Sleep Training

After you bring your new baby home, sleep becomes one of life’s most precious commodities. When the baby doesn’t sleep, one or both parents also don’t sleep. Some babies are naturally great sleepers while others require hours of bouncing, rocking, and soothing, just for a short nap. To make things even harder, there are so many precautions and recommendations about safe sleep for babies.

SIDS danger. Back is best. No loose blankets. No stuffed animals. Nothing in the crib. Flat, firm surface only. Sleep in the same room until 6 months. Don’t co-sleep. Avoid sleeping in car seats, swings, bouncers, etc. Make sure the baby is not overheated.

This can be extremely overwhelming, particularly when a desperate and exhausted parent is trying to get the baby to sleep by any means necessary.

‘The baby will only fall asleep in the swing. Does this make me a bad parent?’

In the first three months, you’re in pure survival mode. Don’t worry about bad habits, spoiling the baby, or holding the baby too much. Do whatever needs to be done to keep the baby thriving and happy. But after the baby gets to be 4-6 months old and is still waking up 6 times a night, the idea of sleep training starts to get tossed around.

What exactly is sleep training?

It refers to helping a baby learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night without assistance. This is done by taking away sleeping aids (rocking, patting, shushing, feeding, pacifier) that the baby depends on to fall asleep and letting the baby fall asleep on his/her own by learning to self-soothe. The belief is that if the baby is used to having these aids to fall asleep and wakes up in the middle of the night without them, falling asleep again will be much harder to do. Successful sleep training would ideally result in better rest and less stress for both the baby and the parents.

Research

Critics claim that allowing the baby to be in distress for prolonged periods of time could be detrimental to development and cause learned helplessness. However, there is not yet any evidence that support these claims. A study that examined the differences in children who had and had not been sleep trained five years earlier found no significant differences in traits such as sleep problems, behavioral problems, mental health, and attachment issues.

Studies do show that sleep deprivation has long-term negative consequences and can lead to depression-like symptoms and attention issues. This would not only affect the health of the parents but also their ability to care for their child effectively. Sleep deprivation of the baby also affects the baby’s mood and can inhibit attention and learning.

Sleep Training Methods

It is agreed upon across the board that newborns should NOT be sleep trained. They have not yet developed the ability to self-soothe and cannot form good sleeping habits at that age. Four to six months is the most common age range that sleep training experts believe a baby to be ready for sleep training. There are a wide range of methods that are commonly utilized. The five most well-known methods are listed below:

  • No Cry Sleep Solution – Uses gentle techniques such as fading (using a preferred sleep association less and less each night) or substitution (substitute a sleep association with a different sleep association; easier to eliminate since it is not as preferred by the baby)
  • Sleep Lady Shuffle (Gradual Withdrawal) – Sit in a chair next to the crib and verbally soothe and shush baby. Move the chair further away from the crib every night until you are out of the room.
  • Pick Up Put Down (PUPD) – Put baby to bed awake and check on baby at graduated intervals (i.e. 3, 5, 7 minutes) if baby is still crying hard. Pick up baby to soothe and then put down.
  • Graduated Extinction (Ferber) – Put baby to bed awake and check on baby at graduated intervals (i.e. 3, 5, 7 minutes) if baby is still crying hard. Verbally soothe or pat baby to comfort.
  • Weissbluth (Cry It Out, Full Extinction) – After the bedtime routine, put the baby in the room and do not return until the next morning (except for feedings).

Elijah’s Sleep Training Story

We decided to start sleep training Elijah when he was around four and a half months old. He has never been a terrible sleeper but was constantly waking up three to four times a night, and it was really taking a toll on my sleep. His primary soothing mechanisms were feeding and the pacifier, so the goal was to eliminate both of these sleep associations. For the bedtime routine, he had a bottle before bath time, in order to separate any feeding associations. Because he was still relatively young, I did not cut out night feeds entirely, but I did not feed him until it had been at least four hours since the last feeding to make sure that he was actually hungry and not looking to eat for comfort. I also took away the pacifier at night time. 

My original intention was to use the Ferber Graduated Extinction method for sleep training. I purchased and read the book, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems,” in order to prepare. Once we began training, however, I quickly realized that checks at intervals did not soothe Elijah but rather prolonged his distress. So I stopped going in, and I watched him on the baby monitor to make sure he was okay. The first night was the longest stretch of crying (~25 minutes) before falling asleep. He also woke up a few times during the night and cried around 10-15 minutes each time. He adjusted quickly and after a few days, there was no crying at all at bedtime before he fell asleep – just some grumbling. It also helps that he’s not a crier by nature, so I can typically tell when he’s just fussing and when he actually needs something.

Just because a baby is “trained” does not mean they will be a good sleeper from that point on. Regressions can happen when the baby is sick, teething, or for seemingly no reason at all. He does still have nights where he wakes up more often, but this is not the norm. I try to stay consistent with my techniques, and he typically goes back to his normal sleep patterns after a day or two.

Final Tips

A baby’s personality is very important to consider when deciding whether or not to sleep train. Only you know your baby best and whether or not he/she is ready for sleep training and what method will work the best. Some babies respond to training faster than others and methods can be adjusted accordingly.

Sleep training is not necessarily a requirement to foster good sleeping habits. Some babies are able to develop good sleeping habits naturally over time, but in other cases, bad sleep habits are carried into toddler-hood, preschool, and beyond, when bad habits become much harder to change.

Sleep training is not for everyone, but it did work for us.

 

Featured image by Alison Wong of New Mom Comics

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Beyond Meat: The Beyond Burger

Introducing: a brand new series, called Too Good to be Vegan!

A lot of omnivores automatically assume vegan friendly foods means bland, sub par dishes that consist mostly of salads and tofu. This is absolutely not true. Not to mention, salads and tofu can be very tasty when prepared well!

In this series, I will be telling you about delicious vegan food that even non-vegans would be happy to eat. The foods featured will include both restaurant entrees and meals prepared at home, snacks, desserts, and anything else that is 100% vegan and delicious!

