BIRTHFIT Podcast Episode 102 Featuring Ayelet Marinovich of Strength in Words
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Hello BIRTHFIT. This is Dr. Lindsey Mathews, your BIRTHFIT founder. I have an awesome guest, big surprise, awesome guest. This is Ayelet Marinovich. Hopefully, I did not butcher that and I will get her to say it for me before I say it again. But she is the woman, the pediatric speech language pathologist behind Strength In Words. You can find her website at strengthinwords.com, but she works with parents, soon-to-be parents, anybody during that motherhood transition. If you’re new to BIRTHFIT, we view the motherhood transition as that time from conception to the end of the first year of life. So there’s lots of information going on in this little human’s body, brain. Yeah, she dives right in, has some really awesome unique takes on learning, language development, all things like communication, early communication, and just general parenting advice.
Ayelet has a podcast that you can gain a ton of information from and she’ll tell a little bit about that in our podcast. And then she also has an online kind of virtual community support groups. If you have any little ones under the age of 12 months, I would strongly encourage you to at least check our website out, maybe her podcast, her blog. There’s tons of information. You can get lost in the depth of her content on strengthinwords.com, a really awesome resource. She’s a light, a gem. She’s breath of fresh air whenever you see her or speak to her. So I really hope you check her out and enjoy this episode.
Hello and welcome to the BIRTHFIT podcast. This is Dr. Lindsey Mathews, your BIRTHFIT founder, and I have with me Ayelet Marinovich. She is the legend, the speech language pathologist behind Strength In Words. I’m going to get her to describe a little bit more about what she does, how she got here and how you can use her as a resource in today’s world. So welcome.
Ayelet: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
Lindsey: Yeah. So tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do. What is your elevator speech?
Ayelet: All right. As you said, my professional background is in pediatric speech language pathology. What that means is I work with young children and communication. But when I had my own little tiny humans, and now I have two, I have one who is almost, oh my gosh, he’s almost 15 months old, and then I have a four-year-old, so both quite young still, definitely in those early years myself still.
But coming out of the deepest darkest step, I think you could say, my husband likes to refer to it as a tunnel. For sure. So when I had my own, my first, we were living in London at the time, and I was really focused on trying to create a support network around me because we are not from London as you may have guessed from my accent. I’m from California, which is where we finally are back now.
With my background, professional knowledge of a little bit about child development and my niche area of knowledge is with those early, early communicators and infants and toddlers. Of course, when we’re talking about infants and toddlers and early communication, we’re really talking about all the parent education that you do as a professional who’s working with young children.
I had done a lot of work with parents and caregivers in my professional background. But when I became a mom, of course, your perspective completely flips and everything you think you know is a little bit out the window and you have to really reframe what you know and how you think about the world, of course.
What I started to do was once my little guy was born, I started leading these sort of groups that were part music class, part caregiver baby opportunity to connect with other families, connect with your baby and connect with yourself as a new caregiver, and really observe what your baby is doing, what your fellow caregivers are doing, and what other babies are doing because we don’t get that enough. It’s hard to find that.
That’s what I created, and it was wonderful and I got a lot out of it and so did the other families around me. When we were thinking about leaving London, I started thinking about how can I take this with me? So I started the podcast, Strength In Words podcast, which I’ve been doing now for the last two years. It was essentially like a class in your pocket. It’s evolved since then and grown, of course, as everything in life does.
Now I’ve created essentially a virtual parent support and parent education hub for families with infants and toddlers, which is my Strength In Words community lab. And that is what I’ve really poured my heart and soul into because we all need that access to each other, and to knowledge, and to resources that are actually high quality, that are evidence-based, and that really can give us information that we can use to make our own decisions about how we want to build our family.
