Author name: Alyssa Veneklase

Nestlings Diaper Bank

Gold Coast Gives Back

In case you haven’t heard, Gold Coast Doulas is holding our annual Diaper Drive the entire month of September!

Why do we care so much about diapers?

Diapers are a basic health necessity for babies and are not provided by government assistance programs, but are one of the top un-met needs of low-income families. The inability of many families to meet this basic hygiene need for the smallest of their family members can create a sense of failure, guilt, and anxiety.

Parents, imagine not having the luxury of changing your baby’s diaper every time it was soiled (which we all know happens multiple times per day). How would you feel knowing you had to leave your baby in a dirty diaper all day because you only had one left and couldn’t afford to buy more? And imagine how that baby feels, wearing the same wet diaper all day and night.

The diaper drive coincides with National Diaper Awareness Needs week, September 25 – October 1.  Diaper Need Awareness Week is an initiative of the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN), created to make a difference in the lives of the nearly 5.2 million babies in the United States aged three or younger who live in poor or low-income families.

Our drive specifically benefits Nestlings Diaper Bank and First Steps of Kent County. Holland-based Nestlings has distributed over 1/2 million diapers and helped over 15,000 families since 2011. Nestlings Diaper Bank also works with 30 partner agencies to distribute the diapers to the families in need. First Steps is an independent, influential, and neutral entity that leads the community’s efforts to strengthen and coordinate early childhood services in Kent County.

Our goal is to collect 30,000 diapers to support families in need in Kent and Ottawa counties. Diaper donations will be from September 1 to October 1 at the following drop-off locations:

In Zeeland:
Smedley Dental 133 1/3 E Main Ave
Howard Miller Library 14 S. Church Street

In Holland:
Untangled Salon 650 Riley Street
Brann’s 12234 James Street
Harbor Health and Massage 444 Washington Ave.
EcoBuns Baby + Co 12330 James Street
The Insurance Group 593 Heritage Court.

In Hudsonville:
Hudsonville Congregational United Church of Christ 4950 32nd Avenue
Love Inc. 3300 Van Buren Street

In Grand Rapids:
Manic Muse 5 Lyon street NW (They are also an ArtPrize venue!)
Balanced Health Chiropractic Center 1787 Grand Ridge Ct. NE
The Wellness Collective GR 1324 Lake Drive SE
Health for Life Grand Rapids 781 Kenmoor Ave. SE
Mindful Counseling 741 Kenmoor Ave. SE
Hopscotch Children’s Store 909 Cherry Street SE
Simply Born Midwifery Services 802 Merritt Street SE
Pioneer Construction 550 Kirtland Street SW

Look through those drawers, closets, and old diaper bags. You’d be surprised at how many random diapers and packages of wipes you may find lying around! And if not, please add a box or two to your grocery list and grab some on your next venture out to Target or Costco (bulk is good)!

Diaper sizes 4, 5 and 6 are the most needed sizes. Nestlings also accepts baby wipes, used and new cloth diapers and open packages of diapers in addition to new boxes and bags of disposable diapers.


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Back to Health Chiropractic Zeeland MI

Chiropractic Prenatal Care

Yes, you read that right! If you just raised an eyebrow with a bit of confusion, you are not alone. Most people think Chiropractic care is mostly for neck pain, back pain, and maybe headaches. For most of my patients, that’s true. However, after we resolve their pain, some amazing things start happening. Some people notice they move better, sleep better, breathe better, have less digestive issues, feel less stress, feel more focused, etc. Response to care is different for every individual, but most people find the benefits of chiropractic care beyond pain relief and into the realm of optimal function.

The reason is because Chiropractic works with the nervous system, the master control system of the body. Your brain tells every part of your body, every organ, tissue, and cell, how to function. The brain sends its messages via nerves, which run through the spine and out to the different parts of the body. When a joint in the spine is misaligned, it not only compromises the mobility of the joint and the ligaments and muscles that attach, but also the nerve that exits that part of the spine. This is called a subluxation. Subluxations are caused by the physical stress of our daily lives, be it sitting at a desk most of the day, performing athletic events, or even picking up and playing with your kiddos!

Anyone who has experienced pregnancy can attest to the physical stress and changes that their body undergoes. Growing a baby is hard work! Your body is constantly changing and adapting to create this beautiful life. For example, your body increases a hormone called Relaxin. Relaxin functions to increase things like heart function and blood flow, but also to relax the ligaments of the pelvis so the bones of the pelvis are more moveable for baby to grow and for baby to be delivered. One of the joints most commonly affected is the pubic symphysis, or pubic bone. As a result, many mothers feel discomfort in their pubic bone, not knowing this could be alleviated. Other common physical grievances of pregnancy such as sciatica and back pain can also be helped by Chiropractic care.

But what if I told you Chiropractic care throughout pregnancy has also been known to have outcomes such as easier, faster labors? A recent study by Heidi Haavik* found a correlation between chiropractic adjustments and responsiveness of the pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles that attach to the pelvis and help you to open up the birth canal and push baby out. The women who received pelvic adjustments had stronger pelvic floor muscles. Without subluxations in the pelvis, the joints of the pelvis move freely and nerves can properly stimulate muscles to function properly.

Most women who are familiar with the benefits of Chiropractic care, or have been recommended by their OB or Midwife, seek care for the optimal position of the fetus for birth. Oftentimes, women come to the Chiropractor when their baby is in a breech position in hopes that Chiropractic care can help baby get into an optimal position and allow for a vaginal birth. The Chiropractic technique used to adjust pregnant women is called the Webster Technique. The technique was founded by Dr. Larry Webster in 1976 after watching his daughter suffer through a long and difficult labor where the baby was breech. Since that time, Chiropractors have been successfully helping change the outcomes of breech positioned babies. The idea is that by removing any misalignment in the pelvis, there is proper nerve stimulation to the uterus and pelvic muscles and ligaments, allowing the baby to assume the best position for birth and the body to have the optimal movement to birth. More information about the Webster Technique, its efficacy, and how to find a Webster trained Chiropractor can be found on the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association’s (ICPA) website,

So what can you expect when you go to a Chiropractor that is trained to care for the expectant mother? First of all, you can expect a Doctor who is ready to listen to you and help support and care for you on your journey to motherhood. We want your pregnancy and labor to be a positive and healthy experience for you and baby. Ideally, we promote wellness care and prevention so we hope to have you under care before you are pregnant and throughout your pregnancy. However, we are open to helping you whenever your journey brings you to us. The adjustment is safe and gentle, and best of all our tables accommodate for you to lie on your belly! Moms often report this opportunity as the best part of their day. In our office at Back to Health Chiropractic, you can almost always expect to see expectant Moms, babies, and little ones getting adjusted every time you come in. We look forward to meeting you and your newest addition!

In good health,
Dr. Demetra

*Effect of Spinal Manipulation on Pelvic Floor Functional Changes in Pregnant and Nonpregnant Women: A Preliminary Study. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 39.5 (2016): 339-47. Heidi Haavik

Dr. Deme graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and moved to Dallas, Texas where she taught Physical Education and Health and coached Basketball, Volleyball, and Cross Country. While competing at the Ironman Triathlon 70.3 World Championships, Dr. Deme discovered the many benefits of Chiropractic in her personal performance. The improved health results along with her passion for natural health, led her to Parker University to study Chiropractic. Dr. Deme is Webster Certified to treat prenatal patients and is currently pursuing a specialty in Pregnancy and Pediatrics with the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association. Dr. Deme and her husband Chris are excited for their son, Alexi, to grow up in West Michigan.


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The Modern Grandparent

Understanding the Modern Parent

First of all congratulations on becoming a Grandparent! Whether this is your 1st or 5th, it is a very excited time for the whole family.

Gold Coast Doulas offers in-home private classes for The Modern Grandparent. We are not currently offering group classes.

This 2 ½ hour class will break down the generation gap, giving soon-to-be grandparents the most up-to-date information while dispelling myths in a non-threatening, engaging way. Health and safety recommendations are always evolving and many things have changed since most grandparents had their own children.

Topics include:

  • Caring for the family after baby arrives
  • Handwashing, bathing baby, diapering, etc.
  • Car seat safety
  • Baby technology and gadgets
  • SIDS
  • Formula feeding and breastmilk
  • Babyproofing

A particularly interesting topic that we cover in the class is, Understanding the Modern Parent. Here’s a brief snippet of what we talk about for this portion of the class.

Understanding your adult children and their choices can be a challenge at times, even during the best of times. One of the keys to understanding the choices your adult children make is understanding the differences between the generations and how they view the world. In 2002 Landcaster and Stillman published “When Generations Collide”. This paper took a look at inter-generational differences in the workplace.

Many of the grandparents who take this class will be the parents of those who are considered late Generation X or Millennials. These generations tend to have differing views than previous generations when it comes to Communication, Money and Authority. Being aware of the attitudes and approaches of the differing generations will help you to understand the choices your adult children may make and where they are coming from.

Sometimes it’s as simple as understanding these differences that avoid many family conflicts as families grow. Grandparents have to realize that their children deserve the respect and have the right to raise a family (their grandchildren) however they choose.

