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“Why didn't you seek help back then?" she asked me.

I waited, thinking, not sure how to answer. After a few moments, I responded, “I didn't know I needed it."

My therapist and I have been talking about the early baby days. About my transition from working in an office, getting dressed every day, focusing on my career, engaging with other humans all day and bringing home a paycheck, to the SAHM life.

We've been talking about how my initiation into motherhood was nothing at all like I thought it would be.

I wanted to be a mom my entire life. I began babysitting at 12 and remember rocking babies and toddlers to sleep in my own tiny arms, thinking of the day I'd have one of my own. I was ready to start having kids from the minute my husband and I said our vows (even before we said them, if I'm being honest).

I was so ready. So prepared. (And so naive.)

It was my choice to become a stay-at-home mom and leave a career I loved, a career in which I was thriving in at the time. I wanted to go all in on the motherhood thing, and I didn't think there was room for my teaching career too. At least not right now, I told myself. I can always go back.

So many of us never go back. And that's not necessarily a good or bad thing—it just is. I don't regret not going back, but the journey sure hasn't been smooth.

“Tell me about those first few years," my therapist says.

I sit back on her brown leather couch, close my eyes, and try to sift through the fog. How do I describe it? I see a woman, un-showered, tired, shoulders hunched, cooking pasta on the stove. Or maybe folding laundry.

I see a baby in the exersaucer or pack and play. I hear the pitter-patter of feet as a toddler comes barreling into the room wielding his latest play-dough creation.

I see her look up and glance at the clock. Two in the afternoon. She's been alone with the kids for seven hours. Four or five more to go, she'll say to herself. (Unless her husband is traveling. Then it could be days. Or weeks.)

She looks at her kitchen, at her house, at her kids, at her life. She has it all. Healthy kids. A beautiful home on a cul-de-sac. A minivan. A steady income provided by her husband. The stay-at-home mom life she wanted.

It's perfect. It's wonderful. She's so fortunate. So grateful.

Right?

So why is she empty? Why is she looking at that clock? What's missing if she has it all?

Measurable markers of success. That's what my therapist says was missing in that season of my life. Something I crave. Something I've relied on my entire life to feel valuable, important, successful: Grades. Paychecks. Awards. Evaluations.

But in motherhood, there are no grades, or awards, or gold stars when your child writes his name. Or pees on the potty. Or behaves well at the grocery store. You just have to find pride in it yourself. And I didn't know how.

I had kids who were bright, on track with their peers, often told they were a joy to be with, so why did I feel like I was failing? And why was I jealous and resentful of my husband's career achievements?

Because he received awards, raises, bonuses and promotions. I did not.

He had business dinners and last-minute lunch dates. I ate cold hot dogs left over on my kids' plates.

He had bosses praising him. I had small children telling me I was mean because they couldn't have fruit snacks for breakfast.

He was using his college and graduate degrees. At the time, I felt like mine were just collecting dust.

I was depressed, but I didn't know it. Or at least, I couldn't admit it. Because that would mean failing at the one job I had wanted my entire life. Why didn't I love every minute? What was wrong with me?

Therapy has helped me see exactly why it was so hard. Why a mother of three healthy children with food on the table and a roof over our heads could be in such a hole. And why, in actuality, there was nothing “wrong" with me. And I wasn't “failing" as a mom.

Therapy has helped me see how abrupt the shift to my new life was, having worked until the day before my first son was born. It helped me see how unprepared I had been at how unrealistic my expectations of motherhood were prior to taking on the role myself.

I wish I could go back and sit with that mom, hunched over the stove, or matching up tiny socks. I wish I would put my arms around her shoulders and tell her that it's okay to feel empty some days. And that she should go talk to someone now, not a decade in the future.

I wish I could tell her that, in 10 years, she'd have her measurable markers of success again. She'd be a writer, working from home, and those tiny babies and toddlers would be thriving children, running the neighborhood, playing baseball, writing stories, and making her feel immense pride.

I wish I could tell her—promise her—that it gets better. That her cup will be filled.

I can't go back and help the person I was so many years ago. But I can be grateful for what I've learned. Turns out, it doesn't make you a failure of a mother to seek help. In fact, and I know this now, it makes you a success. And that's a relief, since “success" is, in fact, my favorite word.

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

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

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

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

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

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

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

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

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

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

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

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

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

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

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

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

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

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

We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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

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


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

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

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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

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

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

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

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

2. Embrace light

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

3. Plan a winter trip

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

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

4. Give in to being cozy

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

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

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

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

5. See your friends

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

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

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

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

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

7. Add a ritual

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

8. Talk to a professional

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

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

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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