Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby's Plagiocephaly Helmet

Here’s a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed a plagiocephaly helmet for your bundle of joy.

We knew our son’s head shape was “not quite right” when he was born. He was born at 35 weeks, and he had a moment of performance anxiety during the birth, which resulted in him getting stuck.
That was fun.
The combination of his early arrival (and even softer head than a full-term newborn) and his period of “stuckness” resulted in him being born with a flat head, or if you want to be fancy about it, “Plagiocephaly.” We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also born with “Torticollis” which is a stiff neck muscle. It meant he could only turn his head to one side.
Because we are avid rule abiders in this house, we followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. We put bubs to bed on his back for every sleep and nap. So slowly over the first weeks of his life, his soft little head pressing down on his firm little mattress got progressively flatter and flatter – not only on the back, but on the one side that his head naturally turned to. It now turned this way not only because of his stiff neck (we’d started doing stretches, so that was improving), but also then because of the flat spot. Think of it as cutting a segment out of an orange – the orange is always going to roll towards the flat surface and stay there.
I am a Googler (aren’t all of us new parents?), so I was pretty reassured when I saw that flat spots were pretty common and that “Plagiocephaly” is the most common craniofacial problem today (partly due to the safe sleeping guidelines – though it is infinitely better to have a baby with a flat head than one who can’t breathe, so I am definitely not advocating going against the guidelines). When I started attending a community “Mother’s Group” they covered Plagiocephaly. This was also reassuring, as a few other mums in the group raised their hands with similar concerns to me. So, I was feeling pretty good until the midwife caught side of the side of my son’s head while we were having tea and biscuits after the meeting and said, “that’s actually a really remarkable case,” turning his head this way and that. Remarkable, really? I appreciated her candor, but I definitely started worrying again then.
She gave me a card of an Orthopedist who could assess my son and perhaps prescribe a “Plagiocephaly Helmet.” The helmet’s purpose is to alleviate pressure from the flat spots, allowing the skull to grow into the spaces provided inside the helmet – they make a cast of your baby’s head first, so the spaces in the helmet match the flat spots in your baby’s head. She said she wasn’t supposed to give out the contact information, because some doctors in our area did not agree with the helmets and thought they were a waste of time and money (they thought the problem would fix itself with time). I’ll never know, because my anxious personality propelled me towards this Orthopedist’s office as fast as my legs could take me (not that fast actually, as I was also dragging along a four-month-old).
The Orthopedist certainly did prescribe a helmet. He made the cast right there during the first appointment, and I’ve made a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed one for your bundle of joy.

1 | They are not super cheap, considering they are mostly foam

Our helmet set us back $500. I guess this is why some doctors will advise against them if they do feel the problem will correct itself in time. I felt it was worth it for us, for the peace of mind of knowing we were doing everything we could at the time. Also, this cost included all follow-up appointments and adjustments to the helmet every month (as his head changed shape) so it is actually pretty reasonable when you look at it like that.

2 | It is not about cosmetics

You may think it is a little over the top for me to have gotten so worked up about the fact that my baby would have a bit of a flat head. My main concerns were not cosmetic (though of course I don’t want him to look funny!) – I was thinking about stuff like him not being able to wear glasses comfortably (both hubby and I do, so it is pretty likely he will need them), or even sunglasses. Or not being able to wear safety helmets or hard hats without having specially made ones. This may not be an issue if the flat spot was just on the back, but because his head was asymmetrical (the flatness was on the back and one side) it would have been.

3 | They are not as uncomfortable as they look

I have to go by observation on this one, because my four-month-old didn’t actually turn around to me and say “hey, this isn’t so bad.” He wore his helmet 23 hours a day. It was only off to clean it and to give him a bath. He slept in it, and his sleep did not change or regress. He was a happy, giggly baby, and didn’t really even seem to have a major adjustment period to it. It was really, truly, so fine. And when he got it off, he adjusted well to that too.

4 | The earlier the better

The earlier the helmet is on, the shorter time period it needs to be on and the more effective it is. My son was in his helmet from four months old until about eight months old. This is around the earliest it can go on. Helmets are believed to work best between approximately the ages of five months and eight months. There was another young boy who came to the office who had gotten his helmet on much later, and it was on for ages longer and didn’t end up working as well. This is apparently to do with how fast our son’s skull bones fuse together and the head being more malleable at an earlier age.

5 | You may get some looks

Everywhere I went during the months of the helmet, I felt like I was being stared at. I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were staring because it looks so damn cute (it really does). They were also probably wondering what it was for, as the helmets aren’t super common where I live. Strangers were nice to me – they offered to let me go first in queues, asked how I was doing, or asked to carry things for me.
Sometimes people would ask what was “wrong” with my son. My usual answer was that “it’s just on to reshape his wonky head.” I would play it cool, but sometimes my feelings were quite hurt when they said that. Some people told me that they thought my son had a mental disability, or a developmental disorder and it was on for protection (for head banging). I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit self-conscious.

6 | You do miss the unrestricted snuggles and nuzzling against your baby’s head

This was the main thing I was excited for when I learned he could take his helmet off – the head nuzzles! Until then, we did lots of head nuzzling at bath-time, and at other times we snuggled him through the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of a hard block of foam on your face. He still felt cozy, warm, and snuggly, I’m sure.  It was just us who were a tad more uncomfortable! Worth it!

7 | If you don’t clean the helmet every day, it will smell

All you have to do is wipe it down using rubbing alcohol and a cotton wool ball once a day (before bath time, so it has that half an hour to dry before he gets back into it). Leave it for a day and suffer the stench!

8 | You will get creative with tummy time

Even though the helmet is on, which relieves the pressure off the flat spots, we are still told to pay attention to positioning. So, stretches to help move his heads both ways, repositioning his  head on their mattresses, and tummy time – lots of tummy time! If the child doesn’t like it (ours didn’t at first) this can be a challenge. We had to think of lots of ways to make it fun – think plastic sandwich bags filled with paint for him to squish, mirrors, music, blow up balls, and lying down with him making funny faces. It is actually quite fun to think of ways to extend the time they spend on their belly. And you get to lie down for a minute too!

