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 TODAYShow.com, or collaborates on books like Josh Dorfman's The Lazy Environmentalist.

3 Tips for Boosting Romance — Even with a New Baby

Staying connected to your partner is tough even when there isn’t a crying newborn taking over precious hours of sleep each night. Add a needy baby to the mix and maintaining a healthy relationship can become one of the greatest challenges.

Whether you’re new parents or seasoned vets, make a commitment to pay much needed attention to your other half this Valentine’s Day. But, you may ask, Is it realistic to be kind and loving between diaper changes, feedings and insurmountable fatigue? According to relationship expert April Masini – the voice behind the “Ask April” advice column, the answer is “yes.”

Here, she shares three tips for boosting the romance in your relationship – even with a new babe.

1. Don’t let fatigue get the best of you. “You’re exhausted and you’ve probably lost your perspective on your behavior, so pre-empt any ignoring of your partner with a compliment that goes something like this: ‘I’m so exhausted, I know I’m not appreciating you and how wonderful you are. Please forgive me. I can’t wait to get some sleep and pay attention to you because you so deserve it, and I’m so lucky to have you,’” Masini says. “Believe me, a tired person needs this script. They can’t figure this out when they’re wiped out.”

2. Give a gift. “Pick up flowers, chocolates, or some other little gift as a way to say, ‘I appreciate you,’ so your partner remembers that you’re really a good person,” Masini suggests. “Do not attempt to cook a meal or purchase something complicated because you will fail under your exhaustion. Make it simple, but get the message across. One truffle speaks a thousand words.”

3. Make a plan. “You’ve got a new baby and you and/or your partner have had killer month at work, which means your sex life has flagged (read: is non-existent),” Masini says. “When you get to this point, take out your calendars and make a date for a weekend away from all that is stressing you, so you can sleep (first), then reconnect with time together on long walks, swimming, dining out, even having sex. Knowing this is on the calendar, even if it’s three or four weeks away, will thwart the sense that your marriage has changed permanently. It will give you a light at the end of the tunnel.

 

5 Tips for Getting Back to Sex After Baby

In my mind there are two kinds of sex: baby-making sex and life-with-a-newborn-sex. Baby-making sex may be fraught with its own questions – will we actually conceive a child? Can we maintain passion as we adhere rigorously to my ovulation schedule?

But life-with-a-newborn sex may bring up even more concerns. As your baby approaches six weeks – the sexual hiatus suggested by most midwives and obstetricians – you may find your head (and heart) swimming with worries: I’ve got leaky boobs, a bigger tummy and dark circles under my eyes – will my partner still find me desirable? If he does, will sex be enjoyable? What if my libido never returns to its pre-baby state?

Getting back into the sexual saddle may be intimidating at first, but intimacy with your partner is essential for a healthy and well-rounded relationship – passing a crying baby back and forth in the middle of the night can’t be the only way you spend time together. But if a healthy relationship isn’t enough motivation, use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to spend some sexy time together. Line up a babysitter, crack open a bottle of wine and get busy remembering how your baby got started in the first place.

And don’t do it alone. Dr. Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist specializing in pregnancy, new motherhood and healthy relationships shares five tips for bringing sexy back into your world. She reminds us that it is possible to raise a healthy, happy baby and have a healthy, happy sex life.

1. Find Alone Time with Your Partner. “It’s hard to go from sleepless nights and crying baby to hot sex,” says Lederer. “Make sure that you and your partner have some alone time to cuddle and be affectionate with one another. Intimacy is so much more than just the physical act of sex – an emotional/mental connection is key.” The time is now to call in the baby-sitting reinforcements.

2. Exercise. “Sure, it may be difficult to make time for 90-minute workouts with a needy newborn, so instead, find 15 to 20 minutes each day to focus on your body and get your heart pumping with some cardio exercise,” Lederer suggests. And change doesn’t happen overnight, so work with what you’ve got. “Many new moms resist looking at their bodies or wear oversized clothes to hide the baby bulge,” Lederer says. “Instead, take notice of your new curves and use them to your advantage.”