Yeah. So Strength In Words is the place for parents and caregivers to sort of help their infants and toddlers learn and develop through these high-quality evidence-based resources, and then through connections to other parents and professionals. And I do. I see it as when we become parents, we are now faced with this new identity of ourselves. We have to connect with that new identity. We have to figure out the ways that we get to connect with our infant, and then we hopefully, are able to connect with a community of support because we know that we can’t parent in isolation, humans have never done that and we aren’t supposed to. There’s lots of research to back that up.
Lindsey: Yeah. I feel like more so now than probably the last ten years, parents are realizing that, “Oh hey, we kind of got isolated and separated. Let’s connect again, whether it’s with our blood family or those in our neighborhood or groups like this online.” Yeah. I think we’re bringing the connection back.
Ayelet: It’s so important, we need that. I think it’s funny because in some ways we sort idealized what it “used to be” like where you have that village and there was one way to do things. Yes, that was simpler. We also know more now about development and about how tiny humans develop and learn, and how we can nurture them. Also, there’s so much more out there about the need for self-care and the ways that we can care for our own mental health, for our own support systems.
Yeah, I think it’s important to find those communities of support in many different places, whether that is through a local community group, whether that’s through an exercise group, whether that’s through a library activity hour, there’s so much out there. I think it’s just a matter of finding what serves you well and what helps you connect with the person, that new person that you have.
Lindsey: Yea, absolutely. So how did you get started down this —
Ayelet: Rabbit hole?
Lindsey: Yeah. Did you always want to be a pediatric speech language pathologist? Did you know what that was?
Ayelet: I didn’t. I always loved working with other people. In my own educational background, I got my Bachelor’s in Theater and Russian Literature.
Lindsey: Oh, my gosh.
Ayelet: So I then after college moved to New York and was in the performing arts and was a makeup artist and doing all kinds of random fun things. That, of course, was a lot of face-to-face working with other people. But I felt a little bit unfulfilled as far as — I loved the idea of building narratives and telling stories and things like that. I think that’s what drew me to theater in the first place. And then I sort of realized, well, if you work with other people, helping other people in various ways, you could do that too. Maybe for myself, I was looking for something more efficient. Someone suggested that I look into language therapy, like many wonderful things in life that fell into my lap, and I started researching really what that was.
And then when someone turns you on to something that ignites something in you, you just go down, like I said, that rabbit hole. And yeah, I started talking to people. Once you get into that, you realized everyone has some connection to what a speech therapist is, whether themselves were in speech therapy or they have an aunt or they have a best friend or whatever it is. So I went down that road, completed my master’s degree.
I always love those early communicators. I love the piece that is all about connecting with a tiny human who is just learning how to make those connections. I think what I’ve always really loved is helping caregivers see the little tiny, tiny things because I think we lose touch with that as adults a lot. We lose touch with what play is and what play looks like with a tiny person because we can see of the notion of play as an adult form of, okay, you play a game, there are rules to a game and a linear approach I think that we get into oftentimes. We forget that actually play is very open-ended for these tiny people and that’s how they learn.
There’re so many quotes like Maria Montessori I think is the one who said, “Play is the work of the child.” It’s true. That’s literally how they learn, by problem-solving, by connecting concepts, by sensorial experiences, looking at things, touching things, mouthing things. When we can learn or relearn how to do that with our babies, then we do ourselves and our children a real service.
Lindsey: Yeah, I could see that. What was the biggest thing? You mentioned earlier about just a new identity and new outlook once you became a mother. What do you think the biggest thing was that shifted in you or that maybe even in working with your clients once you had kiddos?
Ayelet: Yeah. Well, certainly, I think before you have kids, it’s very easy to say — a friend of mine said this recently that before she had kids, she was the best mother ever. Oh, I love that. And it’s true. I think especially also when you’re a professional working with families, you think you know what the right way to do things is. And of course, there are certain ways that we can educate families as far as how to maximize development, how to interact with a child to really get help them to connect concepts and things like that. But the fact is there is no best way to parent your child.
Lindsey: Yeah, every child is different.
