All posts by Marisa Belger

About Marisa Belger

Marisa Belger is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and mama. When not running around with her five-year old boy -- or preparing for the birth of his little brother -- she writes about parenting, natural beauty, wellness and green living for publications like Natural Health, Prevention and, or collaborates on books like Josh Dorfman's The Lazy Environmentalist.

Happy family with two kids

What Kind of Example Am I to My Child?

Our dear friend Cathy once told us one of our favorite childrearing stories. It goes like this: One hot summer evening, Cathy had a fun-filled dinner party, complete with families, friends and neighbor children. But after her friends left, Cathy’s 3-year old-daughter exclaimed, “Oh, am I glad they’re gone!”

“I asked myself, Where did my little girl learn to talk like that!” Cathy told us. It didn’t take her long to realize that her daughter was repeating the same words that Cathy had said to her husband on a previous occasion, after company had left their house. “Now I know I have an audience who likes to mimic,” Cathy said with a laugh, “I’d better choose my words more carefully!”

From the moment you hold your precious newborn, your every move becomes a model for the way the world operates. What power lies in that modeling! Consider all the things your child watches you do in the course of a single day: brush your teeth, greet your partner, talk on the phone, use a napkin, wear a seatbelt…. The list goes on and on.

You pass along a legacy

There is some good news here: Just as our children pick up on the inappropriate behavior we model, they also imitate what’s appropriate in our day-to-day habits. If you want your 2-year-old to be truthful, then you should tell the truth to her, as well as to others.

Think of role modeling as your most basic tool for teaching your child the good behavior you want him to learn. For example, if you don’t want your 15-month-old to act aggressively, don’t spank him or hit your pet puppy—even when they’re misbehaving (or when you’re upset for another reason).

Calm yourself, calm your child

One of the most important tools you can teach a toddler is how to tolerate frustration. Being a pillar of patience at all times is far from easy, but responding to an upset child by getting upset will not help her learn how to calm herself. So keep your cool by giving yourself a break. During the inevitable temper tantrum, like when your little one doesn’t want to go to bed, calm yourself down with this simple self-talk: “I don’t need to get upset just because my child’s upset.” Keep these words handy. You may need them often as your child develops his own tools for handling frustration and delaying gratification, and learns all the lessons of childhood that will help him cope with the ups and downs of life.

Your lifelong responsibility as your child’s chief role model in tolerating frustration (and oh so much more!) is an amazing gift to you and your child. For example, if you want to prepare her to learn how to read, you have to read, too. And when the day comes for your child to drive a car, guess whose driving she’ll have been watching most for the past 16 years.

This information is not a substitute for personal medical, psychiatric or psychological advice.

Mid adult Caucasian pregnant woman is smiling while reading label on bottle of prenatal vitamins in local pharmacy. Expecting mother is learning about side effects and benefits of prenatal vitamins and supplements. Customer is standing in aisle and deciding what to purchase from large variety of options. Pharmacist is working in background.

Essential Tips on Taking Prenatal Vitamins

As a mama to a five year old and a one-month old, prenatal vitamins have been a staple in my cupboard for quite some time. They have accompanied me through pre-conception, pregnancy and lactation. In fact I’m taking them right now. Well, not right now – I took them this morning. And I’ll take them again tomorrow.

Growing another human is no small feat. Even if you eat bushels of kale and organically raised salmon and low-fat dairy products, it’s almost impossible to avoid a gap in your nutritional intake during the nine months of gestation and beyond. Prenatal vitamins help to ensure that all of your – and your baby’s – nutritional needs are being met.

Walk into the average drug store or supplement shop and you’ll be faced with prenatal vitamin overload. There are many to choose from – but which one is best? There are lots of things to consider when looking for a vitamin that’s right for you and your baby. Be sure to check in with your OB or midwife before starting a new supplement, and when you start combing the vitamin aisles, it helps to keep these four things in mind:

1.  Don’t forget the folic acid

Folic acid can help prevent birth defects in your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Look for prenatal vitamins that contain at least 600 mcg of folic acid. And since most birth defects folic acioccur in the first four weeks of pregnancy, it’s important to have folic acid in your system before you conceive. Thinking about getting pregnant? Start taking a prenatal vitamin today!