Today’s parents face different challenges than their parents faced, and even more different ones than their grandparents faced. The balance of work and family life can be very stressful. Thankfully there are grandparents like you willing to help relieve some of these stresses by simply not judging them. Your compassionate support allows your children to raise your grandchildren properly and also maintain a healthy relationship with their spouse.

Many parents today appreciate the help from their parents and welcome the non-judgemental support. While you are visiting ask, “What can I do to help you today?” There might not be anything needed other than holding the baby while mom showers or playing with a sibling while mom is breastfeeding; but by just asking, you are showing you are supportive and that will go a long way with your children. Asking what they need instead of offering what you think they need is critical.

Interested in becoming a Modern Grandparent? Contact Gold Coast Doulas about a private in-home class today!







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[un]common sense: unintentionally intentional

[un]common sense is a blog about navigating through everyday life, using some common sense tips to make it just a bit easier, and sometimes a little more fun. Alyssa is a wife, mother, and postpartum doula who has some tricks up her sleeve and wants to share them with the world. Well now, don’t you feel lucky?

I’ve been really focused on being intentional lately, but I think that means something different to everyone. For me, being intentional also means being patient and present. Let me give you a scenario.

I’m home playing with my daughter when I see an email come through on my phone, so I check it. My daughter is asking me to “pretend to be a villain (or a princess, or a puppy)” for the eighteenth time that morning, and I tell her to hold on a minute. “I just need to finish this work email.” But then that one email turns into several as well as text messages and I keep telling her to “wait a minute, I’m almost done”.

The worst was one day while playing she picked up her fake cell phone and said to her baby doll, “Just a minute, honey. I’m on the phone, I’ll be right there.” Ouch.

So I decided I need to be more present. Not just physically present in the room, but mentally and emotionally present as well.  Sounds good, right? Well it didn’t work. I was fully present… until something distracted me. The washing machine beeped so I have to go put the towels in the dryer. I notice the toy closet is a mess so I get into organizing mode (instead of playing). I suddenly realize my daughter has a field trip tomorrow and her camp shirt isn’t clean so I have to start a load of laundry. You see, the distractions are endless!

So how do you allow yourself to be fully present and distraction free? By being intentional. But how can you be intentional, and what do you need to be intentional about?

For me, I wanted to be intentional with my time. Being a wife, mother, and business owner is tricky. My schedule can get really hectic, and lately I get really impatient. And normally I’m a very patient person.

I realized I need to be intentional about my time, allowing me to be patient, and therefore fully present. Here’s how it looks for me.

I am a scheduler. My days are planned out months in advance sometimes. I’ve always unintentionally been intentional with my time. It’s just my personality. But I fill my days with too much sometimes. I overload my schedule and that makes it hard to be patient and present when there’s too much to do in a day. I realized that I need to intentionally schedule free time. Leave open spots in my calendar for me or for my family. On the flipside, I need to schedule times where I am only working (not doing laundry too), and solely focus on my work. When I know my work is complete, that allows me to focus on whatever is next, be it household chores or playing pretend with my daughter.

When you know all your work is done, you can fully focus on the task at hand because you’re not worried about what you should be doing, or didn’t get done earlier. If you’ve only half-assed your work all day, between constant interruptions, you can feel like you haven’t accomplished anything. And then when your kids ask you something (over and over again), you get impatient with them.

When you’re constantly in a state of panic, rushing around to get everything done, there’s no way to be patient. Every little thing can make you snap. You feel rushed and there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. But if you take a step back, breathe, and take the time to be intentional with your time, you’ll actually get more done.

Have you ever noticed how much you can accomplish in 10 minutes when you have guests coming over and the house is a mess? I bet it was mostly picked up by the time they arrived; you made the playroom presentable, got all the dirty dishes out of the sink, and wiped the counters. You were able to do it because you were focused on that one thing.

Now imagine how productive you could be during the day if you could focus like that in chunks of time. Set aside one hour for household chores. Another hour or two for emails, social media, work, whatever you need to do. Make sure you have an hour to exercise, for self-care, for a date with your husband or partner. And only do those things. Listen multi-taskers, I’ll say it again. One thing at a time! If it means putting your phone on silent, do it. Don’t be distracted. Focus.

Be present, be patient, be intentional. Your family will notice.


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Dealing with Stress

Today’s blog comes from one of our previous postpartum doulas, Alex. Her nurturing soul shines in this post, giving us her favorite tips for stress management and self-care. Take the time today, and every day, to nurture yourself.

It’s no secret that stress is, inevitably, a part of life, and to some degree is healthy for the human body. But too much stress and/or on-going stress can have negative effects on your long-term health. Most people deal with it in some capacity throughout their lives, and becoming a parent can most definitely add more stress to your life. Stress can, but does not always, affect your immune system, sleeping and eating habits, digestion, mental well-being, and among other things it ages you, fast!

Sometimes stress is unavoidable. We live in a fast-paced society and there’s a lot of pressure for most people, especially parents. Luckily there are some proven things to help our bodies and minds against the negative effects of ongoing or heavy stress in life.

Meditation has been practiced for a long time around the world, and we now know that meditation has been shown to help alleviate some of the physical and mental effects of stress. It’s about clearing your mind and focusing on your breathing for an extended period of time, but even a short session of meditation has its benefits. It can help to give you a sense of calm and peace amidst the chaos. It helps you connect your mind and body by focusing on your breathing. If you can find the time, take even just five minutes to find a quiet place, close your eyes and breath in and out deeply, consciously relaxing all parts of your body during this. Many people tend to hold tension in parts of their body (tight shoulders, clenched jaw, etc) so this helps to let go. If your mind is racing, pick one thing and focus on it. I usually imagine a beautiful flower, flowing water, or roots coming from my feet going deep into the earth to help ground me. Even just focusing on the in and out of your breathing can clear your mind. Your circumstances may still be stressful, but you are likely to feel calmer, more grounded, and peaceful at the end of your meditation.

If you need some help, there are many guided meditations you can find on CD, YouTube, and there are even apps for your phone. Another practice that goes hand in hand with meditation is mindfulness. As parents, it’s a great skill to have and model to our children. What is mindfulness? Well, it’s just that. It’s actually stopping to be mindful of our surroundings and situations that arise instead of just reacting. Reaction if often out of emotion and when we are stressed it can be a negative reaction. When we train ourselves to stop and choose mindfulness in stressful situations it often times gives a different perspective.

Exercise is something that helps a lot with stress as well, if you are able. Exercise is great because it gives you a serotonin boost. If you are crunched for time, even a quick 10 minute jog outside can help alleviate stress. Riding your bike is wonderful too, and you get to be outdoors in good weather, which is also shown to help with stress. Gentler exercise like stretching, yoga, and pilates can relieve the body of tension and physical stress. A passive form of exercise I personally love for stress is massage! It’s great for the body and mind. If it’s too pricey for you, have a friend or your partner give you a 20 minute neck and shoulder rub at the end of the day. Foot rubs with some nice smelling oil are my favorite; I especially love lavender and it’s safe for pregnant and nursing mothers.

Nature has gifted us with several herbal allies to help our body and mind deal with stress. Teas are amazing. One of my favorite blends is chamomile, catnip, lemon balm, and lavender tea. Loose leaf herbs are available in many stores and online. I make a mixture of equal parts the first three and less lavender and add ¼ cup to a quart sized jar and steep it for an hour or so to make an infusion. It’s a nice, calming blend that the whole family can enjoy safely, especially for teething. I sweeten with honey for the kiddos (but no babies under 1 year!). Tinctures are plants steeped in alcohol or vegetable glycerin that get all the goodness out of a particular plant or a blend of plants. Passionflower is one I used during the end of my third pregnancy to help with irritability and anxiety. I got a lot of relief from this. There are also adaptogenic herbs, which help with your adrenal health, in turn helping many systems of the body adapt to stress. However, not all are safe during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding, so use caution and always consult your care provider. One I use safely during nursing, but not pregnancy, is Rhodiola. It has been used for many years in Russian and Asia and is gaining popularity in the US. It gives steady energy, mental clarity, stamina, and enhances your mood on top of helping your body physically deal with stress in many ways. Essential oils are hugely popular but you need to use the utmost safety and caution when using them (I would say never ingest essential oils, and do not use on kids under two). Lavender is one of my favorites along with Ylang Ylang. Both smell lovely and are so relaxing. I put them in a diffuser or put a few drops in a relaxing bath with some bath salts for a nice soak.

Sleep is so important. Sleep deprivation only adds stress in your life, causing your body to become stressed more quickly. Being a parent can make sleep difficult. Between waking babies and older kids, most parents find sleep hard to come by. Having a solid bedtime routine is important; it creates a good rhythm with kids. And parents, if you can nap at all during the day, do it. I know it’s a stretch, especially with a job outside of the home, but even a 10-20 minute power nap is proven to do wonders for your stress and energy levels.