Ayelet: Exactly. And I think the biggest thing for me, especially now after having two is things that you think you know about yourself as a person, about children, about your child, about what parenting is going to look like, you’re going to be violently shaken to the core in a great amazing way and also in very difficult ways. The notion that you might go into parenthood with a certain philosophy or approach, I certainly did.
Lindsey: Yeah, especially because there’s so much.
Ayelet: Yeah, exactly. Your child is not necessarily going to be in cahoots with you.
Lindsey: They may not like that style, resonate with that style.
Ayelet: Exactly. So you have to be flexible, you have to learn how to be flexible along with your child. Of course, as we know, they are constantly learning and shifting and changing. So that ability in ourselves to be flexible is very important because if we get too caught up with one way to do things, then when our child inevitably changes, it’s so hard. That’s why having other people around to reflect off of is so important.
Lindsey: Oh, yeah, I can totally see that. What would you say to like within let’s say our BIRTHFIT Facebook groups and the various group forums and forums we have, every now and then we’ll get somebody that’s like, “Oh, I totally am screwing up my child or I was the worst parent today.” What can you give them to say, “No, actually, you’re not, you’re doing just fine”?
Ayelet: Yeah, this is a big part of what I do. Partially for me, right? Because we all have those days. Sometimes we have those moments in every day. Because when you have young children, you just have limited bandwidth, you’re sleep deprived. You’re trying to take care of yourself. Often, you’re trying to take care of a partner and whatever way you’re doing, trying to help take care of a household and of course keep a human alive. That’s tough.
I think the key in what I do is I really help. I try to help families realize that. Because I hear all the time, “I don’t know if I’m helping my child learn. I don’t know if I’m doing everything I can.” What we all want is peace of mind that we’re not screwing it up. The real answer is that you are so close to doing everything you can to help your child and support your child’s development already, with things that are already connected to you. Like your fingers, finger plays are amazing wonderful things and things that are already in your house. A lot of what I do is help families recognize that we don’t need all this stuff. It’s not about whether or not you can afford this stuff, how much things cost. It’s about recognizing that in our homes are all these hidden wonderful objects that we can utilize that oftentimes our children are already taking advantage of.
Anyone with a young toddler or a late infant knows that a laundry basket and a vacuum cleaner for some kids are the preferred objects. That $40, $50 gift that somebody gave you is just collecting dust in the corner. So it’s really about maximizing those moments in between, maximizing caregiving routines because that’s when our children learn through those daily routines that happen again and again.
Lindsey: Like bath time or–
Ayelet: Yes, exactly.
Lindsey: Yeah, elaborate on that some.
Ayelet: Eating, dressing, diaper changing, those things. Those are things that happen multiple times every day throughout the day. Whether or not you are a working parent, you are most likely going to be present for at least one of those things. Maximizing those moments, that’s where the gold is.
Lindsey: How could somebody maximize, let’s say it’s very young, what’s the youngest age you work with or does it matter?
Ayelet: Oh, it doesn’t matter. With my parent education work, I work with expecting parents.
Lindsey: So yeah. Oh, this is good. So let’s say babies like two months, three months old, what’s one way they could maximize maybe the diaper change or — Yeah, that’s a good one.
Ayelet: Yeah, diaper changes are the best and especially at that age which is oftentimes before it’s a less preferred activity. But really, I think in general, just getting them on your baby’s level, coming nice and close in, speaking with a nice soft voice, maybe singing a song. I say this a lot. Musical experiences for your child are wonderful ways to connect. Many of us don’t feel naturally musical, but I want to dispel that myth by saying that number one, your baby is already attuned to your voice and it’s hearing your voice that matters. They already prefer your voice. Whether or not you are tone deaf, they don’t care. So whether you are just talking about what you’re doing, what they’re doing, maybe your touch, that sensation on their skin, maybe you want to do a little infant massage during a diaper change. We tend to think that that sounds really fancy. It’s not necessarily. It just really means touching your baby’s skin, moving your hand down their leg, giving them that sense that you are there, you are present and maybe counting their fingers and toes, right? There’s so many little tiny things that we can do.