9 | You will miss it when it’s gone – a bit

This is similar to when you see someone you are close to without their glasses on. It just doesn’t look like “them” for a while, as you get used to its absence. Sure, we saw the “real him” every night at bath time, but he always looked just a little bit naked (that’s a bad example because he was in the bath, but you get the idea). It probably took a good two weeks for us to not feel like something was “missing.”

10 | It isn’t so bad

It’s just a few months, which pass by in the blink of an eye in infancy. It’s a bit of a cost, but that includes everything. The babies aren’t affected by it physically or emotionally, and it really doesn’t affect their mood or sleep or anything (at least in our experience, and in talking to other helmet parents).
The best part: It worked! My son now has a perfectly asymmetrical, round head. He is none the worse for wear.

Why Your Response to Your Baby's Cries Are Hardwired

A new study found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers.

Few things tear up my nerves as much as hearing my baby cry in the car. It doesn’t seem to matter if my infant is fed, freshly diapered, and otherwise content – the second I strap him into his car seat, he falls apart, and sometimes I do, too, because what’s worse than hearing your baby wail but not being able to stop it? After failed attempts to soothe him from the front seat, I end up white-knuckling the steering wheel, with my heart racing fast and my mind made up that I’m never leaving the house again. It goes against every instinct I have not to pick up my poor baby, but of course I can’t hold him in the car (which is why he’s crying in the first place).
Turns out there’s a valid reason for my car-ride stress. In a new study from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), researchers found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers. The study team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct behavioral and brain-imaging studies on a group of 684 new mothers in the following 11 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States. In the study:

“…Researchers observed and recorded one hour of interaction between the mothers and their 5-month-old babies at home. The team analyzed whether mothers responded to their baby’s cries by showing affection, distracting, nurturing (like feeding or diapering), picking up and holding, or talking. Regardless of which country they came from, mothers were likely to pick up and hold or talk to their crying infant.”

Moreover, the team discovered through fMRI studies of other groups of women that hearing infant cries activated similar brain regions in both new and experienced mothers. The crying stimulated their supplementary motor area, linked to the intention to move and speak; the inferior frontal regions, related to the production of speech; and the superior temporal regions, associated with sound processing.
According to these findings, my urgent impulse to jump in the backseat of the car, scoop up my baby, and calm him with kisses is a hard-wired response (but also, obviously, a terrible idea). When we’re not in the car, however, this need to console my baby, driven by parts of my brain related to movement and speech, is beneficial, since babies need attentive caregivers for healthy development. This study could thus help professionals better understand, identify, and help people at risk of being inattentive or harmful caregivers to young children.
The consistency of behavior and underlying brain activity in the study sample made up of women from all over the world suggests that mothers have an intrinsic response to their babies’ crying. So I guess I can’t blame the anxiety it causes me (solely) on my high-strung nature, or the intense child-centric society in which I live. I suppose I also can’t blame my husband for putting headphones on in the car when the crying gets to be too much, because what this study has also done is expand upon previous research showing how the brains of males and females respond differently to infant crying.
While I’ll continue to avoid any nonessential car rides with my little man until he grows out of this phase (which he will, right?!), it helps to have a better sense of why it’s so distressing and to comprehend on a cognitive level what’s happening when I listen to him cry.
Now, if only I could find a study that reveals the trick to making babies love (or at least tolerate) the dreaded car seat.

What it Means to Build a "Home"

I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places.

Home. I’ve grown up my whole life hearing phrases like “Home is where the heart is,” and “Home is where your story begins.” Many people don’t know how this feels, or they live in the same house with their families but it is not Home. For me, “home” was always this beautiful, close concept of being absolutely together with the people you love in a place that’s comfortable and safe. I was lucky enough to know this reality.
My family moved into what I grew up calling “home” when I was five. I lived there until I moved to Chicago to go to college, and moved back there when I graduated. I moved out again when I got married, and moved back in after that marriage disintegrated. I moved out again last summer, when the overwhelming force of turning 30 wouldn’t stop beating against me and I felt compelled to prove I was a grown up and could “make it” on my own. My license still bears this address and every now and then, when I tell my daughter we’re going to visit grandma, I refer to it as home.
With all that being said, I must tell you something. I don’t have a home anymore.
I don’t mean to say that I am homeless. I am not, as Juniper so aptly words it, “houseless.” I live in a house with my JuneBug, two dear friends, and a refugee from Eritrea. We move around each other and make meals together and share a kitchen and a bathroom and we make it work. We have a backyard and air conditioning and couches and happiness. But it is not my home.
I can easily go to my mother’s house, where I grew up, and stay overnight comfortably. I can get up in the morning and move around the house effortlessly, fix the coffee, make the breakfast, put things where they belong. Generally I feel like I could still belong within those walls. But it is not my home.
I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places. When I think of the concrete word “home,” I don’t think of a specific place because there isn’t one. Home isn’t a place.
My mother is home, and the way she holds me when she hasn’t seen me in awhile is home. Snuggling with my daughter in bed in the morning is home. Watching a movie on the couch with my boyfriend, whiskey in hand and a smile on my face, is home. Catching chickens and waiting out the sunset over vast fields of farmland with my dad is home. Sitting on the porch swings at my grandmother’s house, listening to the sounds of the universe and the creak of wood paneling that has seen three generations grow up, is home.
I’m starting to believe that I will never have a “home” again. I might move somewhere else, or change my address, or settle in somewhere, but the abstract concept of home will continue vanishing. Home isn’t where the heart is, or where your story begins, or even where you feel most comfortable. Home is where the memories live. Home is where you can feel vulnerable and safe all at once. Home is being loved and wanted and deeply felt by another human being. You could live in a box and still feel like you’re “home.” So, I will let this word remain empty, and instead soak up moments that I will look back on sometime later in life, and, as if looking a great distance through a telescope, realize I was building “home” all along.
This article was originally published on Diary of a June Bug.