All of these methods of self-care can help you during stressful times. I realize stress can be unavoidable, but self-care is important and using some of the tips I’ve given (or all of them) can help you to take care of yourself so you can better care for your family. I hope this helps you find some peace.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and this is not medical advice. If you are suffering from stress or finding it hard to function, you may need to talk to your primary care provider. This is a blog post from my own extensive research and experience throughout several years of handling stress in a healthy way.


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The BIG Latch On 2017 Logo in color

The Big Latch On – Grand Rapids 2017


World breastfeeding week is coming up! Why do we care?  

Each year, World Breastfeeding Week presents many opportunities to celebrate and promote breastfeeding. From August 1-7, this global movement strives to support breastfeeding by cultivating awareness and cooperation within and between communities worldwide. One big way we come together during World Breastfeeding week is with The Global Big Latch On.

The Big Latch On: 

The Global Big Latch On was started in 2010, and has since taken place annually during World Breastfeeding Week every August. Big Latch On events are held in communities throughout the world, with the shared goal to protect, promote & support families, strengthen support for breastfeeding, and improve the health of children and women around the world.

The Global Big Latch On reports that these events are “community initiatives that raise awareness of breastfeeding, encourage the formation of support networks between breastfeeding persons, and aim to normalize breastfeeding as a part of daily life”.

What to expect when you attend a Big Latch On Event:

Families with breastfeeding children (this includes all forms of providing breastmilk, including pumped milk, supplemental nursing systems, etc.) gather together to show support for our breastfeeding community, and to be counted for the Global Big Latch On count – where we strive to break the record numbers that were set the previous year. When you arrive you’ll be asked to sign in, get comfortable, and then at the same time, all the nursing babies/kids at each event location will be instructed to “latch on” (or otherwise demonstrate their means of receiving breastmilk), the organizers will count each participant, and send those numbers in to The Global Big Latch On headquarters be tallied with the numbers from other events all over the world.

Often there are snacks provided, fun giveaways, and an opportunity to connect with other families as well as some local family-friendly businesses and services.

Since 2010, attendance to these events has skyrocketed. In 2010 there were 147 total locations with ~2,000 babies counted. Just 6 years later in 2016, there were 758 locations in 21 countries, with nearly 18,000 nursing babies/children counted! Last year in Grand Rapids we had 45 nursing babies. We’re sure 2017 is going to be even bigger. Come help us break some records!

More information is available here.

With events planned for all around the world, including multiple locations in Michigan, we excitedly prepare to come together in Grand Rapids at our own local Big Latch On Event on Saturday, August 5th 10:00am-11:30am at Briggs Park in NE Grand Rapids. Make sure to sign in before 10:30am to be counted! Bring your picnic blanket and get comfy, mingle with other families, or just come to show your support.

Global Big Latch On objectives:

  • Provide support for communities to identify and grow opportunities to provide ongoing breastfeeding support and promotion in local communities.
  • Raise awareness of breastfeeding support and knowledge available locally and globally.
  • Help communities positively support breastfeeding in public places.
  • Make breastfeeding as normal part of day-to-day life at a local community level.
  • Increase support for women who breastfeed – women are supported by their partners, family and their communities.
  • Ensure communities have the resources to advocate for coordinated appropriate and accessible breastfeeding support services.

Other related World Breastfeeding Week Celebrations include Express Yourself (for all those women who provide breast milk to their child/children without latching them and those that donate milk either formally or informally) and Selfies Sunday (a count of all breastfeeding or expressing selfies posted on Sunday, August 6th with the hashtag #mybiglatchon).

Why is this important? Why do we participate?

Breastfeeding around the world deserves recognition and celebration! Some people don’t understand the hype around breastfeeding promotion. After all, we each have the right to feed how we choose; why all the attention for breastfeeding? Well, while I agree that parents should never be bullied or shamed about their feeding choices, I believe (and research consistently supports) that most parents, to varying degrees, want to breastfeed. We know this because the vast majority of families in the United States start off breastfeeding, or at least make an effort to. But despite this obvious desire to provide breastmilk, there remains a wide discrepancy between what is recommended, parents’ reported goals, and what is actually being done.

And we know that breastmilk is not only valuable to individuals for optimal nutrition, immune properties, and more, but many don’t realize how much breastfeeding is also an important and growing public health issue, as breastfeeding is associated with lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and many other health concerns that extend beyond infancy.

In the United States, breastfeeding initiation rates are quite high (80-90+% in many states), but quickly decline within the first 3 months (despite recommendations by both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide breastmilk exclusively for 6 months).

We are not meeting our national breastfeeding goals, and in many cases not our individual goals either. Reasons for this vary from family to family, but three big ones are:

  1. Lack of breastfeeding education: Lack of understanding about normal breastfed baby behavior, lack of understanding about how breastmilk production works, lack of information and resources for troubleshooting issues when challenges do arise.

Studies suggest that more than 90% of breastfeeding moms report having struggled or encountered a challenge during the early weeks of breastfeeding. This statistic isn’t intended to be discouraging, but rather to normalize the experience of struggling to breastfeed, to say, “just because you experience a problem doesn’t mean breastfeeding isn’t right for you or isn’t going to work for you”. Often it’s just a matter of having access to good information and support to get through the rough patches.

  1. Going back to work or school: Poor maternity leave rights and lack of options put most U.S. women in a position to return to work in the early months of life, often sooner than they may want to, which can disrupt the breastfeeding relationship.
  2. Lack of community support: Breastfeeding in the U.S. has been on the rise since the early 1990s, but we still don’t have a deep breastfeeding culture. Formula-feeding is still very much a cultural norm in many parts of the country. We no longer live in villages with extended family and other parents caring for babies in community. We suffer from a deficit of breastfeeding normalization, meaning most of us in the U.S. don’t experience many opportunities to witness, watch and learn from other breastfeeding moms when we are young. Many modern parents enter their own breastfeeding relationships in relative isolation, with little understanding of breastfeeding norms, and oftentimes less than adequate support to meet their own goals.

In many parts of the world, including the United States, breastfeeding can really benefit from more attention and support.

2017 marks World Breastfeeding Week’s 25th year. This year’s theme is about working together for the common good! Working together to “call on advocates and activists, attract political support, media attention, participation of young people and widen the pool of celebrants and supporters”.

Let’s come together in West Michigan to support one another, support healthy babies, and strengthen our breastfeeding community locally and globally!

Author: Shira Johnson, IBCLC


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Healthy Breakfast for Kids

[un]common sense: redefining breakfast one bowl at a time

[un]common sense is a blog about navigating through everyday life, using some common sense tips to make it just a bit easier, and sometimes a little more fun. Alyssa is a wife, mother, and postpartum doula who has some tricks up her sleeve and wants to share them with the world. Well now, don’t you feel lucky?

Your child’s daily breakfast probably consists of cereal, right? And if you allowed it, so would lunch and dinner. At least in my house, that’s what would happen…cereal for every meal! My daughter loves cereal, like possibly as much as she loves me.

Most of us know it’s not the healthiest way to start our day, but I don’t know many kids who will sit down to a flaxseed and barley bowl in the morning (except my friend Julia’s kids). So what’s a parent to do?

I’ve come up with a few tricks to at least make breakfast a smidge healthier for the wee ones.

  • Instead of cereals loaded with sugar (which most are), find cereals that have 8 grams of sugar or less. You can add sweetness with raw honey or fruit on top.
  • Try getting your kids to eat oatmeal. Plain oatmeal. Not the prepackaged crap that’s flavored and full of sugar. Again, sweeten with honey or fruit.
  • Make your own granola. I know, I know. Who has the time right? But it’s actually super easy and something that the kids can help with. Making your own allows you to control how it’s sweetened, usually with honey or maple syrup.
  • If you don’t want to make your own, buy granola at the store. But the same rules apply, look for granola low in sugar.
  • Try yogurt in the morning with fruit and granola. Shocker, yogurt is also full of sugar! I know how delicious the vanilla flavored Greek yogurt is, but just check out the label. Go ahead, I’ll wait….see? Go for the plain yogurt and add honey, fruit, and granola. It’s delicious.
  • My final tip here is the most important….add things to the cereal/granola/oatmeal to make it even healthier. Get sneaky. Hide behind the open refrigerator door to add stuff without the kids seeing if you need to. I’ve started adding fish oil, a probiotic, and vitamin d to my daughter’s breakfast every morning. She has no idea. And I’ve had no complaints.

Side note: You can add anything you’d like, obviously taking into consideration any food allergies or sensitivities your child may have. Even if your kid will only eat frozen waffles or toast in the morning, do what you can to add some nutrition. The fish oil I use tastes like key lime pie, so I’ve used it as “syrup” on waffles for my daughter. The probiotic has no taste and neither does the liquid vitamin d. Be sure to talk to your health care provider first to make sure they approve of you adding these things. Mine is all for it.

See the video below to watch the magic unfold.

See, it’s simple. Just add all sorts of wonderfully healthy things to their breakfast and they’ll be none the wiser. Get creative with your ideas. It’s okay to be sneaky!


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Kerry – A HypnoBirthing Birth Story

We love hearing birth stories from our HypnoBirthing students. Kerry had a rough ride but made it through three days of labor in the hospital, smiling in the end because of the tools and techniques she learned in Ashley’s HypnoBirthing Classes.