 

My husband and I recently found out about The Beyond Burger, made by the brand Beyond Meat. This burger is made out of 100% plant protein (pea protein for their “beef” burgers) but mimics the texture and taste of meat and even “bleeds” like a real burger.

I’ve had my fair share of veggie burgers, and though some of them are indeed tasty and well seasoned, none of them have really resembled the texture or taste of meat. I definitely had my doubts about how close this purely vegan burger could come to the “real thing.”

The burger looks so convincing, it’s even found in the meat section of some grocery stores

I was surprised at how much the burger looked like meat, even when raw. It had the same coloration and texture, although it was slightly softer. Nevertheless, it held up nicely on the grill.

I was extremely impressed with the taste and texture of The Beyond Burger. It wasn’t starchy or crumbly, like veggie burgers I’ve tasted in the past. It also had a hint of smokiness that pushed the meatiness factor even further.

Although a vegan diet should consist mostly of whole fruits and vegetables, a good processed substitute can be a fun treat. In terms of nutrition, this burger is similar to an actual beef burger, with 22 grams of fat and 5 grams of saturated fat. No wonder it tastes so good! However, the main difference is that these burgers have 100% less beef.

 

Ingredients: pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, gum arabic, sunflower oil, salt, succinic acid, acetic acid, non-GMO modified food starch, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, beet juice extract (for color), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), annatto extract (for color), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality), vegetable glycerin.

Where Can I Buy It?

Whole Foods, Wegmans, Kroger, Ralphs, QFC, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Dillons, Safeway, Albertsons, and more!

 

This burger definitely hits the spot when you’re craving the good ol’ American classic. It’s almost too good to be vegan!

 

✿ Katie ✿

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7 Recipes for a Vegan Holiday Feast

Originally published on Thirty on Tap

Being a vegan can be hard, especially when living in a small town in the South. Lack of convenience is one of the biggest drawbacks. I can’t just go to a drive-thru and grab a vegan-friendly (albeit unhealthy) lunch and the selection of vegan/vegetarian foods at our local grocery stores is downright laughable.

The holidays are another time when being a vegan is challenging. Family members are confused about why you won’t eat these delicious mashed potatoes they spent so long making, drowning in butter and cheese. “You can eat this. It doesn’t have any meat.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about spending time with family and eating, and when you can’t eat much of anything at dinner, family time becomes even harder to handle.

Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice great tasting (and filling) food. Chances are, your meat-eating family members won’t even have a clue that these dishes are vegan. Try out these holiday recipes and you won’t be missing out on any holiday favorites!

MAIN ENTRÉE

Vegan Italian Meatloaf via Pasta-based

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SIDES

Vegan Stuffing via Serious Eats

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Vegan Mashed Potatoes via My California Roots

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Vegan Gravy via Brand New Vegan

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Green Bean Casserole via Minimalist Baker

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Mac & Cheese via Vegan Yumminess

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DESSERT

Vegan Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie via Minimalist Baker

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✿ Katie ✿

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Kombucha for Beginners

Have you heard about this new health drink that’s invading grocery store shelves and even has its own section at Whole Foods? The drink first became popular in this country in the early 1990s, fueled by the AIDS epidemic and the many perceived health benefits of kombucha. In recent years, its resurgence in the market is due, in large part, to the founder of the company GT’s Kombucha, G.T. Dave. He claims that drinking kombucha and being vegetarian contributed to his mother’s aggressive breast cancer diagnosis becoming dormant. When Whole Foods began to stock GT’s on their shelves, the kombucha craze exploded (pun intended).

So, what is kombucha?

Origin

The actual origins of kombucha are not known, but there are a few theories about where it may have originated. One of the stories is that it came about during the Qin Dynasty (220 BC) for China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. The Chinese are notorious for their relentless quest for longevity elixirs and frequently look to nature for cures of all types of ailments. “Cha” 茶 from kombuCHA means tea in Chinese.

Homemade kombucha was very popular in China during the Cultural Revolution. My parents told me that it was very common  when they were younger, and everyone made their own at home. According to my dad, the drink disappeared after a rumor spread that it was bad for your health.

From Asia, kombucha traveled along the Silk Road to Russia and then the rest of Europe. The first verified documentation of kombucha was in Ukraine and Russia in the late 1800s.

Simple Kombucha Recipe

Second Fermentation

Second fermentation is when you can add unique flavors to your kombucha, as well as increase the carbonation level. You can experiment with different combinations to find the one you like best.

Ingredients to try:

  • Fruit (fresh, juice, dried, or frozen) – berries, apples, oranges, pomegranates, peaches, grapes, mango, pineapple, dates, figs
  • Herbs & Spices – ginger, mint, basil, lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg
Second fermentation in action – orange juice and apple flavored

Tips & Tricks

If you are thinking about brewing your own kombucha, here are some tips for beginners:

  • If you want to start brewing, you do not have to buy a scoby (although they are fairly inexpensive). Follow the directions above with store bought unflavored kombucha as the starter fluid and no scoby. A scoby should form after 2-4 weeks.
  • When handling the scoby, always use clean hands and containers. DO NOT use antibacterial soap.
  • If you suspect mold growth (fuzzy, discolored, dry), throw away the scoby and start over.
  • To prevent the kombucha from exploding and breaking glass, burp it once a day once 2nd fermentation begins.
  • When opening the swing top bottles, hold the top down firmly when opening the latch. Release the pressure from the top very slowly and watch the carbonation level. If the carbonation is too strong, the top may blow off and you will lose half your liquid in your kitchen or on the ceiling.
  • If the bubbles don’t subside and you aren’t able to open the bottle without it spilling over, close the bottle and put it in the fridge. It will be safe to open after a few hours.
My husband enjoying our home-brewed kombucha

 

Have I convinced you to brew your own kombucha yet?

 

✿ Katie ✿

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Baby Registry – What Do I REALLY Need?

Who knew bringing home a tiny human required so much STUFF? In the nine months I had leading up to arrival of my son, Elijah, I mostly spent time researching what I did and did not need, to make our lives a little bit easier. With the things I decided that we did need, I tried to find the most cost-effective way to obtain them.