Read These Favorite New Books After Your Kids Go to Sleep

If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

We may have lives that are chaotic and exhausting. The morning routine. Chasing kids. Working. Errands. Afterschool activities. The bedtime routine. Parenting never comes to an end.
Don’t let that stop you from sneaking in a little me-time. After the kids go to bed is the perfect time to crack open a book. If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

TheGypsy

The Gypsy Moth Summer

by Julia Fierro

In the long, sweltering summer of 1992, a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Despite being an inescapable burden, the insects are hardly the topic of discussion. Leslie Day Marshall, the only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family, returns with her black husband and bi-racial children to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest estate.
Hidden truths, scandals, and racial prejudices soon emerge in this many-faceted story about love, family, escape, and revenge. “The writing is lovely, and the story is compelling. It’s set in the 90s so it’s fun nostalgia, too,” says Jen from New Jersey.


LittleFiresEverywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

After reading “Little Fires Everywhere”, Jessica from New York says, “The characters are so real. And I love the way that [Celeste Ng] explores issues of race, class, and privilege in a deep and meaningful way, without being heavy-handed or preachy.”
Picture-perfect Shaker Heights runs like a well-oiled machine. Elena Richardson embodies this progressive suburb’s image, playing by the rules and striving for the best. Things begin to unravel when she rents a house in the idyllic little bubble to single mother, Mia Warren, and her teenage daughter Pearl.
All four of Elena’s children are drawn to the rebellious mother-daughter pair, who ignore the status quo and threaten to upend the community. This instant New York Times bestseller explores motherhood, secrets, and the naivety of thinking that following the rules will keep you safe.


ATangledMercy

A Tangled Mercy

by Joy Jordan-Lake

“A Tangled Mercy” is an interweaving of two distinct, yet connected, narratives: the story of Harvard grad student Kate Drayton’s journey to Charleston, South Carolina, to find answers about her deceased mother’s troubled past, and the lost story of the Charleston slave uprising of 1822 – the subject of Kate’s mother’s research.
Inspired by true events, the book examines the depth of human suffering and brutality and our everlasting hope of forgiveness and redemption. “Joy Jordan-Lake’s ‘A Tangled Mercy’ is an incredibly compelling and meticulously researched historical novel that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the last page,” says Jane Healey, author of “The Saturday Evening Girls Club.”


TheGoldenHouse

The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie

The mysterious and eccentric newcomer, Nero Golden, and his three adult sons, each odd in their own way, take up residence at the Gardens, a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village, on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Soon after moving to the neighborhood, Nero is charmed by Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, while their young neighbor, René, is captivated by their mystique and quietly intertwines with their lives.
“The Golden House” is set against the backdrop of current American politics and culture, while beaming with the realism of a timely story of love, loss, and deceit. “It’s really delicious reading. It’s like [Salman Rushdie] has the English language on his leash and can will it to do what he wants. It’s incredible,” says Olga of Zuid-Holland from the Netherlands.


TheDesigner

The Designer

by Marius Gabriel

While Paris celebrates its liberation in 1944, Cooper Reilly’s life is falling apart. She’s stuck in an unhappy marriage riddled with infidelity. Unable to endure it any longer, she asks for a separation.
Suddenly alone, she finds a friend in a middle-aged clothing designer named Christian Dior. Hiding in a lackluster, decrepit fashion house seems counterproductive to the brilliance of his designs, so Copper urges him to take a risk while she takes one of her own – tipping her toes into the world of journalism.
“I was swept away by Marius Gabriel’s vivid descriptions of the Parisian fashion world – I could practically hear the rustle of silks. ‘The Designer’s’ evocation of Paris in the dying days of the war and the admirable spirit of the French people as they find their way again after years of occupation was simply enthralling,” says Sammia Hamer, Editor.


TurtlesAllTheWayDown

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Azra is trying to be a good daughter. And a good friend. And a good student. She’s trying to make good decisions, even as her thoughts spiral out of control. She never meant to become tangled in the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett.
With a hefty reward at stake, and her friends eager to crack the case, she has nothing to lose. Or does she? “It’s one of the most realistic depictions of living with mental illness that I’ve ever encountered without being super depressing about it,” says Stephanie from Maryland.
What new books would you add to this list? Please share!

Who Has Time to Write?

If you’re the kind of person who needs intellectual stimulation in order to feel satisfied, don’t buy into the myth of “supermom.”

