10+ ways to support a friend with a preemie

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Most parents aren’t expecting their newborn to come early or to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and when it does happen, “parents are very frightened,” says Jeanette Doherty, a social worker who specializes in the NICU at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “They’re processing a huge amount of information at once, and they also have a lot of practical needs in the background.”

That’s where friends and family come in. There are plenty of ways to make having a preemie a little bit easier on new parents.

1. Bring food, food and more food

The birthing parent will likely be spending long days in the NICU, and like anyone recovering from birth, they will be hungry. Hospital cafeterias can get old (and expensive) pretty fast, so organize a meal train with others in their community. Bring frozen pre-prepared meals to heat up at the hospital (most have microwaves), packed lunches, healthy snacks like fruit (which can be pricey and hard to come by at some hospitals), and of course some of her favourite treats. If they’re breastfeeding, chestfeeding or pumping, bake up a batch of lactation cookies or muffins. And don’t forget about their partner or family. If they have other kids at home, feed them too. After spending a long day at the hospital, cooking is the last thing that preemie parents will want to do.

2. Offer a ride

“Rides to the hospital were the best—it took away the worry of getting there or getting home,” says one NICU veteran, a mom of twins who had to spend several weeks in the hospital. Depending on where the hospital is located, they may need help with transit getting back and forth. Driving your friend provides a time for you both to catch up and they don’t have to get behind the wheel in a sleep-deprived state. You can also offer to buy her a gift card for Uber or a local taxi service.

3. Deliver diapers

Most new parents go into nesting mode before baby comes, stocking up on essentials like diapers, but if labour starts early, they may not be prepared yet and even if they are, the diapers they have will likely be too big. Buy special diapers specifically for preemies and deliver them so they’re at home when the baby goes home (the hospital will provide diapers for preemies in the NICU). Pampers Swaddlers fit babies as small as one pound, have a contour-fit core that adjusts to the hip width of growing preemies, and a notch in the front to make room for the umbilical cord. Plus, they’re made to be extra soft to protect preemie babies’ sensitive skin.

4. Make a care package

Hospital stays can be lonely, exhausting and even boring. A goodie-filled care package can make hospital life more hospitable. Doherty recommends packing it with treats (all the snacks!), a water bottle (to combat dry hospital air), face wipes, a blanket, books, magazines, a travel phone charger, a pillow, and an eye mask. Include a journal and a pen as well. “Journals have been shown to be very useful to help [parents] cope with what’s happening,” says Doherty. “Some people write letters to their babies.” A journal is also a great way to track the baby’s progress and procedures.

5. It takes a village

Life outside the hospital goes on, and parents with other kids will need as much help as they can get. Offer to take the kids on playdates, drop them off or pick them up at school (making sure you’re on an approved pickup list) or take them to and from their activities. It’s likely a stressful time for these kiddos as well, so offering them emotional support is key. Even delivering little care packages for the kids can be nice while a parent is away.

6. Help out at home

Organize to have someone clean their house, do their laundry, or walk their dog. If the baby arrived very early, offer to go over and put together a crib or finish setting up the nursery, so they don’t have to do those time-consuming chores when they arrive home.

7. Celebrate the baby

“Parents do like small gifts for their baby—they often don’t get any, as people don’t know what to do,” explains Doherty. You can shop for specialty items like preemie-safe stuffies and NICU crib cards, or even just books to read to the baby. Most preemie parents recommend against gifting baby clothes, because depending on what treatment is necessary, the baby may not be wearing any clothing at all. But if you do want to pick out something cozy, keep in mind that outfits with buttons and snaps accommodate monitors and wires better than zip-up clothing does.

8. Offer emotional support

Sometimes, friends and family who aren’t sure of what to say end up saying nothing, which can make parents feel lonely. Moms with babies in the NICU are at a higher risk for postpartum depression, says Doherty. She recommends offering an ear and kind words, but to be aware of your language. Avoid comparing babies in any way, says Doherty. It’s also worth asking new parents if they’d like to designate one friend or family member to field questions and provide updates on their behalf. “We try and reinforce that the mom’s well-being is really important—they need to be careful they’re not running themselves into the ground and spending the whole time on the phone to other people,” explains Doherty.

