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Dr. Becky Kennedy, aka @DrBeckyatHome on Instagram, shares her tips for talking it out and making a plan.

By Rebecca Rakowitz
April 06, 2021
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An image of parents with their baby.
Credit: Getty Images.

We've been saying it since day one, "Mama: you're not alone!" Whether you are a single mom or live in a dual-parent household, you have people you can lean on.

We know that's easier said than done, but this week's guest has that covered. Becky Kennedy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who works with parents navigating early parenthood, offers scripts for how to talk to your partner, well-meaning family, and feelings ("Hi urge to control!"). 

Even if these conversations only last for 30 seconds—Dr. Kennedy suggests setting a timer!—they are important ones to have. And preferably early on, before the weight of the feelings become unbearable. 

She also talks candidly about why moms often end up with the most responsibilities, and why giving dads more of the parenting load is beneficial for the whole family.

Plus, five moms share how they divided responsibilities and checked in with their partners.

Listen and subscribe to That New Mom Life on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PlayerFM, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. That New Mom Life will be back again next week with more postpartum insights. 

Upcoming topics this season:

  • Establishing routines
  • Sex and romance as new parents
  • Preparing for what's next

If you have a story to tell or want to learn more about That New Mom Life, email us at thatnewmomlife@meredith.com. 

Listen to episode 8 right now:

Plus follow along here:

Desiree: All I can say is this, having triplets completely rocked our world. We had to learn how to communicate all over again!

Grace: After our baby arrived, our relationship became so much more transactional. Like we were co-workers at this high stress job where the boss is this really demanding newborn.

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Grace: Hi, I'm Grace Bastidas. Have you ever had an argument in the middle of the night because you're down to just one diaper and apparently it was your job to pick them up?

Desiree: You know, even if you've been with your partner for a long time, having a whole new human in your house changes everything when it comes to communication.

Grace: It really does, and it can be hard to feel like you're on the same team when you're both just trying to get through the day.

Desiree: Thankfully, we have the fantastic Dr. Becky Kennedy on the show today. She's a clinical psychologist and mom of three who's got practical solutions for getting the support you need. But first, let's hear how these moms found ways to divvy up the parenting load.

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Mom 1: When I became a mother for the first time, I was so excited to do all the mom things—change the diapers, and do the baths, and get the diaper bag ready, and fill the bottles. I had a lot of energy, I had been waiting for this moment my whole life. 

And so I was on maternity leave and I just did it. And it really wasn't until that maternity leave came close to ending, about a month before it ended, that I sort of woke up and realized that I was doing everything, and I was enjoying doing everything, but that my husband wasn't really doing any of that mental load, administrative, baby labor. 

And at that point it became really difficult, even though it had only been four or five months, to try to share the load, to try to habituate him to checking the diaper bag before we go out, or making the pediatrician appointment, or whatever it was. 

And I have to say that those first five months of me on maternity leave and him working, set the tone for our marriage. And it's an issue that we are still working on that we've made a lot of progress on, but if there's anything I could go back and do, it would be to have a more equitable split from day one.

Mom 2: After my son was born, I went from euphoria, since we had an amazing home birth to "Oh no, what now?" I was completely clueless and scared. 

And although my husband and I had been together for six years and had a great relationship, at the time, it felt like we were miles apart from each other. My communication skills went out the window. I didn't know how to ask for help, and I resented him for not being as stressed out as I was and for not recognizing things that I needed.

It's been a roller coaster ride between raising our son and working on our marriage. I wish we could just be in a bubble with our babies when they're first born, but we can't. Life goes on. And as a new mom, you have to learn how to navigate this new, uncharted territory, and I'm still learning. But my husband and I have finally gotten our flow and groove back. 

Mom 3 : So, I was a very young mother. I found out I was pregnant when I was 19 during my gap year. So I was faced with the dilemma of going back to school or finding a full-time job so I can provide for my son. 

And that is when my family stepped in. My brother who was in high school at the time, my sister, who was starting college herself, and my mother, who's a single mother. 

So they told me that they will babysit and take care of my son when I was in classes or work. So that is how I made it through college. And now I am following my dreams. I have a great job, thanks to them and all their support from the beginning. 

