Is Breastfeeding Truly Best?

I was a first-time mom sitting in a hospital bed, frustrated that my baby wouldn’t nurse. The hospital staff kept coming in to ask how much my baby was eating. “He wouldn’t latch on,” I answered helplessly. “He keeps falling asleep.” The lactation specialist insisted that more skin-on-skin contact would do the trick, but even when we did that he fell asleep. I was confused–wasn’t my baby hungry? The staff scolded me for letting my baby sleep too long. “He needs to eat!” they insisted.

I was irritated by the lactation specialist. I quietly assumed she had no idea what she was talking about. In reality, I was insecure and proud. I thought nursing was supposed to be natural. Shouldn’t I be able to do this on my own? Why isn’t any of this working?

We tried different nursing positions, a nipple shield, and cheek stroking. Still nothing. I was engorged so I pumped and we offered him a bottle. He slowly sucked it, as though gravity gave him no choice.

Fast-forward a few weeks later–I sat in our living room with a manual pump. We didn’t have an electric pump yet and my son still didn’t understand nursing, so I used the manual around the clock. I looked down at a nearly-full bottle of milk, which had taken me 30 or 40 minutes to fill. Suddenly the bottle fell off–it hadn’t been screwed on tightly enough. All of the milk spilled onto the floor. I was bewildered. I worked so hard for that one bottle! Not only that, but somehow I needed to come up with something for my son’s next feeding. They say you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk…but I was so frustrated and so tired.

After I gathered my bearings, I thought of the container of formula in the cupboard. My OBGYN gave it to me during one of my prenatal appointments as a gift, but I never intended to use it. Nursing would be easy, right? All the other moms in my life were doing it. Weren’t they?

Literature said that breastfeeding was best. I was convinced that formula was for moms who didn’t have time for their babies or didn’t care about what was best for them. Formula was just the baby version of fast food. At the same time, I knew it was also expensive, so I couldn’t bring myself to throw the container out. Instead, it sat in a cupboard I hardly ever opened.

But in that moment, I was desperate. Breastfeeding was not the rewarding experience I had been told about. Either my baby was going to miss a feeding and all hell would break loose, or I could give him one bottle of McFormula.  

We gave him the formula.

He didn’t explode.

The stress disappeared and I was able to get caught up with feedings. Eventually we got an electric pump. We continued to supplement with a bottle of formula because it was nice to have that break every day. Our system was finally working for us.

Needless to say, my experience changed the way I look at people who feed their babies formula.

This week I did some research. I wanted to know why experts tells us that “breast is best.” How is breast milk different from formula, apart from the obvious?  

I also asked all of my mom friends for their stories. Do they feed their babies breast milk or formula? Am I the only one who struggled with breastfeeding? What are some other reasons that moms feed their babies formula?

Here’s what I found.

 

Statistics

According to the FDA, only 38% of all the babies on the planet are exclusively breastfed. In the United States, 75% of babies start out breastfeeding, but only 13% continue through the first six months of life. 67% of babies in the U.S. rely at least somewhat on formula by 3 months of age (that’s 2.7 million babies!) Formula is WAY more popular than I ever imagined!

 

What is Formula Made of?

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There are several different blends of formula, but the traditional variety is made from modified cow’s milk. Cow’s milk, when compared to human milk, contains higher levels of fats, minerals, protein, sodium, and potassium. Cow’s milk is also deficient in Vitamin E, iron and essential fatty acids. Manufacturers skin the milk and add supplements so that the formula more closely resembles human milk. Probiotics and prebiotics may also be added for gut health. Laws require that nutrients fall within minimum-maximum ranges that endure throughout the formula’s shelf life. Components that are added to the formula must have a proven track record of safe use.  

The most affordable kind of formula comes in powder form, which is mixed with water according to directions. Other kinds include concentrated liquid, which is mixed with an equal amount of water, and ready-to-eat formula, which costs the most but requires no preparation.

If an infant cannot tolerate cow’s milk, other varieties may be tried, such as soy or hypoallergenic formula. There are also specialized blends for premature babies. Some countries dabble in goat, ewe, mare, donkey, and camel milk, but such formulas haven’t been studied well enough to be determined safe for infant consumption.

 

The Benefits of Formula-Feeding

  • Formula is highly regulated to ensure that it is both safe and nutritionally adequate.
  • Preparing formula is fast and easy. Mix, shake and serve. Some formulas don’t even require preparation.
  • There are a variety of formulas on the market. Even if baby does not tolerate cow-milk-based formula, there is usually another kind that will be tolerated.
  • Formula takes pressure off of mom to provide food for baby. This is especially helpful for parents of multiples, or if mom has a career outside of the home.
  • Bottle-feeding provides more opportunity for dad and siblings to bond with baby.
  • Babies who take formula often stay full for longer periods of time when compared to breastfed infants. (Special note: Some moms swear by a bottle of formula before bedtime during the sleep training phase.)

 

The Cons of Feeding Baby Formula

  • It is expensive to exclusively feed an infant formula. According to The Simple Dollar, the average cost of formula for the first year of life is $1,733.75.  
  • Families may be tempted to pinch pennies by using less formula powder, which can result in nutrition deficiencies.
  • Formula requires some preparation, and sometimes refrigeration. Bottle-washing is also necessary.
  • Some babies do not tolerate certain formulas well. Parents may have to experiment, which can be a great source of stress.
  • Some parents may not have access to clean water.  
  • When babies are little and eat frequently, parents might find it cumbersome to have to hold the baby’s bottle for long periods of time.
  • Formula-feeders wrestle with guilt for choosing not to breastfeed, or for not having the capacity to breastfeed. They also might deal with shame from the breastfeeding community.
  • Special note: More research is needed on the subject to determine whether or not differences matter, but the gut biome of a formula-fed baby is incredibly unique to that of a breastfed baby.

 

Bottle-feeding Stories

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I really wanted to breastfeed, but I only produced one ounce of milk. My doctor said some women just don’t produce enough milk. We switched to regular formula and realized that our son is lactose intolerant. Similac Pro-Sensitive is easier for him to digest.”Luisa S.

“I am all for breastfeeding. My goal was to breastfeed until my son had teeth. I was unfortunate in the sense I couldn’t for as long as I wanted to. I stopped producing enough to satisfy. I tried many things to get my supply up, but nothing worked. So I had to supplement, which turned into full-on bottle feeding.”Grace L.