“I just wanted to shoot you a note thanking you so very much for all your help before we went through our birthing process. I went into the hospital on Sunday and gave birth to our boy on Tuesday. There were some complications so the birth was pretty tough, but I did get to do it vaginally despite quite a bit of c section discussion amongst the doctors. Ryan was a great coach and, despite my strict instructions to not look where the action was, he was super interested and watched basically the whole time!

At 20 inches long, 7lbs 12 oz at birth, little Benjamin Martin Racicot made his way into the world in a dramatic way. We were in the hospital for days while they tried to induce my labor. We went in on Sunday as the doctor told me there was some concern for still birth so she wanted to induce before I hit 40 weeks. They gave me three sets of pills to try and dilate me as I came in at zero cm throughout the night on Sunday. Monday morning I was still at zero cm so they inserted a balloon which was completely horrid, perhaps the worst part of the entire birthing experience. I started to have contractions right after insertion, but not before I told Ryan to go run to the cafeteria to eat something and assured him I would be fine. So there I am, all alone, experiencing contractions for the first time. Monday night I was at 4cm, and by 6:00 Tuesday morning I made it to 10 cm.

I was in active labor for about 12 hours on Tuesday and eventually had to push for 3 1/2 hours. Ben’s heart rate kept dropping with my contractions so there was some concern, and when he started to make his way into the world we found out why. We saw the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck… twice! The doctors made me stop mid push to cut the cord to prevent strangulation. Then he got stuck two more times while I was pushing. To make matters worse, my contractions became farther apart until they were about 15 minutes apart. I had him hanging out of me for about 45 minutes and would just have to wait to push! It was insane!

In the end, he burst into the world and has been a happy and healthy baby. A bit of a night owl, but we are finding our rhythm. Breastfeeding has been tough; I’m in an intense engorgement period at the moment. I look like Pamela Anderson circa Baywatch and am just wildly uncomfortable. They are hard as rocks and nothing I have fits. I basically look like a porn star with a baby. So that’s cool. The healing process has been tough enough as it is without having to carry around boulders on my chest.

Ryan has been waiting on me and the baby hand and foot. It has been a remarkable experience and really brought us even closer than before. Ben has been an incredible reward as well. Not to mention I haven’t changed a single diaper since the birth and, while I am sure that will change soon enough, it hasn’t been a bad deal so far!

Anyway, hope you are doing well, and again, thank you so much for all you did. Without the tools we picked up in your class, I’m not sure I would have made it through this crazy process!

All my best,


Kerry – A HypnoBirthing Birth Story Read More »

mom guilt

Mom Guilt: How to Survive it and Grow from it

Today’s guest blogger is a past birth client of ours, Nicole Vega, LMSW, CHC. Nicole is a fully licensed clinician and certified health coach. Nicole received her Master’s in Clinical Social Work in 2012 from Western Michigan University and became certified as a health coach in 2016. Her work is founded on the principle that individuals are the experts of their own lives, and therefore their own best healers. Nicole believes it is her role to establish a safe therapeutic space where she can assist her clients in focusing on their strengths and uncovering the tools needed to address what is causing them discomfort and stress in their lives; which may be manifesting as anxiety, depression, weight gain or other obstacles.

Today’s blog is going to focus on the guilt that many mother’s feel. Although both parents can experience feelings of guilt, it seems to be more prominent in mothers, but these tips are beneficial to all parents.

If you are a mother, or an expectant mother, it is likely that you’ve experienced at least some degree of “mom guilt”. In an article from, Top 7 mommy guilt trips – and how to handle them, the author describes mom guilt as something a whopping 94% of moms admit to having experienced. Mom guilt does not pick and choose who it affects and it does not simply affect stay-at-home moms, or working moms, or those who juggle life somewhere in between. It affects nearly every mom!

To the parents reading this today who are currently experiencing guilt, or who have in the past, please know this; you are doing enough; odds are you are doing more than enough.

So what is mom guilt exactly? Mom guilt often presents as that sinking feeling we as moms have when we think we are not doing enough for our children. That “I wish I could afford all organic everything, cook every meal from scratch, and not miss a moment of my children’s life” type of thoughts. That feeling of not being “enough” for your children. In some circumstances, mom guilt can even turn into anxiety or depression. The good news for all you moms/parents reading this today is there are ways to decrease these feelings of not being enough. As a mother of two myself, I can completely relate to mom guilt in its many forms. Though I do not believe you can eliminate all feelings of guilt related to parenting, I do believe you can find great ways to cope and to make the moments in which you experience this type of guilt less daunting.

So here is my go-to list of ways to combat mom guilt; but remember, for these tips to work you have to actually use them and implement them as much as possible on the days, weeks, and months when mom guilt has you struggling the most.

Tip #1: FIND YOUR TRIBE: Find a group of people to support you during these long days but fast flying years. Think of the expression you’ve probably heard a million times, “It takes a village”. Well, it does take a village. This group will look different for everyone. It maybe a group you create at church, with mothers from your children’s school, work friends, or maybe even people within your family. The amazing thing here is that you get to design this group and determine who will be a part of your tribe. It really is a beautiful thing, and is vital to getting through the trappings of mommy guilt.

Tip #2: DEVELOP YOUR OWN SELF-CARE TOOLKIT: There are about a million different articles and posts on what self-care is, or what people believe it “should be”. I, however, have come to understand that self-care is different for everyone. I have seen this in my own life and as a clinician and certified health coach working directly with other women. I think often we see self-care as having to be elaborate, when in reality, that just simply is not an option for the majority of moms. So finding simple things you can do that truly work for you is key. Your tool kit may include having consistent date nights with your spouse/partner, developing a yoga practice, taking a relaxing epsom salt bath, or maybe something as simple as having 10 minutes a day to read a book you love. This toolkit will require some trial and error, and in many cases require you to ask for help from others, but hey since you’re going to find a nice tribe to become a part of, you’ve now got a ton of built in babysitters just a call away!

Tip #3: FIND A FORM OF MOVEMENT THAT YOU LOVE: Similar to your self-care toolkit, finding movement that you love will require some trial and error, but once you find what works, it’s a game changer! Healthy-healing movement can be a number of things: dance, martial arts, yoga, kickboxing, running, walking, barre, or cycling. All these are just a few great options to choose from. An amazing thing about being a parent today, is we have access to so many great options of movement, many of which you can do from the comfort of your own home (some of which are completely free). When I’m working with clients as a coach (who have been cleared for adding movement into their routine) I begin by asking them what types of movement they enjoyed before it became about “weight loss” or “having to workout”. I do this because participating in movement that you actually enjoy creates a mindset shift, which in turn creates a shift in your body. It has taken me many years to find what “my movement” is, and I am still surprised to say that for me it’s yoga. I am surprised because when I was much younger I used to despise yoga and found it boring. I now have learned that yoga may not always be exciting for me, but it is always healing.

Now I could offer a few more tips in this article, but I find that once you give more than three, people become overwhelmed and have difficulty even choosing one to incorporate into their lifestyle, at least initially. As a certified health coach and therapist who works primarily with women (many of which being mothers) one-on-one I am able to help women learn to implement the tools I mentioned here, as well as, assisting them in developing more. My goal is to help my clients move forward feeling empowered in their role as a mother and less overwhelmed by it.

If you are feeling like you are experiencing more than just infrequent episodes of mom guilt and are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or in a state of anxiety over the many hats you wear as a parent, I’d love to help! As a health coach and therapist, I create my sessions and programs to meet your needs, so you can achieve your goals. I am driven by a person-centered focus when working with clients, rather than a specific model of care. I can see clients both locally in my office or via tele-health services.

If you are in a stage in life where you would like to investigate therapy or coaching, you can contact me directly at .




Mom Guilt: How to Survive it and Grow from it Read More »

Grand Haven Michigan

What to do on Michigan’s Gold Coast – Grand Haven

Our guest blogger today is one of our postpartum doulas, Lynnette Nichols. She has lived in Grand Haven for 15 years and wanted to share some hidden gems with you. Next time you take a family trip to West Michigan’s Gold Coast, stop in Grand Haven and check out these fun, family-friendly activities.

While raising my children in Grand Haven, some of our best memories were watching the clouds as you cross the draw bridge and also listening to my kids giggle as their feet squeak walking on the beach sand. I truly enjoyed having my daughters grow up in this amazing town because Grand Haven has so much to offer. Now that my girls are older and even though we still live in Grand Haven, they really appreciate it here as much as I do and they love to be tourists in their own town. We all know the vacationing dollars can add up quick, so I thought I could suggest some activities that are budget-friendly and also show you some of Grand Haven that you may not have known was here.

The public transportation system runs a trolley all summer long, with designated stops between the state park, downtown, and east town. The trolley drivers are very knowledgeable about the history of Grand Haven and they conduct a tour with interesting information and a lot of fun facts. Fares for the trolley are $1.50 and under depending on age.

For more information visit:

Located on Washington Avenue downtown, this museum displays a lot of Michigan History that is great for all ages. Entry is free but if you would like to make a donation of any dollar amount, there is a donation box inside the museum.