Mom 4: I struggled to share the responsibility of the night shift with my partner because I'm a working mother. And I was planning to go back to work after maternity leave, which meant milk I pumped was essentially reserved for when I went back to work, which essentially meant that I took on the burden of waking up each night and feeding my newborn.

It definitely created a sense of resentment toward my partner because I felt exhausted during the day, exhausted at night, and looking back, what I probably should have done was just do a combination of formula and breast milk.

Mom 5: So the way that I was able to articulate my needs during the newborn stage, the new mom stage, was really just to make note of it in a journal or a notebook. 

So what I would do is anytime I had a particular feeling or I was feeling overwhelmed or tired or just exhausted or not seen, I would just write it down in a notebook, and I would share that with my spouse. 

It just really opened up a whole level of communication between us. And so I never felt overwhelmed with guilt with how I was feeling because I was able to openly share it with my spouse. He knew where he could show up for me and help me so that we could get through it together.

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Grace: Let's welcome our guest, Dr. Becky Kennedy. She's a clinical psychologist who works with moms, dads, and couples struggling with early parenthood.

Desiree: You might know her by her social media handle "Dr Becky at Home" and listen out for her new podcast.

Grace: Hi, Dr. Becky, thanks so much for joining us today. 

We are talking about sharing the newborn parenting load because there is so much to get done. And I'm guessing these conversations should not happen at three in the morning between feeds, right?

Dr. Becky: Yeah. I'm trying to think what conversation should happen at three in the morning between feeds. I don't know any great, productive conversations that happen even with ourselves in those moments, right?

Grace: I completely agree, it's all gibberish at that time. 

Dr. Becky: So the first thing I'd say—actually, before we jump into the practical, because it's easy to jump into the practical, "Who should do what?" and "How should we divvy things up?" And I actually think there's something to that, but I think we have to zoom out first and look at kind of an overall principle of relationships. 

Nobody can change in a relationship until they really feel like they're being approached in a way where they're on the same team. Because when we're on the same team with someone, we feel like they're looking at us like we're a good person. Then we don't feel defensive because we don't feel like we have to defend our character. 

And as long as we're in a "me versus you" mode, no change can happen because we think we're talking about a problem, we think we're talking about "who's washing the bottles." We're not.

What actually is going back and forth in a relationship is, "I'm a good person, and I'm trying," "No, I'm a good person, and I'm trying." And you think you're talking about the bottles, but you're actually just defending your goodness to the other person while getting further and further away from being able to collaborate.

And until we get to the core of that, there's actually no point in divvying up chores because it's not going to be helpful. 

Grace: How do we start to get on that team and know that this is all about collaboration, and feel that support from our partner?

Dr. Becky: So to me, one of the best things that can happen between partners after they have a baby is at some point looking at each other and one of them saying, "Hey, things feel different between us, don't they?" That's a start. 

Not, "Hey, you're doing this or you're not doing enough." 

There's just, "Hey, things feel different between us, right?" "Hey, our marriage feels a little different now that we have this baby who's amazing. And we wanted the baby and, and, there's some loss, right? Like we've—we gained something and we've kind of lost something."

"I don't even have some fix or solution. I just think it's helpful to name that that's happening. We both probably are reacting to that. We're both probably reacting to that when we're arguing about who's changing the diaper. We don't realize that's what we're arguing about, but we're probably carrying that with us. And I do want to talk about who's getting up with the baby, and I do want to talk about who's washing the bottles, and I do want to talk about both of us kind of holding onto the baby's schedule in our minds, so it's not one of us telling the other person, but actually before we do that, what's something I can do for you right now, that's something you feel like I haven't done enough of just for you? There has to be something, I probably have something too."

Maybe we can start these conversations about parenting by actually starting by shoring up our relationship, because this is where it all started, right? And that sets the tone for someone to say, "Well actually, I feel like the only thing we ever talk about is the baby. Do you think maybe one night this week we could have dinner and not talk about the baby? Talk about anything else. Talk about a vacation we want to go on that we actually don't know if we'll ever be able to go on, but at least we can dream. Or I want to talk about work and just talk about work for five minutes."

Right? And now all of a sudden, when you're talking about the schedule, you've built up connection capital with someone. And we all know when we've built up connection capital, we have something to spend, right? And if you haven't built it up, the bank account is kind of empty. 