9. Keep up the momentum

“People don’t stop needing support after the first couple of weeks,” says Doherty. Families can spend days, weeks or even months in the hospital with a premature baby. “As it goes on, it actually gets more difficult for parents, because one partner has to return to work and the other kids in the family still need to get back to their routine,” says Doherty. The new-parent adrenaline may have run out by then, and they might need help now more than ever, as they slowly recover from birth, navigates nursing or pumping (if that’s an option), and continues to care for the new baby. Stay in touch with their friends and family and be there for them, for as long as they needs.

10. Give what you can

Having a NICU baby is not only exhausting and stressful, but it’s also expensive. Hospital parking is often very pricey, as is eating out constantly. Diapers are always appreciated and are always needed. Offer to pay for gas or parking (you could pool your money from friends), buy them gift cards for restaurants or coffee shops in or near the hospital, send them a meal delivery service credit, or buy them a gift card for a food delivery service so they can have things delivered and mix it up a bit. You can also offer to pay their phone bills or top up their data plans (there’s usually a lot of texting, calling and social media updates to keep everyone looped in). 

11. Offer, but don’t expect, to visit

Doherty says that many of the moms she works with seem to look forward to visitors as a way to break up the long days. Offer to meet your friend for a coffee at the hospital. “But I would never ask to see the baby,” she adds. Do not show up unannounced—most babies (and moms) are on a strict schedule of feeding, changing and pumping, so keep that in mind if you want to visit. Your friend probably does want to see you, but timing is tricky. Never visit if you are at all sick, as newborns and preemies are vulnerable to viruses. (Don’t bring your germy preschooler to the hospital, either.)

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We need to talk about postpartum psychosis

Tima’s* experience with motherhood was unlike anything she could have imagined. The Toronto-based new mom knew about the postpartum period and expected her body to change. What she didn’t anticipate was how simply giving birth could cause her to lose her mind.

Tima couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. “I thought the police were watching me with cameras,” she said. She saw police cars everywhere and even told police she knew they were out to kill her.

Postpartum psychosis has been at the root of some high-profile tragedies involving mothers taking the lives of their children. But not everyone knows that the condition has a name, or that it is highly treatable; public awareness of the condition can prevent not only a mental health crisis but suicide and infanticide.

We talked to an expert to learn more about this condition.

What is postpartum psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis is a severe mental illness that causes a complete break with reality. “Psychosis only occurs in one or two out of every thousand women who give birth,” says Dr. Diana Lynn Barnes, a psychologist specializing in perinatal mood disorders at the Center for Postpartum Health in Los Angeles. “About four percent of those women will commit infanticide, and five percent will commit suicide.”

For these reasons, postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency that usually requires immediate hospitalization.

What are the symptoms of postpartum psychosis?

“It’s a sudden onset illness,” says Barnes. “Generally speaking, we start to see symptoms within the first month.”

The main symptoms that characterize postpartum psychosis are:

Hallucinations: These can be visual, auditory, olfactory and/or tactile sensations that are real to the person experiencing them.

Delusions: A patient with psychosis may develop false beliefs that are not grounded in reality. Such beliefs cannot be changed even in the face of factual evidence.

Cognitive disorganization: Psychosis often causes irrational thoughts, confusion and disorientation.

People with postpartum psychosis can also experience extreme agitation, insomnia, feelings of detachment, memory loss and extreme mood fluctuations.

Too often, the terms postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are used interchangeably, especially by the media. “While postpartum psychosis falls under the umbrella of perinatal illness, it’s not even in the same ballpark,” says Barnes. For those concerned, the difference is simple: “Once you see [hallucinations], then you’re talking about postpartum psychosis. You’re not talking about depression.”

When it came to Tima’s symptoms, she never doubted the police cars she saw everywhere were real and as a result never entertained the notion she could be ill. It’s when she hallucinated and saw her deceased grandfather coming toward her, that she became really scared. “I thought that I was going to die. I thought it was the end of the world and it was time for me to die,” she says.

In terms of her delusions, Tima experienced several simultaneously. And though her husband was the first to recognize that Tima was ill and tried his hardest to convince her to get help, his efforts only worsened her delusions.

