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Little Rock Family Blog

Events, activities, news, insight and opinion from the trenches of parenthood by Little Rock Family Magazine Editor Heather Bennett and her editorial staff. Share tips, news and feedback with Heather here.
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Alexander and Autism: One Mom's Fight for Inclusion and Acceptance

Alexander Myers with his mother Veronica Tess Myers.

One local mom is making sure that individuals in Arkansas who are diagnosed with autism receive the care and respect they deserve. Veronica Tess Myers is a staunch advocate for her 21-year-old son Alexander Myers, who was diagnosed with autism in 1995. As a single mom, she raised her son on her own and continues to be his sole support.

The Myers are heavily involved in their community, volunteering with a number of local organizations, including CHI St. Vincent, Arkansas Walk Now for Autism Speaks and more. She is also currently an advisory member of the Arkansas Legislative Task Force of Autism—the first African-American to sit on the committee. As part of the committee, she helped enact the Autism Insurance Bill in 2011, which requires health insurance companies to provide coverage of screening, diagnosis and treatment. Myers took time to answer a few questions about life with Alexander and how others can become advocates for those with autism.

Little Rock Family: When was Alexander diagnosed?

Veronica Tess Myers: Alexander met all of his developmental benchmarks on target until about 14-16 months, when out of nowhere he stopped responding to his name and his sensory system went haywire. At the time, I felt like autism had taken my son away from me. I watched that sparkle gradually leave his eyes. He was initially diagnosed in December 1995. The second “confirmation” diagnosis was in July 1996: High Moderate to Severe Autism accompanied by Severe Sensory Processing Dysfunction. When Alexander was diagnosed, there was no Asperger’s nor autism-related disorder—you either had autism or you didn’t. Alexander’s case was considered to be a very profound one with absolutely no hope and no expectation for a positive outcome.

How old is your son now and what are his interests?

Alexander is 21 years old. He graduated from Hall High School in May 2011, decked out in Awards/Honors cords. Alexander is a predominately happy individual, despite his autism diagnosis, with his bright eyes and big smile. Some of Alexander’s interests include Hot Wheels cars and NASCAR, shooting pool, hip-hop and R&B, eating out—his favorite spots are Buffalo Wild Wings, Wingstop, KFC, Chili’s, Applebee’s. He still likes going for long drives, loves traveling and seeing new places, and makes verbal requests to get on the airplane.

Tell us about life with Alexander.

Life with Alexander is indeed a very challenging one. Not necessarily because of the autism diagnosis, but because we have to constantly deal with Alexander being mistreated and underserved by an endless line of federally-funded systems that are supposed to protect his rights. Alexander has never really gotten a “fair shake.” His rights to due process have always been and continue to be violated on a regular basis. The lack of an individualized Plan of Care to assist with appropriated supports and services for Alexander’s needs is ongoing. It’s an uphill battle—hence the tenacity and determination of my advocacy efforts.

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What is the common misconception about autism that you try to combat?

A common misconception that I battle is that autism can be cured with a cookie cutter method of intervention. Everyone with autism is different; every child is different and should be treated as such. What works for one will not work for the next. One must approach with methods that address how autism is affecting the individual.

What is your ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal is absolute and total inclusion in all aspects of Alexander’s life. As the only constant in Alexander’s life, I am determined to make it happen—not just for Alexander but for ALL individuals with autism. For me, it is not an option to put Alexander in a developmental center of any institution. Not to downplay the parents who make that decision—trust me, I do indeed understand. But as a parent that has made the choice to keep my loved one with me and promote full inclusion, I deserve as much respect for doing so. I have always encouraged Alexander to “move forward without hesitation and despite discrimination” and I will continue to do so.

How can others help and become advocates?

By continuing to increase Autism Awareness but keep moving forward towards full inclusion with autism acceptance. Don’t stare with ignorance and stupidity if you see a child or adult in your community that has special needs. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s better to ask questions than to pass judgment.