For more information on the exhibits visit:

Located at the West End of Washington Avenue along the Grand River, visitors can explore this restored railroad depot and learn about the history of transportation, including rail and maritime. Entry is free.

Pronto Pups is an iconic corn dog stand located along the Grand River. These delicious hot dogs on a stick are dipped in a thin batter and are a must have when visiting Grand Haven. The line can be a bit long but it is definitely worth the wait. Ask for mustard and/or ketchup and they will paint it on for you making these a great on-the-go lunch. We typically order two per person and sit in the grassy lawn watching the boats and ships go through the channel.

The Splash Pad in Grand Haven was a great addition to Chinook Pier right at the Marina downtown. Children of all ages enjoy running through the fountain to cool off and I secretly love sitting there to get misted by the cool water. This is the perfect place for a snack break because some of the shops located at Chinook Pier offer ice cream and you can even get pizza by the slice.

Chinook Pier has a great mini golf course that we have been going to for years. It is only $3 for adults and $2 for children. This is definitely an option for those not so great beach days.

This is a fun little park located at the East End of Washington Avenue in our area known as East Town. The park is on a bayou of the Grand River and has a boat launch to put in your boat or kayaks and canoes. It also includes a dog park, playground, grills, and restrooms.

This is our favorite place to get ice cream. I may be a little partial because not only does my daughter work there, but it is also a block away from our house. The prices are very reasonable and our dogs love going there for their Harley Sundae. East End Ice Cream is located on the corner of Washington Avenue and Beechtree Street.

If you are in Grand Haven on a Tuesday, make sure to visit this farmer’s market. They set up every Tuesday evening all summer long and offer the best local fruit and vegetables, honey and jams, and handmade crafts. East Town is becoming very popular to the locals and is known for their unique style and up-and-coming music festival, Walk the Beat. The market is located in East Town on Beechtree Street.

Last but not least, you have to see and hear the Musical Fountain. This famous fountain is very unique as it synchronizes its light and music display. It performs every night at dusk during the summer and usually has a theme. Our favorites have been Disney Songs and Classic Movie Night.

For a summer schedule visit:

It turns out, the most memorable activities we enjoyed as a family were actually very inexpensive. I hope you enjoy our beautiful town as much as we do!


What to do on Michigan’s Gold Coast – Grand Haven Read More »

Angel Schoof Birth Doula

Meet our new birth doula, Angel!

1) What did you do before you became a doula?
I have been a stay at home mom for the past (almost) four years. Before that I worked as a medical assistant in a few different areas, end of life care and a neurosurgeons office.

2) What inspired you to become a doula?
I was so inspired to become a doula by the amazing support I had with my two births. I was so greatly moved and spent the last four years saying I wish I could do that. And one day it hit me -Why not? Timing and opportunity aligned and I feel so fortunate to see my wildest dream coming to fruition.

3) Tell us about your family?
My husband Erik and I have been married almost five years. We moved to Rockford from Fort Myers, Florida two years ago. We have really been loving West Michigan, especially the weather! Our son Benjamin will be four in September and our daughter Hazel just turned one in February.

4) What is your favorite vacation spot and why? 
What’s a vacation? Ha! Kidding of course! We usually spend our vacation time in Fort Myers. We have lots of family there to visit and it’s always good to escape during the long stretch of winter!

5) Name your top five bands/musicians and tell us what you love about them.
I am a lover of so many different kinds of music from old to new. I love Bob Dylan and Neil Young and the Backstreet Boys (please don’t judge my inner fan girl) and John Mayer! And don’t even get me started on Bob Seger.

6) What is the best advice you have given to new families?
My favorite thing to tell a new mom, which was also told to me when I had my first is you’re the mom and you know best. Listen to your instincts, trust yourself and your judgement. You know your baby better than anyone else.

7) What do you consider your doula superpower to be?
My doula superpower would be my passion. I want every woman to have the birth she desires. My wish is to support women in every angle of birth. Physically, mentally, emotionally… I want to give well-rounded support and will dedicate myself entirely in order to achieve this with my clients.

8) What is your favorite food?
I love food with big flavors – Mexican, Indian, and Thai, but I’m going to be really honest here and tell you, I love a turkey sandwich. If you and I were at a restaurant together 9 times out of 10, I’m getting the turkey sandwich!

9) What is your favorite place in West Michigan’s Gold Coast?
How amazing is Lake Michigan? Salt free, shark free, jelly fish free! I grew up going to the beaches in South Haven, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for the pier there and sitting on the black river having a  bite to eat. Since we’ve moved back to Michigan we ventured out to Kirk Park in West Olive and I was blown away. Such a beautiful park and the water was so clear! Looking forward to more visits along the coast!

10) What are you reading now?
Right now I am reading Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth And Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block. It’s pretty eye opening. Just questioning whether we are over-using medical technology to manage births at the expense of mothers and new babies.

11) Who are your role models?
My role models are the two women who were vital in helping me achieve the births I wanted so desperately for my own kiddos. My doula Jaci Seiben (out of Fort Myers) was amazing. Her energy was so calming and reassuring. She was exactly the person I’d prayed to have at my side during the birth of my son. For the birth of my daughter, my midwife Shannon Pawson blew me away. She was the definition of care. She was so knowledgeable, and empowered me to make informed decisions. We spoke about everything pertaining to birth before I was even in labor, so all she had to do was come, be a quiet presence and support me and my plan for birth. Both of these women have touched my heart and they are truly who I wish to model myself after.


Meet our new birth doula, Angel! Read More »

Jamie Platt Doula

Meet our new doula, Jamie!

1) What did you do before you became a doula?

I worked as a Medical Assistant for 10 years; most of that time was spent at the Pediatric Endocrinology clinic at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. My full time job for the past two years has been as a nursing student at Grand Valley State University. I will graduate with my Bachelors of Science in Nursing in December. Yay!

2) What inspired you to become a doula?

I have a passion for all things related to pregnancy, the birthing process, and postpartum care for mothers and their families. I feel that mothers are often overlooked after having a baby, especially if it’s not their first child. I wanted to become a doula so that I could help mothers in their homes with whatever they need. I want to change the culture of postpartum care, including the stigma that can surround postpartum mental health.

3) Tell us about your family.

I have 3 children:
Noah (13), Jacob (4), and Peyton (2).  We live in Byron Center.

4) What is your favorite vacation spot and why?

I enjoy any place that gets me out in nature and around water, which makes me feel alive and lifts my spirit up.

5) Name your top five bands/musicians and tell us what you love about them.

This is a tough one because I like almost all genres of music.  Right now I mostly listen to country, and one of my favorite artists is Dierks Bentley.  Several years ago I attended his concert in Vegas, and he brought me up on stage, sang with me, then as a joke left the stage and I was out there by myself.  It will always be one my favorite memories!

6) What is the best advice you have given to new families?

That sometimes you need to listen to your own heart and not what everyone else tells you. There is no one-fits-all manual for parenting and sometimes you just need to go with the flow! You will find your own routine and what works best for your family. Never be afraid to ask for help- it takes a village!

7) What do you consider your doula superpower to be?

Since working in healthcare I have learned that I am an extremely empathetic person that can connect easily with others in their most vulnerable times.

8) What is your favorite food?

Mexican- chips & salsa, tacos, fajitas, taco salads…yum!

9) What is your favorite place in West Michigan’s Gold Coast? 

Holland State Park or the trails by Felt Mansion- I love being by Lake Michigan!

10) What are you reading now? 

I am in the process of re-reading 2 books from La Leche League International- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and The Breastfeeding Answer Book.  I hope to be a La Leche League Leader soon.

11) Who are your role models?

My parents, grandparents, and other family members, who have shown me what it means to live in God’s word and always have faith in Him.  I admire Mother Teresa for her unwillingness to waiver in her convictions, despite so many naysayers. It can be difficult to find people willing to take a stand for their beliefs in the face of adversity, and I respect those who do.


Meet our new doula, Jamie! Read More »

Prenatal Fitness

Embraced and Not Feared: Exercise During Pregnancy

Our guess blogger today is Marissa Anderson of Fit4Mom Grand Rapids. Read on to gain valuable insight about prenatal fitness.

No matter what it looked like for you – plus sign, blue line, double line – the moment you knew you had a new life growing inside you, there were so many questions that needed answering. What should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat?  What do I actually FEEL like eating? What should we register for? What classes should I take? Do I want a doula? 

And for many new moms, there are questions about exercising.  Should I be exercising? What type of exercise can I do? Can I run? Can I exercise my abs?  Here are a few common questions that many pregnant mamas are asking:

Should I exercise during pregnancy?

Most likely – YES!!  The majority of women are able to exercise safely and effectively throughout their pregnancy. However, in the case of a high risk pregnancy or complications, your doctor may advise you to stop exercising – either for a period of time or for the duration of your pregnancy. But for women experiencing a normal pregnancy, exercising can be one of the best things you do during these 9 months!