Grace: I love that expression, connection capital. I'm going to use that in my own home. 

So you've built this up, and you're on the same team, and we're going to tackle this together, and yes, "I love you." "I love you, too." Great. Now, how do we begin to share those responsibilities?

Dr. Becky: I think what it starts with is real direct communication that doesn't use euphemisms, that's very, very specific, that has very little ambiguity. 

So it might start like this: "So, hey, speaking of the different things we can do, there's a couple of things on my mind that I'm thinking about that are daily tasks, right? Okay I'm thinking about who changes the diapers. I'm thinking about the feeding. I'm thinking about washing the bottles and the pump parts. I'm thinking about who's making the doctor's appointments. I'm thinking about who's going to the doctor's appointments. That's some of the things on my mind right now, maybe we can just go through that and even just start to talk about, number one." 

And I think this is important, Grace. It could be really important to think about who did these things in your home growing up. Because probably whoever did that is infused into our expectations. And maybe we could start there. 

Then maybe we can also talk about what each of us feels we could do right now, and where we really need the other person to step in, right? So to me, that history is another level of importance. 

I think we realize once we have a baby, how much of our partner's family history comes alive, we just watch it, and that has to be discussed if we're going to really effectively communicate. 

Grace: We were actually talking about that in my house last night. And my husband said, "Yes, my mom did 100 percent of the heavy lifting." 

Dr. Becky: Yeah. 

Grace: The fact is, if your partner's gone back to work, and you're home all day with the baby, you just want to hand them this child the minute they walk in the door. 

Dr. Becky: This is so tricky, right? If you're home with the baby, you feel like, "Oh my goodness, I'm counting down the seconds, the milliseconds, until my partner walks in from work or comes out of their home office," right?

And I hear from the other partner often, "I just had the most stressful day at work. I feel so depleted, and I open the door, and there's this screaming baby and an angry partner. I don't even know what I walked into."

So to me, what's key really, is when we talk about this in advance, again instead of starting with, "So what are we going to do?" Just to take a little bit of time to see your partner's perspective.

When you see your partner's perspective, it doesn't mean you're saying they're right and you're wrong. There's no right and there's no wrong because when we see things that way we get in our own way of understanding, and understanding without judging it as right and wrong is what strengthens connection and what makes change possible.

So understanding is the goal, not proving yourself. And one of the things I, when I work with couples in my practice, I often try to get them to notice, "Am I in understanding mode or proving mode?"

We all know when we're in proving mode. "Okay, well, you were at work, but you don't know what I went through."

And what we're really trying to do is we're saying, "I have more stress and I'm trying to prove it."

And then the other partner says, "You don't even know what it's like to have a boss who yells at you and okay, you were home with the baby, but you had time to sit on the couch."

Again, we're in a "us against each other" mode, so nothing else matters, right? 

I think couples think a lot, "Okay, so I'm gonna understand my partner. What does that actually do? That doesn't actually solve anything."

We don't solve problems, we understand each other's perspectives around problems, and somehow in doing that we soften, and we figure out solutions.

So what do I recommend doing? Something like this. In advance, not at the moment someone walks in.

"Hey, you know what I'm thinking about? I'm thinking about for me, I am counting down the minutes till you walk in because I cannot wait to hand over the baby because I feel so stressed and overwhelmed. And you know what else I'm thinking about? I'm guessing, for you, the context is different, but you feel the exact same way when you walk in the door as I feel after the end of the day. We both feel like we need a break, and we need the other person to do something and take on some heavy load for us."

I know couples who in this exact issue say we split, I get Monday, Wednesday, Friday baby when I get home, Tuesday and Thursday, I get to come home and take a shower and have a break.

Grace: And that process sounds like it should be done in baby steps, right? Should we be having little conversations often? 

Dr. Becky: Yes! If you're listening to this now thinking, "Wow, that sounds so far from how me and my partner communicate," then yeah I would say let's have 30 seconds where I listen to you without proving, you listen to me without proving.

And then we literally have a timer that goes off, and we can't go further because we don't want to ruin that moment. 

