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Babies. Adorable, chunky babies. Rolls and rolls, folding over and under one another. Drinking in all that delicious newness just makes us want to hold them and take care of them at this little stage of life, forever.


Honestly, we all know the urge to just squeeze them. So, so scrumptious—it's all we can do not to chomp down on those plump little thighs with all those tempting rolls. Doing our best to resist our desire to bite our baby, we can find ourselves wondering, Is this normal?

Rest assured, mama, your urge to devour your baby—or your toddler, or your husband or your friend's baby, for that matter—is backed by evolution, biology and plenty of research. Not only is it normal, it's healthy.

Babies are designed to help people to fall in love with them. Ginormous eyes and bitty noses above rosebud lips, chubby necks, squishy arms and legs, all add up to pure sweetness—making us want to take care of them and yes, even eat them, too.

These compulsions are part of an evolutionary bonding mechanism and signify positive emotions and healthy attachment, in addition to helping us decrease our stress levels by releasing pent-up energy and emotional overload. Several studies have provided insight into the biological foundations of human caregiving and a neurobiological explanation for why we feel these urges.

In short, we are hardwired to be drawn to, care for and "want to eat" anything that looks like a baby.

Evolution and science conspire to make us chomp

Ethology is the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective. It's also the field of science in which it is proven that babies are cute for a reason—to attract us and make us want to care for them.

Cute physical characteristics are defined by ethologist Konrad Lorenz as "baby schema." Over the eons we have come to subconsciously associate round faces, large eyes, big foreheads and small chins as cute, or "baby." Just look at dolls, cartoon characters (like Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse), advertising, and even car designs—hello, Volkswagen Bug—to see Lorenz's theory IRL.

In a submission to the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), a team of researchers tested the impact of baby schema on the perception of cuteness and the motivation for caretaking in 122 undergraduate students. Using morphing techniques, they manipulated photographs of 17 infant faces to produce images of high baby schema, or "cute" (round face, high forehead, big eyes, small nose and mouth), and low baby schema, or "not cute" (narrow face, low forehead, small eyes, big nose and mouth).

The students viewed both categories, along with the original portraits of each infant, then rated the infants' cuteness and how much they were motivated to take care of them. Portraits with the most baby schema (babies rated "cutest") correlated with the strongest impulse to cuddle and provide protection and care to the infants.

Interestingly, other studies have indicated that women tend to be more interested in infants and caretaking activities than men. Based on this, the scientists further hypothesized that women would have a higher response to baby schema than men. So in their next study, the researchers set out to determine the neural basis of this altruistic maternal instinct.

In this second study, 16 women who had never given birth were chosen to view a random sequence of the same set of infant faces from the first study while their brain activity was measured. During the session, the women rated the pictures for cuteness.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map their brain activity, researchers were able to see that regardless of whether the women were the babies' mothers, higher baby schema activated the mesocorticolimbic system, which is the neural network affiliated with reward. The release of dopamine—the feel good hormone—from the mesolimbic pathway into the nucleus accumbens regulates motivation and desire and facilitates reward-related motor function learning.

The scientists surmised that perceiving high baby schema infants as "cute" presents a positive incentive, via the surge in dopamine, that provides the motivational drive for caretaking behavior. This engagement of the mesocorticolimbic system proves a biological foundation for human caregiving by providing a neurobiological explanation as to why we feel the urge to care for anything that resembles a baby.

From an evolutionary standpoint, being hard-wired to respond to baby schema in babies other than our own is adaptive, "as human ancestors likely evolved as cooperative breeders with a social system characterized by the spread of the caretaker role to group members other than the mother."

Like modern-day alloparenting, the additional bonding to and protection by people other than kin that baby schema elicits in humans is integral in the promotion of the species. Simply put, it really does take a village.

Though cuteness can motivate us to care for anything that looks like a baby, it can also overstimulate us, throwing our brain into overload—and we. want. to. bite.

But how does all of this explain why we want to eat our baby?