Pills with b9 folic acid element. Dietary supplements. Vitamin capsules. 3d
Look for prenatal vitamins that contain at least 600 mcg of folic acid

 2.  Note the recommended serving amount

Many prenatal vitamins require taking more than one tablet to reach the serving amount. Ask yourself if you’re comfortable taking four tablets a day or would it be easier for you to take a one-a-day prenatal vitamin? Check labels for serving amounts.

3.  Do DHA

DHA is a type of Omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for fetal brain development. Look for prenatal vitamins that contain DHA and check in with your provider to see if it’s necessary to take an additional DHA supplement.

4. Eat Right.

Prenatal vitamins are not an excuse to eat poorly. Supplements are designed to fill in the gaps in your nutritional intake – but they can’t beat the real thing. If gummy bears and cheese doodles are your fantasy meal, pregnancy is not the time to succumb to your cravings (though a treat from time to time is more than OK). Your prenatal vitamin(s) can only do so much. Think of it like you’re part of a team: Team Healthy Baby. You eat right, exercise and get enough rest and your vitamins will do the rest.

Detox Your Pregnancy Beauty Routine

Pregnancy is the perfect time to make positive changes in your well-being. I can’t think of any greater motivation to quit smoking or drink less alcohol or eat fewer potato chips than growing a healthy baby.

Those nine months are also an ideal period to take a closer look at the beauty products we use each day. Unlike the food we eat, which is governed by the FDA, the cosmetics we put on our skin – the skin is the body’s biggest organ — do not have to answer to any regulating party. This means that many of the beauty products available today contain ingredients that are untested and can be harmful.

I’ve already mentioned a few of the non-toxic products that I used excessively during pregnancy. And I listed some more here. But letting go of your favorite products can be hard – I understand. Perhaps you’ve been using the same hair gel since high school or are committed to a particular shade of toenail polish. Finding a safer alternative may be challenging. The good news is that you don’t have to make significant changes overnight – and starting is easier than you think.

If you’re interested in giving your cosmetic regimen a non-toxic upgrade, but are unsure where to begin, Jessa Blades —  an NYC-based makeup artist and natural beauty expert — recommends taking it slow. “This information can be unsettling,” she says. “Many women want to run for the hills and never wear makeup again.” Instead, she suggests that women examine the beauty products that they use most frequently. “It’s really important to consider what you’re using once or twice a day (lipstick, mascara, etc.) as the real issue is the frequency of application and the long time effects of the ingredients on the body. It’s not necessary to immediately change the lipstick that you wear every three months to a special event.”

When embarking on the journey toward safer beauty, Blades recommends using these three points as guideposts:

Be curious. Safer beauty begins with self-education. Take the time to study the labels of your favorite products and familiarize yourself with ingredients on the no-go list (see below).

Take baby steps. Slowly add and subtract items from your beauty routine. A subtler shift is better for long-lasting change. Wait for things to run out before replacing them with something else.

Have realistic expectation for products. Some natural and organic products perform differently than their conventional counterparts. If you are used to waterproof mascara you may be disappointed when your non-toxic mascara doesn’t last as long.

As for ingredients to watch out for, Blades encourages women to study the labels on their favorite products, looking out for the following potentially harmful ingredients:

  • Petrochemicals (often used in skin astringents and perfumes or colognes)
  • Sodium laureth/lauryl sulfates and other sulfate-based detergents (most commonly used in shampoos, shower gels, and bubble baths)
  • Propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol (found in everything from deodorant, mascara, baby powder, aftershave, and more).
  • Formaldehyde and paraben preservatives (found in sunscreen, shampoos, shaving gel, toothpaste, and more)
  • Fragrance (synthetic fragrance has been found to have high levels of toxicity. Any fragrance that isn’t specifically listed as natural or organic – i.e. made with essential oils — was most likely concocted in a laboratory).

You can learn more about the safety of your beauty products by checking out the Environmental Work Group’s Skin Deep Database.

Visit Jessa Blades at Blades Natural Beauty.


Ouch! 6 Tips to Reduce Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy

Pregnancy and back pain go hand-in-hand. And while this kind of pain may be annoying — or truly debilitating – the aches and pains make sense if you think about it.

By the third trimester (the most achy period of pregnancy), you’re carrying a giant beach ball of baby and as your body compensates for the extra weight, your center of gravity moves, your abdominal muscles weaken (um, disappear) and your posture shifts. Factor in hormonal changes that loosen joints and ligaments and you’ve got the makings of some very real back pain.

And pain can actually crop up very early in pregnancy — those ligament-relaxing hormones get right to work!