Obviously, babies will have different preferences for what they like, but oftentimes, we don’t know these preferences until weeks after they have arrived. These are the items that were must-haves for me and little Eli, and this list can be a guide and starting point for soon-to-be mothers who are a little overwhelmed by it all.

Where to Register

It seems like every single store that sells baby items wants you to create a baby registry with them. Here are the ones that I found to be the most useful and have the most perks.

  • Amazon – After creating a registry at Amazon, add something on the list that you were going to buy anyway that is at least $10. Purchase the item and check off the rest of the boxes on the Amazon baby checklist, and you will be eligible to receive a free Baby Registry Welcome Box, worth $35. Although boxes will vary, I received: helicopter toy, hedgehog swaddle blanket, Avent bottle, full size baby wipes, Pampers diaper clutch & 2 newborn diapers, and samples for nursing pads, Aquaphor, diaper cream, and baby shampoo.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 10% off (15% for Prime members)!
  • Target – After creating a baby registry with Target, you can pick up a free welcome bag at any Target stores, if they have them in stock. I received: MAM bottle, Nuk pacifier, Pampers diaper clutch & 2 newborn diapers, and samples for nipple cream and Dapple dish soap.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 15% off!
  • Babylist – I ended up creating and sharing my registry at Babylist with friends and family because I can easily add items from wherever I want. I really like the layout and design, and the customer service is easy to work with.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 10% off!

    *See the items that I mention below on my Pinterest board*

What to Buy Secondhand

There are a few options for where to look for secondhand baby items. I mostly used Facebook Marketplace to find items that were being sold locally. I also occasionally used Craigslist, although the response time was usually a lot slower. Thrift stores, Goodwill, and baby consignment shops are also great places to look for gently used items.

  • Diaper pail – Some people claim that a diaper pail is a waste of money because the smells of poop cannot be contained. Elijah hasn’t really explored the world of solids yet, but so far, his formula and breastmilk diapers have been contained fairly well in our Diaper Champ (except when we are changing it out, but that is to be expected). The other plus is that we can use regular trash bags, which is a huge money saver. Other popular diaper pail brands include Diaper Genie, Munchkin, Dekor, and Ubbi. Ubbi is another one that doesn’t require special refill bags.
  • Swing – For a fussy, colicky baby, a swing is a lifesaver. Our swing put our baby to sleep when nothing else would work. We bought a discontinued Graco model secondhand, and it has definitely served its purpose well. I would recommend getting one that will plug into the wall if you don’t anticipate moving it around often.
  • Bouncer – These are very easy to find used. There are lots of different brands to choose from, and you shouldn’t have to pay more than $10 for one. There are also swing/bouncer combinations as a space-saving option.
  • High chair – Once your little one is able to try some solids (4-6 months), a high chair is a very handy to have. If your family frequently eats in the dining room, a booster seat style high chair would work well; it’s also more portable. I found a Graco Duodiner high chair in great condition for $10, and it has been the perfect place for Elijah to try out solids.
  • Changing table – Although some people end up changing their babies on beds or couches, I always liked using the changing table because all of the materials I needed were within reach and easy to access.
  • Swaddles – I loved using the Swaddleme pods and velcro swaddles for the first three months. They keep the baby’s arms contained so the startle reflex doesn’t wake them up multiple times a night.
  • Pack n Play – Although Eli didn’t spend a lot of time in his Pack n Play, it served as a baby station for the downstairs. It was a place to set him down when I needed my hands, and the changing station for the downstairs was a lifesaver.
  • Exersaucer – This won’t come in handy until your baby gains complete head control (~4 months), but it can entertain your baby for quite awhile. They are pretty expensive when purchased brand new but can be found secondhand fairly easily. Because they tend to take up a lot of space, try to find one that can be collapsed and/or converted when they get older, like the Evenflo Exersaucer Triple Fun.
  • Rock n Play – Moms swear by the rock n play when newborns have a hard time going to sleep. Although it is not technically sleep safe, the inclined hammock-like sleep surface is liked by a lot of babies and can be a lifesaver for extreme cases of reflux. Paying a little more for the auto-rock option is worth the money, in my opinion.
  • Fisher Price Sit Me Up chair – Eli started favoring sleeping on one side from the first day we brought him home. This resulted in a flat spot on one side of his head. At such a young age, it’s difficult to keep the babies off their heads all the time, since tummy time can be so tiring and uncomfortable. This chair keeps the baby upright in a natural position, without the need for complete head control. Having this seat was crucial in helping his head grow back into a nice round shape.
  • Nursing pillow – I have the Leachco Cuddle-U pillow, and it created a soft surface for me to rest my arms and the baby, when I held him for a nap or when feeding him. It’s also a great baby lounger and works as a prop up pillow for tummy time!

    Big Ticket Items

    These are the items that I knew I wanted but were priced on the higher end. When close family and friends ask what they should get you or if you need ideas for Christmas/birthday gifts, choose from this list.

  • Crib – Babies get transitioned to their rooms and their cribs at different ages. I wasn’t sure when I would be willing to graduate Eli to his own room, but I ended up doing it sooner than anticipated (4 months). This has done wonders for my sleep at night, and Eli has been sleeping in his crib very well. If you don’t have a nursery or have limited space, a mini-crib may be more a more suitable purchase.
  • Baby monitor – This is must-have if you have a fairly large house or if you plan on sleep training. We have the Summer Infant Dual View baby monitor, and it has been working well so far.
  • Glider – A glider is not a must-have and may not be feasible, depending on the size of the nursery, but I really enjoy using it for nighttime feedings and story time.
  • Travel system (with extra base) – It’s a good idea to invest in a quality travel system because it will cause a lot of headache if you don’t like the one you have. I opted for a budget-friendly one by BabyTrend, but if I could go back, I most likely would pay more for Chicco or Britax. The three-wheeled jogger-style stroller are much easier to maneuver than the four-wheeled style. Make sure to add an extra base to the registry if you anticipate multiple people or cars driving the little one around.
  • Convertible car seat – This is the car seat that will grow with your baby. These typically have a weight range of 5-40 lbs and can be used rear or front facing. The only downside is that it is not portable and must stay in the car, so it’s not as convenient for infants.
  • Dockatot – I debated for a long time before finally pulling the trigger on this expensive baby bed. Some people claim that it is a miracle product and will get your baby to sleep through the night. I can guarantee that does not happen with all babies (it didn’t with mine). But this is a great flat sleeping surface for babies that don’t like sleeping in a bassinet or crib. It’s also extremely lightweight and portable for sleepovers at Grandma’s. The deluxe size claims to fit babies 0-9 months, so you will get a lot of use out of it.