We're just going to say, "Okay, done. Separate. I don't know what we're doing. We had those 30 seconds each. We'll figure it out tomorrow, and let's kind of cut the cord now before we get into our old dynamic of arguing." 

Grace: I just put a timer in my shopping cart while you were saying that.

Dr. Becky: [Laughs] 

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Grace: We talked a little bit about right and wrong. How do we get past feeling angry that we even have to bring up this conversation? I mean, can't they read our minds by now? 

Dr. Becky: I totally get that! And I think actually that mindset that we have, "How do I stop being angry? How do I stop being envious of my partner who's going to work?"

We can't stop feelings in our body. We want to relate differently to our feelings. So the question I would ask is, "How can I start to relate to, and almost speak to, and understand the anger I feel for having to bring up these conversations?" 

So then I might say to myself, "I'm noticing I want to talk to my partner about the baby's feeding schedule. Because, it seems like if I don't say to my partner, 'Please feed the baby, don't you know you're doing the four o'clock feed?' My partner doesn't do it, and I'm so upset. Why do I have to be the only one who holds that information? Why do I have to be the reminder?"

And then I'd say to myself, "Ooh, Becky, wow, okay. Hi, anger!" 

Our anger tells us what we need, and I think we're confronting something powerful, especially I think a lot of us women, who maybe were brought up to be kind of good girls or quiet, and that essentially is someone with no needs. And then we get to be older, and I think it's a really powerful reframe to say my anger is so important. Wow. 

Okay. I want to figure out how to communicate that in a way that could be effective, but that's step two. 

Step one is just sitting with how important it is that my body's giving me that signal, and that makes our feelings feel so seen, and so heard. It's the opposite of not feeling them. It's getting to know them for the important messages they have for us. 

Grace: Speaking of feelings, let's turn our attention to other relationships. When a baby comes into the picture, everybody has an opinion, especially the grandparents. 

How do we set up boundaries early on so that we don't feel angry or resentful when somebody is trying to tell us what to do with our kid?

Dr. Becky: If we think about family, right, again, I think two things are true that we have to hold. I can be grateful for getting help and I'm allowed to tell people the type of help I want, including the type of things that are not helpful to me. Right? 

So what you're really saying with setting boundaries with families is I am allowed to say, "Hey, I am so grateful about the help you give me. I'm so grateful that you're here and you help me with the baby, and you are such a key person in my life at this time. And. I feel pretty good about my ability to make decisions about how I'm feeding my baby."

And I'm noticing for me, that when anybody starts to question me about it, it actually just makes my job as a mom feel harder. And so, "I love that you're offering to help feed the baby. Exactly what I'm feeding the baby, that's something I would really, really appreciate you not commenting on." 

So what I'm doing there is I'm doing many things, I'm expressing gratitude, and I'm reminding myself I don't just have to be the passive recipient of everything someone gives me because I happen to be grateful for their assistance.

I can do both. 

Grace: So express gratitude, but you don't have to be passive. You can say what you need. We have so many single moms out there listening with their own set of challenges. 

What's a good way for them to create a solid support network? 

Dr. Becky: So, the first thing I would say is to build up the support you show yourself. If you're a single mom, you're amazing. It is so hard, and I think that it's so easy to get down on yourself.

"Oh, I'm so stressed or I did this," and I really think it's important to start right away building up a narrative of "I'm doing this on my own. I'm a pretty amazing human being. I'm taking on a lot and there's going to be moments that feel hard. There's going to be moments that I notice layering on self-blame to something that's already hard, which obviously doesn't ever make me feel better, but it's an old habit, and I'm going to try to remind myself I'm doing the best I can.

I'm doing enough. I am enough. One moment at a time."

That is so important. And then in terms of obviously the support system we need outside of ourselves, I think it's really critical to build a network, which means probably reaching out. It might meaning finding a forum, finding other parents who are single parents, and really understand that from the inside.

And also to remember, you're not limited to only single parents. There are other parents in a dual-parent household who probably would also love to be a support and where you can still connect in a meaningful way, even if the situation is a little different. 

So I guess my guidance is really build up that narrative of self-support and self-compassion and be proactive in kind of forming a village for emotional and all other types of support.

Grace: And when you do have this village or this partnership, does that require us to relinquish some of the control? 