What can you do to for relief? Try these six lifesavers. 

6 Tips to Reduce Back Pain in Pregnancy


Birth Movie to Watch

If you’re anything like me, your cinematic tastes while pregnant are decidedly corny — and restricted. When pregnant with both of my children, I couldn’t watch anything that included the harming of children or animals or children harming animals. I couldn’t watch movies based around characters steeped in war or poverty or depression. I stayed away from documentaries (too intellectual), dramas (too emotional), and indie films (too hip).

This left me with one category, really — romantic comedies, which I devoured with an unapologetic vengeance. Stuck at home  with nausea (first trimester), allergies (second trimester) and insomnia (third trimester), I found myself tearing up at cinematic gems like The Rebound (Catherine Zeta Jones is a single mother who falls for her much younger manny).

But I did wipe away the tears long enough to focus on one serious film, Ricki Lake’s The Business of Being Born. Lake, of talk show fame, has become an unlikely advocate for safe and natural birth free from medical intervention. The film carries a clear message: In the United States today, birth is often viewed as a pathology, as a condition that must be treated in a hospital, by doctors, when in reality, most women are perfectly capable of delivering healthy babies in the comfort of their own homes, with nothing more than the guidance of an experienced midwife and/or doula. In fact, we’ve been giving birth at home for centuries.

The film is educational, taking the viewer on a journey that chronicles the history of birth in America, and entertaining – Ricki is a fun and friendly guide who isn’t afraid to get gritty on film (she invites us to the birth of her second child — doesn’t get more real than that.). She also shows when things go wrong and the hospital is the necessary place to be.

Any woman who is pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant — or is friends or sisters or colleagues with anyone remotely with child — should take the time to watch this empowering, inspiring movie.


5 Ways to Find Part-time Work

When it comes to employment and parenting, sometimes it really is possible to have your cake and eat it too. Working part-time gives women the opportunity to get back into the workforce (or to enter it for the first time) while giving them time to be present for their children.

But how does one secure a part-time position? Career expert Dana Manciagli, author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job (spring 2013), shares her tips for finding – and landing – the ideal part-time gig.

1.    Seek opportunities on sites specifically geared toward part-time work like and She also suggests being open to different ways of being hired. “Some people are hired as a part-time employee while others are hired as a contractor,” she says. “Women should manage their expectations about the title or the way they can be hired.”

2.    Take time to learn how to effectively use job sites and social media outlets. “Social media and websites are the next generation of finding part-time work, but to really get value out of them spend time learning how to use them – don’t just post your resume and think you’re done,” she says.

3.    Be proud of your skills. Manciagli encourages women to stand behind their skills. “The mindset of the part-time mommy is her first hurdle,” she says. “These women often don’t think they have any skills, but mothers have skills that they cultivated before babies as well as those they mastered while managing their households. One mom I worked with added, “CEO of my household” to her resume. After 14 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is now working at Microsoft.”

4.    Never apologize for any amount of time you took off to raise your children. When it comes time to recount the time you spent out of the workforce raising your kids, Manciagli suggests that women promote the skills they earned at home – flexibility, attention to detail, multi-tasking. “You have skills,” she says. “Whether the hiring manager is a man or a woman, they will understand those skills.

5.    Describe, up front, how you will be able to find time for your part-time work. “Get ahead of one of the biggest challenges working moms will face – a hiring manager’s belief that you won’t be able to give the job the time it needs” says Manciagli. “Tell them from the start how you will be able to do part-time work, i.e. ‘I’m committed to your company and excited to work for you and I’d like to tell you how I’m going to be able to take care of my kids and dedicate time to you. I have a nanny coming every day for four hours, I have a closed door office, etc.’”


Working mother

5 Tips for Earning Money at Home

Picture this: baby is napping in the other room, a chicken is in the oven roasting for dinner while you’re at the computer, meeting a deadline. Today, more and more stay-at-home mamas are becoming working-at-home mamas, a transition that is fed by increasing financial needs and technological advancements (read: meetings held by gchat, skype or facetime; documents emailed and scanned).

At-home employment has many faces: some women own their own businesses ranging from public relations and graphic design to massage therapy and life coaching. Others work for an organization in a marketing, sales or assistant capacity.  Whatever your skills and experience may be, and whatever time you have to dedicate to the work – there is a gig for you.