“I thought that my husband was trying to kill me,” says Tima. Fully convinced of that delusion—which she now acknowledges couldn’t be further from reality—she called the police on him. While staying with friends in the aftermath, Tima grew frightened of her worsening hallucinations. They urged her to seek help, which is what finally pushed her to go to a hospital.

What are the risk factors for this kind of psychosis?

“Any psychotic illness or an illness with psychotic features is a significant risk factor,” says Barnes. This includes a history of bipolar, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or major depression with psychotic features in oneself or even one’s extended family.

Having a history of trauma is an additional risk factor, adds Barnes, noting that some kinds of trauma “can cause brain damage [and/or] central nervous system damage.”

Sleep deprivation is another potential risk factor Barnes says to keep in mind. “One thing people have to be aware of is the importance of sleep hygiene after giving birth.

While such risk factors do make an individual more prone to postpartum psychosis, about 50 percent of women who experience postpartum psychosis have no previous history of mental illness.

What is the treatment for postpartum psychosis?

Hospitalization is initially needed for women experiencing the symptoms of postpartum psychosis, to quickly stabilize them. “We want to protect them, and we want to protect their babies,” says Barnes.

Once stabilized, many patients then begin a medication and psychotherapy regimen, the latter to address the emotional issues that may have contributed to the psychosis. Psychotherapy can also help the patient deal with the trauma of the illness, and their sadness over lost time with their newborn.

How long does postpartum psychosis last?

Postpartum psychosis typically emerges within the first month after giving birth. While it’s possible for the condition to resolve on its own, it is never advisable to leave it untreated, given the potential for infanticide and suicide.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the acute symptoms can last anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks, and a full recovery can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months.

How to support a partner with postpartum psychosis

Supporting a partner with postpartum psychosis should begin before one even embarks on parenthood. “There’s a tendency not to want to think about these things during pregnancy. It’s kind of like, ‘That’s not going to happen,’” says Barnes. Foresight, she says, is the first line of defence against postpartum psychosis: “Know your risks. Educate yourselves and your family.”

Her second piece of advice for partners is to not overlook concerning signs, and to seek out help from a health professional who specializes in perinatal mental health disorders.

Lastly, Barnes says, families should not hesitate or be afraid to take a loved one to the hospital. “If you’re worried that your partner or your daughter or your daughter-in-law is suffering with psychosis, it’s really important that you be in a safe place [with them],” adds Barnes. With a severe condition like postpartum psychosis, that action alone could prove life-saving.

* Name has been changed

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What causes low milk supply?

If you’re thinking about quitting breastfeeding/chestfeeding because you aren’t making enough milk for your baby, you aren’t alone. Low milk supply is one of the most common reasons new parents stop nursing and transition to bottle feeding.

There’s nothing wrong with formula feeding. But in my experience as a nurse and a lactation consultant, I’ve seen new parents perceive their milk supply as insufficient when it actually wasn’t. I’ve also seen many cases where a mom’s supply was indeed low, but could be increased relatively easily. If you’re about to give up breastfeeding because of low supply, but wish you didn’t have to, read on.

Possible causes of low milk supply

As a lactation consultant, how do I determine a client’s milk supply levels? I start by taking a detailed health history, asking questions to determine if there are existing health factors that could be impacting supply. For example, labour induction, epidurals, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, breast hypoplasia, breast surgeries, low iron, thyroid disorders, PCOS or obesity could all potentially have an impact.

It’s also important to determine how the baby is behaving during and after breastfeeding. Is the baby satisfied with relaxed arms and hands at the end of the feed? Are they having the appropriate number of wet and dirty diapers, is the baby sleeping well in between feeds, is jaundice decreasing, is the baby gaining weight appropriately?

Next, I perform a test weight, weighing the baby before and after breastfeeding to determine how much milk they drank when feeding. I never rely on the numbers alone, though. I also pay close attention to how the baby is positioned, latching, swallowing and the overall quality of the feed. After observing the entire breastfeeding session, it is time to create a feeding plan that supports the family’s feeding goals while helping to manage any milk supply concerns.

The “fourth trimester” can be stressful, so I never neglect possible internal barriers to successful breastfeeding, such as mental health, lack of education or lack of informed feeding choices. Things like stress, postpartum depression or anxiety can affect the release of the hormone oxytocin, which allows for milk let-down. When a mother feels relaxed, her oxytocin and prolactin will remain at therapeutic levels, enabling her milk to flow and be remade. External factors that can impact supply include scheduling feeds, separation at birth, maternal stress, waiting for your baby to cry before feeding and bottle-feeding unnecessary supplements.