Exercise is so important during pregnancy because right after delivery, when you are at your weakest physical state, you are asked to care for another human being – and you want to be ready for that! Staying fit helps you to go STRONG into the second act of motherhood. Exercise can also help decrease or prevent:

  • Excessive weight gain and postpartum weight retention
  • Gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Maternal discomforts (nausea, leg cramps, back pain, constipation, swelling, depression, etc)
  • Surgical or medical preventions in pregnancy

And not only is exercise great for mom, it is also helpful in delivering a happy and healthy baby!

How Should I Exercise During Pregnancy?

The best rule of thumb for exercising during pregnancy is LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!  If your body is telling you to slow down, then do it. But if your body is feeling great, then continue to work as hard as you feel comfortable. Instead of focusing on what your heart rate is (which is what doctors used to recommend), it is better to rate how you feel on an exertion scale. If 0 is not moving at all and 10 is going “all out”, you should try to keep your exercise between 5-8. Many women find that they can continue to do the same types of exercising they were doing before they were pregnant throughout most of their pregnancy.  There are even pregnant women out there running marathons! But if that puts you over an 8 on the scale, then it’s best to choose something else.

One group of muscles that is really important to focus on during pregnancy is the upper back and shoulders. With the changes in a pregnant woman’s body structure, the shoulders tend to get rounded and the back hunched over. This only gets worse as the baby is born and you are spending time nursing, rocking, reaching into the crib, etc. These muscles can be strengthened with exercises like rows and pulldowns. Always remember to squeeze your shoulder blades together while doing these exercises in order to really activate those muscles!

Another group of muscles that is often overlooked during pregnancy is the core. The muscles of the abdomen and back are SO important to a new mom that they really should not be inactive throughout pregnancy. There are a lot of different opinions about what women should and should not be doing for core exercises during pregnancy. Many doctors will actually discourage all exercises targeting the core. However, this makes recovery so much harder after baby and can cause permanent lower back damage. Twisting exercises should be limited but everything else is safe during pregnancy as long as it is tolerated. Again – if something does not feel comfortable then make sure you are listening to your body. But most women can successfully exercise their core muscles throughout their pregnancy.

What should I be aware of during exercise while I’m pregnant?

As you all know, our bodies are constantly changing during pregnancy. A woman’s body will go through more changes during the 9 months of her pregnancy than a man’s will in his entire life! It’s important to know how these changes can affect your exercise routine. And it’s also important to know what signs your body will give you to tell you to slow down or stop.

One of the ways your body prepares to give birth is through the hormone relaxin. This hormone kicks in to loosen your joints, particularly those of the pelvic bones in order to more easily deliver a baby. However, relaxin can affect other joints of your body as well, and you may notice that you feel a little wobbly at times. It is important to be careful during exercise while doing side to side movements or balance activities because your joints are more likely to give out in these situations. Another time to be careful of this is during stretching. Stretching is very important during pregnancy but overstretching can be a problem while the joints are so loose.

Keep cool and hydrated during your workouts! Pregnant women tend to get overheated more easily and lose water rapidly. It is also important to know that you need to bring in extra calories for the calories you are burning during exercise. Now is not a time to be worried about losing weight! Having a pre-workout snack helps to regulate your blood sugar and gives you the energy you need to exercise.

Most importantly – LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! If you are experiencing any strange symptoms (bleeding, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, etc), make sure to STOP! It is always better to be safe than sorry. You have plenty of time to push yourself harder once you have your baby.

If you are interested in learning more about how to safely and effectively exercise during your pregnancy, make sure to check out our Fit4Baby classes that are led by certified prenatal fitness instructors!


You can contact Marissa with any questions at

Embraced and Not Feared: Exercise During Pregnancy Read More »

Down Syndrome

How my son with Down syndrome has changed my life.

We recently had the opportunity to interview our guest blogger, Alisha, about her experience as a mother of a child with Down syndrome. Read on to find out about her amazing journey.

On October 27th, 2016, Alisha found out her son Mason was born with Down syndrome.

What went through your mind?

A lot of things crossed my mind while I was pregnant but having a child born with a disability was not one of them. It made me put a lot of things into perspective and quickly. I was devastated initially. I had an older son who was perfect, and at 23 & 24 years old, my fiancée and I were really confused as to how this had happened. We had tons of ultrasounds done when I was pregnant, even a 3D one and no one ever saw anything. They always talked about how great the baby looked.

Our devastation didn’t last long. We knew that he was our son; we loved him and were prepared to support him no matter what. Things were definitely scary at first. I was always so anxious, always thinking of what Mason’s future would be like. Because that’s pretty much how it goes with Down syndrome, you don’t really know much until they start to grow and develop. So I’ve learned just to live in the moment.

What’s the one thing you would you tell other parents who find out they’re having a child with Ds?

It’s going to be okay. It doesn’t seem like it at first; you have so many questions, and there will be so many people contacting you. Just make sure you write everything down and take notes at the doctor’s appointments. There will be lots of them, so I suggest you get some sort of file folder to organize all of the paperwork.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been figuring out all the different processes we have to go through to receive the resources available to Mason. Since he has Down syndrome, he is automatically eligible for SSI benefits but it takes three to five months to get approved. We have to submit so much information!

Having his medical records transferred from one doctor to another has also been a pain. I am constantly making phone calls to confirm everyone has what they need. Nonetheless, it has made me a more organized person. I’ve started using my planner more and I also have a folder for Mason’s and the rest of my little family’s important documents. I get to lug both of those around with me to each and every one of his doctor’s appointments.

What has been the most rewarding?

The whole experience has been rewarding to me. I’ve learned so much, and it’s encouraged me to make some changes health wise.

Mason has blessed my life in ways he’ll never understand. I wouldn’t have started my business had it not been for him, and my desire to be with him for every step of his journey. Pursuing my Virtual Assistant business has opened so many doors for me and changed my life in so many ways. I wake up everyday more grateful.

What is your biggest fear for your son?

My biggest fear is that Mason will be labeled by society. There are so many people that say and do things to people who are defenseless. Mason didn’t ask to be different, but honestly, he isn’t that much different than you and me. He’s only 5 months old but he’s so smart already, and he’s very aware of the things going on around him. Nonetheless, Mason and everyone else with a disability deserves the same respect as everyone else.

Do you think the way society sees people with disabilities has changed since we were kids? How?

Yes. I definitely think there is more education about all the different disabilities. I also think there’s also a lot more being done in society to make these people feel good and welcomed. My older son, Christian, goes to an inclusion school here in Atlanta. He’s in the 2nd grade and he has a little boy with Down syndrome in his class. I love that because it shows Christian that his brother won’t be any different than the rest of us.

What will you do to make sure he has all the opportunities he deserves?

Since the moment I found out Mason had Down syndrome, I said that I would do whatever I could to make sure he would be the best he could be in life. I quit my job to stay home with him and to make sure that he gets to all of his appointments. I plan to get involved with the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta, make some connections, and find more resources that could benefit Mason.

Mason is doing awesome. He’s gotten nothing but great reports from all of the doctors we’ve visited. We recently went to the Down Syndrome Clinic at Emory here in Atlanta and we met with some genetic counselors. Dr. Talboy (who was awesome!) presented us with the chance to participate in a research study with Colorado State, and he’s starting physical therapy this week!

I will forever be grateful for my son with Down syndrome; he’s changed my life forever.

Alisha Wilson is Owner of M&C Virtual Assistants


How my son with Down syndrome has changed my life. Read More »

Play Dough

Easy Learning Invitations for your Toddler


Our guest blogger today is Alana Chernecki. She is an educator by trade and a designer at heart. A mom of three, with over ten years of teaching experience in Winnipeg’s public schools, she discovered early on the importance of creating a learning environment that was both stimulating and calm, clean and colorful, engaging and organized. Her company *brillante is an intersection of motherhood, education + design. She designs, styles, and curates spaces for kids + teens to inspire learning and creativity.

Toddlers are natural explorers, eager to use their senses to make meaning and to build understanding about their world. They LOVE mucking about, experimenting and testing their theories. It is a wonderful time in child development, and they are naturally curious about almost EVERYTHING.

What are some engaging learning invitations you can set up to ignite their curiosity, spark imagination, and extend their understanding?

A learning invitation is a prompt, a provocation, or a question that invites the child in to further discovery. A learning invitation does not have to be complicated – in fact, most of the time, simpler = better.

The Set Up: Just Like a Dinner Party

I liken the set up of a learning invitation to that of a dinner party. When setting a table for guests, you pay careful attention to beauty, order and simplicity. It should not overwhelm your guests, but be inviting and appealing. The same goes for setting up your toddler’s learning invitation. Be selective about what is displayed. Clear the clutter, and focus on the most important elements: the materials you are about to explore. In this way, you will draw your child’s attention to the medium they will encounter and “get to know.”

Be sure to have a plan for clean-up before you begin. This will help ease your stress, and provide a clear routine for your toddler so that they understand that when the activity is over, it is time to clean up. Having paper towel nearby, a bowl with warm sudsy water, and even a waste basket will make the experience less stressful for you, and more relaxed for the child.