In 2015, two studies were conducted by graduate psychology students at the Clark Relationship Lab at Yale University. Researchers Oriana Aragon and Rebecca Dyer determined that too much cute stimuli (in this case, baby schema) triggers an aggressive reaction—or opposite expression.

Cute aggression, or "dimorphous expression," is when an abundance of positive emotions elicits expressions normally associated with negative emotions.

In their first study, participants were shown pictures of babies that were so cute they overwhelmed them with positive feelings and caused them to reveal expressions of high aggression, saying they wanted to pinch the babies' cheeks and "eat them up." As expected, participants had more positive feelings when viewing photographs of cuter babies than when viewing photographs of the less-cute babies.

"When you see something that's unbearably cute, you have this high positive reaction," said lead researcher, Oriana Aragon. "These feelings get overwhelming, and for some reason (with) cuteness, the 'dimorphous expression' happens to be the gritting of teeth, clenching of fists and (the stating of) aggressive statements like 'I wanna eat you.'" Basically, when we feel happiness that is so intense, it manifests as a violent impulse.

So why do we do this?

It's a means of releasing stress.

Too many positive emotions can be as stressful and overwhelming as too many negative emotions—and it is just as bad for our bodies. "Being very high or really low still releases stress hormones, and it'll still be hard on the body," explains Aragon. "To regulate those emotions and regain balance and emotional equilibrium, we need to release stress in an opposite way, ie. aggressively."

Aragon explains, "We regulate emotions in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we try to rethink the situation. Sometimes we try to push our emotions down with sheer will. Sometimes we remove ourselves from the situation that is causing the emotions. And with this new discovery, we are figuring out that sometimes we respond with the opposite expression from what we feel, and that seems to help to balance us back out too."

So in a second study, Aragon and Dyer set out to determine if cute aggression in reactions to infantile stimuli indeed functioned to regulate emotion, and in the process, decrease stress levels.

In this second study, those who had the highest "aggressive" responses to the photos, ie. the most overstimulation, also tended to have a lower level of positive emotion five minutes after viewing the images, leading the researchers to believe that "cute aggression" was helping them regulate and balance out their overall emotions. "(P)eople who (express aggression) seem to recover better from those strong emotions," explained Aragon.

This is a good thing: It is the brain's way of bringing us back into a normal, more manageable range of emotions. Because, if we are out of control, we cannot care for our baby. In terms of evolution, a stressed mama, whether she is upset or overjoyed, might not be the most attentive mama, so nature has built in a way to even the keel and keep us alert, stable and able to act.

The researchers' work is reinforced by other studies that have also concluded that by balancing one emotion with the expression of another, the expression of that emotion functions to regulate the other emotion.

Nature's way of balancing emotions has wide reaching benefits

What scientists are learning from this phenomenon is being explored as a means for possibly alleviating mental illness. "You see (bipolar) people go manic for days—they're really high, they're really up. That has deleterious effects on the body. Potentially, this (research) could lead to better therapies...for people who are having a difficult time managing their emotions," says Aragon.

Recognizing the benefits of the emotional release and balance gained from this phenomenon, Aragon and Dyer believe further studies can help people understand relationships and emotional states better.

So, mama, it is perfectly normal and healthy to want to eat our babies.

Cuteness motivates us to want to care for babies, but we can be overwhelmed by it, making us want to eat them. That aggressive response reduces the stress we get from all that incapacitating joy, and it all works together to balance out our overwhelming emotions so that we can continue to care for them and keep them safe. Got that?

And as far as our friends wanting to eat our baby, primatologist Susan Perry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues say that harmless "social biting" may also be part of our evolutionary heritage as a way of testing our social bonds and displaying signs of our good intentions.

So go ahead and nibble on those dimples—it's making you a more emotionally balanced person, which makes you an even better parent.


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Toddlers can alternatively be the sweetest and most tyrannical people on the planet. Figuring the world out is tough, but it is possible to teach them how to care for and respect others—and the first steps start with you.

Here are five tips from Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting Dr. Azine Graff on teaching empathy through modeling and playtime, with some of our favorite dolls from Manhattan Toy Company.