“I was unable to nurse my 2 boys. My milk never came in so that was decided for me. Formula was fine. I definitely didn’t notice anything different in them compared to others who were nursed.”Randi S.

“With both of my kids, it was like pulling TEETH to get my milk to come in. With my first son, I had a somewhat traumatic birth (the next time, I got the damn drugs) and therefore wasn’t in a place to try more than just a few weeks with him between nursing and pumping. He just wasn’t getting what he needed. We did both for a while and then switched completely to formula by a month. With my second son, again, so HARD to get my milk to come in but he was breastfed for about 6 weeks, with the last week or so being a combo and then my body was done again. My formula babies.”Krystal R.

“I was working full-time. My husband was in school when we had our first child. Nurses harped on me every moment about breastfeeding. They never stopped to consider lifestyle and if it was even feasible for me at the time. I opted not to and never regretted it. Yes, sometimes formulas had to be adjusted, but the bonding time this allowed for my husband with the kids was priceless. Dads often don’t get that special time, as moms are the milk machine. Sometimes it’s easier to just feed the baby than to pump to allow Dad to. I feel like it’s okay either way but neither side should shame, degrade, scold or hold judgement to the other. We are all moms doing the best we can. All my kids were formula/bottle fed and all were fine. I don’t regret the choices, and I honor the choices of other moms.”Marcy C.

“My daughter came a month early. Being in the NICU, they started her right away on the bottle since I didn’t see her for 3 hours after she was born. For each meal, she would drink as much formula as she could from a bottle but would get the remainder through a feeding tube. I pumped right after giving birth (full pumping session but I got a drop of colostrum) and then started combining breast and bottle-feeding since my supply was so low. I pumped for the first 4 weeks of her life but I was never able to get a satisfying amount. I transferred to 100% formula feeding since I was pumping every 3 hours and only getting 30 to 50 mL for the entire day. I would have loved to breastfeed her longer but my body just couldn’t do it…But on the flip side, I like seeing how much she is drinking.” Kristen G.

 

Shopping for Formula

You should always talk to your pediatrician when starting or switching to a new formula. Typically, you’ll start with the traditional cow-milk-based formula unless you’re already aware of special needs. Here are some other varieties:

Hydrolyzed formulas= for babies with milk protein allergies, babies who don’t absorb nutrients properly (such as preemies), and babies with eczema

Soy-based formulas= for vegan babies and babies who cannot digest lactose

Hypoallergenic formulas= for babies who are allergic to cow’s milk and soy

Other items you’ll need to purchase:

  • Bottles and nipples
  • Bottle brushes
  • Water filter or packaged water
  • Drying rack

According to Baby Savers, the cost of name-brand powder formula is 14 cents per ounce. A 22-lb tub ($22 on sale) will get you about 155 ounces of formula. You can purchase generic powder for as low as 8 cents per ounce ($12 for the same-sized tub).  

Name-brand ready-to-eat formula is 29 cents per ounce. A 16-pack of 8-oz bottles (128 ounces) will cost you about $38.27.

Your newborn baby will eat about 2.5 ounces of prepared formula per pound of body weight in a 24-hour day (so if your baby weighs 8 pounds, she’ll probably need around 24 oz of prepared formula per day).  

Be sure to create a realistic budget for the regular purchase of formula before your baby is born.  

 

What is Breast Milk Made of?

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Human milk is a complex blend of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, hormones, and immune cells. Before a mother’s milk comes in, she will produce a thick and yellow substance called colostrum, which is rich in nutrients and antibodies.

Mature breast milk begins as a thin and bluish consistency (known as “foremilk”) and gradually increases in fat content (to create “hindmilk”) during a nursing session.  

 

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

  • A mother’s milk adapts to the needs of a growing baby. The milk provides adequate amounts of essential nutrients, even when the mother’s own nutrition is slightly deficient.
  • When a mother is sick, or if she receives certain vaccinations such as the flu vaccine, she will transmit antibodies through her milk to her baby as prevention.  
  • As mom nurses, her body releases oxytocin, which helps mom to bond with her baby (think of it as an enhancer for maternal instincts). The oxytocin also has anti-anxiety and anti-depressive attributes that may help prevent postpartum depression.
  • Another popular opinion is that breastfeeding helps with postpartum weight loss. (Special note: Although this may be true for some women, as breastfeeding does create a calorie deficit, other moms will feel pressured to eat more to make sure that baby is getting enough to eat.)
  • Once a mother and child are securely established in nursing, mom’s hands will be free to multitask.
  • Established breastfeeding requires no preparation and no equipment to bring along in the diaper bag (except for a nursing cover, if desired).
  • Breastfeeding is budget-friendly. Aside from “startup costs” such as a nursing pillow, as-needed items such as nipple cream, and mom’s own nutritional needs, it doesn’t cost anything.

The Risks of Breastfeeding

  • There are a few instances where breastfeeding is not recommended, such as when mom has infections like HIV or CMV, or if mom is on certain medications that will transmit through her milk.  
  • Some premature babies will not receive enough nutrients from breast milk and will require supplementation.
  • Newborns sometimes have what is known as “lip tie” or “tongue tie,” which can make breastfeeding difficult. These situations are usually remedied with the help of minor surgery.
  • Breastfeeding causes painful contractions during the first couple weeks of nursing, as the release of oxytocin helps mom’s uterus to shrink back to pre-baby size.
  • Nipple pain is common, although nipples “toughen up” over time (unless baby isn’t latching properly). A poor latch can make nipples bleed.
  • Clogged milk ducts and mastitis occur when baby continues to latch improperly, mom doesn’t nurse frequently enough (engorgement), mom’s bra doesn’t fit properly, or mom exerts herself too much (I learned the hard way that lifting weights isn’t advised).  
  • Because breast milk is broken down more easily than formula, baby will eat more often, which can mean less sleep for mom.  
  • Some moms endure stress from not being able to see how much milk baby is drinking.
  • If mom does not express milk so that other members of the family can feed baby, from time to time she might experience feelings of having no freedom.
  • Although it is required by law that mothers be able to nurse, public shaming is still an issue. Some moms are not comfortable nursing their babies outside of the home.
  • Working mothers may find it difficult to express milk at work. They must remember to bring all their pumping equipment with them and have a cold place to store milk. Some mothers are perceived as inconvenient by their bosses because of how much time pumping takes.
  • Moms who must pump around the clock do not have free hands to multitask during sessions like they would while nursing.