Walk Now for Autism Speaks at the Clinton Presidential Center
Oct. 18, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

This signature event for Autism Speaks generates funds for autism research, raises awareness and connects local families. There is no fee to walk in the event, but each participant who raises at least $150 will receive a commemorative t-shirt. The one-mile family fun walk begins at 10:25 a.m. This year, runners can also participate in the 2nd Annual Arkansas 5K, held in conjunction with the walk event. The run begins at 7 a.m.; registration is $20, plus an option $5 for a 5K t-shirt. For info: WalkNowForAutismSpeaks.org.

(Also see: 5 Things Parents of Children with Autism Want You To Know)

National Bullying Prevention Month: Special Segments on THV 11, Plus Local Events

Image by The Bully Project

In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, Little Rock Family magazine is partnering with THV 11 throughout the month of October to spotlight the issue and help educate Arkansans about the growing problem.

Editor Heather Bennett will give tips and information twice a week all month long, educating and inspiring local parents and families to put a stop to bullying. Her first segment on the subject aired this week. We've compiled some of her tips here; you can watch the full clip on THV 11's website here.

1. What is bullying? Bullying is that brow-beating and teasing, that continuous behavior.

2. Is this an isolated incedent? You have to identify is this an isolated incident of bad behavior or is it bullying. Is your child acting ugly, or is it truly bullying? Is it repeated and calculated? Bullying is almost sinister and malicious.

3. Who is a bully? Really anyone can be a bully, and at any age. It stems from insecurity and striving for power over someone else.

4. Who is bullied? We think it's a particular person and personality type, but anybody can be bullied and anyone can bully you or your child.

5. Communicate. If you think your child is being bullied or your child is the bully, communicate with them, talk to your school counselor, your pediatrician -- anyone who can help you in this effort to identify those behaviors and help you prevent those behaviors.

 

Local Events

Families can also support National Bully Prevention Month at a special event hosted by Songbird Multimedia and Central Arkansas Library System. The Stand Up to Bullying Arts and Film Festival will take place on Sat., Oct. 25 at CALS Ron Robinson Theater. The unique festival will feature music, plays, an art show, essay contest and free film screening.

The award-winning documentary, "Bully" (PG-13), directed by Lee Hirsch, follows five kids and families over the course of a school year -- the powerful film is a glimpse into bullying at schools and offers insight as teachers, administrators and parents struggle to find answers. The film will screen at 1 p.m. The screening is free, and will include free concessions. Click here to see a preview.

At 11 a.m., kid's activities will focus on bullying through readings, plays, children's stories and other activities. Teens are invited to the 2 p.m. activities, which will include readings, music and plays about bullying. Both events are pay what you can.

For more information and to reserve tickets for the film screening, click here.

5 Things Parents of Children with Autism Want You To Know

One in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder. That’s a whole lot of parents feeling misunderstood and alone. Here’s what these parents want you to know.

Autism isn’t one size fits all.

Nicole Ramage says, “It’s important to know that it is a spectrum disorder. Just because one child is nonverbal and low functioning doesn’t mean they all are.” She adds, “And every child isn’t ‘Rainman’ either.”

Lindsay Crapo explains a common misconception is that people with autism have a hard time with feeling and emotions. In her son’s case, it isn’t that he lacks the ability to feel, but that constantly feels every emotion at once. “The difficulty lies in separating them,” she says.

Daily life is challenging.

Kelley Bravener says routine is essential. Planning for a simple trip to the grocery store often takes longer than the actual errand. Crowds, unfamiliar people, transition, changes and new places are all triggers. Another part of day-to-day life is the near constant battle with insurance companies and school districts to obtain the services to which a child is entitled. Keeping a child safe from wandering off or hurting himself is a never-ending worry. Basically, all of this is exhausting.

Their parenting choices are constantly judged.

Because their child’s special needs are invisible, many parents of children with autism feel judged when their child has a public meltdown or exhibits behavior others find unusual. Amanda Larson has had strangers comment on her allowing her daughter to play with electronic devices during dinner at a restaurant; however, it is a survival tactic so the rest of the family is able to enjoy the meal. The constant judgment can be tiring even to those parents with the thickest skin.

They are desperate for a place fit in.

Kathy Peterson is relieved to have finally found a place her family feels safe, loved and appreciated. They searched for a long time for a community where her teenage son could be himself and feel included without being expected to act like all the other kids. They’ve never found that environment with a school setting, but they did find it at church. Jennie Skrobisz advises to listen when a child with autism speaks “because it will likely be profound.”

