage travel cap and cleaning brush, consider this the breastfeeding essential for any mama who has places to go.

    $29.99

    Options+™ Anti-Colic Baby Bottle

    With the soft silicone nipple and natural flow design of these bottles, your baby can easily switch between breast and bottle. Clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to the vent, your baby can enjoy a happy tummy after feeding sessions—without as much spit-up, burping or gas! By mimicking the flow and feel of the breast, these bottles help support your breastfeeding experience.

    $7.99

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

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    7 hacks for simplifying after-school snacks

    Prepping delicious and nutritious foods shouldn't take all day.

    When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

    Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

    1. Prep snacks on Sunday

    This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

    2. When in doubt, go for fruit

    Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

    3. Pair snacks with a dip

    Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

    4. Have high-protein options readily available

    Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

    5. Always keep the pantry stocked

    Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

    6. Make cracker tartines

    I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

    • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
    • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
    • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

    7. Pre-make smoothie pops

    The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

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    15 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

    So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.


    Stomp Racers

    As longtime fans of Stomp Rockets, we're pretty excited about their latest launch–Stomp Racers. Honestly, the thrill of sending things flying through the air never gets old. Parents and kids alike can spend hours launching these kid-powered cars which take off via a stompable pad and hose.

    $19.99

    Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

    Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

    Tiny thrill-seekers will love this kid-powered coaster which will send them (safely) sailing across the backyard or play space. The durable set comes with a high back coaster car and 10.75 feet of track, providing endless opportunities for developing gross motor skills, balance and learning to take turns. The track is made up of three separate pieces which are easy to assemble and take apart for storage (but we don't think it will be put away too often!)

    $139

    Secret Agent play set

    Plan-Toys-Secret-agent-play-set

    This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

    $40

    Stepping Stones

    Stepping-stones

    Kiddos can jump, stretch, climb and balance with these non-slip stepping stones. The 20-piece set can be arranged in countless configurations to create obstacle courses, games or whatever they can dream up.

    $99.99

    Sand play set

    B. toys Wagon & Beach Playset - Wavy-Wagon Red

    For the littlest ones, it's easy to keep it simple. Take their sand box toys and use them in the bath! This 12-piece set includes a variety of scoops, molds and sifters that can all be stored in sweet little wagon.

    $17.95

    Sensory play set

    kidoozie-sand-and-splash-activity-table

    Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

    $19.95

    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

    $121

    Foam pogo stick

    Flybar-my-first-foam-pogo-stick

    Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.

    $16.99

    Dumptruck 

    green-toys-dump-truck

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyard or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? It's made from recycled plastic milk cartons.

    $22

    Hopper ball

    Hopper ball

    Burn off all that extra energy hippity hopping across the lawn or the living room! This hopper ball is one of the top rated versions on Amazon as it's thicker and more durable than most. It also comes with a hand pump to make inflation quick and easy.

    $14.99

    Pull-along ducks

    janod-pull-along-wooden-ducks

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

    $16.99

    Rocking chair seesaw

    Slidewhizzer-rocking-chair-seesaw

    This built-to-last rocking seesaw is a fun way to get the wiggles out in the grass or in the playroom. The sturdy design can support up to 77 pounds, so even older kiddos can get in on the action.

    $79.99

    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

    $79.99

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

    $24.75

    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

    $40

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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    Even 5 hours of screen time per day is OK for school-aged kids, says new study

    Researchers found screen time contributes to stronger peer relationships and had no effect on depression and anxiety. So maybe it isn't as bad as we thought?

    MoMo Productions/Getty Images

    If you've internalized some parental guilt about your own child's screen time usage, you're not alone. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to significant amounts of screen time in children leads to an increased risk of depression and behavioral issues, poor sleep and obesity, among other outcomes. Knowing all this can mean you're swallowing a big gulp of guilt every time you unlock the iPad or turn on the TV for your kiddo.

    But is screen time really that bad? New research says maybe not. A study published in September 2021 of 12,000 9- and 10-year-olds found that even when school-aged kids spend up to 5 hours per day on screens (watching TV, texting or playing video games), it doesn't appear to be that harmful to their mental health.

    Researchers found no association between screen usage and depression or anxiety in children at this age.

    In fact, kids who had more access to screen time tended to have more friends and stronger peer relationships, most likely thanks to the social nature of video gaming, social media and texting.


    The correlations between screen time and children's health

    But those big social benefits come with a caveat. The researchers also noted that kids who used screens more frequently were in fact more likely to have attention problems, impacted sleep, poorer academic performance and were more likely to show aggressive behavior.