 

Breastfeeding Stories

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“Breastfeeding for me just made the most sense with my boys. I don’t enjoy washing bottles. When the twins were born I was pumping four hours and breastfeeding eight, making feedings alone twelve hours of my day. Most of that was because the twins’ prematurity and inability to keep up with my supply, since supply is rather important later on and is established fairly easy in their life. I will admit that the perk I see with bottle-feeding is that anyone can feed them and take care of them at that point. But, I love the bond I have with all my boys and that they are growing because God has graciously given me the ability to feed them and do it in the way that works well for us.” Stephanie P.

“Four months of discomfort and mastitis twice…I kept pushing through, praying it would get better. Around the end of month four, something clicked and it was great after that. He was two when we completely stopped.”Lauren M.

“I exclusively breastfed my first and am doing the same with my second. My first had a lip tie and tongue tie, which we didn’t cut until seven weeks and I wish we had done it sooner! I do pump so that I can go out on occasion…My son is not a picky eater. I attribute his love of broccoli and other veggies to breastfeeding, but maybe we were just lucky…My second child took a week of hard work to establish good nursing habits. It was a very tough week but I think worth it because personally I think bottles are more work (we don’t have a dishwasher).”Tamara G.

“It was a great bonding experience and I enjoyed it a lot, but because I was so focused on breastfeeding I ended up not producing much more to pump, which meant we were stuck together 24/7. At times I wished for the sake of my mental health that I could have found a balance with pumping. We started solids at about 4 to 5 months, so that helped.”Eileen F.

“It was really convenient, and very restful to sit and cuddle my babies. That being said, it also exhausted me physically to keep producing milk. An autoimmune disease I have makes my body tire easily.”Lynn G.

“The main direct benefit I see with breastfeeding is the antibodies it gives our babies.  However, it still does not always prevent them from getting sick. My son was breastfed until 16 months but was in daycare and always seemed congested. My daughter has been home with me for 8.5 months and had a runny nose for 3 days, other than that never has been sick.”Libby B.

“I exclusively nursed (and pumped for) my children until they both stopped on their own (14 and 19 months). As someone who reads A LOT of medical research, I can tell you that you will find studies trying to disprove that ‘breast is best’ as well as a large number of studies showing various benefits. What is more important is that moms choosing either route do not have necessary support…This is where our focus should be. How do we support our moms and help them make educated decisions, and provide appropriate child-focused feeding support?  In the big scheme of things, fed is best.”Olya S.

Shopping for breastfeeding success

Here are supplies you’ll need if you decide to breastfeed:

  • Nursing bras that fit well
  • Nursing shirts (and maybe a dress for formal occasions)
  • Nursing pads (for leaking)
  • Electric pump (to be honest, I personally don’t believe manuals are worth the struggle–check to see if your insurance will cover an electric pump)
  • Milk storage bags
  • Nursing pillow
  • Nipple cream
  • Breastfeeding literature (seriously, there’s a lot to know–you should read before your baby gets here!)
  • Vitamin D drops (if you live in a location that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight year-round)
  • Nursing cover

I would also highly recommend swallowing your pride (if you’re like me) and seeking the help of a lactation consultant if you encounter issues (check to see if your hospital will have one available when you deliver).

 

Summary of the Pros and Cons

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Stories of Moms Who Weren’t Exclusive

“With my firstborn, he nursed for 6 weeks and then I exclusively pumped for 6 weeks after that. He had laryngomalacia, which made it hard for him to nurse. He did much better with a bottle. After those first 12 weeks, he got both breastmilk and formula until he was 5 months, and then we switched to just formula…My daughter was breastfed for 6 weeks and then I had to stop cold turkey so I could go on blood pressure medication…My third child was exclusively breastfed for the first 1 ½ to 2 months and then we slowly started adding formula. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up my supply once I went back to work. It would have been very difficult for me to pump every 3 hours. She’s now 8 months and is formula fed during the day and nurses at night. It has actually worked out really well for us because I hate getting up to make bottles at night!”Kacie S.

“With my first, I formula-fed from day one. She was 3 weeks early and 26 hours of labor ended in a c-section.  I felt guilty for a really long time about it…With my second, I was determined to do everything I could to breastfeed.  He had silent reflux so we ended up doing a combo of primarily breastfeeding and bottle-feeding during the day. We did that until he was 14-15 months old. He would have gone much longer but I was touched out…With my twins, I breastfed them for the first 6 or 7 weeks. It was a LOT.  I would get done feeding the second one and then it would be time to start the next feeding. Luckily my husband was off the first 6 weeks with me, which helped a ton. He works overnights so ultimately we went to formula because having 4 kids alone overnight was intense enough. I needed to know who was eating and how much.”Liz C.

“I am a firm believer in breastfeeding. I nursed for 14.5 months. I was ready to wean, but I miss the special bond I had with my son. When he was 9 months old, I had my gallbladder removed and had to pump and dump a lot because of the medications I was on. I had a good amount in the freezer but he still needed a couple of extra feedings. He was eating food at the time but I was grateful for the option that formula was available.”Ashley S.

“I pumped so my husband could feed our daughter bottles. I felt they could use that bonding time, and I could use their time to get other things done for me or around the house. This only lasted about six weeks because my brother had emergency heart surgery and had to live on a hospital bed in our living room for a while. My sister-in-law was diagnosed with brain cancer and I was helping with her kids, and rides to and from radiation appointments. We switched to formula and it was fine. It never hindered my daughter’s eating or growth. She’s 15 now and she is rarely ill, having only ever needed antibiotics twice in her life.”Sue B.

“I exclusively pumped for my first child for a year and produced A LOT of milk. I had frozen stashed everywhere. Boxes and boxes at my house, my in-laws…I even took over my dad’s freezer with boxes of frozen. I was religious about how often I pumped…I also decided to exclusively pump for my second until he was 7 months. That’s when we switched to formula. It was a tough decision to switch to formula when I had never had to use it before, but with 2 kids the task of pumping just became too much. I just didn’t have the time nor the energy to pump as often as I should have, and so my supply started to decrease. We have been doing formula for about a month now. I have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I feel guilty that I didn’t just push through a few more months for him (especially when it’s time to buy more formula…so expensive!) but it has been way less stress on me, not worrying if I will have enough, or if I remembered to pack everything I need to pump every time I walk out of the house. The time I have back is great! As my friend Liz told me, ‘They all end up eating off the floor eventually anyways.’”Chelsea P.