Diana Ennen, author of several books including So You Want to be a Work-at-Home Mom: A Christian’s Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business (Beacon Hill Publishers), has been self-employed since 1985. She recommends that moms consider the following as they aim to earn money from home;

Do what you love. Working at home is exactly that – working. Distractions may beckon – snacks in the fridge, a rug that needs to be vacuumed, a chatty neighbor – but you still have professional responsibilities to meet and meeting them is much easier if you enjoy what you do. Seek out work that is aligned not only with your skills, but also with your interests.

Follow those who have done it already. Take the time to find other mothers who are successfully working at home. A community of support will help you avoid common mistakes and answer key questions – no, it’s not possible to edit an academic text while your two-year old is throwing fish sticks at your head.

Be professional. You may do the bulk of your working-at-home in your pajamas at the kitchen table, but that doesn’t mean that you’re anything less than professional. Make a commitment to keep your commitments (have a deadline? Meet that deadline.); don’t take important business calls when your little one is around clamoring for your attention and turn in quality work.

Be your brand. Add legitimacy to your at-home endeavor by creating a brand that supports it. Create business cards and a website that details your skills and services.

Continually market yourself. Woohoo! You’ve landed your first two clients, but that doesn’t mean that you can stop the hustle. You can’t work at home if you don’t have anything to work on, so factor marketing and networking into your weekly work schedule. When one project is over, there should be another waiting in the pipeline.


Pregnant woman sick

Medication and Pregnancy

During my last pregnancy, I struggled through nausea, severe allergies, sinus congestion, flu-induced fever, back pain and insomnia. Needless to say, it sucked. I spent most of my incapacitated moments fantasizing about all the medicine I couldn’t take.

Though I’m generally not a pill-popper – I’m the type of lady who will wince through a headache rather than take an Advil – I was such a mess that I often found myself salivating in the aisles of my local drug store. Tylenol’s red cap beckoned me. Claritin’s blue box called my name. And though my midwife, doctors (and Google!) all reassured me that it was OK to medicate during pregnancy, I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge. While I was busy sneezing and aching, my baby was busy forming things like organs and bones. It seemed unfair to dose him with a Claritin-D or an Ambien. Instead I turned to natural remedies like hot water with lemon and therapies like massage and craniosacral.

And while I’m sure I’m not the only pregnant woman who coughed for three days straight rather than ingest a drop of Robitussin, it seems that I am in the minority when it comes to abstaining from medication during pregnancy. Jane E. Brody dug into this subject in a recent post in the New York Times’ Well Blog. She writes, “During the last 30 years, use of prescription drugs during the first trimester of pregnancy, when fetal organs are forming, has grown by more than 60 percent. About 90 percent of pregnant women take at least one medication, and 70 percent take at least one prescription drug according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Why are pregnant women medicating so profusely when the FDA has found that 10 percent or more of birth defects result from medications taken during pregnancy? My answer: doctors and the Internet. Women are told it’s OK to take most over-the-counter drugs while pregnant. I was. In fact, the allergist I visited after three consecutive months of debilitating sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes insisted that I take a Claritin every day until my symptoms decreased. I clarified: “So, you’re telling a pregnant woman to take drug that was once prescription-only (Claritin received over-the-counter status in late 2002) every single day?” The allergist looked at me hard and annoyed, “Yes,” he sighed. “That is exactly what I’m telling you.”

As for the Internet, “A study, published online last month in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, of so-called ‘safe lists for medications in pregnancy’ found at 25 Web sites revealed glaring inconsistencies and sometimes false reassurances or alarms based on ‘inadequate evidence,’” Brody writes. The authors of the study found that “Among medications approved for use in the U.S.A. from 2000 to 2010, over 79% had no published human data on which to assess teratogenic risk (potential to cause birth defects), and 98% had insufficient published data to characterize such risk.” The study also revealed that info on the web was often contradictory. “Twenty-two of the products listed as safe by one or more sites were stated not to be safe by one or more of the other sites.”

I may have spent the majority of my pregnancy as a nose-blowing, exhausted, cranky, coughing mess – and who knows, Claritin may have indeed been just fine – but as I look at my healthy baby boy today, I’m sure glad I went with hot water and lemon.


Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth Review

When a friend comes to me looking for guidance about pregnancy and birth, I give her two words of advice: Ina May.