    Basic Necessities

  • Diapers/Wipes – Have at least one pack of newborn diapers on hand, and you can never have too many wipes. We have had great success with Pampers and haven’t really tried other brands. I also prefer the sensitive/fragrance-free wipes to minimize irritation.
  • Burp cloths – Babies spit up a lot. Or they drool. Or they leak milk when eating. I didn’t like using blankets as burp cloths because I felt like I had to wash them after doing that. I always have to have designated burp cloths within reach. My favorites are Carter’s terry cloth burp cloths. They are extremely soft and absorbent and in a very handy shape. I also purchased Gerber’s prefold gauze diapers, which work great as well.
  • Blankets – Blankets can be used to keep the baby warm, as a swaddle, as a burp cloth, or as a changing surface. They typically come in flannel or muslin varieties. I like using the muslin blankets more because they are lightweight, breathable, and more stretchy.
  • Bottles – Bottle preference is very specific to the baby. We tried Dr. Brown’s Wide, MAM, and Avent. My favorite to use are the MAM bottles. The nipple is slightly flattened to fit into the baby’s mouth to form a tight latch with minimal leakage. The holes on the bottom of the bottle allow the bottle to vent perfectly, with no nipple collapse. The nipple was constantly collapsing with Avent bottles. The smaller size bottles hold 2 ounces more than most other small sized bottles. And the gradual angle of the shape of the bottle allows all of the milk to travel to the nipple easily. I didn’t like how the milk would get trapped in the Avent bottles. Other popular brands that we didn’t try include Comotomo, Tommee Tippee, Playtex, and Lansinoh.
  • Pacifier – There are a lot of differing opinions about the use of pacifiers, but studies have shown that using one at night can reduce the risk of SIDS up to 6 months. We tried the Wubbanub pacifiers, but Eli was not a big fan of the flat soother style nipple. He really enjoyed using the MAM brand pacifiers, and the glow in the dark ones are extremely helpful when searching for a pacifier at night.
  • Nose cleaner – Baby nose holes are teeny tiny, and the bulb syringe is not very effective at removing snot. The Nosefrida looks and sounds scary, like the baby’s brains are getting sucked out, but it works well. The oogiebear ear & nose cleaner is the perfect tool for cleaning out external ear wax and dried boogers from little noses. The product also claims, “Friendly bear design won’t scare baby.”
  • Diaper cream – All babies will need diaper cream to protect their bottoms. I like to slather it on before bedtime as a preventative measure, in case he poops at night. I like Bordeaux’s Butt Paste brand, and I’ve also heard great things about Desitin.
  • Babybum brush – Diaper cream is very waterproof and will adhere to your hands. It can also be hard to apply far enough between the cheeks to where irritation is present. This brush is very helpful in keeping my hands clean and reaching easily between the butt cheeks. The cream comes off the brush easily with a wipe.
  • Formula pitcher – If you plan on exclusively formula feeding or supplementing with formula, the Dr. Brown’s formula pitcher is a must-have. Instead of preparing bottle after bottle throughout the day, up to 40 oz of formula can be prepared at once and stored in the fridge. The mixer in the pitcher prevents clumps and makes formula preparation a breeze. I also use warm water for formula preparation, which completely eliminates clumps every time.
  • Mini fridge – We have a two story house, and we spend the majority of the time on the second floor. The mini fridge was the perfect place to store my pump parts (between washes), expressed breast milk, and prepared formula. It saved me so much time and energy that I did not have.
  • Baby bathtub – The bathtub we use is the Skip Hop MOBY Bathtub with Sling. It’s easy to fill and clean and supports the baby’s neck and body very well during baths. It’s also shaped like a cute whale.
  • Drying rack – If you use bottles, you will want to have a dedicated bottle drying area. Different bottles brands and sizes will fit better on different types of racks. I like the Boon grass because all bottles and parts will be able to fit. I also have the Munchkin drying rack, which is great for nipples and tall bottles.
Photo of my chunky dude dozing in his Dockatot

✿ Katie ✿

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Vegan Weight Loss Journey

My husband, Kyle, was overweight for most of his childhood. He comes from a divorced household, and he frequently sought comfort and stability in food. Growing up, he often dealt with teasing from other kids, and even family members, contributing to his low self esteem and self-image issues.

Kyle with his mom at his college graduation, 1 year before we met (May 2013)

In December of 2013, he decided to seriously start trying to lose weight through eating fewer calories and exercising more. He ran regularly, attended martial arts classes, and stayed active at his job as a Health and P.E. teacher. He lost over 50 lbs, and when I met him for the first time, I had no idea that he had been heavier for most of his life.

Kyle and me at the beach, 1 month after we met (June 2014)

We got married in December of 2014. With the combination of married life, less free time to exercise, as well as switching to a sedentary office job, Kyle went back to old habits and gained back more than 70 lbs.

Kyle holding our newborn son (June 2017)

When our son, Elijah, was born, he was at one of the heaviest weights he had ever been. He knew it was time for a change but didn’t have enough motivation to stick with a plan for more than a few weeks.

Kyle’s family had recently watched a movie on Netflix, “What the Health,” which talks at length about how diet (specifically animal products) affects chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The movie also emphasizes the inhumane treatment of animals bred and slaughtered for human consumption. Although some of the claims that the movie makes are based on weak evidence, it is undeniable that a plant-based diet is better for overall health and for a sustainable world. After watching this documentary, Kyle felt very inspired to change his own food choices. The next day, he became a full-fledged vegan and hasn’t looked back since.