“I breastfed my oldest until he was 6 months, and at that point I decided to stop because I didn’t enjoy it at all. We used a nipple shield the whole time and I just didn’t feel that it was convenient. I never felt completely comfortable. We switched to formula at that point…With my youngest, he would not latch. I found out he has a lip tie and that’s what made it so difficult. I ended up exclusively pumping for him. I was able to pump enough to create a large freezer stash over 2,500 ounces by the time he was 8 months. I’m pregnant again and my body has stopped producing, so for about a month we’ve just been feeding frozen milk and things have been going well with that.”Stephanie F.

“I have several scientific sources that show that when you account for demographics, outcomes for bottle-feeding versus breastfeeding are virtually the same. I’ve done both. My favorite is combo feeding. It’s the easiest for me and takes the pressure off of mom being the only source of food.”Lauren C.

 

The Rest of My Story

Now I’ll tell you about my other two kids. My second-born was a champion at breastfeeding. After I delivered and the nurses cleaned her up, she latched right on and started drinking. My husband and I were amazed. Her breastfeeding journey was a piece of cake (save for one tango with mastitis when she was around 8 months old).  

When my third child (second son) was born, I thought I had everything figured out. “My breasts were conditioned by that first year of pumping, and that’s why my daughter had no problems nursing,” I guessed. “Surely it’ll be easy to pick right up where we left off.” Another thought crossed my mind: “I didn’t read anything on breastfeeding before my first son was born. I know pretty much everything there is to know now. Piece of cake.”

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. *coughs*

It was basically child #1 all over again.

This son wasn’t as sleepy, and he certainly wasn’t as tiny, but he had no idea what he was doing.  

I looked at the lactation specialist. “Is it a gender thing? Are girls usually better at this sort of thing?”

She averted her eyes. “Yeah, girls are better at first.”  She paused. “But boys will stick with you.”

Whether or not the gender stereotype is true, she was right about my boy sticking it out. After three weeks with a nipple shield, he finally figured it out. We ditched the shield and have been exclusively nursing for the past 7.5 months. It hasn’t been an easy ride (I had mastitis 3 times while my husband was in and out of the hospital for Crohn’s disease) but we’ve seen it through.

To be honest, even with my daughter I was counting down the days until her first birthday. I’ve never been in love with nursing. I love the bond, the smiles, and when they get goofy while nursing, but those kinds of things don’t go away once nursing stops.  They just take on a different form. We can bond over storybooks. I can still make them laugh. And boy do they stay goofy in our family! I am dedicated to breastfeeding because it’s healthy, it’s cheap and my body can do it.  At the same time, I agree that fed is best and I am in no position to judge other moms. Everyone’s story and situation is so different!

I think there’s a lesson here that applies to a lot of different facets of life, if we stop and think about it.  Why do we so often impose our own personal decisions onto other people? Are we really that simple-minded? I think it often stems from insecurity, which everyone battles with. Make no mistake, I am not sitting on a high horse right now.  I might not judge moms about what they feed their babies, but I’m still judgmental about other things. It’s wrong and I wish I didn’t do it.  I try not to do it. I hope that other moms are mindful of it, too.

Did you notice that all of the moms who shared their story wanted to breastfeed their babies?  Boy was I wrong in thinking that formula feeders don’t care. They sure do! Before kids, I had no idea how much of a gift it was to be able to nurse a child.  Yes, it takes work. Sure, maybe some moms give up sooner than others. But I believe in grace. I believe in focusing on my own efforts as a mom and cheering on other parents for doing the best that they can.

I think in a perfect world, breastfeeding would be best.  But we don’t live in a perfect world. In our world, moms don’t get enough time for maternity leave.  Bosses don’t support them when they want to pump at work. Moms are judged for breastfeeding in public places. Babies are born too early and can’t latch. Moms don’t make enough milk. The list goes on.

The decision of what to feed your baby is a personal choice, not a universal one.  Let’s stop pretending that our choices are best for everyone else.

New moms and dads: I hope this guide encourages you as you make important decisions for your family.  

And for all the veteran parents reading this…

I’m rooting for you.

 

Photo credits: Janko FerlicJordan Whitt, Kevin Liang, Tung256, Lisa Johnson

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How To Tackle After-School Meltdowns

As parents, we’re used to navigating a busy lifestyle.  Regardless of how well we think we’re doing, we can all agree that life keeps us busy.  If we stop and think about it, the lives of our children aren’t entirely different from our own.  Let’s take a quick look at the facts:

Kids work a day job.  They do their own paper-pushing and they answer to supervisors (their teachers and other school faculty).  They endure performance evaluations (tests).

Kids struggle with having no control.  Somebody else makes their schedule and tells them what to do (unless you’re self-employed, you probably know how that feels).  What’s more, kids must ask permission to take care of their own basic needs, such as getting a drink of water and going to the bathroom.  

Kids wrestle with social anxiety.  “What do my peers and my supervisors think of me?” 

Kids wish they had more time for fun.  There’s so much to do in a day and not a lot of time left over for things that they’d rather be doing.  Between school, chores, and their parents’ schedules, some days there might not be much to look forward to.  Even kindergarteners have more expected of them than we did when we were kids–nap time isn’t a thing anymore, their curriculum is a year or two ahead of ours, and recess isn’t mandatory!  

All things considered, it’s no wonder that children (and their parents) suffer from after-school meltdowns.  Adolescents are still developing the coping mechanisms that adults (well, some of them) already have. Let’s also not forget anatomy: when a child is young, his hippocampus–which is responsible for emotion–is more developed than the prefrontal cortex–which controls logical thought processes and decision-making.  

What can parents do to help?  Here are some fantastic ideas from seasoned parents:

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1. Help your child decompress.  When your child gets home from school, let your child know how happy you are to see her.  Set aside your to-do list and eat a snack together. Don’t make her do homework or chores right away–just let your child relax for fifteen minutes or so.