1. "I wonder if she's sad." 

Think about it: The first step to understanding the emotions of others is being able to recognize them in yourself. Graff recommends looking for opportunities to label emotions throughout the day by helping your child identify sadness, anger, happiness, and fear.

You can do this by pointing to someone smiling in a book or noticing a baby crying in the grocery store. Try saying, "The baby is crying. I wonder if she is sad." Over time, your little one will learn to label emotions on their own.

2. "How can we take care of her?" 

Dramatic play can be a great time to model care and compassion for others. That's one reason why baby dolls make such great toys for toddlers—not only are they great for open-ended play, they also provide the opportunity to teach caretaking.

For example, you can ask your child, "The baby is yawning and seems very tired. How can we take care of her?" We love the award-winning Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy Company to turn playtime into a time for empathy teaching.

3. "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower."

You can set the best example of empathy by taking time to notice and validate your child's feelings. Instead of trying to immediately shush crying, react from a place of compassion.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum over a fallen block tower, try saying, "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower." This demonstrates the importance of understanding feelings, even if they are not our own.

4. "Do you want to try with me?"

Once your child is better able to identify their emotions, they're in a better place to find solutions with your help. "When we can help our children through challenging feelings, especially when they are struggling, we are modeling care for others," Graff says.

The next time your child gets upset, you can say, "It is frustrating when something falls apart. It helps me to take a deep breath when I'm frustrated. Do you want to try with me?"

5. Express your own feelings

It can be tempting to hide your feelings from your child, but when modeled appropriately, it can teach them that feelings are a normal part of life. Over time, you will see them use the same strategies of empathy on you, like kissing your "boo-boos" or suggesting you take a deep breath when you're upset.


This article is sponsored by Manhattan Toy Company. Thank you for supporting that brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

With the big news now out of the way, pregnant Meghan Markle and her husband Prince Harry have begun a massive tour of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Over the next two weeks the couple is set to make 76 engagements. (We're tired just thinking about it.)

With a schedule like that it seems like Meghan is probably feeling as good as a pregnant person can, and reports suggest she's had a 12-week ultrasound, which means she's just rolling into her second trimester—a time many mamas look back on as ther "easiest" part of pregnancy.

The tour schedule is a daunting one, but of course many women travel and work during their pregnancies, and Meghan has never been one to sit still long. Basically, there's no reason an uncomplicated pregnancy would warrant a big change in her plans.

Here's what we know about Meghan's pregnancy so far:

She's well aware of the Zika situation

Entertainment Tonight reports the Duchess will not be accompanying her husband to engagements at the Fiji War Memorial or the Colo-i-Suva forest (she'll be doing morning tea at the British High Commissioner's residence and meeting women vendors at a local market instead, Hello reports), and this schedule tweak is possibly pregnancy-related.

The World Health Organization advises against travel to by pregnant people to Fiji (and Tonga, another island on the Duke and Duchess' itinerary) due to the risk of Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

The Duchess has likely discussed Zika risks extensively with her medical team, and if they've given her the green light, no one should hassle her about this. It's her choice, and in both Tonga and Fiji, the risk of Zika infection is now a lot lower than it was in 2016, CNN reports.

We can expect to see lots of long-sleeved outfits on that part of the tour.

While she's technically experiencing a "geriatric pregnancy", that term is outdated 

"Geriatric" is absolutely the last word we would ever associate with the youthful beauty that is Meghan Markle, but at 37, she's technically in that zone that some doctors (still) refer to as a "geriatric pregnancy".

The unfortunate (and downright rude) term has been replaced in the vocabulary of many medical providers by "advanced maternal age" (which is slightly less rude), but is still being used by many members of the press covering Markle's pregnancy announcement.

Labeling the Duchess' pregnancy as geriatric may be technically correct as she's over 35 but it's hardly necessary when there are much kinder ways to phrase it. And while many royal watchers are pointing out that Meghan's advanced maternal age puts her at higher risk for some pregnancy complications, plenty of healthy 37-year-old women have babies every day.