In the beginning, when trying to lose weight quickly, Kyle ate a diet consisting of mostly fruit and also fasted intermittently. He ate cooked meals a few times a week until he got closer to his target weight. As the weight fell off, he began to feel more agile and able to exercise on a regular basis. His knee and ankle pain improved drastically. He strove to get 10,000 steps per day by taking long walks and staying active. He was able to lose 60 lbs in 3 months.

Kyle and Eli (Oct 2017)

It took me a little longer to commit to this lifestyle change. Meat, dairy, and eggs have been a vital part of my diet ever since I was young, and I was reluctant to completely eliminate these foods from my life. After a few months of seeing the changes in Kyle and knowing how much he wanted me to join him in this lifestyle change, I hopped on board. I also wanted to lose the rest of my pregnancy weight and knew that this would be a step in the right direction.

We have converted our household to have only vegan food items, with minimal processed foods. We intend on raising our son on a vegan diet, as much as possible, until he is old enough to make his own food choices. I’m still learning the ropes in terms of vegan cooking, but I hope to share some of my favorite vegan recipes with all of you here.

 

Here are some of Kyle’s own thoughts about his experience so far: 

 

What differences did you notice after becoming vegan?

Less inflammation/swelling, my joint pain started to go away. I had more energy overall. I feel like I regained my sense of taste after eating whole plant based foods, when before, it was hard to enjoy certain things (like apples) when I was used to drinking soda and eating Wendy’s.

How has becoming vegan affected your ability to keep the weight off? 

I think I have control over myself more. I’m not perfect but I’m more capable of making more health conscious decisions and not feeling ruled by food. I’ve been able to take control back. Because it limits what I eat, it makes it easier since my selection pool is smaller to choose from.

What made you decide to commit to being vegan?

I like being vegan, not only for health purposes, but also because of the ethics and the world of the future. Fighting for justice and equality for all people, feeding all people, reducing greenhouse gasses. The slaughtering of animals is appalling to watch, and that’s not something I want to support.

What are your favorite vegan foods?

One of my favorites is definitely Mediterranean. I like Chinese-style tofu, rice, and cabbage, which my wife and mother-in-law make often. I also really enjoy Thai, Indian, and sushi.

✿ Katie ✿

 

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A Tour of China

Even though I was born in China, I moved to the U.S. at the age of four, and I have no memories of living there as a child. Aside from my parents and my brother, all of our family is still residing in China, so we don’t get to see them very often. I have been back to visit three times. The first two times, I went back with my parents and only visited the two provinces where my maternal (Hebei) and paternal (Hunan) grandparents lived to visit with family. For my most recent visit, I brought my husband back with me, and I had the opportunity to visit many of China’s popular tourist attractions for the first time with him.

We purchased the tour on Groupon, through a company called Affordable Asia. The cost included airfare, 5 star hotel rooms with breakfast, and the major tours in each city (Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai). I also used Ebates and got 6% cash back! Overall, it was a terrific deal, and I would highly recommend it.

BEIJING 

Our first stop was Beijing. On the first day, we visited Qianmen, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.

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Qianmen (Front Gate)
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Qianmen Archery Tower

Qianmen once guarded the the southern entrance into the Inner City.

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Tiananmen Square

This was a very meaningful spot for me. The Tiananmen Square protests (Tiananmen Square Massacre) took place in April-June 1989. I was born only 20 days after the protests ended. My father was was one of the students who were present, and my mom talks about how she was afraid that I would be born fatherless. I hope to interview my dad about this and expand on this story in a future blog post.

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Forbidden City

The Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty the to Qing dynasty. It contains 9999 rooms and was forbidden to the common people.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is composed of lakes, gardens, and palaces, and was the summer retreat for the emperor.

The next day, we saw the Great Wall, Ming’s Tombs, and the Olympic Park.

The Great Wall is one of the most well-known landmarks of China. It spans over 5000 miles and is still considered one of the most impressive architectural feats ever constructed.

I have never been to the Great Wall before and didn’t know what to expect. The first realization I made about the wall was that it is EXTREMELY STEEP. It was also extremely crowded, as most tourist locations in China are, so it was even more precarious to try to maintain balance while climbing up. For some reason, people liked to stop randomly in the middle of the wall, so that proved to be an additional challenge. Going back down wasn’t easy either. I had to use my knees to keep myself from propelling face first down the wall, and towards the end, my legs felt like jello. However, after seeing so many photos of this impressive structure, actually being at the Great Wall was pretty amazing and surreal.

The next stop was the Ming tombs. There are 13 Ming dynasty emperors buried in this area, a spot specifically chosen according to fengshui  风水 principles, surrounded by both mountains and water.

Dragon-headed Turtle Tablet Pavilion

A 7 kilometer road, known as the Spirit Way, leads into the complex. It is lined with stone animals and officials, which guard the tombs. At one end is the Dragon-headed Turtle Tablet Pavilion.

For our last stop of the day, we went to the Olympic Park, which is where the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest are located. I still am in awe of the opening ceremony that China organized in the Bird’s Nest in 2008. It really was unparalleled.

Hepingmen Restaurant

Our tour guide told us about one of the most famous Beijing roast duck restaurants, HePing Men. A group of us from the tour decided to go there for dinner that night. Everyone relied on me to converse with the waiters, since none of the workers there spoke English. We ended up with way too much food, but the roast duck was superb. We also gave the restaurant a huge headache when we told them that we wanted to split the bill. This is simply not done in China. Somebody always foots the entire bill, and fighting for it (including physical contact) is required in order to save face.

XI’AN

The next city on the itinerary was Xi’an, a city full of historical treasures. It is one of the oldest cities in China and was the former capital. The city marked the starting point of the Silk Road and is home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. We visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terracotta Army that day.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist pagoda originally built during the Tang dynasty. The pagoda has five stories and leans to the West.

Buddha – Great Wild Goose Pagoda

One of the pagoda’s main functions was to hold sutras (scripts) and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by Buddhist monk and scholar, Xuanzang.

Pit One – Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army was constructed for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang and took over 700,000 workers to complete. The site was discovered in 1974, by farmers digging a well in the area. Four pits have currently been excavated, and excavation is still ongoing. Pit one is the largest pit and contains over 6000 figures.