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2. Ask thoughtful questions about your child’s day.  You won’t get much of a response from questions like, “How was your day?”  Instead, you need to pay attention to what’s going on in your child’s life.  “What did your classmates think of your show-and-tell object?” “What special class did you go to today?  What did you do there?” If you ask enough of the right questions, you will begin to uncover how your child is feeling and he will get into the groove of telling you more about his day (which may not happen all at once, but randomly as you go about the evening together).  

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3. Be careful how you respond.  Don’t scold him for mistakes that his teacher has already corrected, lest he learn to keep secrets from you.  If his teacher asks you to address something personally, don’t forget to show empathy and communicate that you are not against him.  When it comes to performance, praise the effort he put into his work rather than the grade he received.

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4. Make adjustments.  If your child is struggling in school, it might be time to have a conversation with his teacher in order to move forward.  You might also consider doing small acts of kindness to remind your child that he is loved, such as enclosing a note or his favorite treat in his lunchbox.  

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5. Have a routine.  Nothing is worse than being blindsided by work when you thought it was time to relax!  If your child has homework and chores, try to keep your evenings as routine as possible so that your child knows what to expect.

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6. Give your child something to look forward to.  I don’t know about your kids, but when mine know that their grandmother is coming over to watch them so that Daddy and I can have a date night, they are more cooperative than usual.  You can keep it simple: “If you get your work done, you can watch TV after dinner.” Playing the long game helps, too: “Not only do you have TV to look forward to this evening, but on Saturday we’re going on a family date to the zoo!”  Again, even adults are motivated by weekend rewards.

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7. Consider your child’s health.  If they’re not getting enough sleep, they’re sick, or there have been big life changes in your family, your children might not have the capacity to carry out your normal routine.  In such cases, it’s best to simply focus on making your home a safe and comfortable place. Whether they need space or or they want cuddles, always remember to prioritize their physical and emotional health over work that needs to be done.  You can always write a note to his teacher explaining why homework wasn’t finished (assuming that the issue is short-term).

Remember, Parents–you are not alone when it comes to after-school meltdowns.  They are so, so common! Kindergarteners are especially susceptible to them, as they’re still getting used to a full day of school.  The fact that you’re even reading this article shows that you haven’t failed as a parent, because you care about the wellbeing of your child.  

Moms and Dads, what tips would you add to this list?  How do you personally tackle after-school meltdowns?

5 Baby Products That Would Have Been Awesome for My First Baby

Happy Saturday, everyone!

If you’re an older child like me, you know how it feels to be the guinea pig.  We were the ones who endured our parents’ lack of experience.  For some of us, this meant we were sheltered from everything–no sugar, no screen time, no chewing on dad’s car keys.  Then Mom and Dad started having more kids and suddenly we were allowed to eat candy-coated cereal for breakfast, watch Saturday morning cartoons, and play in the mud.  With every child, our parents got a little more tired wiser.

Baby Sitting on White Surface

We also have to consider all of the latest research on raising children and how much advice has changed over time.  Two recent conversations come to mind: one was with my mom, and it was about how I barely remembered riding in a car seat, whereas my own children will have a booster seat until they’re at least 4’9.  The other conversation was with my pediatrician.  When I had my first child, the rule was to wait until his first birthday to introduce peanut butter.  Now the rule has changed and I can feed it to my 7-month-old (which I haven’t brought myself to do yet).  I wonder how much these guidelines will change in the next five to seven years.

When I think of the baby products on the market today, I must say that I’m relieved.  They’re so convenient!  In some ways I think I’ve grown wiser in my decision-making this time around (cue memories of a baby spa tub that went unused because we didn’t know it needed EIGHT “C” batteries).  But for the most part, I give credit to the marketplace because there are some really awesome products available right now.  What a time to have a baby!

Here are my five favorite baby products and where to find them:

 

1. Fisher-Price Sweet Snugapuppy Dreams Cradle ‘n Swing

 

This swing has been a huge life-saver.  You would think that baby #3 would be the easiest because, you know…been there, done that.  But in our case, our third child has been almost as difficult as our first.  (Yes, child #2 was our easiest, and we can try to avoid gender stereotypes all we want, but “she” caught on way faster than the other two.)  Even so, we’ve been blessed with the most patience this time around, and the Snugapuppy swing has been perhaps the single most helpful baby gadget we’ve purchased to date.  It rocks, it pivots, it plays music, and it has a mobile for baby to look at.  Baby doesn’t want to sleep?  Pop him in the swing.  He’s sick and needs to keep elevated?  The swing will give your tired arms a rest.  Much like our minivan, it was a purchase that I debated for longer than I needed to.  We use it sparingly now that baby is 7 months (and using a door bouncer) but it can hold up to 25 pounds so it’ll be a while before we store it away.

Available at Target for $119.99.

 

2. LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf

 

LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Breastfeeding Cover Ultra Soft Premium Jersey Polyester- 100% AZO free and Safe for Baby (Light Grey Pattern)

 

I don’t use these much anymore because it’s cold and I don’t often leave the house, but they were so useful to have when baby was a newborn and it was hot out.  If you’re having a late-spring or summer baby and you prefer to cover up while nursing, you need a couple of these scarves.  They are paper thin so baby doesn’t get hot, but they also give you the privacy you need.  Not only are they practical, but they’re cute, too!  They’re simple enough to pair with almost any outfit.  I wore a lot of nursing camis to stay cool, so these scarves came in handy for covering up if I was particularly engorged on that day (which happens a lot those first couple weeks!)

Available at Amazon in Blue & Grey for $9.99.

 

3. Baby Deedee Sleep Nest Wearable Blanket

Baby Deedee Sleep Nest Sleeping Sack, Warm Baby Sleeping Bag fits Newborns and Infants, Khaki, Large 18-36 Months

This puts all other sleep sacks to shame.  Once my baby could roll over, it was time to say goodbye to swaddling and hello to arm-less sleep sacks.  The transition was rough, but I wonder how different it could have been if only I’d discovered this sleep sack sooner.  It is ridiculously comfy–imagine turning a down comforter into a sleeping bag with a zipper on the front.  Might I add that the zipper glides up and down effortlessly?  It doesn’t snag at all.  Can you tell I’m obsessed?

Available at Target in Small, Medium & Large from $39.49 to $49.49.