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
When my youngest daughter was a baby, just a few years ago, I used to bundle her and her two-year-old sister up in snowsuits and take them to a Friday morning coffee klatsch called “Globally Minded Moms.” The group of us, all mothers with young children, would watch a TED talk or read an article in preparation for a discussion about something – anything, preferably about something other than parenting. I was at one of these meetings one morning when the topic of writing and motherhood came up in connection to an online lecture we had watched. I mentioned a story I’d been working on when a someone who didn’t usually come to our meetings interrupted me to say, “Who has time to write? I don’t even have time to fold my kids’ laundry!” She went on to tell us about a new app she had bought which kept all of her housekeeping duties organized. It even reminded her to change the tea towels in the kitchen, since, she assured us, this absolutely needed to be done every day, and did we know how many germs were on those things?
Who has time to write? The accusation in that question stung, even if unintentional. How is it possible to defend our writing time when, even when the babies are sleeping, there is always laundry to be folded, tea towels to be changed? And if you slack off a little, even for a day, well, just think of the germs! Your whole family could get salmonella poisoning.
And then there’s that other question lurking there, barely veiled beneath the one asked aloud: how can you be so selfish?
I will admit, quietly, usually muttering to myself while doing the dishes, to being artistically ambitious, although I don’t have much to show for it. Even modest ambition can be seen as a character flaw in women who are also mothers, because the expectation for mothers is selflessness. I have a hard time with that word, selfless. Self-less-ness, the state of being without a self. And yet I feel a pressure coming from absolutely everywhere – from people I love and respect who refer to it as “babysitting” when a father cares for his own children, to my own inner dialogue, critiquing the state of my house and questioning my priorities – to justify my time spent writing with some sort of selfless and practical excuse. But here is the thing: I really do believe that my writing is good for my daughters. I’ll gladly discuss a few reasons why here, in the company of other readers and writers. However, in our day to day lives, I strongly believe that we should not be required to defend our writing as though the imperative to write (and, more importantly, to read and also to think) stems from some sort of selfishness or narcissism or even immaturity. After all, this is 2017. It should go without saying. But it often doesn’t feel that way for writer-mothers.
Having my kids see me work at my writing has helped them to develop their own passion for reading and writing. My six-year-old sometimes sits at the table with me and works on developing storylines and illustrating her own books while I work on a draft. She has a natural sense of structure, and her stories often have several threads which come together at the end. She has written a series of books which end with a family pet making a joke and the family realizing they can understand the pet’s speech.
If, like me, you’re the kind of person who needs the intellectual stimulation of reading and writing in order to feel satisfied, then don’t buy into the myth of the “supermom.” How much more present I am for my kids, more patient and playful, when I’ve had that occasional hour to read and write. It recharges me. But, if the prospect of spending months making hand-embroidered bunnies for all the kids attending your two-year-old’s birthday party appeals to you, then go for it. Just don’t expect to have any time left to write.
Many beginning writers stack the odds against themselves, waiting for the perfect time and space, quiet, and private. If you’re a parent of young children, that’s never going to happen. If writing is really what you want to do, don’t use the lack of quiet time or the myth of the supermom as excuses not to write. In fact, as I write this, I am sitting on the couch with my four-year-old daughter. She’s watching Scooby Doo, I’ve got earplugs in and dirty teatowels dangle from my stove. In the current climate of competitive parenting, this is something you would think I’d feel guilty about. I don’t.
This article was originally published in the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild publication, Freelance, in the summer of 2017.

When Food Is Medicine

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
One night, after the results of my son’s routine blood work showed scary-high levels of phosphorous, an effect of his kidney disease, anxiety fluttered inside my chest like I had swallowed a hummingbird. Anxiety about his health, the new medication I’d have to force down him, the disease’s progression, his eventual transplant, school, life, friends … I clicked on the TV to take it away, to lose myself in some gorgeous, rainy, heavily-accented series on the BBC. I landed, somehow, on the “Great British Baking Show.”
I ate through the first season like it was cake, watching home bakers whip together sometimes beautiful, sometimes disastrous creations in their bowls and mixers and ovens. What struck me was how real – how average – these people were, baking for the simple pleasure of creating something, of feeding their families. I thought: I could do that.
My first loaf of bread came out lumpy and awkward but delicious. My three children ate it smothered in butter as I spoke to my son’s doctor and nutritionist on the phone. We needed to start him on a grainy, awful-tasting powder – a phosphorous binder – which would be his ninth daily medication. But something in me refused. They said I could sprinkle it on his food, or mix it with water – but I knew, and they knew, it wouldn’t be as easy as that. He was three-and-a-half, very particular, with a history of eating issues. There must be something else we can do.
They relented: We can try to make changes to his diet first, they told me. No cheese, no milk. Limit whole grains, meats, nuts, the list went on and I scribbled notes as the hummingbird fluttered inside me. Really? For this boy who spent the first two years of his life nearly unable to eat solid food? Who would spit out (or vomit up) a single Cheerio? Whose crackers I’d break into grains of sand and set with something like a prayer on his high chair? This child whom I’ve been spoon-feeding for far longer than is good for either of us? For years the message was always FEED HIM, in alarming capital letters. FEED HIM or we will we will write failure-to-thrive on his chart. FEED HIM or we will thread a feeding tube down his nose and into his belly and do it for you.
Now you want me to take the food away?
But my son, like my two healthy children, ate my bread and butter and something clicked. I went to the supermarket; I read ingredients. What I thought of as “good bread” with the label from a fancy Los Angeles bakery wasn’t just flour and water and yeast; it was a science project of chemicals and preservatives, even a phosphorous additive. I put it back.
I started keeping bread dough in the fridge, ready to bake when we were running low. Then on to other things: carrot cake, corn muffins, zucchini bread, forgoing the nuts and doubling the vegetables; French toast with pasture-fed eggs; from-scratch pancakes, waffles, everything with almond milk instead of cow’s. I baked at night, when my family was asleep and everything was quiet and dark, which was better anyway because summer days in LA were just too hot. I kept batches of waffles and French toast in the freezer to warm-up in the mornings. I joined a CSA and looked forward to Wednesdays, when a giant box of organic fruits and vegetables, sometimes with the farm dirt still kissing the heads of lettuce, would land on my doorstep.
Baking turned to cooking. Roasted delicata squash in coconut curry. Pasta with burst cherry tomatoes and garlic and kale. My littlest one now eating spoonfuls of (almost) dairy-free spinach pesto for breakfast, and why not.
Meat quickly took a backseat to fruits and veggies, but chicken from the farmer’s market, lightly pounded and pulled through sesame seeds could save the world. Soups, stews, sauces, and after too many years of spoon-feeding, my son started to use utensils on his own. Rosemary shortbread cookies. He’s feeding himself. Cucumbers and avocado with balsamic vinaigrette. Not just feeding himself, but feeding himself a salad.
I’m lucky to live where the produce is so bountiful. I’m lucky that my children (and husband) are good sleepers, so that I have my nights alone in the kitchen. I’m lucky that I enjoy the quiet miracle of turning ingredients into food. Some things take time, so I save them for when I have time. Good produce, meat, and eggs – it’s expensive, but hey: I serve expensive food on cheap plates.
Sometimes my cooking is beautiful and sometimes it’s a disaster, just like the bakers on TV, but watching my son’s phosphorous levels stabilize without medication, and watching my healthy son and daughter eat their veggies (and their cookies) with pleasure, makes the effort, and the expense, entirely satisfying.
 