Musicians Playing Traditional Chinese Instruments

That night, we went to go see the Tang Dynasty Show, one of the most popular attractions in Xi’an. The performance started out with musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments while we were served dinner. The two ladies wearing purple and red dresses are playing the erhu 二胡, which is actually the instrument that my mom played and performed in college.

Tang Dynasty Show

The show was primarily comprised of dancing, accompanied by a live orchestra, that told the story of the concubine Wu Zetian, and how she rose to power to become an empress. The combination of the music, dance, and costumes, made for a breathtaking performance. 

SHANGHAI

Shanghai was the last city on our group tour as well as the most populated city in China. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great while we were there, but we were still able to enjoy much of what the city had to offer.

The Bund – Shanghai

The Bund runs along the Huangpu River and from it, you get a glimpse of the impressive modern skyscrapers in the Pudong district. It was formerly part of the Shanghai International Settlement and features 52 buildings of various architectural styles from all over the world.

While in Shanghai, we went shopping during the day, and at night, we went to a few bars as well as karaoke, with our new friends from the tour group. Then, it was time to say goodbye and fly into Changsha, Hunan to see my dad’s family.

HUNAN

We arrived in Changsha and was picked up by my uncle and my cousin-in-law, whom I had never met before. We drove back to my uncle’s condo and unpacked our things. For dinner that night, my aunt, cousin, and her husband took us to a restaurant that served street food local to Changsha. The Hunan province is well-known for its love of spice in its dishes. My husband loves eating spicy things, but my relatives in China were skeptical that an American could handle the Hunan level of spice.

Street Food – Changsha, Hunan

At the restaurant, my husband definitely had to step out of his comfort zone when my cousin ordered chicken feet, snails, and whole turtle, just to name a few, all of which contained lots of spicy peppers. His favorite were the spicy crawfish (called little lobsters in Chinese). My relatives were very impressed with my husband’s ability to handle the spiciness and keep up.

The next day, we drove with my uncle to the town of Zhangjiajie, which was a four hour drive from Changsha. After arriving there, my uncle told me that he was deathly afraid of heights and that my husband and I would be seeing the sights on our own.

Tianmen Mountain

On the day that we arrived, we rode a cable car for 30 minutes to the top of Tianmen Mountain. We climbed to various spots around the mountain and also walked on the glass bottom bridge.

Glass Walkway – Tianmen Mountain

It wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be. It was extremely crowded, though. I’m at least glad this didn’t happen when we were on the bridge.

Tianmen Cave – Tianmen Mountain

To come down the mountain, we rode escalators for what seemed like an eternity. Then, we had to walk down these 999 steps, going through the Tianmen cave, which formed naturally after a cliff collapsed in ancient times. My legs felt like jello again, for the second time this trip.

The next day, we went to Zhangjiajie National Park, the first national park of China, and covering over 50 square miles. What sets Zhangjiajie apart are the pillar-like formations throughout the entire park.

Zhangjiajie National Park

The park contains an abundance of flora and fauna due to its high humidity and subtropical climate. The pillar-like structures were formed by physical erosion due to the vegetation that grows on it and when ice on the peaks expanded during the winter.

 

Floating Mountains – Zhangjiajie National Park

These peaks were the inspiration to the floating peaks featured in the 2009 movie, Avatar. This particular column shown has been renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” in honor of the movie.

 

Overall, the trip was a magnificent success. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to visit the iconic landmarks of my homeland with my husband, as well as be able to visit with relatives I hadn’t seen in years.

 

✿ Katie ✿

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Review & Personal Reflection

The author, Amy Chua, and I have a lot in common. We are both Chinese-American women with respectable careers, married to American men, and born to parents who immigrated from China to America. Now that I am a parent, I am also able to relate that aspect of her life on a more personal level. Although I didn’t have tiger parents myself and don’t intend on strictly using the “Chinese” method of parenting for my children, I appreciate the way Amy Chua depicted the contrasting belief systems about parenting between Asian and Western cultures. This book depicts her parenting approach but also reveals how she was unexpectedly humbled by her daughters in the process.

Chua Family
Amy Chua with her husband, Jed, and her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, and their two samoyeds, Coco and Pushkin

When Amy described her parents’ experience of coming to America for the first time, I was also reminded of my parents’ story.

“With only their student scholarships to live on, they couldn’t afford heat their first two winters, and wore blankets around to keep warm. My father got his Ph.D. in less than two years and became an assistant professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.”

I stayed with my grandparents in China for two years while my parents got settled, before my dad came back to bring me to America. My dad told me recently that is one of his biggest regrets, and he still wonders if leaving me impacted me and made me feel abandoned on a subconscious level. My mom had to waitress without a work permit in order to make ends meet, and my dad completely switched majors in order to get a better paying job for our family. Even though we were poor for a long time, my parents made sure I never went without, and I had no idea.

“We started off as outsiders together, and we discovered America together, becoming Americans in the process.”

I acclimated to living in the United States much faster than my parents did, due to my young age. But I still felt like an outsider along with my family for a very long time. We looked different, ate different foods, and spoke a different language at home. At times, I resented my family for not being more American, eating pizza once a week or having a family beach house instead of traveling to China to visit relatives. I was embarrassed that my parents had an accent and often made grammar mistakes when speaking English. What I didn’t realize was that their accent, and all the accents of first generation immigrants, symbolizes the adversity they had to endure, and the obstacles they overcame through sheer determination and hard work to get to where they are now.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.”

Only now, as an adult, have I come to realize how unique and precious my childhood was and how hard my parents worked to give me everything I could ever want.

When it comes to marriage, I had always assumed I would marry another Chinese man, mostly because my friends were predominantly Chinese. However, my husband appeared suddenly in my life at precisely the right moment, and we both knew right away that our fates were sealed. Amy Chua expounds on her feelings toward marrying a non-Chinese person below.

“A tiny part of me regrets that I didn’t marry another Chinese person and worries that I am letting down four thousand years of civilization. But most of me feels tremendous gratitude for the freedom and creative opportunity that America has given me. My daughters don’t feel like outsiders in America. I sometimes still do. But for me, that is less a burden than a privilege.”