Now is actually a great time for her to travel 

While a lot of airlines don't recommend or even allow traveling (especially a long international flight) late in pregnancy (we're talking like 38 weeks) Meghan is still far from that stage.

The UK's National Health Service advices British moms-to-be that late pregnancy and early pregnancy are the trickiest when it comes to travel, noting the airline rules and that: "Some women try to avoid travelling in the first 12-15 weeks of pregnancy because exhaustion and nausea tend to be worse at this early stage."

It sounds like Meghan is just beyond that uncomfortable bit and into the fun part of pregnancy. We can't wait to see some royal bump pics.

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Mamas rarely get to treat themselves to a new wardrobe when they're focused on everyone else's needs. However, a new season is the ultimate opportunity to add a few new staples to your closet.

With temperatures dropping, you might be tempted to wear leggings and large sweaters daily (okay, that's not going to change) but these pieces will easily update your go-to fall wardrobe. Add a great pair of shoes, or swap in a new accessory and you'll be ready to take on this new season.

Here are some of our favorite items we keep reaching for day after day.


1. Functional dress

Since the weather isn't cold enough just yet, transition pieces are essential for your wardrobe. This dress is cozy and can be dressed up with heeled boots or dressed down with sneakers. Add tights and a scarf when the temperature drops.

Mock-Neck Shift Dress, Old Navy, $34.99

BUY

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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What would an extra $1,000 per month mean to you? Would it mean an early retirement? More Travel? The ability to save for a house or pay for your kids' college expenses? No matter what your lifestyle goals are, earning extra money is a great way to reach them, but earning extra money can be a daunting task.

However, if you're willing to put in a little extra work or find that you have extra time in the evenings, you can earn an extra $1,000 per month. These are some money making strategies to consider.

1. Negotiate a raise

If you're a valued employee at your company, the best way to make an extra money each month is to negotiate a raise. To do this, write down your accomplishments and research salary data on Glassdoor.com. Then schedule time with your manager to discuss a raise.

Your manager may make it seem like it's not possible to get a raise outside of the annual schedule, but that is not always true. Great companies want to retain their best employees, and if you've proven yourself, leverage your value to earn more money.

Most people avoid asking for a raise because they do not like confrontation, but a few minutes of discomfort can yield a substantial income boost. If you utilize data and tact to request a raise, most companies will offer a raise if they're able.

2. Change companies

If you're an excellent employee, but you can't negotiate a raise, consider searching for new jobs if possible. The easiest time to earn extra money is when you switch companies as you have more leverage because you know that the potential employer wants you on board.

In general, when you switch companies, you can expect a 10-20% raise in base salary whereas annual raises tend to be around 2-5%. Job searching might stress you out, but a few weeks of effort can allow you to earn an extra $1,000 per month.

3. Take on a weekend job

If you've maxed out your earnings in your day job, consider taking on a weekend job if your schedule allows it. Because you're trading time off for money, you want to be sure that the job is worth it, so target jobs that will allow you to earn $25 per hour.

You may be surprised how many weekend jobs yield that type of pay. For example, some car dealerships hire weekend employees to be salespeople or your favorite store could look for some extra hands. Taking a job like childcare isn't a bad idea either, especially if you're already taking care of your little and they could benefit from having others around. Although those jobs won't necessarily equate to an extra $1,000 per month (unless you work a ton), they may lead to other opportunities.

4. Start a side business

If you want to earn an extra $1,000 per month, but you want to do it on your own terms, consider starting a side business. If you've got house repair skills, you can start a handyman business; if you're an accountant, you can take on some bookkeeping clients on the side.

Consider starting a service for a passion of yours, like teaching music or tennis lessons. If you're price conscious, you can find items to flip on eBay, or you can start a business selling products via Fulfilled By Amazon.

If you've got a business idea, bring it to life on the nights and weekends. Although starting a business tends to be a slow path to extra income, the upside potential is tremendous. In time, a successful side business can allow you to earn well in excess of $1,000 per month.