3. Cultivate Confidence. “Embrace your new look and your new role as mama,” says Lederer. When you exude confidence about your body, chances are strong that your partner will want some of what you’re offering.

4. Don’t Sacrifice Self-Care. Sex is probably the last thing on your mind when you’ve been up for 24 hours straight. “Making an effort to rest while baby naps or carving out some time to focus on you – get a pedicure or massage or take a bath – really does help to lift your energy and mood,” Lederer says. “You’re much more likely to want to engage in sexual activity when you’ve had some time to yourself.”

5. Schedule Sex: “Scheduling in sex or sex acts is the new foreplay for new parents,” Lederer says. “Time is of the essence, so be sure to plan ahead to best utilize your limited alone time.” And have fun with the planning. Choose the location, the clothing, and the theme and put it into both of your calendars.

 

Baby Perfume?

As anyone who has ever sniffed the top of a baby’s soft, little head knows – there is nothing quite like the scent of new baby. Sure, these miniature humans spit up milk and fill countless diapers, but still, nothing compares to the natural smell of baby. I’ve often joked with my fellow parents that we would be millionaires if we could figure out how to bottle the unique aroma that emanates from a baby’s head.

So why mess with a good thing? The perfumers at Dolce & Gabbana clearly believe that they can top what nature has already perfected. The company has developed a perfume for babies that “mimics the smell of a baby’s skin.”

What? Don’t babies do that perfectly already?

Dousing a baby with a synthetic fragrance designed to smell like what they already smell like may be a waste of time and money – the perfume retails for $45 – but it even more importantly, it may be dangerous. Synthetic scents – that is, those that are developed in a lab instead of derived from nature (think: flowers, fruits and herbs) are usually made with toxic chemicals that can be harmful to adults, which means that young babies, with their super-sensitive skin and underdeveloped immune systems, are even more susceptible to the harmful effects of synthetic perfume. According to the EPA, the chemicals in conventional perfume may cause “possible mutagenic and genotoxic effects,” which means that cellular DNA can be damaged or mutated, possibly leading to cancer.

Luckily, these days there are many options for a natural and satisfying fragrance experience. Natural perfumes are made without toxic synthetic fragrances. Companies like Tsi La Organics and Red Flower are making scents that are as delightful as they are safe. Just keep the perfume for the adults – baby’s got his fragrance covered.

 

Who Needs Maternity Clothes?

I’m not someone who’d be labeled frugal or thrifty — or even practical for that matter — but there are certain purchases I’d rather not make. Maternity clothes are at the top of that list. It pains me to buy clothing that will be completely obsolete 12 months from the date of purchase (that’s generously adding three months post-birth for body adjustment).

For both of my pregnancies, I used creativity — and determination – to drape my growing body exclusively in items that I already owned; were given to me; or were purchased with the understanding that they could be worn equally as well when I was not with child.

I succeeded. Here’s how:

Think extra long. A bulging belly shortens the length of shirts. To compensate for this technicality, I sported long T-shirts from month one through birth (and beyond – long cotton T’s are ideal for concealing a post-natal stomach and can be stretched to and fro for epic nursing sessions). And long T’s are a layering staple for a regular wardrobe, too.

Go for the empire look. Shirts and dresses with an empire waist (starting below the breast line) are absolutely designed for pregnancy – without being “designed” for pregnancy. Perfect.

Rock the T-shirt dress. T-shirt dresses are comfortable at every stage of pregnancy and they can be easily integrated into a non-pregnant closet. Big belly or no belly, dress them up or down with a belt and the right pair of shoes.

Lean on leggings. If you’re already a fan of leggings you understand their appeal (versatile! stretchy! made for layering!). If you’re anti-leggings, pregnancy is an ideal time to reconsider your position. Paired with a tunic (think extra, extra long T-shirt, often with a bit more structure and design) and a pair of boots, you’ll be stylish even deep into the third trimester.