Dr. Becky: Yes. So I think that there's just a reality that we have to accept. If I want to control everything, I am not going to get much support, and I'm not going to have a great partnership with my partner or whoever else is seemingly helping me. 

I always think about, you know, it's helpful just bring it to ourselves, right? What would it be like for me, if I was in a work environment where every time I was typing, and I was working on something, my boss was saying, "No, you're the wrong font. No, you should have a period there, no."

I'm just thinking, what would that do to my motivation? What would that do to how I felt about myself? What would that do when I tried to take on some challenging project? I think we all know it would not lead to good things. Right? And one of I think the inconvenient truths of getting married is that you're marrying someone different from you. Right? 

I think almost all couples fights come back to, we're really saying to the other person, "Be more like me. And they're like, be more like me." Right? We're always doing that. 

And where we actually can get a lot of freedom—there can be discomfort of course in letting go of control—is, I need to start to learn, to trust someone. Not trust them to do it the same way, but trust that someone else can do it differently and that there is no right. 

Now, of course, if someone said my partner is physically injuring my child, of course, that's a safety concern, right? Is there right and wrong there? Yes. We know basic foundations of how to keep a child safe, right? 

And if we notice our partner is feeding a baby differently, is burping at a different rate, I believe for some parents who know, "I'm noticing my urge to control again," don't get rid of that urge. 

Say hi to it, "Hi urge to control." 

What do I know? "I know if I stay in the same room as my partner watching my partner feed the baby, I'm going to have a really hard time, not acting this out. So I'm going to go for a walk."

I'm going to tell my partner, "Hey, I do trust you, but the part of me that is not even about you, that likes to just control things is getting kind of loud. So I'm going to walk in the other room."

The more we can own our urge to control, we're less likely to have that urge come out, which our partner will experience as not trusting that person. And that to me really can change the narrative. 

Grace: Well, I wear my urge to control on my sleeve. So it's out there! 

Finally, Dr. Becky, how important is it to make equal parenting visible? Why should we let our partners take the baby to the pediatrician's office without us?

Dr. Becky: I mean to me, it's so important as a message of trust, as a message of capability. I think about this a lot with our kids, right. That our kids respond to the version of themselves we reflect back. Right? And yeah, I think the same thing is true—I mean, obviously we're more developed than our kids are—but the same thing's true in a partnership. 

That we notice the version of ourselves that our partner sees. Do they see someone incapable or do they see someone capable? Do they see someone who's always making mistakes or do they see someone who's trustworthy and can figure it out?

And if you know, "I am someone who wants help, I want assistance, I want a partner who's going to feed the baby. I want the partner who's going to be able to do the bath." Then we have to start by giving our partner space. 

Right, and to expect, and I think this is an important thing, too, that that might feel really uncomfortable for you. And so often when we feel uncomfortable, we want to get rid of that discomfort right away. So we do the quick, the thing to make it go away. 

"Okay, fine, give me the baby. "

Right, we think we're doing it for the baby. We're really doing it to soothe our own discomfort, right. And so often something uncomfortable is something new.

New, not bad, just new. Yes it is new to kind of allow someone else space to do things their own way, so actually if I want to make a change, this uncomfortable feeling, which is new, is actually my best sign that I'm kind of doing something good and right. So let me tolerate this discomfort. And kind of allow a few more seconds, a few more minutes before I say anything or jump in.

Grace: Oh thank you so much Dr. Becky for joining us today, so much great information.

Dr. Becky: Thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to talk to you. This was an awesome conversation. 

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Desiree: Well, that was a wonderful chat with Dr. Becky. I feel like I took away so many great tips and I wish I knew them when my babies were infants! I have this vivid memory of my husband and I, Ryan, fighting over who was more tired when the babies were 6 weeks old, and we were just going on and on and I'm like, "No one wins, we're both tired!"

Grace: I think you won, Desiree. My money's on you. You were most tired, ok? Cause I know I was most tired in my house. 

For me, I quickly established myself as the CHO, the chief household officer, which is crazy because it's this double edged sword where I thought I was most in charge, but that really just meant I was doing the bulk of the work. 

My husband got back to work much faster, so I took charge of ordering the diapers, creating the routines, doing the housework. In his eyes, I was just better at this stuff because I was the CHO. I was carrying that title. 

