Author Archives: Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae

About Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae is a work-at-home mom of three young children whose days are spent wiping mouths, playing Candyland, planning dinners and stealing time in between at the computer for her freelance writing. She's a stickler for healthy eating, with a slight exception for Oreos. She lives in Alabama with her precious children, loving husband and 13-year-old Australian Shepherd named Ricky Martin.

Baby bottle milk

Sharing Breast Milk: Texas Hospital Asks Nursing Moms for Donations

Baby bottle milkLike many new moms, I had difficulty nursing my first child. Even though I’d taken a course when I was pregnant and met with the lactation consultant while I was the hospital, when I got home it was much harder than I expected. A kind family friend–who also happened to be a pediatrician and a mom–came to visit when my little guy was a few days old to encourage me and give me some nursing pointers. She also brought me several bags of her own frozen breast milk.

I remember taking the bags from her and placing them in my freezer–and being sort of grossed out. That’s probably not very nice to admit, but it’s the truth.

So I was interested when I read a recent article in the Houston Chronicle about Texas Children’s Hospital’s plea for donated breast milk for prematurely born babies whose mothers aren’t able to produce enough to feed them.

“The evidence is overwhelming that these critically ill preemies do best on mother’s milk, the reason we only feed breast milk in our neonatal intensive care unit,” Nancy Hurst, a Texas Children’s nurse and director of the new donor milk program, says in the article. “Ideally, they get their own mother’s milk, but donor milk is the next best thing.”

Milk banks have become more popular in recent years, even though the Food and Drug Administration warns against individuals acquiring milk from banks themselves because of the risk of infectious diseases. Milk that’s donated to the hospital is sent to a special facility in California where it’s pasteurized (and the mother’s blood is screened). It’s also fortified with calories and nutrients before being returned to the hospital. The pasteurization process kills some of the milk’s key immune factor, but the article said that 70 percent remained. Formula contains none of the immune factor.

Many mothers whose infants are born prematurely aren’t able to produce enough milk to sustain their babies, or else they have medical conditions or are on medications that prevent their milk from being used.

In my case, I never used the friend’s milk. After some early struggles, feeding became much easier and I nursed both children for just over a year. And to be honest, I’m still not sure what I think about individuals sharing breast milk. What’s your take? Would you donate your milk to such a program? And if you had a premature baby, would you want donated milk fed to him or her?

Chewy Granola Balls recipe from

Snack Time: Finding Healthy Options for Hungry Kids

Chewy Granola Balls recipe from

These Chewy Granola Balls from make a great (and healthy--shh!) snack for kids. Photo credit:

My children live for snacks. They’re pretty good eaters at meal times, but will definitely devour anything served in snack form. I was lazy over the summer and served more goldfish crackers than I’d like to admit. But now that we’re back into the routine of school, the guilt of unhealthy snacks weighs on me more. There’s nothing wrong with a bunch of starchy crackers, but since my kids’ stomachs are so small and their bodies are growing so fast, snacks are a good time to fill them with nutrients rather than empty calories.

Here are a few of our healthier go-to snacks that my kids love:

  • Chewy Granola Balls (from These are staples in our house because they can be thrown together quickly with items we usually have in the pantry. They also keep well for several days, so I can knock out several days’ worth of snacks in a quick recipe. My kids love eating anything shaped in a ball, and they like helping me make them.
  • Spinach Dip (from Juliet Glass, Sunset magazine, via If I served sauteed spinach for dinner, I probably wouldn’t get many requests for seconds. But when I incorporate it into a dip, my kids scarf it up. I like this recipe because it uses Greek yogurt that is packed with protein. If you have pickier eaters, you might want to skip the onions and shallots. And I’ve used frozen spinach when I didn’t have fresh on hand. Of course, crackers are the favorites to dip, but my kids will also eat this with carrots and celery.
  • Peanut Butter Balls (from via These could easily slide from snacks to the dessert category, but they are relatively healthy. Again, it’s food in a ball–a big hit at our house. And they’re super-fast to make. My husband and I have been known to graze on them after the kids are in bed.
gender symbols female male

Too Soon? New Pregnancy Blood Test Can Determine Fetal Gender at Seven Weeks

gender symbols female maleOne of my best friends has three precious boys. Her house is just what you’d expect–covered in matchbox cars and miniature army men and peppered with lots of conversations about burps and gas. She’s the perfect mom for boys, so it always irritates me when I hear people question their family dynamic: “Will you ever have a fourth? You know, to try for a girl?” Does having a child of each gender really equal the perfect family?