If there is a face of midwifery — and general empowerment around pregnancy and birth — it’s Ina May Gaskin. Gaskin is an American midwife who has been guiding babies into the world naturally since the seventies. She is one of my heroes.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

I pretty much spooned with Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth throughout my first pregnancy. I would wake up with the book, indentations from the binding slashed across my cheek. Gaskin’s messaging blew me away – her philosophy is radical and yet so simple: Women are designed to carry babies and give birth naturally. That’s it. Our bodies are made to do this. Contrary to the images forced upon us by television and the movies – childbirth does not have to be a terrifying event filled with glaring fluorescent hospital lights, bloodcurdling screams and masked doctors urging us to Push! Push! Push!

In fact, childbirth can be a beautiful and deeply empowering experience, where a woman experiences the truest essence of her strength. It was Gaskin who reminded me that childbirth is not an illness that needs to be treated. Labor and birth are a natural part of human existence that can actually take place at home, that was at one time only experienced in the comfort and familiarity of a woman’s home.

And the pain? Gaskin has some life-changing thoughts about the pain that many women associate with childbirth. She invites us to reconsider the way we approach the sensations that accompany labor and birth. “Many women react to labor pain the same way they react to the kind of pain they experience when wounded . . . they usually aren’t aware of the extent to which you can ease your own tense reaction by declining to think in terms of ‘uterine contractions’ and instead thinking of  ‘interesting sensations that require all of your attention.’”

I am convinced that Ina May’s words played a key role in my two healthy, empowered birth experiences – both with midwives, both under three hours, the second at home. By the time my water broke I was absolutely convinced that I had the strength to give birth naturally, that a warm (no fluorescent lights, no masked doctors), drug-free labor and delivery was my birthright.

Pregnant lady applying cream

Natural Pregnancy Beauty Products, Part 2

Pregnancy is all about transformation. While some of the changes are positive: feeling baby’s gentle kicks and preparing for an expanded family – other alterations can be more challenging.

Let’s be honest: growing a baby can wreak havoc on your body. Many women feel queasy and tired on the inside and stretched and puffy on the outside. I know I did. I also felt stuffed up and sneezy; irritable and sad; and my skin was dry and flaking – not exactly a sexy nine months.

But throughout both my pregnancies, I found taking daily small steps to perk up my appearance had a significant trickle-down effect on my overall wellbeing. So, I armed myself with an arsenal of natural and organic beauty products – always remembering that the skin is the body’s biggest organ and whatever I put on it would eventually end up in my bloodstream — and in my baby. In addition to daily use of these four magical products, my pregnancy routine included regular application of these safe and effective personal care items. Translation: I couldn’t get enough of these goods.

Zoe Organics Belly Butter

Stretch marks may be a pregnant woman’s most tenacious foe. Over ninety percent of women who give birth will receive this telltale marking – a lifelong reminder of the work you did to bring your babe into the world. But you don’t have to give up easily. I refused to go down without a fight. I applied Zoe Organic’s luscious whipped Belly Butter every day of my pregnancy. The fluffy stuff melts smoothly across the biggest of bellies, spreading moisturizing, essential oil-enhanced goodness (think rose geranium, ylang ylang, sandalwood and chamomile) that absorbs quickly and easily. And a little goes a long way – just a dab will do it. [$34; 4 oz]

Alaffia Virgin Coconut & Shea Hydrating Body Lotion

The belly may be the main attraction during pregnancy, but the rest of your body is also feeling the effects of your growing baby. I know that during – and after – pregnancy my skin takes on Sahara-like levels of dryness. I keep the rest of my parts – with special focus on thighs and upper arms – smooth and silky with Alaffia’s delicious Virgin Coconut and Shea lotion. This potion is rich and creamy, yet light and smooth. It goes on easy and quick. And the scent is delectable (I’ve been tempted to take a lick during some particularly peckish pregnant moments). [$8.95; 8 oz].

Burt’s Bees Mama Bee Leg and Foot Crème

Pregnancy number two was full of surprises – wicked allergies, months of insomnia, a fierce predilection for grapefruit – and leg cramps were at the top of the list. I spent most of my pregnant hours with a low, thumping ache in my both of my calves, punctuated with the sporadic middle-of-the-night cramps that would jolt me out of bed. Mama Bee’s Leg and Foot Crème addresses this specific issue directly with ingredients designed to calm the crankiest of calves – peppermint oil, witch hazel and tea tree oil among others. It’s is particularly effective when rubbed on by your partner, who’s probably looking for a way to help. [$9].

 [Read Part 1: Natural, Pregnant Beauty]