 

4.  Bright Starts Tummy Time Prop & Play

Bright Starts Tummy Time Prop & Play

Three kids later, I’m convinced that no child enjoys tummy time…at least not at first.  I could be wrong, but it seems like it’s something that comes with repeated exposure and practice.  I didn’t bother much with tummy time with my first two, to be honest, and they turned out fine (my firstborn was a crawler) but I’ve spent more time on the floor with our youngest.  I’m just curious to see how much of a difference it makes!  I like this tummy time mat because it comes with a little pillow to prop up his chest.  He doesn’t use it anymore, but the pillow came in handy when he was still a weak little thing.  The mat has colorful ribbon tags, a mirror, and other dangly toys to keep baby interested.  Maybe we could have done without the luxury of this mat, but I feel like having another “fun” toy has helped me bond with baby.

Available at Target for $20.99.

 

5. Huggies OverNites Diapers

 

HUGGIES OverNites Diapers (Choose Size and Count)

 

Normally I would consider it a cop-out to throw diapers on a listicle, but these have been such a blessing that I had to share.  I swear my little guy pees larger amounts than his brother and sister did.  He’s also a diaper-blowout champion.  These diapers have worked for us better than any other brand.  I really like the quilted insides of Huggies–they really seem to hold everything in.  Sometimes I’m tempted to use OverNites during the day.  If only they were cheaper!

Available at Walmart, $24.27 for 92-ct. size 3.

 

Now that you know some of my favorite products, I want to hear yours!  Moms and Dads, what baby products make your job easier?

10 Realistic New Year’s Resolutions for Parents

Let’s face it: when it comes to parenting, none of us will achieve a perfect score.  Even so, every good parent tries their best (and they should) to grow for the sake of their children.  I’d wager to guess that from time to time you mull over a few tweaks you’d like to make to your own parenting strategies.  Now that the New Year is upon us and we’re in the mindset of making resolutions for 2019, here is an invitation to include parenting ideas in your planning.  Here are ten realistic resolutions to consider.

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1.   Be more present with your kids.  This is easier said than done.  Whether you stay at home with your kids or you commute to work, there’s always something on the to-do list.  As parents, we live in this tension of wanting to create happy memories for our children by spending quality time with them, but we are time-broke.  Again, it’s easy to say that housework can wait, but we feel the pressure when Monday morning comes and no one has clean underwear. Perfectionism will have us constantly re-calibrating our schedules to make it all fit somehow, but it never does.  This year, consider adopting some creative solutions to prioritizing quality time with your children: schedule one-on-one dates with each child, create an after-school space for your children to unwind and talk about their day over milk and cookies, or encourage your family to do chores together on a regular basis so that there is time in the evening to unwind over a movie or board game. (Note: training children to do chores is cumbersome at first, but it’s an investment that will pay off down the road.)

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2.  Cultivate passion.  If we pay attention, we will discover that each of our kids possesses a knack for something.  If your child loves to draw, give him the tools to exercise his craft, such as his own desk. If she loves to dance, enroll her in a class.  Maybe they will lose interest down the road, but one of the greatest gifts you can give them is the freedom to explore. (Note: don’t let them jump ship when the work gets tougher.  It’s one thing to lose interest and another to give up! It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference so we need to pay attention.)

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3.   Teach them life skills.  From cooking dinner to preparing taxes, there are a lot of skills our children will need to know someday that they won’t learn from school.  The earlier we begin teaching them, the better prepared they will be for adulthood. Consider setting aside some time every week to practice age-appropriate skills with them.  As they grow, they will feel empowered by these opportunities. Mopping a floor might be tedious for you, but to a child who has few skills it’s a means of feeling capable of achieving greater things.  

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4.   Have more adventures.  Rather than feeling tied down by your kids, invite them along for the ride.  Invest in some quality ear protection and take them to a concert or a monster truck rally.  Plan a cross-country road trip with plenty of pit stops at playgrounds (ones with potties, preferably!)  Don’t keep your parenting years in parentheses. Your next year-end memory book might be the best one yet!

bicycles-bikers-bikes-1073133

 

5.   Get active together.  When it’s nice out, go for family walks, play tennis and go camping.  In the wintertime, go sledding, teach them how to skate, or stay warm in the bowling alley.  There are so many ways to cultivate a love for exercise in children. With a little creativity and a lot of family time, staying fit can be fun! (Disclaimer: this is where I struggle the most right now, but I’ve seen other families do it successfully so I know it’s possible!)

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6.   Have a reading goal.  Personally, I believe that any child who says she doesn’t enjoy reading simply hasn’t found the right book yet!  Set a goal with your children for how many books you will read together in 2019. They will have so much fun picking out books with you and charting your progress that they won’t even realize how much they’re learning in the process.

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7.   Embrace the hard conversations.  Be prepared to talk about heavier subjects such as sex, death and faith.  Know where you stand in your opinions of these subjects. You might want to practice explaining yourself in front of the bathroom mirror, or maybe by writing in a journal or filming yourself on your phone.  Anticipate the kind of questions your children will ask and don’t be dismissive of them. Most importantly, never give your children the idea that it is wrong to ask questions. Many children have grown up angry, confused and apathetic because they were taught this.  

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8.   Get Organized. Whether it’s budgeting for a family vacation, creating a meal plan for healthier dinners, or getting rid of old and broken toys that are taking up space, now is a great time to get organized.  If we’re honest, 2019 isn’t going to be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start it off on the right foot!

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9.   Spend more time with your spouse.  Before you had kids, it was just you and your spouse.  It’s easy to get so swept up in responsibilities that the romance dies.  This year, schedule more dates together. Parenting often feels like a battleground and you want to have a unified front!  What’s more, the closer you two are, the more secure your kids will feel.

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10.   Make time for you!  I’m not talking about vegging out on the couch and scrolling through Facebook.  I’m talking about making time for hobbies that truly fill you up. It’s hard to lead on empty, and sometimes catching a late-night Netflix show doesn’t cut it.  Not only does your own well-being demand it, but your kids are watching you and learning about life balance from what you do. Do everyone a favor and remember to live your life this year.

 

Remember, parents–you’re only human.  You’re going to mess up in 2019. My recommendation?  Choose one resolution and stick to it.  No one expects you to be the perfect parent.  If you think someone else has figured out everything there is to know about this parenting thing, you’re not seeing the whole story.  Just promise me one thing: when the easier seasons come, and you see another parent struggling, don’t forget where you came from.