5. Freelance

If you work in an in-demand field, you can earn extra funds by freelancing. Becoming a freelance consultant will allow you to charge a premium rate for your services while you take on just one or two extra projects a month. Small businesses who don't need full-time services may pay two or three times your typical rate if you produce results for them.

Switching from a traditional employment situation to freelancing may also yield a big income boost, but before you make the jump be sure your extra income isn't eaten up by paying for your own benefits, such as taxes or startup fees.

Originally posted on Financial Gym.

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[Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's experience with anxiety.]

Dear anxiety,
We've been together for as long as I can remember. You've always been there, especially during those nights when I couldn't fall asleep—my mind hot with worry, ruminating over the day's events, making mental to-do lists that went on forever (and ever… and ever…).

You were there the time my husband arranged to meet a seller from a virtual yard sale site in a store parking lot to pick up a pair of kid scooters. He had our two young children in the car, which already had me on edge. Perfect for you, I was an easy target that day.

I knew their meeting time and I figured it should take less than five minutes for him to hand the man cash and put the scooters in the trunk. Five minutes turned into ten. Ten turned into fifteen.

You were there when I left multiple messages on my husband's phone. You watched as I found the seller's page on Facebook, scrutinizing his family photos and quickly realizing that most of the pictures were blurry and you could only see his kids' backs in all of them—never their faces.

In that moment, I was convinced the seller had attacked my husband and drove away with our kids in the car. You watched as I took slow, deliberate breaths and went outside for some air. You watched as I answered my cell—my husband finally calling back to explain they'd stopped at Home Depot where there was bad cell reception.

You'd gotten the best of me again, stealing time I should have spent doing anything other than obsessing over the multitude of awful things that could have (but didn't!) happen to my family.

Ugh. Anxiety.

You're on the playground as I follow my children who are running after older kids with toy guns. I watch as they climb boulders, fly off swings in mid-air, and get too close to strangers who could, I don't know, snatch them up in a blink of an eye?

You're with me in every parking lot in the state of New Jersey where strangers stare or park dark vans next to my SUV. You follow us into stores as my son darts down another aisle, losing sight of him for a millisecond—that millisecond that makes my heart stop.

You love farms where my kids stick tiny hands through wire fences as a cow's large tongue licks grains off their palms and a donkey's teeth get dangerously close to their fingers. And there's that wandering peacock who looks at us with wild eyes.

You're at the pool where my son is going off the diving board backward and my daughter is staying under for way longer than her lungs can handle and I feel like every child is about to drown.

You're there when the library books are overdue and the cheerleading uniform isn't washed and the shoes are all over the floor and there's that strange spot on the back of my throat and what looks like black mold on the patio cushions.

I've tried to get rid of you—truly I have. But anti-anxiety medication, yoga, and mindfulness classes were all lukewarm attempts to band-aid the agony you can cause.

Unlucky for you, I've discovered your kryptonite: gratitude.

It's the acknowledgment of what has gone right that anchors me and pushes you into dark corners. There's power in an underlying thankfulness that washes out worry and overpowers the never-ending string of "what-ifs."

Gratitude comes in the form of a time when my husband likes his job again and we have extra money for new garage doors and guest room furniture.

It's living in a house that's much larger than the two-bedroom apartment I grew up in but our 7-year-old still describes as warm and cozy.

It's the start of the school year when the kids are happy with their teachers and have kind friends and birthday invitations in the mailbox. It's a winter free of strep throat or illness.

It's having a capable, confident husband who can fix anything. It's being able to work from home doing a job I love so I can still be there for after-school snacks, library volunteer shifts, and class trips.

When we focus on the minutiae of our days, we see they're jam-packed with countless joys that far outweigh the bad. But if disaster does strike—whether it's a death or job loss or unexpected tragedy—that's when community and faith step in, taking the place of anxious thoughts or worry.

Because you see, anxiety is anticipation—not reality—that feeds off the future like a leech and is rendered powerless in the present.

Here's where our relationship ends, my old friend. You've manipulated me for too long—tricking me into thinking all those misguided internet searches and late-night texts over something small was worthwhile—and we're done.

Love,

A very grateful mama

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