And even maybe it’s a phrase that you say every single time. It can be about the poo because there’s always poo with the two-month-old. I’ve made up lots of poo songs. There’s so much you can do. Just you sitting there with your child and the power of touch, thinking about all the different kinds of sensory experiences you can give to your little one just by being near them. When we think of sensory experiences, I think a lot of us, we go to that Pinterest board of tactile play with beads and beans and sensory bins. That’s one way to do it.
But a sensory experience is any experience wherein a child is experiencing input from any of their senses. So whether that’s an auditory experience, through your voice, maybe you’re singing or saying a finger play or a Mother Goose rhyme, whether that’s a visual experience, you get nice and close in with them and you’re looking at them. We know many infants prefer often to look at faces in general also. So getting right in there because they can’t see very far away when they’re that tiny either, and just talking to them softly. What else? Tactile [0:29:45] [Inaudible] and touching things. When they’re so tiny, if you just put something in their hand, whether it’s your finger or something soft, smooth, something with rough edges, whatever it is, giving them lots of different access to the world is beautiful.
Lindsey: It seems so simple, but I can see how it’s so powerful. Do you find in today’s world with all the screen activity that some of this tactile sensory gets neglected?
Ayelet: Yeah. And I think we’re finding that a lot as kids get older and get into school that yeah, it does tend to happen. This is not to say that I certainly, especially as a mother of two, understand the need for some screen time. Absolutely.
Lindsey: Yeah. Do you have an official opinion on this?
Ayelet: My own, what I have practiced is that with my older one especially, we tended to just not really introduce it until he was around the age of two. That was much easier than, of course, with my second who is just around it more often. What we tend to do though is try to limit it to when you’re — Like a Skype conversation with family, that’s not actually considered “screen time” because it is interactive.
The dangers or whatever of screen time are the fact that with a two-dimensional screen, a child is not going to be learning the concepts and interacting with a person to learn language and to feel things and to touch things which, of course, like we said, that is how they learn most effectively. So yeah, I think the key is if you’re going to have screens around, try and make it into more of an interactive experience where you are actually sitting there talking about what you see or connecting what they see on the screen to something in their environment and stuff like that.
Lindsey: That makes sense.
Ayelet: And of course, the baby sitter screen, that’s the danger of it is that we just plop our kids in front of a screen and we think that they’re learning. That’s not the best way that they learn. The best way that they learn is through experiences and through interaction and by observing someone in their direct line of sight and with somebody else, what’s happening and so that they can then imitate when they’re ready to do that.
Lindsey: Makes sense. When you start working with a family or a child, do you look for the child to hit certain learning milestones or do you have this in the back of your mind?
Ayelet: Sure. Yeah. As an early development professional, I know a lot of the basics sort of early learning milestones. That’s what you look at when you’re going to do an assessment, especially to see whether a child is sort of on track.
Lindsey: Like on track. That would be everybody, “Is my child on track?”
Ayelet: Yeah, right. So I certainly know what those milestones are. If I’m looking at a child who seems to be delayed achieving or hitting those milestones, then yeah, that’s why we have those milestones checklists so that we know we can see what it is that our babies are doing. I think what tends to be dangerous in that is if say your pediatrician hands your checklist, all that’s there are these one liner, “Your baby by six months is doing X, X and X, Y and Z.” And if your baby is three weeks to six months and hasn’t done that specific skill, we worry as parents, especially as first time parents, of course.
Lindsey: For sure.
Ayelet: But that is why for me, with Strength In Words, I try so much to help put all of that information into context so that families understand a bit more about the basics of those developmental concepts and what kinds of things you might expect to see at certain stages and not just the, “By this age, your baby must be doing this or else…” and giving much more of a broader education and breaking it down so that we can access that information and know actually what to do with it.