 

Organic fruit

Pregnant? There’s No Better Time to Go Organic

What’s up with all the organic talk, you ask? Well, “organic” is more than a hippy-dippy term used by grocery stores to attract the health-nut set. In fact, choosing to go organic means deciding to consume food that is grown in the most natural way possible, that is, without the chemicals used to produce most conventional meats, produce, grain and dairy – think pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and synthetic hormones. Yuck.

If you’ve been thinking about adding organic foods to your diet, pregnancy is a pretty great time to do so. The cleaner your lifestyle – and clean extends past not drinking and smoking – the better chance your little one has to be as strong and healthy as possible.

I’m all for making healthy choices, but I’m also all for being realistic. The good news about going organic is that you don’t have to change every part of your diet right away. Any shifts you make in an organic direction will benefit you and your baby. And some foods are more important to put on the organic list than others.

If you can choose organic when purchasing these three foods, you’ll be on your way to a healthier diet, which is better for you – and better for baby.

Beef

Grass-fed cattle — vs. cattle raised on genetically modified grain – has been found to be leaner than conventional beef and is also higher in pregnancy-friendly Omega-3s (Omega-3s play a key role in a growing baby’s brain development).

Milk

Milk sourced from organically raised cows is produced without all the extraneous – and toxic – stuff found in conventional dairy: antibiotics, synthetic hormones and pesticides.

Apples

A good rule when considering what produce to buy organic: Consider the skin. If you eat the skin of a fruit or veggie, it’s probably best to spring for organic, as that’s where pesticides and herbicides are sprayed. Produce that has a peel – bananas, oranges, avocados – are safer conventional options. That puts apples (and strawberries, blueberries, potatoes and celery) at the top of the go organic list.

 

Pregnant woman sleeping

Three Preggy Resolutions for 2013

As 2012 — and my pregnancy — came to a close, I began to think of how I would do things differently. That is, if I woke up tomorrow and discovered that I was pregnant again – with a week-old baby finally, mercifully napping in the other room, it’s painful even to write those words – what would I do differently?

Here’s what I came up with:

1)  I would eat less sugar. Stripped of the option to enjoy a glass of wine or to walk up a flight of stairs without panting or to hold my older child on my lap (what lap?), I found that sugar was the balm that soothed my deprived pregnant spirit. Sure, I couldn’t have the fun peppermint vodka cocktails served at my neighbors’ holiday party, but I could certainly have the cookies. And the candy canes. And the mini-cupcakes decorated like Christmas tree ornaments. And when invited to friends’ for dinner, I couldn’t have the wine chosen specifically to accompany the chicken, but I could have a slice of the homemade peanut butter chocolate pie. And then another. So, after two pregnancies punctuated by extreme sugar consumption, I would resolve to limit my sugar intake if I were to become pregnant again.

Sugar, in moderation is OK, even healthy I believe (pregnant ladies need some pleasure, too), but too much sugar can quickly elevate blood sugar levels leading to anxious, jittery sensations and the inevitable crash. I also discovered that sugar made my already active babe even busier, which meant more kicks in the lower ribs and more overall restlessness for both of us. If I had it to do again, I would combat sugar cravings by eating vegetables like yams and beets, which are naturally sweet and packed with powerful vitamins and nutrients and limiting deserts to one serving a day.

2)  I would drink more water. If you’re female and grew up in the western world you’ve probably been instructed at some point to drink lots of water everyday to help maintain a healthy weight and to keep your complexion bright. But water does so much more than that – especially when you’re pregnant. If you think about it, pregnancy is really all about liquid. The fetus grows and floats in amniotic fluid from the early days until that so called water breaks at the end of gestation.

Staying hydrated during pregnancy — which equals drinking eight 8-ounce glasses a day — will do a world of good for you and your baby. Water is the transport system that carries nutrients to your babe and H20 also helps to prevent some of the more annoying side effects of pregnancy: constipation, urinary tract infections and swelling. If I had it to do again, I would keep a 16- ounce glass of water by my side at all times and guzzle gratuitously.