    Without a randomized controlled trial, it's hard to nail down these effects as being caused directly by screens. The study's authors analyzed data from a nationwide study known as the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study), the largest long-term study of brain development and children's health in the country. They relied on self-reported levels of screen time from both children and adults (it's funny to note that those reported numbers differed slightly depending on who was asked… ).

    It's important to remember that these outcomes are just correlations—not causations. "We can't say screen time causes the symptoms; instead, maybe more aggressive children are given screen devices as an attempt to distract them and calm their behavior," says Katie Paulich, lead author of the study and a PhD student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Also worth noting is that a child's socioeconomic status has a 2.5-times-bigger impact on behavior than screens.

    Weighing the benefits with the risks will be up to you as the parent, who knows your child best. And because we live in a digital world, screens are here to stay, meaning parents often have little choice in the matter. It's impossible to say whether recreational screen time is fully "good" or "bad" for kids. It's maybe both.

    "When looking at the strength of the correlations, we see only very modest associations," says Paulich. "That is, any association between screen time and the various outcomes, whether good or bad, is so small it's unlikely to be important at a clinical level." It's all just part of the overall picture.

    A novel look at screen time in adolescents

    The researchers cite a lack of studies examining the relationship between screen time and health outcomes in this specific early-adolescence age group, which is one of the reasons why this study is so groundbreaking. The findings don't apply to younger children—or older adolescents, who may be starting to go through puberty.

    Screen time guidelines do exist for toddlers up to older kids, but up to 1.5 hours per day seems unattainable for many young adolescents, who often have their own smartphones and laptops, or at least regular access to one.

    Of course, more research is needed, but that's where this study can be helpful. The ABCD study will follow the 12,000 participants for another 10 years, following up with annual check-ins. It'll be interesting to see how the findings change over time: Will depression and anxiety as a result of screen time be more prevalent as kids age? We'll have to wait and see.

    The bottom line? Parents should still be the gatekeepers of their child's screen time in terms of access and age-appropriateness, but, "our early research suggests lengthy time on screen is not likely to yield dire consequences," says Paulich.

    Children's health
    Kristen Bell

    A couple of months ago Kristen Bell practically broke the internet when she publicly shared that her 5-year-old daughter was still wearing diapers at night. As Motherly reported at the time, every kid is different and every potty training experience is different, but the internet did what it does and a controversy was born.

    People chimed in with all sorts of parenting and potty training tips for Bell, but in a recent interview with Today's Parent, the celebrity mama and her husband, Dax Shepard, explained that their youngest is now done with diapers at night—so now the tables have turned and they've got a parenting hack to share back to the internet.

    "You know what we have to do? We wake her up at about 11 p.m. when she's like a zombie and put her on the toilet," Bell told Today's Parent.

    Shepard added: "Yeah, we put a wet spaghetti noodle on the toilet once a night."

    According to the couple, their youngest was out of diapers a couple of weeks after the whole internet controversy, but not because of so much unsolicited advice. It was simply because she was ready.

    "The Twitterverse was kind of mom-shaming me, which I'm not interested in," said Bell. "So I kept responding with the same thing: 'Every child is different,' which they are. And yes, I have a five-and-a-half-year-old who still sometimes wets the bed and that's OK! But she's getting there."

    She continued: "I think it's really normal and no one should feel ashamed if their kid has an irregular pattern for potty training. And if you want to try this 11 o'clock make-them-pee trick, great, there's no shame in any of it. Sometimes it takes kids until they're even older than five! But I've never met a high-schooler who pees their pants all day. It's going to stop at some point."

    Experts agree. "In preschool, about 20% of children have daytime incontinence. But, only 5% of teenagers have these symptoms," says pediatric nephrologist Dr. Charles Kwon of the Cleveland Clinic.

    But before you decide if Bell's trick will work for you it is worth seeking the advice of a medical professional, because according to Kwon and pediatric urologist Dr. Audrey Rhee, waking up children to urinate at night is not recommended.

    These Cleveland Clinic specialists say, "Randomly waking up a child at night and asking them to urinate on demand isn't the answer...It will only lead to more sleeplessness and frustration."

    So what is the answer? Here are the potty-training tips Kwon and Rhee recommend:

    • Try an earlier bedtime... your child may be such a deep sleeper because they are not getting enough sleep.
    • Schedule a bathroom break right before they go to bed.
    • Figure out if your child is constipated. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 33% of kids who wet the bed are actually constipated (the rectum is right behind the bladder so constipation can seem as a bladder problem) but they are unable to identify that as the source of their issue.

    Whatever you do, remember that Kristen Bell is right about all kids being different. Your doctor can make recommendations to help, but there is no set schedule for ending bed-wetting or getting out of diapers. It could happen today, or (like in Bell's case) two weeks from now. But have hope, mama. They will get this.

    Child Milestones