Your Kid Wants a Tattoo or Piercing? Don’t Freak Out, Talk.

Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past.

For the first time ever, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to review the incidence of youth tattoos and piercings in depth.
Led by Dr. David Levine, a general pediatrician and professor at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Dr. Cora Breuner, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the new AAP report highlights the potential health risks and social/emotional consequences of tattooing and piercing in adolescents and young adults.
Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past. According to the Harris Poll in 2015, about 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 20 percent just four years before.
Tattoos are especially popular among younger generations, with nearly half of all Millennials sporting one. According to the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of 18 to 29-year-olds have piercings in locations other than their earlobe.
This may not be a big deal for some parents, especially those who have their own tattoos and creative piercings. But for some parents, it becomes an issue to add to the long list of parenting dilemmas. Permanent body art may not even be on their radar if nobody else in the family enjoys that form of expression or if their cultural or religious beliefs consider the practice taboo.
We have two choices: forbid our kids to get tattooed or pierced and risk that they do it anyway behind our back (and possibly get hurt or regret it), or initiate an open dialogue and work with our kids to guide them to the best decision possible.

Identifying why your child wants it

The first step is to explore your kids’ goals and motives for wanting a tattoo or piercing. This conversation can lead to a simple answer, like they just want to show off their artistic flare. Alternatively, the conversation could open the door to issues you were not aware of.
According to the Harris Poll, people typically get tattoos because it makes them feel: sexy (33 percent), attractive (32 percent), rebellious (27 percent), spiritual (20 percent), intelligent (13 percent), employable (10 percent), and healthy (9 percent).
If your daughter wants a tattoo at age 15 to feel sexier, then a red flag may go up. You could broaden your conversation to her reasons for wanting to attract more attention, her current sexual activity, and the feelings she has about her own body.
If your son wants a tattoo to feel tougher or more rebellious, you may want to explore his level of anger and aggression. Is he having trouble making friends in school? Has he displayed signs of bullying?
If your child wants to ingrain the name of a significant other on their skin, you may need to talk to them about the level of commitment involved and the possibility of future heartbreak.
Finally, if they are doing it for spiritual reasons, what is the message they want to communicate, and why now? Should you be concerned about the influence a religious leader or spiritual mentor has on your child?
We need to take the time to listen to our children’s reasons so that we can help guide them. The answer may be very simple and positive, like they want the word “peace” on their body because they wish for world peace. It’s hard to argue with that.

Addressing your concerns

Talk to your children about exactly what getting a tattoo or piercing involves. They may be so set on it that they haven’t thought through some of the possible risks or downfalls.
For starters, the AAP report addresses the possible job market repercussions down the road. Some employers may frown upon visible tattoos in the workplace, which can limit your child’s job prospects and success. In a 2014 survey of nearly 2,700 people, 76 percent thought that tattoos and/or piercings had hurt their chances of getting a job, and 39 percent thought employees with tattoos and/or piercings reflect poorly on their employers.
While your child may be many years away from getting their first job, it’s important to talk to her about how a tattoo or piercing can impact her life in the future. Ask her to consider the risk involved, taking into account that life dreams should take precedence over a potentially rash, trendy decision in her teenage years.
Consider a compromise. Suggest that your child get a tattoo in a place that would not be visible on the job. Piercings are a bit more challenging. Clearly, a tongue ring could hinder one’s speech, and other piercings on the face in particular may motivate an employer to choose another candidate.
Tattoos, moreso than piercings, are pretty permanent. When you talk to your kids about getting a tattoo, be sure to bring up the fact that this commitment is not easily erased. Laser removal can also be costly – up to $300 per square inch of treatment area – and may only be partially effective.
Plenty of people have admitted regrets that you should bring to your child’s attention. According to a survey, nearly a quarter of people with tattoos say they regret getting them because they were too young, their personality changed, it no longer fits into their lifestyle, they chose someone’s name with whom they no longer associate, it was poorly done, or it’s simply not meaningful to them anymore.
Perhaps most important, weigh the health risks associated with tattoos with your child before he goes ahead with it. The most serious complication from any form of body modification is infection.
Other health concerns related to tattoos include inflammation, abnormal tissue growth like keloid scars, and vasculitis, a rare inflammation of the blood vessels. Body piercings have also been associated with pain, bleeding, cysts, allergic reaction, and scarring. Tongue rings, meanwhile, can cause tooth chipping.
Once you’ve openly discussed the pros and cons, give your kids some time to ponder their decision. Ask them whether they feel it’s really worth it, all things considered. How will the tattoo or piercing enhance their life? How will it hinder them? Are there alternative forms of expression they would be happy with, such as creative fashion choices or changing their hair color and style?
No matter their decision in the end, at least you sparked a mature conversation that will bolster their respect for you and remind them of your genuine, loving interest in their life. When something more serious comes about, they will know they can turn to you, which is, of course, more important and lasting than any tattoo or piercing.

Quebec City: a Babymoon With Parisian Charm Without the Cross-Atlantic Haul

Many women dream of taking a babymoon to Paris. But a transatlantic flight and a high price tag aren’t always ideal. Enter Quebec City.