I’m as guilty as the next pregnant person of obsessing over the gender of my unborn child. With my first pregnancy, I couldn’t wait until my 20-week ultrasound. How did past generations actually make it 40 weeks before finding out, I wondered. With my two subsequent pregnancies, the need to know wasn’t quite as strong, but I’m still never one who could wait until my delivery day to learn what we’d have. I’m a planner, and I also feel like I get to know my unborn child better when I know whether it’s a boy or girl. That’s just me.

At a recent visit to my ob-gyn, we discussed the latest announcement about a simple blood test that can detect the gender of an unborn child as early as seven weeks into pregnancy. My doctor admitted he’d been questioned about it by lots of patients, but he was concerned with the ramifications of making such a test widely available–especially to cultures where boy babies are more coveted than girls.

The tests aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration because they’re not used for medical purposes, but some skeptics are concerned about how women will use the results. The New York Times article quoted a physician who was concerned that women who couldn’t afford prenatal care might still spend the $250-$300 on the at-home test.

Dr. Diana Bianchi, executive director of the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, is conducting a study to “try to find out why people are buying these things and what are the consequences,” she said. “It’s very important to educate health care providers that pregnant women are buying these tests.”

What do you think? Would you pay top dollar to learn the sex of your unborn child so early on in pregnancy? And do you think such tests should be widely available to the public?

pediatrician otoscope for ear examination

5 Ways to Get the Most From Your Child’s Visit to the Pediatrician

pediatrician otoscope for ear examination

Photo credit: Doug Brumley

Our pediatrician is fabulous, and I’ve never once felt rushed during our well check-ups and sick visits. It always feels more like a coffee date with a friend than a doctor’s appointment. But I know she’s not the norm. Studies show parents get an average of 15 minutes with the pediatrician during a typical well visit. And if you’re trying to pay attention and pacify squirmy kids at the same time, the minutes can fly by.

Back in May, fellow mom and parenting blogger Kara Gause wrote a post about how to make the most of your visit to the pediatrician. Then the August issue of Parenting Early Years magazine had another great article on how to talk to your child’s doctor. It laid out specific instructions on making the most of your next visit. Here’s a little of what I learned:

  1. Stick to a single provider. Though it’s tempting to run to a walk-in clinic when your child has a fever, having a home base for health care is the best option for your child. Find a doctor (or practice) that you like, and establish a relationship. That way, the burden won’t be on you to remember your child’s entire medical history. The pediatrician will be your partner. The only downside is that you have to plan ahead: Most offices need about a one-month window to get an appointment for a well check with the doctor of your choice.
  2. Know your child’s medical history. While you don’t have to be a walking medical record, don’t rely on your pediatrician to know everything about your child’s history. Keep a list of medications–current and past. That way, if an antibiotic┬áthat made your kid sick last time is prescribed for an ear infection, you can step in and ask for something else right away.
  3. Be prepared. I’m bad at this one. One of my good friends keeps a running list on her computer of questions to ask at well checkups. I tend to try to think of what I meant to ask when I’m pulling into the parking lot for our visit. Being prepared makes the visit more effective and shows the doctor you’re a concerned parent.
  4. Take notes. Often, physicians talk quickly during their explanations. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat what they said–and even spell medications and conditions you’re not familiar with. The article recommends reviewing your notes one month after the visit to make sure you did your part. And even if they say no news is good news, follow up on any tests in case paperwork slipped through the cracks.
  5. Second-guess without guilt. Many people hate to question doctors because they don’t feel as informed. But who knows your child better? If you aren’t comfortable with the treatment or diagnosis, ask for another option. And if you still don’t like the answer, get a second opinion.
9/11 Tribute