I have to say that I have similar sentiments as Amy. Even though I have no regrets about marrying my husband, the fact that he is from a different culture and doesn’t speak Mandarin creates more of a challenge to preserve my Chinese culture in our family and with our children. However, he brings an equally diverse background to our little family, and we are able to incorporate the best parts of both of our cultures into our lives. He is also working diligently to learn Mandarin since we are planning for our children to be bilingual.

Although the book details many of Amy’s seemingly harsh methods for parenting her daughters, it also includes a great deal of humor. She is quick to poke fun at and point out the absurdity of some of her own ideas when it comes to her children.

“I wanted her [Sophie] to be well rounded and to have hobbies and activities. Not just any activity, like “crafts,’ which can lead nowhere—or even worse, playing the drums, which leads to drugs—but rather a hobby that was meaningful and highly difficult with the potential for depth and virtuosity.”

Despite the fact that Western and Chinese parenting contrast in many ways, it is indisputable that in both cases, parents love their children more than anything and strive to give their children the best life possible. Even though the journey may be different, the end goal is the same.

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

Family
My husband and I on our wedding day, along with my dad, mom, and brother

 

 

✿ Katie ✿

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How to Be Successful at Online Dating

I am by no means an expert at online dating. But considering that I met my husband on a dating website, I must have done something right.

An NPR article published a few years ago reveals that Asian women and Caucasian men are the most favored demographics when it comes to online dating. In that regard, my husband and I did have an advantage in the online dating sphere. However, the number of people who are using dating websites to meet new people is now higher than ever. It gives you an opportunity to interact with people you may never have met otherwise in a safe environment.

Obviously, I cannot guarantee that you will find a lifelong partner on an online dating website, but these tips will help you to utilize this tool in the most effective way possible.

    1. Spend time on your profile

      Your profile is the only way other people can learn about who you are, so use it to express yourself! If you only spend 5 minutes on it, no one will be able to get a clear picture of what you’re about, and it will seem like you’re not serious about meeting anyone new. Talk about your likes and dislikes, your childhood, your occupation – whatever you feel like represents the person that you are. Try to incorporate your sense of humor into the answers as well because that can be an important compatibility factor.

    2. Answer as many questions as possible

      On websites where compatibility is determined through the answers you give to questions (OkCupid, eHarmony, etc.), take the time to answer as many questions as possible. Although it’s not imperative that a couple has everything in common, it certainly provides a starting point, especially for things that are not negotiable. Which leads us to…

    3. Spell out any non-negotiables clearly

      Either in your profile or in the first few conversations that you have with a new person, make sure they understand what types of things you are not willing to negotiate on. These things may include religion, drug use, or anything else that you may feel strongly about. Have these things out in the open early on so that if an incompatibility does exist, no more time is spent on getting to know the wrong person.

    4. Post multiple photos of how you currently look

      We all want to put our best face forward when it comes to posting pictures, but using an outdated photo that does not accurately reflect how you look will only create problems down the road (unless you intend on having a purely online relationship). Use pictures with good lighting and taken from flattering angles, but don’t use a photo that is ten years old or 40 pounds off from what you actually weigh. Posting more pictures will give other people a better idea of what to expect if/when they meet you in person and whether or not they are attracted to you.

    5. Send meaningful messages (quality over quantity)

      When you find someone that you think you may be interested in, don’t be afraid to send them a message. The worst thing they can say is no (or don’t respond). The first impression message is a pretty big deal. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The first message should NOT be “Hey, what’s up?” or “I like your pics.”

      First, let the other person know that you took the time to read their profile. Talk about the things you liked reading about them and why you think the two of you would be a good fit. Keep it lighthearted, add some humor, and don’t ramble on for too long. At the end of the message, ask some easy follow up questions, such as “I see you like to run. Have you participated in any races?” This will make it easier for them to have something to write in their response and will also show them you are interested in learning more. Keep asking questions in subsequent messages to keep the conversation flowing as easily as possible. You can suggest moving the conversation to text or another mode, if you feel comfortable.

    6. Don’t get ahead of yourself, be realistic

      Don’t get your heart set on a specific person prematurely. Just because you may think you’ve met your soul mate after reading their profile does not mean this is necessarily the reality. Try not to get overly attached to the idea of a person that you may have conjured up in your head before actually getting to know the person. Be open to the idea that this person may not be exactly what you are expecting and to take things one step at a time.

    7. Arrange to meet as soon as you feel comfortable

      It’s definitely a good idea to keep interactions online-based in the beginning, for safety reasons. Be sure to look out for red flags that they’re not being honest and don’t proceed if you have any doubts. However, once you feel comfortable enough, arrange a meeting in a public place. The longer that you talk to a person via messaging or even on the phone without meeting them, the more likely you are to form an unrealistic idea of them in your mind – one that they couldn’t possibly live up to. In a lot of cases, you will have a much better idea of whether or not the relationship could progress after the very first meeting. If you realize after the meeting that they are not what you are looking for…

    8. Be honest if you aren’t interested, don’t lead them on

      Don’t string someone along just because you are scared to hurt their feelings or reject them. Making them think something may happen when you already know it won’t will be much harder to deal with in the long run. Be nice but direct and tell them that you have enjoyed getting to know them but don’t think the two of you are compatible. Don’t feel guilty about being honest about your true feelings.

    9. Be patient

      It can be easy to feel frustrated after not finding anyone that you click with after a few months of trying. Don’t give up. These things can take time, and you never know when you might meet the person you spend the rest of your life with.

    10. Don’t be ashamed to tell people you are dating online

      Using an online dating website does NOT mean you are desperate, unattractive, or unlovable. Thankfully, the stigmas surrounding online dating are beginning to disappear, but some people are still hesitant to reveal that they are online dating or that they did not meet their spouse the “natural” way. With technology advancing at lightning speed, meeting online is becoming the new normal. When I was contemplating trying online dating, the question that I kept asking myself was, “If I were to meet my spouse on a website, would I be upset that this was the way that we met?” My answer was always a resounding NO. Given the choice between meeting my spouse through online dating or not meeting him at all, I think most people will agree with my perspective.