3)  I would indulge in guilt-free napping. Napping was part of both of my pregnancies, but I was especially prone to nodding off in pregnancy number two. It may have had something to do with the supreme nausea that hit me in the first trimester, the debilitating allergies that accompanied me through trimester two or the vampire-like insomnia that saw me through the third – but I could often be found snoozing in the middle of the day. I napped, but I often did so with a heavy heart and an anxious mind (read: sleeping during daylight hours brought on serious guilt), which pretty much negates all the good that comes from resting. Napping seemed like a dirty indulgence that made me less of a productive professional, mother, person.

But if I had it to do again, I would sleep an easy sleep anytime I had the chance to do so. Pregnancy is hard and as I’m reminded in the early days with a newborn – babies can be even harder. Sleep while you can!

What would you do-over about your pregnancy if you could?

 

positive pregnancy test

Why Wait?

Waiting to announce your pregnancy until you are safely enveloped in the security of the second trimester makes sense — for some. The first trimester can be an anxious time, filled with questions about the baby’s health and concern about the stick-to-itiveness of the pregnancy in general.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I happily cloaked myself in secrecy. Only my husband – and a dear girlfriend — knew anything of the life that was growing within me. I kept up the charade by ordering club sodas with lime when meeting friends at bars – looks just like a vodka and soda – and making excuses for my sudden need for a daily nap and sudden aversion to any food item that wasn’t made of white flour and water (how do you explain a diet composed exclusively of pizza, pasta, bread and cookies? It’s not easy.).

Basically, I lied. A lot. Sure, these were lies of the soft and easy white variety. They weren’t hurting anybody and, plus, they were legitimized by society’s understanding that the first trimester is a shaky time for many women. But almost five years later, divorced, in a new relationship and unexpectedly pregnant with my second child, I decided to take a different approach. If there was one thing I had learned throughout the tumultuous dissolving of my marriage, it was that the truth really would set you free. And if there is one more thing I’m still learning, it’s that I love myself regardless of what my life looks like to others.

This time around, I told everybody I was pregnant in the first six weeks.

Here are three reasons why:

  •  I wanted to be honest about what was happening to me. Coming clean meant no subterfuge at dinner parties, no lying to friends about why I wasn’t up for going out and no dodging my parents’ concerned looks as I excused myself – yet again – to run to the bathroom.
  • I wanted to be as courageous as my girlfriends. Several of my friends had lost their pregnancies in the first three months due to unexpected miscarriage or to severe health complications. Other women faced deeply challenging journeys of infertility before becoming pregnant. These women had bravely shared their stories with me – and with others – not months or years after they occurred, but basically as they were happening. I was in awe of the strength it must have taken to openly face the reality of their situation. And their sharing was a gift that empowered me with information and with a deeper understanding of the broad spectrum of experience that pregnancy can present. I found these women incredibly powerful and generous.
  •  I wanted to lean on friends and family during the supremely emotional 90 first days of pregnancy. Keeping quiet would mean that I would miss out the support offered by loved ones. And I needed support. My hormones were going bonkers and my heart was heavy with big questions: do I have what it takes to be a mother of two? How will my first child adjust to a baby brother? Can my relationship stand up to the pressures of another child? How will I work, play, pursue my dreams with a baby attached to my boob? Being open about my pregnancy from the beginning has allowed me to lean on those who love me throughout this entire nine months of baby making.

 

Gun regualtion

Resisting “Why?” for Healing

Like every thinking, feeling person in the universe, I was deeply affected by the school shootings in Connecticut last Friday. And by deeply affected I mean I’ve been walking around with a grey cloud above my head for days, endlessly trolling online news sources for additional information about the tragedy; engaging in email and phone and Facebook conversations about gun control and mental illness and the grieving process.