When low milk supply actually isn’t

There are all sorts of things that can seem like symptoms of low milk supply, but often aren’t. For example, most newborns feed 10-12 times per day, plus periods of cluster feeding. This is the normal way for the baby to support the build-up and regulation of the milk supply, but some new parents assume their baby is eating so often because they aren’t getting enough at each feed.

A breast pump is a poor indicator of milk production. Babies are more efficient than the pump and will do a much better job of pulling out milk. It should not be your go-to guide for whether or not you are producing a sufficient milk supply. Other things that can seem like signs you don’t have enough milk, but usually aren’t: Your breasts don’t feel “full,” they don’t leak (or have stopped leaking), or you don’t feel the let-down (or never did). Remember, softer breasts mean they contain creamier/fattier milk.

You aren’t alone

The most important thing to remember while on your breastfeeding journey is that you aren’t alone. Online and in real life, there are resources and support available, no matter your stage of parenthood. Motherhood already comes with its challenges but if we work to remove the shame and guilt of milk supply struggles and encourage access to external resources, a mother and her baby have one less barrier to face.

Leanne Rzepa, RN BN IBCLC, is the founder of Nourish Lactation Consulting, a Calgary-based breastfeeding support and education company that supports new mothers and families with a range of tools and services to help families establish skills, resolve feeding challenges and achieve breastfeeding goals.

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Why I quit being a baby sleep consultant

I knew nothing about baby sleep before I became a mom.

Throughout my pregnancy, I spent countless hours reading about the stuff I thought was most important: pregnancy, birth, postpartum recovery, nutrition, milestones, education, speech… Pretty much everything except sleep. I naively assumed that, after a few weeks, my baby would naturally start sleeping longer stretches, and those 3 a.m. wake-ups would naturally fade away. (Spoiler: They didn’t.) In fact, it wasn’t until my son was three months old that I learned from another mom about the concept of a “wake window.” This ignited the beginning of my journey to learn all there was to know about baby and toddler sleep. I became passionate about helping other parents find sleep, completed a sleep-consulting certification and launched my small business, marketing primarily through social media.

I really enjoyed building my sleep-focused Instagram account, publishing daily posts and stories about sleep tricks and tips, while also sharing my own personal experiences of the ups and downs of my child’s sleep journey. I revelled in being able to help other parents improve their child’s sleep, and ultimately their own, as finding sleep with a baby can sometimes feel like trying to locate the holy grail. I loved being able to work with parents to find what worked best for their families. Sometimes that meant reassuring them that they weren’t “ruining their baby” or “creating crutches” by rocking or nursing them to sleep. Other times it meant teaching parents how to use sleep training methods, reminding them there was zero shame in doing so. It was never my place to judge what a family decided to do, I was simply there to support and guide them.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that the world of baby sleep was a very divided, and ultimately, toxic one. When I would share a post about safe co-sleeping practices, I’d receive comments and private messages about how I should be ashamed of myself for condoning unsafe practices and endangering babies. But when I would share a post about sleep-training methods to encourage babies to sleep alone in their cribs, I’d receive an equal number of comments and messages about how I should, once again, be ashamed of myself for condoning unsafe practices and endangering babies. It began to feel like no matter what I posted or how non-judgemental I tried to be, I would be bombarded with hate. I would get daily messages from strangers telling me that I simply could not believe in co-sleeping while also believing it’s acceptable to sleep train.

I knew that having a public social media account would open me up to criticism. Still, after about a year, I decided to quit sleep consulting. I still find the endless knowledge on social media about baby sleep quite fascinating, but it also comes with strong and fierce opinions, ones I was tired of navigating and defending. The constant need to explain my eclectic and wide approach to baby sleep, which I was so proud of, no longer brought me the joy it once did.

I’m still grateful for my time as a sleep consultant. Interestingly, working in the field allowed me to see the importance of, and gain a passion for, something outside of baby sleep: compassionate and supportive parenting, which is the new focus of my social media account (which you can find here, if you’re curious). I am passionate about parenting from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than judgement and intolerance, to model for our children that we can take different paths, but still support each other in the process. So whether you co-sleep or sleep train, use purees or baby-led weaning, gentle parenting practices or Triple P, know that you are supported in deciding what is best for your family.