The Process: Gather your Child(ren) and introduce them to their “new friend”

Anne Pelo, a leader in the Reggio-inspired approach to learning, likens the process of introducing a new medium as if we were introducing them to a dear friend. We want the child to truly “get to know” the medium (clay, wire, paint, watercolor).  You should be simple, and direct, and focus on the idea that they will be learning.

“You are an scientist. We are going to do the work of a scientist, and see what we can discover about color.”  There are so many fun activities saturated across early learning websites, but rarely is there a focus on learning and understanding. Children need to hear what they are learning about, so that they can see themselves as learners. This leads to self-efficacy, or independence in learning, which is the ultimate goal.

Your Role: Questioning, Documenting, and Deepening Understanding

Encourage your child to slow down, and take plenty of time with their work. Use words like “I notice,” and “What might happen if…” Make observations about their work, and take notes. Ask questions that help your child reflect on their work: “I wonder what your idea is here….” Or “What are you discovering about watercolor paints?”  You can even draw their attention to something you’ve created: “Look! I found a new way to roll this clay!”  Sometimes your child might become overzealous with a tool – using it with too much force. Simply coach your child about the best way to use the tool:  “A paint brush works best when the hairs lay nice and flat. We stroke a paint brush like we pat a new baby kitten: very gently.”

Take notes and pictures of the process your child goes through. Your pictures will spark language for a story they can dictate about their experience. Story writing deepens their learning, and reminds children of the power of the written word.  A story about their experience will be a reminder about the learning that occurred, further strengthening connections in the brain.

Once your child has had ample time to explore the medium, (we are not focusing on finished products, simply the wonderful process); you can invite your child to revisit their work.

Examples of Learning Invitations

  • Play dough with loose parts
  • Color mixing
  • Corn Starch and Color
  • Sticks + Tempera Paint
  • Wire, beads + clay
  • Black and White paints


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Infant Massage

What kind of oil should I use to massage my baby?

Today our guest blogger is Cristina Stauffer, LMSW, CEIM and infant massage instructor. She’s sharing some wisdom about what oils to use on your baby.

One of the most common questions I get related to infant massage is about what kind of oil to use. The International Association of Infant Massage recommends high quality (preferably organic), unscented, cold pressed fruit or vegetable oils as the gold standard for infant massage. Cold-pressed oil is produced by mechanically pressing vegetables, fruits, seeds or nuts with a low temperature. Many parents are skeptical at first. “Cooking oil?” they will ask. Yes, cooking oil! A food-based oil is really best for infant massage. There are many great options to choose from – grapeseed oil and safflower oil are two of my personal favorites, but coconut oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, apricot oil, sweet almond oil, and even olive oil can be good choices too. Be mindful about potential allergies and sensitivities – a nut oil might not be a great option for a baby with possible allergies or family history of nut allergies.

You still might be wondering why a food-based oil is the preferred choice. Read on to learn 5 reasons why you should use a fruit or vegetable oil to massage your baby.

Reason #1 – Massage oil absorbs into your baby’s skin. Commercial baby oil is petroleum based and often has added chemicals and fragrance. Would you rather expose your baby’s delicate skin to a natural fruit or vegetable product or a product that is manufactured with lots of additives? The choice seems pretty easy to me. Plus food-based oils are edible and are therefore recognized as digestible food by the body. Food-based oils also contain beneficial vitamins and minerals and are very nourishing to the skin.

Reason #2 – You don’t have to worry if baby gets food-based oil in their mouth or eyes. We all know how frequently babies put their hands in their mouth or up to their face. If baby still has oil on their hands or arms from massage and bring their hands to their face, the chances of irritation is much less with a food based oil than with a petroleum based product. Again, food-based oils are safe and edible.

Reason #3 – Using an unscented oil allows the caregiver’s natural smell to be transmitted to the baby during the massage which is an important element of bonding. There is nothing more comforting to a baby than the smell of their mom or dad. Massaging with a food-based oil allows these natural smells to become part of the benefit of massage for the baby. It is not necessary to use something with added fragrance.

infant massage oils

As essential oils have grown more popular, parents also ask about using essential oils as part of infant massage. Although some essential oils can be safely used on babies with proper dilution, it is not recommended during infant massage. If you still want to incorporate essential oils into your massage experience, stick to diffusing them into the air rather than using them topically.

Reason #4 – Food-based oils are less slippery than commercial baby oils or massage oils. Try rubbing a drop or two of cooking oil (any kind) into the top of your hand. You will find that the oil absorbs quickly and is not overly heavy or greasy. During the practice of infant massage, we apply more oil to our hands as needed to make sure that our hands will glide over the baby’s skin easily; however, baby’s skin is left feeling soft and not greasy because the oil absorbs so readily. Babies do not become so slippery during the massage process that it is unsafe or challenging to handle or dress them.

Reason #5 – Food-based oil is inexpensive to buy and easy to find. When I began teaching infant massage in 2005, finding an organic oil was a little more challenging and usually entailed a trip to the local health food store. Today, you can find a variety of organic, cold pressed oils at most grocery stores or food retailers. The bottle will have an expiration date and will provide recommendations on shelf life and how to properly store your oil. To make the oil easier to use during massage, I will pour 1-2 ounces of oil into a smaller bottle with a flip top cap and store the large bottle in the refrigerator.

Are you looking for advice and support from a professional? At Gold Coast Doulas, we provide newborn care and support as part of our postpartum services. Contact us today!

There is one drawback to using a food-based oil for massage. It can spoil and become rancid over time. Store your oil in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. Before beginning your massage session, be sure to give your oil a good sniff before hand – believe me, you will be able to tell right away of your oil has gone bad. If you store it properly and check it before each massage, a bottle of oil should last you for quite some time.

I hope you have learned a few things about how to choose the right oil for infant massage.

Gold Coast Doulas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to 

Check out our BECOMING A Mother course! It’s a self-paced, online series to help reduce fear and gain confidence in pregnancy, birth, and early parenting. With recorded video lessons, monthly live chats, and a supportive FaceBook community – it’s everything we wish we would have known before we had our babies! We’d love to see you there!

Kristin & Alyssa


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Newborn Survival

Newborn Care: Fussiness

When I teach my newborn care class one of the topics we cover is fussiness. This topic gets a lot of reaction from parents. They have a lot of questions. Nobody wants a fussy baby, but the truth of the matter is that every baby is fussy at times. So what do you do when your baby is fussy?

The simplest place to start is to make sure baby has been fed, diaper has been changed, and decide if baby is tired. All three of these things can be the most common sources of fussiness, so rule those out first.

If baby has reflux, try babywearing. Keeping baby in an upright position can work wonders.

I also suggest the book Happiest Baby on the Block to my students. There are some great, simple ideas to help make baby happy including swaddling and sucking (either a pacifier or breast). The five S’s listed in the book are basically simple ways to recreate the feeling of the womb for your baby.

For an in-depth look at this topic and for more helpful tips about your newborn, register for one of my upcoming Newborn Care classes.

Alyssa Veneklase is a ProDoula Certified Postpartum Doula and Co-Owner at Gold Coast Doulas in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She also teaches Newborn Care Classes and Postpartum Planning Classes.

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Kids chores

The importance of giving children chores

Today we have a guest blog from our very own Alexandrea Rocha, previously an antepartum and postpartum doula with Gold Coast Doulas. If you have kids at home and struggle with the day-to-day list of chores, she has some helpful tips to get the whole family involved!

As parents, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Especially for stay-at-home Moms and Dads. One area I hear a lot of people say they struggle in is keeping up with the housework. Some families can afford a housekeeper, but many cannot. What do you do if you have kids at home and just can’t seem to find enough time in the day to get all the household chores done? I’m going to give you some helpful suggestions on how to have your children start to pitch in.

I have a list of things I want to accomplish daily, but with three kids I’m lucky if I’ve maybe done half of the items on my to-do list. For a while I just did everything myself because I am faster and more efficient (you know how it is)! But then it dawned on me that it was my job to teach my children to be responsible, and they were most certainly at an age where they could start helping out.

Starting at age one, you can find small things to have them help with. They will absolutely need your guidance, but getting them in the habit early is important. When my son was a toddler I ran a childcare for other toddlers in my home. Their job was to clean up their toys at the end of the day. A helpful tip to get everyone excited is to sing! Find a clean up song, mine happened to be from the television show Barney, and sing it during clean up time. Something about that song worked magic. They all loved helping clean up to the special song and sang it along with me. Make sure to thank them for their hard work and tell them how helpful they were. Kids love to be encouraged and hear good things about themselves, just as adults do.

Another thing toddlers can do is help feed pets if you have any, and water plants (both with supervision, of course).

When children are preschool age, they are now capable of cleaning up their toys on their own. They may not put the toys back exactly where you’d like them, but you have to let them do it. Same with making their beds. Let them try it on their own and praise them for their efforts.

I have some pretty basic chores that are routine at my house. My children put their shoes by the front door when we get home, they clear their dishes from the table after meals and snacks, and we unload the dishwasher together. I make sure my kids know that we are a family and we work together. I shouldn’t have to do it all myself when they are fully capable of helping.