For the first few days, I gave myself a pass to dive as deeply as I wanted into the media vortex that is American news coverage – and to indulge in as much accompanying dialogue as I wanted, regardless of how dark and confused it would make me feel later – similar to eating as many doughnuts as you crave with no thought of the consequences. After all, I am a parent of a kindergarten-aged child and I’m about to bring another kid into this world, plus, the tragedy took place in a town I know well – my sister and her three children have lived in Newtown for years (thankfully, they are all safe).

But when Monday rolled around and I was still in a dark funk, I took a closer look at what was truly behind my sadness. Yes, I was mourning the loss of innocent lives and empathizing with the parents left to rebuild lives around the empty space permanently etched in their hearts. But I was doing something else as well. I was searching desperately for “why.”  My brain refused to accept that something like this could happen arbitrarily, that there wasn’t an a-to-b-to-c logical equation that would explain away the hurt.

To stop looking for “why” would mean accepting what was as that which truly is. Ouch. The thought alone felt painful. Yet, I can see how this is the only way to proceed. Complete acceptance is the only way to begin healing. This doesn’t mean that I accept my country’s gun regulations or that I accept inadequate care of mentally ill young people, but it does mean that I set down the need to force an answer on an unanswerable question: “Why did this happen?”

I’ve done so on a smaller scale many times before: accepting that I didn’t get the job or that my romantic relationship was over.  In each of those cases, as soon as stopped asking, “why?” I began experiencing some relief, some peace of mind and heart. The tragedy in Connecticut is asking me, more than ever, to resist “why?”

I hope I can do it.

 

Breathe Deep: Two Easy Ways to Relax During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is ripe for anxiety and jitters. Your body is going through a massive transformation and your mind and heart are adjusting to the idea of an expanding family. On top of that, you’re probably not eating, sleeping, or even walking the way you did pre-conception. Thankfully, I’ve found simple ways to keep my body, mind and spirit relaxed during these nine months – and beyond.

1) As Easy as 4, 7, 8

The four, seven, eight breath is one of the easiest – and most effective – ways of calming a nervous mind or a heavy heart. Follow these steps the next time you feel worry or fear coming on. Note: you can do this anywhere: in the car, on the bus or while waiting on line at the post office. I like to do it while riding the subway.

  • Exhale all the air out of your lungs through your mouth
  • Inhale through your nose for four counts
  • Hold your breath for seven counts
  • Exhale through your mouth for eight counts

You may find it challenging to achieve each step when you first begin, but with practice your lung capacity will increase.

Do this three or four times or until you feel your heart rate decrease and your mind relax.

2) Feet up, Breathe Deep

Gravity is the archenemy of pregnancy. Getting off your feet is one of the most efficient methods of relieving body aches and mental stress. During the first trimester, you can lie on your back on a mat or blanket on the floor. After the second trimester, it’s probably more comfortable to rest on your side with a pillow between your legs. Once in the position of your choice, practice conscious deep breathing. This means nothing more than following your breath as it makes its way in and out of your lungs through your nose. I like to think  of the breath as a soothing and calming presence that’s scanning my body for any worries or fears and removing them with the exhalation.

Mentally repeating your version of  “I breathe in calm and peace” on the inhalation and “I breathe out fear and worry” on the exhalation tends to work wonders. You don’t have to be a professional meditator or a yogi to practice a little conscious breathing. Anyone can do it!

 

4 Delicious, Natural Beauty Products for Pregnancy

 I’ve found there’s a fine line between beauty and comfort when pregnant. Most of the “beauty” products that excite me during pregnancy are those that also happen to make these nine months of housing another human a bit more tolerable. If they also happen to make me look a bit better (read: less green, less congested, less exhausted) – it’s win-win all around.

These are the products I’m never without. Like the fantastic Badger Damascus Rose Beauty Balm pictured at right, they’re all made with natural and organic ingredients. The skin is the body’s biggest organ and every thing we put on it is absorbed into our bloodstream – a fact that’s all the more interesting when you’re growing a babe with nutrients from that bloodstream. (More on that later.)

See safe beauty products for pregnancy….