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Schools are finally starting to install lactation pods and we love it

Breastfeeding openly in public isn’t considered too scandalous these days. Even Pope Francis encouraged moms to openly nurse in the chapel a few years back, after a long history of forcing them into the bathroom to feed their little ones.

But it wasn’t always like that. It used to be pretty common for moms to be shamed for breastfeeding if they weren’t fully covered up. Several years ago, after a few high-profile incidents where mothers were asked to leave a public space while breastfeeding, the City of Toronto launched a campaign to let people know that breastfeeding is a human right, and it made a big difference.

Still, despite the growing awareness of breastfeeding and chestfeeding, and a growing openness to the fact that babies need to eat, whether by bottle or breast, it’s not always easy for parents to find a comfortable spot to feed their babies or pump milk away from home. For students, who often don’t have the same opportunities to stay home on parental leave with their infants, comfortable places to feed their babies or pump milk can be especially important.

The University of Toronto, Mississauga (UTM) campus is working to address this gap. It recently became the second post-secondary institution in Canada (after Toronto’s Humber College) to offer a Mamava lactation pod to its students.

You may have seen a lactation pod before, maybe in an airport or a retail store. They’re freestanding spaces that provide a clean, comfortable and private option to breastfeed or pump.

While U of T already offers a number of identified spots for feeding and pumping on all three campuses, the options aren’t always inviting or accessible. Often, the suggested locations are tied to 9-5 office hours, so they are not helpful for many students, including those attending evening classes. For parents who are pumping milk, doing so in public may feel a bit more awkward, requiring equipment and an electrical outlet.

“Pre-COVID, we had a pressing request to find resources almost immediately for a student, because we didn’t have any spaces available in the evening,” says Kaye Francis, manager of the Family Care Office, in a recent article on the University’s website. “We started looking for new options.” The pod is open to students, staff and even those visiting campus for workshops or meetings.

The installation of the Mamava pod is another step forward in UTM’s commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all. Of course, one pod in one location is just a start, says Jennifer Hartman, of the office of communications at UTM. “As students have been gradually returning to campus since February 2022, this year will provide us with more information about reactions to the pod and frequency of pod use,” she says. “The need for additional pods (at UTM or one of the other two campuses) will be determined based on use of this pod and feedback from the university community.”

The Mamava pod aims to be comfortable, and it offers full privacy, is wheelchair accessible, and features two benches, electrical outlets, a mirror, lighting, shelves, a Bluetooth SmartLock and a charging station. Access is free and is controlled by the Mamava app, available on the App Store or Google Play, which means it is designed for autonomous access. No appointment is necessary, and access is on a first-come, first-served basis, with notifications via the app letting you know when the unit becomes available.

Breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents should be allowed to feed their babies or pump milk whenever and wherever they want, but everyone is different and some still prefer complete privacy. Pods like UTM’s give parents more options and more flexibility. Post-secondary schools across Canada, take note!

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Postpartum depression almost killed me. Here’s how I survived

After my first was born in 2019, I experienced the typical “baby blues” that up to 80 percent of moms struggle with. I’d find myself randomly crying during episodes of The Price is Right. So when I got pregnant with my second, I was prepared for the same experience—although I hoped for better, feeling confident about knowing what was coming this time around.

After a challenging pregnancy, I was relieved to go into labour at 41 weeks and had a positive birth experience. In fact, so positive that we checked out of the hospital only eight hours after the baby was born and went out for breakfast at the local diner. I was feeling great and high on life.

On my third day postpartum, however, a thought randomly popped into my mind, seemingly out of nowhere: “You’re not capable of handling this.” From that moment on, I spiralled mentally into the darkest and most difficult time of my life. By day five, I reluctantly confessed to my partner that I had not only thoughts but an actual plan to take my own life. An hour later, I was in the hospital, being cared for by nurses and the emergency psychiatric team. Throughout it all, I just kept thinking to myself, “How did this happen”?