Do they always want to? No. Do they complain at times? Yes. But I’m pretty strict about helping with chores, and I expect them to do it. However, I don’t force them to do it immediately or punish them if they don’t do it right away. Giving them an expectation and a time frame is a great idea. For example, “I would like the dishwasher to be unloaded before dinner” or “I would like you to have the playroom clean within an hour”. I tell my kids often how much of a help they are to me and how much it means to me when we all work together.

As kids get older they can do more and more and eventually have a regular list of daily and weekly responsibilities. Make a list of the chores that need to be done weekly and figure out which ones your kids can help with. Can they put away their own clean laundry? Maybe they can help sort the dirty laundry and put it into the washing machine with you. Can they set their own place at the table? Can they dust, make their bed, and clean up their room?

It’s important to give them choices. Sometimes they’re more excited about doing chores if you allow them to choose which ones to do that week. I’ve noticed by giving my kids freedom and choices in the matter, chores go much smoother.

If this is something you want to implement in your family’s life and have struggled with, don’t fret. It can be done. Start slow, and let them choose something that sounds appealing to them. Make it a fun thing you do together at first. Then have them do it themselves.

Another idea is to set a designated chore time daily for everyone. Even if it’s only a half an hour, you all get your chores done at the same time and have a little more time together as a family for the fun stuff. If it’s a bigger chore, you can tackle it with them. I help my 7 year old clean her room sometimes. It can be such a mess I think the idea of cleaning it up alone is overwhelming, so we work together and I assign her jobs that are hers to do. It gets done much quicker that way and usually I hear no complaints.

Our children won’t learn it if we don’t teach them, and it will help them in the long run to learn about responsibility, teamwork, and hard work. But don’t forget each child is unique so you have to use your judgment and do what works best for your family.


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Healthy Fats

Healthy Fats for a Nourished Body & Baby

We are happy to have Sam Kalawart, Certified Health Coach, as a guest blogger today! Check out what she has to say about healthy fats.

Pregnancy is a beautiful and exciting time in a woman’s life. During these 9 months, your body is working in over drive to ensure your unborn baby is developing as it should, which means a nutrient-dense and balanced diet has never been more important. Simplifying nutrition, meal planning, and reducing stress are a big part of making this incredible journey a little easier on mommy and baby. Getting these skills down pat can help you naturally balance your hormones, stabilize cravings, glow from the inside out, and most importantly grow a healthy baby.

Today I’m talking about fat. Not just any fat, but fats sourced from a wide variety of plants that will make you look and feel fabulous!

We’ve all been told to fear fats because of the increased risk for raised cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The truth is that without fat our hormones, and in turn our health, can fall into disarray. Understanding fats is especially vital for expecting mommas to ensure they are receiving the adequate building blocks during pregnancy. Fat becomes even more important postpartum as your body works to re-balance hormones and keep your milk supply prevalent. It’s time for some clarity so you can implement healthy fats into your diet with ease.


Trans fats have almost no nutritional quality and are generally used to increase the shelf life of products. Unfortunately, it wreaks havoc on your health and has been proven to raise your LDL also knows as “bad cholesterol” and lowers your HDL or “good cholesterol”. Though regulations to reduce or completely remove trans fats have grown in popularity globally, trans fats are still prevalent in the U.S. food supply today. Partially-Hydronated vegetable oils and saturated animal fats pose the same risks and impair circulation in the body, which is why I always emphasize that my clients read nutrition labels to understand the ingredients in their food. Watch out for the following vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, canola.

I get asked about nuts a lot and the only nut that I recommend my clients limit is peanuts, including peanut butter. This is because of the high cases of a mold known as Aflatoxin, which is formed during peanut production. Aflatoxin has a carcinogen and has been shown to cause liver cancer in rats. The added oils and sugars found in most peanut butters also lead to an increase of inflammation in the body. If cravings get the better of you then opt for the organic, raw peanut butter, or better yet make your own in a food processor with organic/raw peanuts.


Fat sources I recommend are a balance of poly-saturated and mono-saturated fats found in a variety of plants. My favorite sources are avocado, coconut butter, raw nuts and raw nut butters, seeds such as hemp/chia/flax, and olives are also an excellent choice. Increasing your omega-3’s during pregnancy is also very important, just be sure you are getting them from clean sources. Because fish can contain high mercury levels, I recommend sticking to natural sources of omega-3’s found in hemp seeds, flax seeds, walnuts and algae. I use a DHA/EPA supplement made from algae that is a potent form of omega 3’s and is readily absorbed by the body.


Each meal should contain a portion of healthy fats but it can be very easy to overdo it, even with plant sources of fat. A great example of this would be snacking on nuts. A few handfuls of raw cashews can easily exceed 600 calories, so stay mindful of your consumption and focus on balancing your meals with greens, plant protein, and starches such as sweet potato, quinoa or wild rice. As a general guideline, keep your daily portions to 1 tablespoon of coconut/olive oil for cooking, a small handful of raw nuts/seeds for snacking, and ½ avocado per day added to salads. I don’t believe in tracking macros meticulously but tracking for the first few days as you get into the swing of things can be very helpful for some. Keeping daily fat intake around 20-30% is ideal, but everyone’s needs are different so tune into your body’s own intuition.

To incorporate some plant based fat into your meals try my Classic Guacamole recipe below! I enjoy this recipe dipped with my favorite veggies, garnished on salads and of course top off my tacos with it!

Classic Guacamole

Start by picking 2-3 ripe avocados. They are ripe when slightly soft to the touch and dimple easily. When you cut into them they should be a light green. Brown spots mean it is going bad and yellow mean it’s not quite ready yet!

In a small mixing bowl, scoop out the inside of the avocados and discard the seed. I then use a potato masher to get them to the consistency I’m looking for. Some people like their guac completely smooth but I like to leave some chunkiness in there for texture.

Chop the following and stir into mashed avocados: 

-1 shallot
-2 cloves of garlic
-1/2 cup red onion
-Handful of fresh cilantro
-1 serrano pepper
-1 tomatillo
-Juice of 1 lime

Add the following spices: 

-Dash of cumin
-1 tsp of Himalayan sea salt (add more to taste)
-1 tsp of cracked black pepper

Stir and enjoy with your favorite chips/tacos/salad!

Sam Kalawart, CHC

In my health coaching practice, I guide my clients to effortless weight loss and a boost in energy without yo-yo diets or deprivation. Through my one-on-one customized sessions, we work to find what works for your body for sustainable results using whole foods, mindfulness and a whole lot of self-love!

Utilizing the psychology of habit change I help you follow through in a way that you never have before. This is an invitation to get curious about how healthy you can be, to become a stand for transformation.

Click here to learn more about Sam’s services and schedule your FREE Self-Discovery Consultation!

Source Information:
Normal Suggested Amount of Fat and Protein for Women, SF GATE, 18 Mar. 2016. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
“Berkeley Wellness.” Aflatoxin in Peanuts, University of Berkeley. Accessed 1 Apr. 2016.
Mann, Dennis. Trans Fats: The Science and the Risks, WebMD. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.


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Postpartum Doula

What does non-judgmental support mean?

Author: Alyssa Veneklase, CD


I was recently asked if, since I’m a doula, I tell clients not to vaccinate and make them feel guilty if they don’t breastfeed.


If you had a doula that made you feel this way, I apologize on behalf of them. That is the opposite of what a doula is meant to be.

Since there’s obviously still a lot of confusion about the role of a doula, I will try to clear up most of the common misconceptions briefly and simply.

A birth doula is not a midwife. We do not deliver babies; we are there for the physical and emotional support of the mother and even the father.


You do not need to have an all-natural home birth to use a doula. We support women  no matter how and where they deliver.

We realize that breastfeeding doesn’t work for every mother and every circumstance. We are there for guidance and support of breastfeeding, pumping, and bottlefeeding (breast milk and formula).

When clients ask us for guidance regarding topics such as vaccines and circumcision, we offer resources, but never tell a client what they should do. We want our clients to make informed and educated decisions, but the decisions are all their own.

Bottom line, a doula is a non-judgmental support person. And by non-judgmental I mean we never judge a mother, father, or family based on the decisions they make.


Telling a client not to vaccinate their child would be judging those who do vaccinate.

Telling someone we won’t work with them because they have a scheduled c-section would be outright, in-your-face judgment.

Telling a client that she’s a bad mother because she can’t, or chooses not to, breastfeed is yes, full of judgment.

As a postpartum doula, I am passionate about supporting families, wherever they’re at in their journeys. I serve families who co-sleep for months and those who use a crib from day one. I serve families who breastfeed and those that bottlefeed formula.

I serve mothers who had all-natural deliveries, mothers who delivered early and their baby was in the NICU, and mothers who had scheduled c-sections. I serve families whether they vaccinated or not, circumcised or not.

I serve families where the mother goes back to work full-time after a few weeks, and families where the mother never goes back to work. I serve mothers with postpartum depression and I serve mothers who are the happiest they’ve ever been.

In every single scenario, the client knows I am there for them. I have no agenda of my own. It doesn’t matter what I did with my child or what “most people” do. I want each of my clients to feel confident that they’re making their own informed decisions. And I’m there for them, no matter what the decision is.

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