My goodness, what was I thinking? 

Desiree: Oh man, I feel like so many of us moms can relate to that. And sometimes it's hard for us to let go and let our spouse take on some of those duties. 

And we're like, "Is he doing it right? He's not doing it how I would do it. He didn't get the baby to sleep!" 

And I would feel that even when we had extended family come into our home and help us with the triplets, it would kind of stress me out, and my mother-in-law, god bless her, she came over every week to help me, but it became so overwhelming for me that I had to tell her to stop coming.

Grace: Oh no, I hope that conversation wasn't really uncomfortable, I'm guessing it was? 

Desiree: Oh gosh, it was overwhelming for me because I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but I was already in postpartum depression and really struggling myself, and I just needed a break, and it became just too much. 

And so I just had to have an honest conversation with her and tell her I appreciated her help, but maybe we could just stretch it out and not make it every week because it was just, it was just too much for me to carry during that time. 

Grace: I think Dr. Becky would say that you handled that perfectly! I remember my aunt coming to help me, and she knew how to bathe the baby, how to cut those teeny tiny little fingernails, how to calm her down, but that also came with a lot of opinions. 

I had to remind myself that it was coming from a good place so that I wouldn't just snap back and say like, "Yeah, this is my kid, and I'm not doing it like that!" 

Plus I needed her help, so I wasn't about to let her go, so easily. And you know, sometimes I blame my pediatrician. "The doctor says, this is the way it needs to happen!" 

And as I became more confident, I was able to establish those boundaries as well. But I think I walked into motherhood thinking, "You know, a good mother is the one who is self-sacrificing. I need to put my family before myself." 

And I remember my mom telling me one time, "Well, at least your husband helps out."

And I thought, "Hmm, helps out." Let me think about that. It was this realization. He was just being a dad. He was doing his dad duty, right? Why did he get a pat on the back for that? 

I knew how important it was to normalize this idea of both of us participating in parenting. I knew wouldn't be a 50-50 split because so much needs to happen at the society level, but we need to keep working on it. And I'm also raising daughters, I'm raising two girls, and they need to see him pulling his weight. 

Desiree: Yes!

Grace: They need to see this as a partnership. 

Desiree: Absolutely. I'm so glad you said that because you know, dads are not babysitters, they are dads. And just like you and I take care of our children, that's the dad's job too. I think that sometimes that gets lost, for some people, and that's something we need to remind all moms, like, "Dads are not babysitters, and they're here to take on the responsibility too."

It's really, really important and sometimes I think that we kind of maybe get stuck in this idea that because we are the mom, it's our job, and this and that, but it's important to communicate with each other and share what you need because that creates teamwork between you and your spouse. 

You're able to conquer the job of taking care of a newborn, and I think that makes a more, cohesive relationship where you're able to communicate and have a really successful experience in those early newborn weeks.

Grace: It's a partnership, no matter who you are in a partnership with, you have to divide it up. You have to really take stock of everything that needs to get done and write it down or talk it out, whatever works for you. You know, I think about my single mom friends, and I was just chatting with one last night and I said, "How did you get help?"

And she said, "Oh, you know, I contacted my group of single mom friends and the help was more on that emotional level because she said I would be able to talk to them about how I was feeling."

And I said, but what about diaper duty? What about, you know, soothing the baby? And she said, "Oh no, that was all me."

Desiree: Wow. Wow. 

Grace: And that is hard.

Desiree: Yeah.

Grace: And I just thought, this is so difficult even within a partnership, I wanted to give her a hug. I have so much respect for all my single mom friends and all the single moms out there tackling this stuff on their own. 

Desiree: Yes, Grace. I agree with you 100 percent and you know what? Here's to all the mamas out there working hard, taking care of their babes.

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Desiree: That's all for this episode of That New Mom Life. To find out more, head to parents.com/newmompodcast

Grace: And next time you meet up with your mom friends, please invite them to listen in as well. We'd love to have them along.

Desiree: A big thanks to Dr. Becky for all her great advice, to the moms who shared their stories with us, and our production team, Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, and Sam Walker. I'm Desiree Fortin.

Grace: And I'm Grace Bastidas, hang in there mom, you're doing great!

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