Over the next few weeks, I struggled greatly to see light at the end of the tunnel, to find any possible way out of the terrifyingly dark thoughts that consumed every moment of the day and made sleeping nearly impossible. Yet today, at four months postpartum, I can confidently share that I am happier than I’ve been in years and very much enjoying this new journey and stage of motherhood.

Photo: Courtesy of Kathryn Ross

If you’re in a dark place, I promise there’s a path out of it. Here’s what I would tell any parent in the depths of postpartum depression—because these are things that helped me survive.

1. Tell someone

The hardest moment for me was recognizing that I wasn’t just thinking about ending my life, but was planning it. Because I work in the mental health field, I knew how serious this was, so I pushed myself to tell my partner and parents, as hard as it was to admit it. Whether you have thoughts or a plan, tell someone.

2. Accept help

I took pride in doing it all on my own. However, I needed to completely let go of this pride and accept any and all help from family and friends. It left me feeling guilty and vulnerable, but I knew it was the best thing for my family and recovery.

3. Ask for help

While some people may instinctively recognize what you need, most want to help but don’t know how. It took a lot of courage and vulnerability for me to reach out to friends and family for help, but I know I would’ve done the same for them and pushed myself to let go of this guilt.

4. Be open to various treatment options

Everyone has their different levels of comfort with the treatment options for postpartum depression and the idea of medication while breastfeeding made me nervous. Ultimately, I decided that I needed it as a part of my treatment plan and I am grateful for that decision. Medication is not for everyone, but I believe it was important for me to be open to it and remove the stigma attached to it.

5. Journal

One of the key treatments for postpartum depression is sleep, but I found myself lying awake at night with a thousand thoughts rolling through my mind. Before going to sleep each night, I would journal and write down every thought in my mind without judgment or hesitancy. Writing these down, helped to externalize the thoughts rather than let them fester inside.

6. Take some time alone

I remember regularly feeling like I had lost myself. It helped to have small moments where I was on my own, outside of being a mother, even if that meant a five-minute walk with our dog.

7. Know the symptoms

When we have a cough and stuffy nose, we recognize these as symptoms of a cold and don’t assume these are everlasting. The same goes for postpartum depression. Thoughts such as I need to run away, I am a terrible mother or I will never get better are symptoms of postpartum depression, not facts.

8. Take it one moment at a time

I’m a planner and love to think weeks and months ahead, but in the depths of my PPD, that simply wasn’t possible. I found it difficult to even plan tasks for later that day. I started focusing on one moment at a time: “I’m going to get out of bed,” “I’m going to change my clothes,” “I’m going to wash my face.” This allowed me to go through the day without mental spiralling.

9. Try positive self-talk

When those dark thoughts would rear their ugly head and tell me I was incapable, I would say to myself out loud a hundred times a day, “you can do this”.

10. Exercise in the daylight

Initially, the idea of exercise felt extremely far-fetched. Even leaving my dark room felt impossible. However, the endorphins we can get from a short walk and daylight are extremely helpful. I started with simply sitting in a room that had daylight, and ultimately set the goal of going outside for a short walk each day.

11. Celebrate small wins

While a win with my first baby was going for my first five-kilometre walk, wins with my second were things like showering, eating and genuine laughing. Celebrate those, as the small wins ultimately become big ones.

12. Know that this too shall pass

You will get through this and better days are ahead. It’s essential to believe that, even if every fibre of your being is telling you it’s not true. I would rate each day out of a ten, most days being a 0 or 1, but ultimately that 1 became a 2 and that 2 a 3, until I found myself feeling like “me” again. I also reminded myself that postpartum depression aside, having a newborn is tough, and I deserve some grace, and so do you. You are doing a great job.

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This hospital hair salon is pampering NICU parents in the sweetest way

Becoming a parent can be a big and scary adjustment even when labour and delivery go smoothly, and it’s made all the more difficult for parents of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (or NICU). Having spent time there herself, Sarah Pulley is trying to make the lives of NICU parents just a little easier by pampering them at her hospital hair salon.

That’s right, Riley Children’s Health in Indiana has launched a “beauty bar” in one of the hospital’s two family rooms, offering hair services to the parents of NICU babies. Pulley, who owns the local salon Three Seventeen Hair Design, jumped at the opportunity to spearhead the initiative. Along with volunteering her own hairstyling skills, she donated a chair from her salon and got her distributor to donate more than $150 USD in hair care products.