They can love their child, but hate autism...or they may see it as a gift.

Michael Shelah says, “I love my son with all my heart and if you told me we could remove his autism and let him have a typical life, but it would require violently ripping off my arm, I’d do it. I love my son and hate autism.”

Rachel Vogelsong has a different point of you view: “I don’t need my child to be fixed or cured. It’s my job as his mom to help him find ways to make the world make sense for him. His unique perspective is a blessing.”

So how can you help these parents? Start by bringing them a cup of coffee and a muffin. Then, ask what you can do.

Mark Your Calendar

Walk Now for Autism Speaks at the Clinton Presidential Center
Oct. 18, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

This signature event for Autism Speaks generates funds for autism research, raises awareness and connects local families. There is no fee to walk in the event, but each participant who raises at least $150 will receive a commemorative t-shirt. The one-mile family fun walk begins at 10:25 a.m. This year, runners can also participate in the 2nd Annual Arkansas 5K, held in conjunction with the walk event. The run begins at 7 a.m.; registration is $20, plus an option $5 for a 5K t-shirt. For info: WalkNowForAutismSpeaks.org.

5 Events for Weekend Fun: Oktoberfest, Fossils and a Glow-in-the-Dark Race!

Image by Mark Friedman

Get excited! This weekend, Oct. 10-12, is packed with amazing events for families. The Arkansas State Fair celebrates its 75th anniversary, and will even host a free parade in downtown Little Rock this Saturday, Oct. 11 (read more in our full article here).

Plus, Magic Screams stirs up frightening fun at Magic Springs Water & Theme Park, Columbus' ships sail into Little Rock on the Arkansas River, and pumpkin patches are in full swing! And, don't forget to check out our list of October festivals and fairs to see what else is going on this weekend.

In addition to all of those exciting extravaganzas, here are five more events for families:

1. Oktoberfest & StoryFest at Fairfield Bay Conference Center: Fairfield Bay offers two festivals in one weekend! OktoberFest includes German food, motorcycle rally, car show, arts and crafts, live music and dancing. StoryFest celebrates the rich and diverse art of professional storytelling. Join the festivities at 9:30 a.m. and dive into all-day storytelling sessions, featuring the talent of Bill Lepp and Tim Tingle. Free for Oktoberfest; $10-$15 for StoryFest. OktoberFest is: noon-10 p.m. Oct. 10-11; the motorcycle rally is 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 11.; StoryFest begins at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 11. For info: (501) 884-4202, FairfieldBayConferenceCenter.com.

2. Fossil Day at Museum of Discovery: See fossils found across the world and in Arkansas, learn how fossils form, meet a paleontologist, enjoy a dinosaur tinkering activity and get a preview of the new dinosaur exhibit coming to the Museum of Discovery in November! Included with general admission: $10, kids 1-12 are $8, under 1 & members are free. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 11. For info: (501) 396-7050, Facebook.com/MuseumOfDiscovery.

3. Angel One 5K at Two Rivers Park: The Angel One 5K is a fun run/walk organized by the Angel One crew to help families of children transported to ACH. After the run, stay for the festivities, which include bounce houses, appearance by Scout, the ACH mascot, and an ambulance and helicopter. Many children are transported long distances to ACH for the special care they need. The proceeds from this event help the Angel One crew provide financial assistance when needed to families. $30. 8 a.m. Oct. 11. For info: (501) 364-1476, Giving.ARChildrens.org/AngelOne5k.

4. IllumiNight 1K/5K Race in Downtown Conway: Blackbird Academy hosts the second annual glow-in-the-dark 1K/5K race fundraiser. Art vignettes such as musicians, dancers, and glow-in-the-dark displays will be incorporated throughout the race. Everyone is encouraged to deck themselves out with their craziest neon colors and glowing accessories for a chance to win specials prizes at the end of the night. Registration prices: $30 for 5K & $20 for 1K. 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10. For info: (501), 336-8200, Facebook.com/IllumiNightArkansas5K.