 

From my family to yours, have a Happy New Year!  May it be filled with babies for days!

How To Survive Bringing Your Kids to The Grocery Store

Mention taking kids to the grocery store and you’ll see every parent’s eye twitch.

We didn’t used to hate grocery shopping.  There was a time when we waddled our little pregnant bellies around the store, fawning over the little jars of baby food and stocking up on diaper supplies.  Once in a while we’d see a toddler having a meltdown in the candy aisle while a parent pretended not to notice, and we whispered to our partners, “Our kids will never act like that.”

And this is where every seasoned parents laughs until she cries.

When it comes to having young kids, the grocery store visit is a ticking time bomb.  It doesn’t matter how well-behaved your children are–there will always be that one day they didn’t take their nap or you got held up at the pediatrician’s office and lunch time is fast approaching but you don’t have any food left in the house.  Life happens!

If you are tired of fighting with your kids at the grocery store and enduring menacing stares from single people or older folks who have been out of the trenches for a while, here are some helpful tips from parents who get it.

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Technique #1: Avoid bringing your kids at all costs.

This will feel like a cop-out at first, but trust us veterans–you will NOT get a medal for taking your kids to the store!  If you’ve been struggling with your kids, first ask yourself if it’s worth it to bring them, if it’s doing your family any good.  Here are some alternatives:

  1. Have a family member or sitter watch your kids at home, and enjoy some well-deserved solo time.
  2. Bring only one child.  Being outnumbered is exhausting!  You’ll get precious one-on-one time this way, too.
  3. Order groceries online for pickup or delivery.  A lot of stores offer these services for free or with an affordable fee.  What a time to be alive!
  4. Find a grocery store that offers free onsite childcare (yes, they exist!)

 

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Technique #2: Do everything in your power to set yourselves up for success.

If you cannot avoid bringing your kids with you (I see you, single parents!) don’t despair just yet–there’s actually a lot you can do to make things go smoothly.  Here are the dangers you want to avoid and how to do so:

  1. Hunger and Thirst.  Don’t head out too close to mealtimes (you will NOT hear the end of it!)  Bring snacks and small bottles of water (I’m talking 8 oz bottles–any more than that and you’ll have other problems) or juice to give the kids one less reason to complain.  Bring yourself something as well.  You’ve been on the go all day and probably haven’t eaten much.  I’m right, aren’t I?
  2. Missing nap time.  You don’t want to head out too close to nap or bedtime, either.  Sleepy kids are harder to deal with, especially once they get that second wind.  We call it “dark energy” at our house.
  3. Potty Accidents.  Before you even grab that shopping cart, take the kids to the family restroom (or go before you leave the house if you want to avoid the public restroom scenario altogether).  Otherwise you’re going to hear, “I need to go to the bathroom!” Fifty times.  Or worse, you’ll have to clean up an embarrassed child in the middle of the store (sorry about those diaper blowouts, new moms–not much I can do for you there).  These potty visits are annoying, so just get them out of the way before you have to worry about a store attendant swiping your cart or your frozen items thawing.
  4. Boredom.  This is the biggest reason why kids act out in the store.  They pull things off the shelves, pick fights with their siblings, run away from the cart like you’re just a pawn in this game called LIFE…So try to keep your visit as brief as possible!  Make yourself a shopping list ahead of time–not only will you avoid going over-budget, but you’ll keep the cart rolling.  Once that cart stops, it’s like stepping on a land mine!

 

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Technique #3: Make grocery shopping a game.

If you have a huge grocery list, you’re gonna have to keep your kids distracted.  There’s no way around it.  Parents, I know you’re tired.  I’m tired, too.  I could walk around that whole store and not say a word to anybody.  I would take my time pondering what flavor ice cream to pick out for a late-night Netflix binge as though it were the most important decision I was going to make all week…but the kids aren’t going to let me because shopping is BORING.  They want something to do RIGHT NOW.

Fear not–here is what all the other parents are doing to stop the madness:

  1. Picture Scavenger Hunts.  Kids love to imitate their parents.  Consider bringing a scavenger hunt (with pictures) to keep them busy.  Stick with basic items like bananas and milk if your child is in preschool.  For older children, consider making it a little more challenging.  If they find everything on the list, perhaps let them pick out a treat (you might want to discuss ahead of time what kind of treats they are allowed to choose from).
  2. Make it a learning experience.  There are so many opportunities to educate your kids in the grocery store.  Practice pronouncing words with your toddler.  Help your preschooler identify the difference between healthy food and junk food.  Have your first grader read the shopping list to you.  If your children have their own money, you might consider bringing it along so that they can purchase something for themselves, such as a candy bar or small toy.  In our house, we pay the kids commissions for doing chores.  We put this money in mason jars labeled with their names, and when they’ve collected a decent amount we bring the jars into the store with us.  My oldest kids are 6 and 5, so they still have trouble remembering how much coins are worth, but we still practicing counting their money and they get to ring themselves out at self-checkout.  It’s an empowering exercise that I would encourage other parents to give a try.
  3. Put your kids to work.  Most kids are fascinated by produce scales and will greatly enjoy helping you weigh your vegetables.  Ask kids to grab items off the shelves for you.  Have them load up the belt at the register (but mind the eggs!)  They will enjoy having something to do.  Kids love having the power to make choices as well.  Ask for their advice (and take it!) as you shop: “Do you think we should buy chocolate or vanilla ice cream this week?  Should we get apples or bananas this time?”
  4. Let them have the tablet or Smartphone.  If we’re honest, a little screen time isn’t going to kill them.  If it gets you in and out of the store faster, then it’s worth it.

 

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A Few More Tips to Consider

  1. If you have a toddler, try to avoid registers that have candy within reach (some stores offer snack-free aisles).
  2. Invite a friend along for the ride.  You can divide and conquer your list (and the kids, if they aren’t getting along).  Offer to buy her a coffee as thanks.
  3. Establish rules (ex. stay within arm’s length of the cart) and enforce them. It isn’t fun to discipline kids in public but consistency is imperative!  Otherwise they’ll come to understand that the grocery store is one place where they can take advantage of you.
  4. Treat yo’self!  Parenting is hard work and sometimes we just need a little something to look forward to at the end of the day.  I’m not saying throw out your diet or your budget, but you have my permission (for what it’s worth) to get a little something just for you.