Photo: Courtesy of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana

“We are very familiar with those walls,” the 34-year-old told Today Parents when talking about her own experience at Riley, where her daughter Amelia was transferred after contracting a virus as a newborn—spending a total of four months between two different NICUs.

After becoming intimately aware of the stress and hardships that parents with NICU children face, Sarah became a volunteer in the hospital’s Ronald McDonald House Family Room last year, where she helped to open the Beauty Bar this past September.

Hospital family rooms are one of three programs that Ronald McDonald House Charities has in place to help families with sick children. They also provide mobile health services that visit communities directly, and housing facilities for families that are located near hospitals.

At Riley, the Beauty Bar gives parents of high-risk babies some well-deserved rest in a nap pod, a chance to decompress in a HydroMassage chair, and lots of fresh fruit and granola bars to snack on.

Photo: Courtesy of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana

And a few times a month, Pulley gives a little extra self-care to postpartum moms and their partners. “We shampoo, blow dry and give scalp massages on the second Wednesday of each month,” she said, explaining that in the NICU “you completely lose all sense of yourself.” So having a little space where you can take care of yourself and even get a little pampered goes a long way.

“There’s something about the connection between moms and the power of touch,” Pulley added, explaining that her time at the Beauty Bar is just as special for her as it is for the parents she helps.

She also believes that sharing her story can give comfort to parents who are struggling. “There is hope in my story because my daughter is thriving,” she explained, offering other parents with kids in the NICU a few words of encouragement: “You’ve got this.”

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Will a “Marie Curie” Halloween costume make your daughter a master of STEM?

An unavoidable quirk of modern parenting is the nonstop stream of research and “findings” that make their way into our parent group chats and news feeds. That’s why Today’s Parent is compiling monthly roundups of the studies we think are worthy of your limited—and therefore precious—attention.

Mother of Modern Dress-Up: Girls who role played as trailblazing physicist Marie Curie maintained a significantly longer interest in a STEM “sink-or-float” activity than their female peers who were merely exposed, or had zero exposure, to the story of the woman whose discoveries led to the development of radiology. Researchers used methods like asking the female role players, “What’s your prediction, Dr. Marie?” and found those participants spent twice as long engaged in the activity as their “civilian” peers. (Psychological Science)

Executive Malfunction: We know, we know. Another day, another screen-time shame spiral. Now researchers are saying toddlers who spent less than 60 minutes a day with screens AND had daily physical activity were significantly better at “executive function” a term that describes a number of cognitive characteristics, among them, memory and concentration, goal-setting and achieving, and behavioural regulation. Someone should make an app for that! (Journal of Pediatrics)

They are what you eat: Wonder why your toddler only wants plain macaroni with butter? Was that, perhaps, a pregnancy craving of yours? One study advanced the existing hypothesis that babies develop tastes for certain foods while in the womb by watching, via 4D ultrasounds, the facial expressions of fetuses being “fed” certain foods. Kale babies made distinctive cry faces; carrot babies showed a kind of delight. The researchers now hope to study whether repeated exposure to the “yucky” food changes over time, or if parents will be stuck eternally staring across the table at that stink-face. (Psychological Science)

Trust your gut: Researchers see a link between antibiotics administered to newborns and lasting gastrointestinal complications and disorders later in life. Antibiotics are frequently given to neonates, particularly preemies or those with a low birth weight, not just to fight infection but to prevent it, too. Testing on neonate mice, the scientists found that by 6 weeks (early adulthood for mice), the antibiotics had caused an imbalance to the gut biome, which “increased susceptibility to various diseases including allergy, obesity and inflammatory bowel diseases later in life.” (Journal of Physiology)

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How to set up a Montessori nursery

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Setting up a nursery or playroom? Think beyond the crib and the toy storage and consider the kind of environment you want to create. The Montessori approach encourages play-based learning in organized spaces with simple, minimal decor. Create a Montessori playroom at home by following these simple guidelines. 

What is the Montessori philosophy?

The Montessori method focuses on self-direction, hands-on learning and collaborative play. “Montessori is a child-centred philosophy of education,” says Valery Brown, a Toronto-based Montessori teacher. “We believe that children learn best through engaging all five senses as well as providing outlets for gross motor movement while they learn. Arguably, the most important aspect of a Montessori education is gaining independence with practical life skills through repeating real tasks.”