Many women dream of taking a babymoon to Paris. Feasting on pastries at a small café. Taking a sunset stroll along the River Seine. Savoring the last drop of culture before the late night feedings and endless diaper changes begin.
The thought of sitting on a plane for eight hours, flying across a body of water with no place to make an emergency landing often knocks the City of Lights off the trip list.
Enter Quebec City, Canada – A babymoon destination with all the flavor of Paris but no anxiety or swollen legs.
Quebec City is a short flight from the East Coast and Midwest. United Airlines and Air Canada offer direct, two-and-a-half hour flights from Chicago, Newark, New York City, and Philadelphia. Many connecting flights are available through international gateways such as Toronto and Montreal. Once you arrive, a taxi cab can whisk you to the historic downtown in less than 30 minutes.
A 240-year-old agreement between Britain and France helped preserve French language and culture in the now-Canadian province of Quebec. From its winding cobblestone streets to its elaborate cathedrals, Quebec City, the provincial capital, bursts with European charm.
Cafés bustle with French-speaking wait staffs. Quaint hotels provide a romantic ambiance. The sweet of smell of crepes permeates the street. It’s no surprise that Old Quebec City is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
There are no shortages of hop-on, hop-off buses to take you all around the city. Without having to walk, moms-to-be can take in the Place Royale, the Plains of Abraham, and all the other historic sites Quebec City has to offer. With no fixed schedule, you can make your way around town as slow as you want.
Pregnant ladies can also take in the sites from the water. Several companies offer guided sightseeing cruises up and down the St. Lawrence River. The best part? A complimentary brunch or dinner buffet is often included.
What you can’t drink in wine, Quebec City makes up for in food. From high-end bistros to hole-in-the-wall cafés, Quebec’s cuisine is an expecting mother’s delight. The insatiable pregnant appetite will not be disappointed. Sweet and savory crepes. Fresh seafood. Deep dish meat pies. You can even find a simple grilled cheese sandwich made with shredded gruyere and cherry chutney.
If the baby is craving something on the not-so-healthy side, many restaurants serve poutine, Quebec’s signature dish made with French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. For dessert, you can treat the baby to Pouding Chomeur, or “Poor Man’s Pudding.” It’s a heavenly soft yellow cake, served warm, doused in maple syrup.
You can also take a trip out of the city. A popular day-trip offers two key amenities for pregnant women: a bus ride and chocolate. Several tour companies operate four-hour tours along the charming Beaupre Coast. Stops typically include the breathtaking Montmorency Waterfall, the legendary Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, and the historic Albert Gilles Copper Art Museum.
Minimal walking is required, and to a pregnant lady’s delight, many tours stop at the Chocolaterie de l’Ile d’Orléans, where you can sample Belgian chocolates, and at the Chez Marie bread oven, which is famous for its homemade bread with maple butter.
Perhaps the best reason why Quebec City is a top babymoon destination: Its must-see list isn’t overwhelming. If you’re there for a few days, there’s no reason you can’t justify a late afternoon nap.

What Moms of Kids With Invisible Disabilities Want You to Know

Parents of kids with invisible disabilities want the world to know it’s only okay to assume one thing: They and their kids are doing the best they can.

While some disabilities demand recognition via a wheelchair, hearing aid, or portable oxygen tank, others are more subtle, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Known as invisible disabilities, these affect 96 percent of people who have a chronic medical condition according to one estimate. Caring for a child with any disability presents extra challenges. For the parents of kids with invisible disabilities, those challenges often include the misperceptions of their communities – including friends, family, neighbors, and teachers – that are uninformed at best and hostile at worst.

I talked to moms of kids with invisible disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Avoidant and Resistive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), hemophilia, and many others, to find out what they wish more people understood about their experiences. Here are some of them.

Sensory processing issues are not discipline issues

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, sensory processing affects virtually all aspects of a child’s daily life, including motor coordination, school performance, and relationships. A child with sensory processing disorder could have 20/20 vision and perfect hearing, but when he’s in a crowded mall, his brain is not able to manage all of the auditory and visual information he’s receiving through his eyes and ears. While each kid reacts differently to overstimulation, some will scream or become physically aggressive. What may look like defiance is just a kid doing his best to manage a stressful environment. The assumption that a lack of discipline indicates a failure by the parent is totally without merit. Here are few of their stories.

Jaime has a five-year-old son with level one high functioning ASD. She says, “Discipline will not prevent him from being overwhelmed by his environment.”

Lainie Gutterman, the mom of a seven-year-old boy with ASD agrees. She says when her son is having a meltdown, “Staring, pointing and offering your two cents is not helping the situation and will most likely cause my son or myself to feel worse and [his] behaviors to escalate.”

Similarly, Jennifer Lynn, whose son has ADHD, wishes people understood she’s not being rude or indulging her children when she leaves a party abruptly. “It’s just that we see the warning signs and are trying to help our kiddo avoid a meltdown.” She says events like family gatherings or vacations, which are fun for most people, “are stressful for our family because it’s just too much everything.”

A little compassion goes a long way

Regardless of their child’s diagnosis, virtually every mom I talked to described the pain of receiving judgment instead of compassion. Sarah Cottrell, whose son has hemophilia, is tired of challenging people’s assumptions about his diagnosis. She says, “He doesn’t have AIDS and hemophilia isn’t caused by incest. Enough with the wild theories, because we need compassion and empathy for the unseen pain issues and unending fear and anxiety over covering his insurance.”

Most parents I talked to, particularly those of kids with sensory processing disorder, described organizing their days around their kids’ strict routines. Every parent understands how easily the best-laid plans for meals, naps, and bedtimes can implode. What many parents don’t understand is how much higher the stakes are when your special-needs child depends on predictability for a sense of safety.

Lisa Rosen, who wakes up 90 minutes before her kids in order to prepare for the non-stop mental and physical energy her son requires, says, “When adults look at my child, they see a happy kid…. But I know that if one thing is off in our routine, I’m dealing with Hiroshima.” Her son Ezra, age three, has sensory processing disorder and is speech delayed. According to Rosen, something as seemingly minor as the smell of a classmate’s detergent could cause him to melt down to the point where she must carry him out of the classroom – regardless of whether she’s carrying her 15-month-old baby as well. She describes her family’s disappointing absence of understanding when she couldn’t attend the funeral of a family member due to a lack of childcare coupled with Ezra’s regimented schedule and complex needs. “Who knew compassion was so difficult to come by?” she asks.

The predictability some kids require doesn’t just extend to schedules and environments, but also to food. Brianna Bell and Jennifer Gregory each have a child with sensory processing disorder that makes them intolerant of many foods. Because of this, Bell hates sharing meals with friends. She says, “There is so much pressure from others for her to eat this and that and not be so picky. I feel rude bringing my own food but she starves if I don’t. And people just don’t understand and assume she’s spoiled.”