That’s why I’m also about to be launching in May my first book, which is very exciting to help understanding your baby. It is a developmental and activity guide for playing with your baby from birth to 12 months.
Lindsey: That’s huge.
Ayelet: Yeah. It’s really exciting. What it is is that exactly like a week-by-week guide, breaking it down. Here are some things that your baby might be working on this week. Here is the developmental basis, and here are these very, very, very basic ways that you can very simply and very quickly in that 15 minutes between the time that you get home or the time you get home from the grocery store and you got to get dinner on the table, here’s what we can do to maximize our baby’s development and not feel so vulnerably terrified that we’re screwed.
Lindsey: Yeah. I think that’s huge, for sure. I know this day and age, the autism spectrum disorders’ prevalence. So any suggestion — and maybe they get your book too, but having a child with high sensory needs, is there anything that you would do differently?
Ayelet: Yeah, I have a few recent podcasts on these very topics. Recently I had an occupational therapist come in and talk about tips for helping children with sensory needs and how to distinguish between an emotional tantrum and a sensory meltdown. I think these are hot topics, hot issues that often we’re like, “What does that really mean?” So that’s why I’ve had also a woman who is a pediatric speech language pathologist and also has a toddler at home with a sensory processing disorder. So she came in and talked all about what it’s like to raise a child with high sensory needs, and what that looks like, and how they realized and recognize that things were a little bit different for him.
So yeah, I would say in general, when you can see that a child is maybe more, and I’m not an occupational therapist, so this is not within primarily my scope of practice, but I absolutely do work with and see lots of children with high sensory needs. But I think one thing to remember in general is infants and toddlers especially are processing so much information, especially babies, that they live in this high sensorama world all the time. Some children may be more sensitive to certain kinds of information sensory information than others.
So really looking at is my child sort of shutting down or freaking out in certain kinds of environments, whether it’s a loud environment or a bright environment, or whether there’s some kind of clothing or texture that really sets them off? Looking at things like that and just trying to be aware of little things that are affecting your child and then just seeking out resources that help you make sense of that. Because I think sometimes, it can look like in a small child, “Why is my baby always screaming?” Or at the opposite end of the spectrum, “Why is my child so mellow and floppy or whatever it is?”
Those kinds of extreme ends of the spectrum tend to be things that are, “Interesting, what’s going on here?” But again, don’t necessarily mean that your child has a disorder. It’s again, one of my guests on my podcast recently said, Jill Loftus, who’s a wonderful occupational therapist. She explained it like it’s a disordering of information. So what’s a sensory processing disorder? It’s a disordering of how we process information.
So I think in general, if you suspect that anything is going on with your little one that is different or maybe just quirky compared to other children around you or around your family, just ask. There’s no problem with asking. The earlier, the better. If there is something going on, the more tools you will have from an earlier age to work within that and to help your child maximize their full potential.
Lindsey: Yeah, I like the disordering of information.
Ayelet: Yeah. It’s really useful to think of it that way.
Lindsey: So if somebody were to stumble upon your podcast, which I hope many people do after this, you mentioned that you have guests and sometimes you have lessons on there.
Ayelet: Yeah. So I tend to either I will take a developmental concept and explore it on my own and talk through or show auditorily model to you because it’s an auditory way to interact through music and play, some kind of way to support your child, infant and toddler’s development. Whether it’s, say, object permanence, which is that sense of a child knows that something exists even when it’s not in view.
I have one an episode on, say, that topic and I explore a couple of different ways that you might use things that are already in your house, to create something that you can play with to help to solidify that concept and support that concept. Because also it does tend to, for instance, result in a lot more separation anxiety when a child learns about that because they realize that you’re not in front of them. “Wait a second, where is dad?” So ways to deal with things like that and ways to play and support your baby. And then I also have an interview series with either a professional in early learning or someone who does work with early parent support or self-care or whatever it is. Recently, I had a licensed marriage and family therapist. That was a very popular episode.