Montessori playroom basics

Montessori playrooms are organized, child-friendly, geared for learning and they promote independence. A simple tidy space allows kids to explore their activities deeper, helping with concentration and mastering skills. In general, a Montessori playroom:

has a limited number of toys/activities that promote engagement over entertainment
has everything displayed at the child’s level and a place for each item
includes open space, and
is a comfortable space your child enjoys

Keep it minimal

Instead of having all of your kids’ toys in the playroom, Brown recommends using a “toy library” where you rotate different toys every one to two weeks. She recommends displaying toys neatly on low shelves to keep everything within the child’s reach and encourages the use of natural materials, like wood, metal or even glass and ceramics in toys and decor. Brown suggests storing toys in baskets or on trays so they look nice and neat. “Show examples for caring for the environment and the things in it by using respect, care and caution when handling them.”

Look for open-ended Montessori toys

Seek out toys that are versatile and high quality. “An open-ended toy can be used in a variety of different ways through your child’s play depending on their imagination, creativity and interest,” Brown explains. Take Lily & River’s Little Matchables set that explores shapes, colours, memorization and fine motor skills. For young children, Brown recommends toys that focus on one skill at a time, for instance, stacking blocks for hand-eye coordination or a Pikler triangle climber for gross motor development. 

Play mats are key

Play mats are an essential tool in a Montessori room. “We believe children should not be confined to learning at a desk,” explains Brown. “They need movement to support their learning and activity mats allow them to sprawl, lay or sit cross-legged while they work.” Play mats also define work spaces from play spaces. “The play mat says: ‘This is my space, and this is how I respect and honour the activity I am using,’” she says. Check out Wee Gallery’s forest play mat.

Consider a climber

Climbing can help children with spatial awareness, muscle development, gross motor skills and academic enhancement in memory, higher levels of concentration and mood stability. Wooden climbers like Lily & River’s Little Dome or All Circles’ PlayBox Little Climber both offer compact indoor climbing fun. “Giving children the freedom to climb grows their bodies, their brains, their abilities, their problem-solving skills and even their social skills,” says Brown. “It’s one of the best ways to let kids use their energy.”

Promote self-sufficiency

Only include items that your child can use themselves so they don’t need to rely on your help. “For example, if you have craft supplies or art materials, don’t put things the child is not able to use and clean up on their own in their reach,” advises Brown. For example, All Circles’ Little Board + Cutter is perfect for kids to slice play-doh or slime independently or to help prepare food for snack time. 

Incorporating these aspects will help you create an interactive play and learning space in your home. Shop more playroom essentials, from Peeka & Co., a curated marketplace for modern parenting values.

Wee Gallery Canvas Growth Chart

Tiny Tales 12-piece Montessori Tools

Toki Mats Padded Play Mat

All Circles PlayArch – Wooden Climber and Rocker


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Lyrics to Brahms Lullaby

Even if you didn’t know there were lyrics to Brahm’s lullaby—or just didn’t know the name of the song—you’ve definitely heard this recognizable melody. Maybe you’ve hummed it to coax your own baby to sleep.

Sometimes referred to as “Lullaby and Goodnight” or “Cradle Song,” Brahms’ lullaby is officially named “Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht,” Op. 49 No. 4, and was written by, well, Johannes Brahms (thus it’s widely known common name).

According to CBC, the German composer wrote the lullaby as a gift to “the one who got away”—former flame Bertha Faber—on the occasion of the birth of her second child (which she named Johannes). The composition is a kind of love letter, as it contains a counter-melody to a German folk song that Faber sang to Brahms on their long walks together while they were dating.

Since 1868, when it was first published, Brahams’ lullaby has been one of the most famous songs for children, and there’s no question why. The gentle rocking rhythm and soft melody is the perfect sleepytime tune and definitely one to add to your bedtime routine.

Lullaby and good night, with roses bedight,
With lilies o’er spread is baby’s wee bed.
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed.
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed.

Lullaby and good night, thy mother’s delight.
Bright angels beside my darling abide.
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast.
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast.

This article was originally published online in July 2013.


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