Gregory asserts that her family frequently eats separately. She serves alternative meals and allows screens at the table, and this works for them. She wants people to understand that for her family, “Mealtime is chock full of stress and anxiety and the goal is to get food into our son’s belly because he doesn’t eat enough. If an iPad distracts him from smells and texture and allows him to eat more, so be it.”

Parents described not only a shortage of kindness from other parents, but also from other children. Lisa Beach recalled her son’s adolescent years as being particularly isolating. He is now 20 and has Asperger’s. Beach’s advice to parents is simple: “Teach [your] kids to reach out and include rather than label and judge.”

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there

When a parent is struggling to find a diagnosis, pay for therapies, or just get through the day with a kid who has an invisible disability, it is not helpful to insist nothing’s wrong because their kid looks so “normal” or that her IQ is so high. What may be intended as a compliment may come as a slap in the face to the parent who has committed precious time, energy, and money to her child’s disability.

Samantha Taylor’s 13-year-old has high functioning autism, generalized anxiety disorder, and an eating disorder, while her ten-year-old has dysgraphia and anxiety. Although Taylor is open with her friends and family about her kids’ diagnoses, because they appear “normal,” she says people are often shocked when her kids say something inappropriate or react in a way that is out of proportion to the situation. Says Taylor, “While it might look to everyone in our lives that we are holding it all together, I worry about my boys every single day. I wake up thinking about what I can do to make their day easier, and go to bed wondering if I did enough.” In search of a supportive community, Taylor ended up creating a thriving Facebook group for moms of kids with special needs.

One mother (who prefers anonymity) describes feeling frustrated when people judge her for coming to her son’s aid. He is in his early 20’s and has high functioning Asperger Syndrome. While she may appear overprotective, that is not the case. She says, “High functioning individuals are acutely aware that they are different and sometimes have self-confidence issues. Shaming them for needing help is not productive and can contribute to anxiety and depression. Thoughtless comments can sometimes ‘undo’ progress that has been made.”

You’re an advocate

Parents of kids with invisible disabilities are not just responsible for feeding, clothing, loving, disciplining, and teaching their kids. They must also advocate for their kids in a system that does not always have their best interests at heart.

One mom, who preferred to remain anonymous, described the challenge of having a 12-year-old son who has ADHD and a learning disability. She described his teachers’ low expectations, recalling an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting where a teacher was clearly impressed with her son’s “C”, “and how great that was ‘for a kid on an IEP.’” To compensate for his teachers’ low expectations, she says she always reminds her son that “[he] is smart and his IQ reflects that. There is no reason he shouldn’t be able to get an ‘A’ … if he is provided with the right services.” She also described a general lack of understanding of her son’s ADHD diagnosis among his teachers, which she feels causes them to set unreasonably high expectations of him in other areas, such as his ability to get organized or follow a schedule.

Delaina Baker, whose son is dyslexic and has auditory processing disorder, described similar struggles with her son’s school. She says she wishes teachers were more accommodating of his IEP. Says Baker, “It is my right to fight for my child and if you challenge my knowledge of his disability, I can assure you, I’ll have a spreadsheet, charts, and back-up data to prove it.” She says she is grateful to have found an ally in her son’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) coordinator, whom she feels is her son’s only advocate beside herself.

Parenting is hard enough without adding other people’s assumptions to the equation. Parents of kids with invisible disabilities just want the world to know that it’s only okay to assume one thing: They and their kids are doing the best they can.

We Shopped Through These 9 Mom-Targeted Facebook Ads So You Didn’t Have To

We clicked and shopped through nine Facebook ads and are fully prepared to separate the wheat from the chaff.

As parents, we are always looking for that perfect product that’s going to make our lives easier. But, ironically – because we’re parents – we have zero time to search for said perfect product.
What we apparently do seem to have time to spend hours on a day? Facebook. Smart companies know this and are happy to target the hell out of us while we’re reposting memes and liking baby pictures. From tampons and bras to kid’s clothes and superior socks, these Facebook ads claim they offer a one-click solution to life’s little problems. But which products are winners and which are snake-oil? We clicked and shopped through nine Facebook ads and are fully prepared to separate the wheat from the chaff. Get ready to spend some money! (Or in a few cases, not…)

Company: LOLA

The Pitch: “100% organic cotton tampons delivered directly to your door.”
Who Shopped: Apryl, writer & mom
What She Bought: Tampon and pad subscription, $27 every two months
Why She Clicked & What She Thought: “I had just recently broken up with my Diva cup and was back to using tampons. The ad made me really need to have them. I didn’t realize all the chemicals I was putting up there. Who knew? I mostly love that you can design your own box with whatever absorbency you will need. It delivers every two months. I never have to run out to the CVS at 9 p.m. in my pajamas for tampons again. It’s nice that they are chemical free, too.”
Recommended? Yes! “To anyone who menstruates. But parents especially, since some days are so hard and busy that we can’t even make sure we have tampons, let alone a moment to ourselves in the bathroom to insert it.”

Company: Glossier

The Pitch: “We’re creating the new essentials: easy-to-use skincare and makeup that form the backbone to your unique beauty routine.”
Who Shopped: Elizabeth, Freelance writer (and self-described “sucker” for Facebook ads.)
What She Bought: “Boy Brow” brow gel, $16
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I was not looking for brow gel, but I was drawn in by the ads. They were video ads of different women applying the product. It seemed so easy. A few swipes of a mascara wand and your eyebrows stay put all day. I really liked the product. It’s as easy as it seemed and has staying power. I’ve purchased it a second time in fact.”
Recommended? Yes! “I’ve definitely recommended the product to my friends. It was not a disappointment.”