Lindsey: Yeah, I’m sure.
Ayelet: Because that’s we all know, it’s tough. It can be tough working within relationships. The premise of the Strength In Words podcast is to be a resource for those early parenting years. Actually, the way that I do them now is that I work them as live workshops. So the guests that I have come on and my community lab members in that sort of parent support parent education hub get to access those guests directly and we hold a live Q&A workshop after the podcast interview.
Lindsey: Oh, that’s awesome.
Ayelet: So that’s really fun because those people then have direct access to people that if they have their own questions like, “Can you elaborate on this? How would I do this? Here is my unique set of circumstances.” Now, of course, this is not like if I bring an occupational therapist on to the podcast, that person is not going to be delivering occupational therapy to you. We don’t have access to those kinds of people every day.
Ayelet: And it’s hard, especially when you have a tiny person at home to get out and attend the workshop, maybe even in your community, if your community has that. So being able to do that from the comfort of your own home and connect with other families any time you want is pretty phenomenal.
Lindsey: Yeah, that’s awesome. It sounds like you have some really awesome unique resources for parents that if they want to dive down, all of this is very interesting, intriguing and I’m like, “I want to know more.” Join the virtual, the group online. That’s where people need to go.
Ayelet: That’s it. So you can find everything at strengthinwords.com. If you’re looking specifically for the community, you can go straight to community.strengthinwords.com and we’ve got a ton of stuff on the website and lots of great resources for families. I’m always around, so I’d love to chat. I’m on Instagram all the time.
Lindsey: Yay. So you mentioned a book coming out soon.
Lindsey: So May or did I make that up?
Ayelet: Early May, I’m aiming for just before Mother’s Day.
Lindsey: And so where can people pick this up at or do you have any idea yet?
Ayelet: Yes, I do. It’s actually available for pre order on Amazon now as an e-book.
Lindsey: Oh, perfect.
Ayelet: And it will be coming out via paperback in May as well. Yeah, so you can go straight to Amazon and go to Understanding Your Baby or you can go to the Strength In Words website and find some information on that as well.
Lindsey: Perfect. Anything else going on in the future that you want the audience to know about?
Ayelet: That’s pretty much what I’ve been working on. I try not to add too many things at once, but as you can see, there’s a ton out there. But yeah, so the podcast and the community are the big things that I like to work on. Of course, the book Understanding Your Baby, which is exciting.
Lindsey: Well, thank you so much. Remind people where they can find you again, website.
Ayelet: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m just over at strengthinwords.com.
Lindsey: Is that your Instagram as well?
Ayelet: It’s strengthinwordspics on Instagram.
Lindsey: Got it. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. I’ve certainly enjoyed getting to chat with you and I hope everybody preorders your book because it sounds super interesting.
Ayelet: Thanks so much, Lindsey, for having me.
Lindsey: You got it.
All right, BIRTHFIT community, that was a fun episode. I’m basically looking diving into Ayelet’s website right now, strengthinwords.com. Like I said before, there’s just depths of depths of information here. If you have not already pulled up the website, then I would do so now. I would also preorder that book on Amazon because it sounds like, for all of you in the fitness world, and you love training programs, it sounds like you can relate this book to your own little one’s training program.
She has a ton of information, but one of her blogs that I really love, I think it’s something about five things. You’re already doing great as a parent. She has numbered one, two, three, four, five. One of the things on there is the laundry basket example she gave. There are things around your house that are learning tools, learning devices that your child can play with, that your child can get creative with. You don’t have to buy the most expensive toy on the block or gadget that you’re being marketed towards. Look around your house, get creative because play can go such a long way with some of the simplest blocks or pots and pans and things like that.
Check Strength In Words out, strengthinwords.com. Check her podcast out. If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out to Ayelet. She’s a ray of sunshine. Don’t forget to follow her on Instagram, strengthinwordspics. That’s who she is on Instagram. Until next time. Enjoy your week.
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