Talking to Kids About 9/11

9/11 Tribute

I remember that I was standing in my bathroom, brushing my teeth and wondering how late I’d be for work when I heard the “Today” show report from the television in my den. News about a small plane crashing into the twin towers sounded strange, but I didn’t think much of it. I turned off my TV and headed to my car where I tuned into NPR. By the time I reached my office, the world knew something wasn’t right. Having just moved to Nashville from New York months earlier, I still felt like the Big Apple was more my “home” and I wondered if I should try to reach my friends who still lived there. I’ll never forget standing in silence with my co-workers in the kitchen of our office while we watched the horrific footage.


Of all the thoughts I had that day as I sat glued to the television like everyone else, never once did I consider how I’d talk about the horrible events with my future children. I was a single woman who hadn’t even met my husband. But 10 years later, as I look into the precious faces of the most important people in my life, the first thing I think about on the 9/11 anniversary is all the moms, dad, husbands and wives who died that day.

When Osama bin Laden was killed earlier this year, my 4-year-old asked why people on TV were celebrating that someone had died. “He was a bad man” didn’t seem like a sufficient answer. How do you explain things like that to a toddler? How is it OK to cheer when someone dies when he’s not even supposed to use an “ugly tone” with his younger sister?

The media coverage for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 started weeks ago. It’s hard to watch TV or pass a magazine stand without seeing images of that day. And while my two older children haven’t asked about it yet, I know they will–even if it’s not this year. I’ve thought about what I will–and won’t–say to them, and I think it boils down to the common sense we use every day when talking to our children about the world around them. Here are a few tips I’ve read, learned from friends or used myself about how to discuss adult topics with kids:

1. Be honest. The truth is always best, even if it is edited for appropriate ages. I never agree with making up elaborate stories to avoid talking to kids about what really happened. They’re smarter than we give them credit for, and can usually tell when adults aren’t shooting straight. I’ve found that when I answer their questions honestly at a level they can understand, they’re satisfied and usually drop it. I’m still trying to determine the best way to honestly answer questions about 9/11 without scaring them or being too graphic.

2. Censor yourself. Parents know their children best–you know what they can handle hearing. My oldest is a worrier, so we have to balance giving him enough information without giving him so much that he frets.

3. Be brief. We’ve all witnessed adults over-explaining a situation to children. After a few sentences, the child loses interest and the adult is just wasting his breath. When I answer my toddlers’ questions with a few honest facts and let that be it, they’re usually satisfied and move on.

What about you? Have you fielded questions from your kids about the tragedy? If so, please share your advice with all of us on how to handle it.


Prescription for Disaster: Parenting Early Years Magazine Reminds Us to Secure the Medicine Cabinet

parenting_early_years_magazine_subscription_august2011.jpgI still have a child-proof latch on the cabinet under my kitchen sink. It’s where I keep household cleaners and detergents, and while my kids are past the age (I think) of ingesting anything dangerous, it makes me feel better to keep it locked. But an article in the August 2011 issue of Parenting Early Years magazine pointed out a huge risk in my house that isn’t all that secure: prescription medicines.

My husband and I don’t take much medicine, so I guess I’ve never thought about. Our over-the-counter allergy remedies and bottle of Tylenol are stored in a plastic container on a higher shelf in our bathroom closet. But I’ve never thought about really securing our medicine. A statistic in the article was very surprising: Nearly 63,000 children under age 6 are rushed to the ER every year because of drug-related incidents. And kids are twice as likely to suffer accidental poisoning from medication than from cleaning products or other household substances.

Physicians believe ingestions are on the rise because of the increase in the number of medications moms and dads are taking–and because, like always, kids spend a lot of time at home.

The article offered these tips for making sure your kids stay safe:

1. Keep medicine out of sight and out of reach in a locked container.

2. Keep medicine in its original container so that you’ll know exactly what your child ingested if there’s an accident.

3. Avoid taking medicine in front of children, since they love to mimic their parents.

4. Throw out expired prescriptions. Check with local hospitals or health departments for ways to safely discard old medication.