Company: ThirdLove

The Pitch: “The best bra is one you never think about. Available in cup sizes AA through G (DDDD), including our signature half cup sizes.”
Who Shopped: Me! Phaea, writer & mom
What I bought: Tee-Shirt Bra, $68
Why I Clicked & How it Went: After five years of nursing two separate children, I had no idea what size bra I wore. I’d wanted to duck into a store and get measured, but there never seems to be anytime. ThirdLove features an online quiz to help you figure out your size as well as a 30-day free trial period to test out their product. This was a total win-win for me. I took the quiz (32 C ½!) and ordered the recommended Tee-Shirt Bra in Naked-2. When the bra arrived a few days later, I was skeptical because it looked awfully small. But low and behold, it fit me perfectly!
Recommended? Yes! I’m not sure what kind of witchcraft ThirdLove employs to figure out my size without measurements, but I’m a big fan and will absolutely be going back for more.

Company: THINX

The Pitch: “Period Panties for Modern Women.”
Who Shopped: Mary, writer
What She Bought: One pair of Hiphugger panties, $34 & one pair of Boyshort panties, $39
Why She Clicked & How it Went: I had read about THINX in a blog article … but seeing the ad acted as a reminder. I will say though that the ads themselves were a big turnoff. It felt like they were trying really hard to be edgy – lots of raw egg yolks dripping all over. Because of these ads, I actually first went to a competitor period underwear company … but was disappointed. So, I eventually went back to the THINX site, held my tongue, and opened my wallet. I like [the underwear] a lot. I know that I’m a really heavy bleeder in general, so was always planning to use these as a backup in conjunction with tampons or pads. For that, it’s been amazing. No more stained clothes or sheets, and no more mid-day underwear changes. If I’d tried to use them INSTEAD of pads or tampons, I would have been disappointed.”
Recommended? Yes! “I encourage folks to try THINX in spite of the ad campaigns. Since the product works so darn well, THINX can try a bit less with their marketing. Right now it’s a lot of slick hipster lifestyle stuff that just misdirects from the fact this sh*t actually works!”

Company: PatPat

The Pitch: “Good Quality Deals for Babies, Toddlers, Kids & Moms.”
Who Shopped: Emily, writer & stay-at-home mom
What She Bought: Matching family Christmas PJs: $16.99 set of four.
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I clicked on an ad for family Christmas PJs. We have been wanting to get all matching ones for a Christmas card. I thought ordering them on sale in August would be great so they would be ready to do for the holidays. After a couple weeks, I received an email saying it would take longer than expected and they gave me $5 off my next order. I emailed daily asking for an update. After 2 months, I said I wanted a refund (my card was charged immediately) and the order canceled. I had to send several emails asking this. I finally got an email saying they had canceled it because they didn’t have the items in stock.
Recommended? No! “I can advise against ordering from this company. I was so disappointed not to get what we ordered, and to have to deal with the company.”

Company: Bombas

The Pitch: “Bombas are game-changing socks that have to be felt to be believed.”
Who Shopped: Elizabeth, freelance writer
What She Bought: Woman’s Solids Calf Four-Pack, $45.60
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I was sick and tired of my darn socks falling down all the time. Especially when wearing short boots. I searched and searched for socks that stayed up but nothing worked. Then I saw the ad for Bombas on Facebook, which claimed to be the world’s best socks or something. They were expensive. I think $45 for a four-pack. But I thought what the heck, let’s see if they live up to their claims. And they totally do!”
Recommended? Yes! “They don’t fall down at all.”

Company: Primary

The Pitch: “Kids Clothes Start Here. Brilliant Basics Under $25”
Who Shopped: Stacey, stay-at-home mom
What She Bought: Baby PJ set, $20 & Kid PJ set, $24
Why She Clicked & What She Thought: “I saw the Facebook ad for Primary quite a few times before I ever bought from them. Fast forward to Halloween. The four of us wanted to be characters from Winnie the Pooh, but there was not a single character costume still in stock on the entire internet. So, we decided to DIY. I remembered the Primary pajamas. We got Simon a set of orange pajamas that Patrick then sewed stripes and a belly panel onto. We bought a set of Tigger ears and a tail from amazon, and voila, Simon was Tigger. For Baxter, we bought him a set of the baby pink pajamas and a raspberry-colored tunic. We drew stripes on the tunic with a sharpie and bought a set of Piglet ears from Amazon. Voila, Piglet.”
Recommended? Yes! “I sing the praises of Primary as a Halloween base layer every year. Additionally, the PJs were really well made.”

Company: DressLily

Who Shopped: Elizabeth, freelance writer
The Pitch: “…the latest casual style wear for women and men, comfortable and suitable for everyday wear.”
What She Bought: Halloween Lace Panel Plus Size Dress, $18
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I loved the look of the dress because I loved the haunted houses and it was only $18 so I figured I’d try it. [I] got the dress yesterday and I love it! I mean, it’s not the best quality but again, it was only $18, and I’m only going to be wearing it once a year. Oh, and the shipping times were long – I think it took a month?”
Recommended? Yes, with exceptions. “I would recommend it though for fun, cheap, special event clothes.

Company: Keen & Social

The Pitch: “…modern and unique products for Men and Women looking for something exciting.”
Who Shopped: Meredith, Project Manager & Mom
What She Bought: Londoner Long Tail Hoodie, $40
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “When I saw the ad, I thought it would be a cool look. I have black “skinny” jeans and some boots and the sweater would cover my personal trouble zones yet looked really cute and what I thought to be fashion forward. Plus, it was 70 percent off.  It took about six to eight weeks to arrive. It looks nothing like the picture. My son called me “Lord of the Rings” when I tried it on. I bought it to try to look kind of hip and cool and instead I looked like I belong on the Shire.”
Recommended? “Nope! [And] I will never order clothes from an ad from Facebook again unless it is a company I know and trust – like Lands’ End, etc.”
While shopping online is always a gamble — and clicking on Facebook ads doubly so — there are certainly a few companies out there that are worth your attention and well-earned cash. Are there any products or online stores you’re crazy about (or crazy-disappointed with?) Share all about it in the comments!