Good luck with all of your online dating endeavors. Have fun and stay safe!

 

✿ Katie ✿

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5 Tips for Having the Best Pregnancy Experience

The fact that we, as women, have bodies capable of growing a whole person inside of us is a miraculous thing. There’s nothing quite like seeing that line appear on the first pregnancy test, and then taking ten more tests just to be sure.

As amazing as our bodies are, the nine month process of making a baby doesn’t always feel amazing. Here are some ways to make the pregnancy as enjoyable as possible.

  1. Get comfortable!

    Carrying around 30 lbs of extra weight is not my idea of a good time. It’s hard on the joints, the back, and it can really affect sleep. Rest is so important, especially in the final few months, when fatigue really hits and relief can be so hard to find. A body pillow, like the Leachco Snoogle, can be a lifesaver to provide support for an aching, pregnant body. I even brought mine on vacation at 37 weeks pregnant! This pillow isn’t cheap, but it can also be used as a nursing pillow. And dogs seem to love it, so there is that.

    As clothes start to feel tighter, it can be hard to justify buying maternity clothes. After all, who wants to buy clothes that can only be worn for a few months and are not cheap at all? If possible, look for second hand maternity clothes on local buy/sell sites. They are often in good condition and priced very reasonably.

    Regardless of price, I would absolutely recommend investing in a wire free bra and a pair of full panel jeans/shorts. The underwire in your bra will start digging into your growing belly, and having a comfortable, wire free bra will make the biggest difference. Be sure to account for your growing breasts and size up if needed. For pants, I highly recommend the full panel style to fully support your growing belly. I tried using a belly band to extend the wear of my pre-pregnancy pants, but every time I bent over, my pants were on the verge of falling down, and that was not very attractive or convenient.

    My favorite stores for maternity clothes are Motherhood Maternity, Old Navy, Target, and H&M. Wait for a sale to stock up on some cute pieces!

  2. Be prepared, but not too prepared.

    I am a researcher by nature. If I am traveling to a new city, trying out a new restaurant, or gearing up to have a new experience (i.e. having a baby), I like to be as prepared as possible. Everyone has probably heard about the book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It can be a very helpful resource for a new mom and provides a breakdown for every month of pregnancy. However, it is extremely dense, and not a very easy read, since much of the information won’t be relevant. It serves a better purpose as a textbook to reference when faced with a specific question, rather than a book to read cover to cover. Some of the dangers mentioned in the book can be overwhelming, so take in the scary-sounding information with a grain of salt and be sure to use other resources as well.

    A book I found much more useful was Expecting Better by Emily Oster. Rather than accepting the rules at face value (no sushi, no alcohol, no caffeine), she delves into the research as to why pregnant women are told these seemingly random rules and the risks involved if these rules are not followed. Many of these guidelines are outdated and have no scientific basis.

    For dads who feel unprepared, The Expectant Father by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash, is a great option. The book answers a lot of questions that fathers-to-be may have on how to be a supportive partner during pregnancy and a father figure to the baby, without all of the specifics of physical changes that are included in books geared towards women.

  3. Try not to worry.

    The moment you become pregnant, the worrying begins. And, I hate to tell you, it doesn’t ever go away. Starting with the first trimester, I constantly worried about having a miscarriage. I visited this website on a daily basis to see as the probability of having miscarriage decreased slowly as the weeks passed. I celebrated viability day at 24 weeks of pregnancy, where the baby has at least a 50% of survival from then on.

    After I began to feel the baby move, I monitored the baby’s movement and did kick counts as if I had the sole responsibility for detecting if something may be wrong. On top of that, there’s the fear that I may fall and hurt the baby or get into a car accident.

    There is SO MUCH pressure on the mother!

    It’s more or less impossible to not worry about the little person inside of our bellies, but try not to be consumed with these thoughts, especially when so many things are out of our control. Instead, focus on the positives, such as getting the nursery ready, washing and putting away baby clothes, and taking full advantage of all the free time you still have. This is the perfect time to go on fun dates with your partner and to catch up with old friends.

  4. Don’t let guilt get the best of you.

    As I slowly stepped onto the scale at my monthly OB appointments, I found myself holding my breath, hoping that the weight that appeared had not jumped up too much from the previous time. The doctors and midwives had mentioned to me that the rate of my weight gain was above the ideal trajectory. To decrease the likelihood of having an oversized baby, they suggested increasing my level of physical activity, as well as avoiding the consumption of: white breads & pastas & potatoes, fats, sweets, sugary drinks, artificial sweeteners, and even fruits that are high in sugar!

    I nodded in agreement but in reality, I wanted to say, “I didn’t avoid these things before I got pregnant. What makes you think I can avoid them now?”

    It’s okay if you can’t always muster up the energy to exercise your tired, swollen body. It’s okay to use food as comfort when you’re having an especially bad day. It’s okay if these habits are causing you to gain more weight than you should. Growing a person is hard work, and you deserve a break every now and then!

  5. Find a community

    Going through pregnancy for the first time can be confusing and lonely. I had so many questions that I couldn’t always find answers to by Googling but that didn’t seem important enough to ask my doctor. Luckily, I was able to find an amazing community that I am still a part of, four months postpartum.

    I joined the subreddit r/BabyBumps on Reddit, which is an awesome place for pregnant women to ask questions (What does an epidural feel like? What should I put on my registry?) or to share about their pregnancy excitement (first positive test, ultrasound pictures, nursery decor).

    There are also offshoot subreddits based on the month and year of your due date. I joined the r/JuneBumpers2017 group, and I got connected to hundreds of women around the world who were going through the same thing at the same time. It was incredibly helpful to have so many people to turn to and commiserate with. At one point, one of the members of JuneBumpers2017 created a Facebook group, which was a lot more accessible and easier to navigate. The group is still extremely active, and we are continuing to figure out this motherhood thing together.

    If you have friends who are also pregnant or have kids, connecting with them is a great way to form a community. But for those of us who don’t have that kind of support in our “real lives,” I would highly recommend seeking out one online.

 

 

✿ Katie ✿

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