While I can’t guarantee that little Johnny won’t destroy a toilet paper tower when you turn your back, I still believe these tips will nevertheless make grocery adventures much easier for you.  If it happens, I’m not judging your parenting skills.  The bottom line here is that kids will be kids.  Embrace it!  And to the parents of the special needs child, to the parents of the foster kids, to the parents struggling to balance work and home life, to the parents who weren’t parented well and are still trying to figure things out, and to the parents who have bad days like anyone else…

I see you.

 

 

 

5 Truths I Wish I’d Known Before Child #1 Was Born

Before we became parents, we had certain expectations for what life would be like after our first child was born.  Many of those expectations came from movies and TV shows (whether or not we’d like to admit it) while others came from looking through the windows of other families and seeing what it’s been like for them.  If you are reading this because you are expecting your first child soon, then congratulations!  I am excited for you to join the ranks of parenthood and embark on the next chapter of your life story.  It’s going to be quite a ride!  To better prepare you for this adventure, here are five truths that most of us veterans wish we’d known before baby #1 came around.

A newborn baby

Truth #1: Your delivery won’t be like your mom’s — or anyone else’s for that matter.

Every woman’s body is different. Some women labor for days, while others seem to deliver in just a few hours.  There are so many factors to consider, such as genetics, age, fitness, health, position and size of your baby, and pain tolerance.  Just because your mother needed to be induced, that doesn’t mean you’ll need to be as well.  Your best bet is to create a birthing plan and practice techniques such as breathing, massaging and stretching, while keeping in mind that you might end up ditching your plan altogether (which is OK!) during delivery.  Unfortunately, you can’t predict much.

Something else to keep in mind: No one looks like a celebrity after giving birth, so  embrace the mess.  Even your baby will look gross before she gets cleaned up.  Hollywood tends to skip the whole placenta removal process (spoiler alert: they practically punch you in the stomach to get that thing out) so don’t get blindsided by that experience either.

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Truth #2: Your body will go through a lot in the next 6 to 8 weeks after delivery.

First-time parents are understandably nervous about delivery.  Rest assured, there is definitely relief when the baby’s finally out, but if you don’t know what to expect you might be a little traumatized by the things that happen to your body afterwards.

First of all, there is a lot of blood.  The nurse will help you use the restroom (if you have an epidural, you’ll wait for that to wear off before trying to stand up) and she’ll need to sort of measure how much blood is coming out of you.  You’ll wash up as best as you can and then wear postpartum diapers for a while.  Blood clots are normal during the first week and you might pass some that are as large as golf balls (anything bigger you’ll want to tell the nurse about ASAP).  The blood will lighten up over the next 6 to 8 WEEKS.  Thank God for maternity leave, right?

Your hormones will fluctuate like crazy and you might find yourself crying over little things.  “Baby blues” are normal, but your doctor will monitor you for signs of postpartum depression at your follow-up visit.  If you find that you are feeling hopeless, overwhelmed or constantly sad, let your doctor know and don’t hide these feelings from your loved ones.  Motherhood is tough and there is no shame in needing help.  You are valuable.

Your tummy will look deflated for a while.  Breastfeeding will help contract your uterus, which will almost return to normal by your postpartum visit, but these contractions can be as painful as labor (over-the-counter medications help).  Your bottom might be sore if you needed stitches after delivery or you have hemorrhoids.  I personally never experienced a c-section, but I hear those stitches can make breastfeeding a bit tricky (but there are techniques to accommodate this).

All things considered, don’t refuse any pain relief your hospital offers you.  Talk to your provider if you have any concerns about medication and breastfeeding.  This might seem like an overwhelming time but you will get through it.

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Truth #3: The urge to shake your baby is real.

No parent wants to admit that they’ve gotten this angry at their baby, but sleepless nights and incessant crying can bring out the worst in a person.  These feelings are completely normal, and so it’s best if you make a plan ahead of time for when you’re exhausted, emotional and not thinking clearly, because shaking your baby is dangerous.  Some things to keep in mind: do not touch your baby when you are angry.  Walk out of the room and let your baby cry for a little bit while you calm down.  If you have a partner, ask for help (assuming your partner isn’t angry as well).  Remind yourself that your baby is uncomfortable and has no other way of communicating his needs.  Perhaps looking at a photograph of your baby when he is content will help as well before you step back into the room.  Nap as often as possible during the day so that you are better able to handle your baby’s nighttime episodes, even if it means calling a friend to come over and help with the laundry or babysit for a while.

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Truth #4: Breastfeeding is hard.

Studies suggest that breastfeeding offers the most benefits for your baby.  Your mom breastfed, your grandmother breastfed, your great-grandmother breastfed…basically, you come from a long line of nursing mothers, and so there was no question in your mind that you would follow suit.  It comes naturally, right?

Unfortunately, no.  Although it seems like all there is to nursing is to pop the baby on and let her do her thing, there’s actually a lot that can go wrong.  The baby might not understand latching right away.  Your nipples might crack and bleed.  You can become engorged (mastitis is no walk in the park).  Medications can dry up your milk.  The list goes on and on.

But don’t be scared of nursing.  Just be sure to make time for reading quality literature on the subject ahead of time and take advantage of the hospital’s on-site lactation consultant (or call for one if you have a home birth).  There is no shame in getting help — more moms struggle with nursing than you think.

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Truth #5: You’ll mean everything to your baby.

He’s going to sleep a lot those first few weeks, but once his eyes develop a little bit more and his little body stays awake for longer periods of time, he’s going to start looking at you as though you’re the best thing that ever happened to him (and you are!).  You have permission to get lost in those big eyes instead of doing the dishes.  You might have gone through nine months of discomfort and your body might still be sore from delivery, and someday he’s going to grow up and fall in love with another woman, but for now he’s all YOURS.

This is a bond that is going to change everything you ever thought you knew about life.  Let the tears fall.  You’re going to make mistakes and he’s going to learn how to forgive you for them (when they’re small, their grace is huge).  You will always be his mother.  Embrace this messy, head-over-heels life, hold your baby tight and take the future one step at a time.

You’ve got this, Mama.