5. Fall Canoe Float at Pinnacle Mountain State Park: Paddle your way through Pinnacle’s majestic lowland river to glimpse large cypress trees and a variety of wildlife. No paddling experience is necessary, but you should be comfortable around water and wear shoes that can get wet. Advance payment required. $40 per canoe. 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 12. For info: (501) 868-5806, ArkansasStateParks.com/PinnacleMountain.

For more events, browse our full online calendar here.

Johnny Cash Exhibit Opens in Little Rock Oct. 10

Image by UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture

Johnny Cash strumming his guitar onstage in Hot Springs, October 1968. Courtesy: UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture.

The UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture unveils a brand-new exhibit about one of Arkansas' greatest musical legends, Johnny Cash. Opening in downtown Little Rock's Underground Gallery in the Arkansas Studies Institute this Friday, Oct. 10, "Johnny Cash: Arkansas Icon" illustrates the profound ways in which Arkansas affected Cash's music.

The exhibit explores the life of the Man in Black through never-before-seen photographs, newspaper images, historical documents, audio recordings and other memorabilia. Visitors will discover Cash's Arkansas connections over the decades, from his 1930s childhood in Dyess to his comeback in his later years.

The exhibit's opening day celebrates Cash's music with three concerts on Oct. 10, including Billy Nesbitt's performance for local schools (10:30 a.m.). As part of Second Friday Art Night, the Shape Note Singers from Mountain Home will perform at the exhibit reception from 5-8 p.m. And at 6:45 p.m., Jeff Coleman and the Feeders will bring their sound to the Ron Robinson Theater, to be followed by W.S. Holland Band at 7:30 p.m. All performances are free, but seating is limited.

The exhibit will be open for field trips; click here for more information. Teachers can also access lesson plans and educational materials to before and after visiting the exhibit; click here for teacher resources.

"Johnny Cash: Arkansas Icon" will be open from Oct. 10-Jan. 24. The Underground Gallery at the Arkansas Studies Institute is located at 401 President Clinton Ave. in downtown Little Rock. The gallery is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

For more info, visit UALRExhibits.org/Cash.


Pictured above: Cash strums his guitar on stage in Hot Springs, October 1968. Courtesy: UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture.

Magic Springs Transforms into Magic Screams Oct. 11-Nov. 2; Win Tickets from Little Rock Family

Image by Magic Springs Water & Theme Park

A trick-or-treat trail, haunted houses, and thrilling rides -- Magic Springs Water & Theme Park transforms into a Magic Screams, the ultimate Halloween hang-out for families from Oct. 11-Nov. 2. Plus, Little Rock Family will be giving away tickets to our readers each Wednesday in October (more details below)!

Here are five things your family will love at Magic Screams!

1. Kiddie Treats

On the trick-or-treat trail, kids can play games for candy prizes. Kiddos can also brave the haunted house made especially for them, called "Shiver Me Timbers." The pirate-themed attraction offers a milder experience for smaller children. Or, hop on one of the kids' rides for a little thrill.

2. Coasters and Rides

Bigger kids can take a whirl on some of their favorite Magic Springs rides and coasters, including the SkyShark, X-Coaster, The Gauntlet, Wild Thang, Big Bad John, Ozark Mountain Taxi Co., Razorback Roundup and the Carousel.

3. Haunted Houses

In addition to the kiddie haunted house, "Shiver Me Timbers," Magic Screams features two themed haunted houses. Braver souls can wander into the two terrifying attractions -- "Psychophobia" and "Paradox."

4. Superhero Fun

The fun isn't all frightening -- superhero fans can participate in a superhero-themed contest at 6 p.m. on Oct. 11 for a chance to win up to four 2015 season passes. Contestants will have the first chance to meet and greet Wolverine; a public meet-and-greet will be held immediately following the contest, and will be followed by a screening of Despicable Me 2. All three activities will take place in the Split Rock Grill.

5. Movie Screenings

New this year, families can catch a classic Halloween flick at the Split Rock Grill. Movies shown include Despicable Me 2 (Oct. 11-12), Corpse Bride (Oct. 18-19), Beetlejuice (Oct. 25-26) and Monster House (Oct. 31, Nov. 1-2). All films begin at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket Info

Tickets are $29.99, children over 3 and under 48 inches in height $19.99. $10 discount tickets are available at area Walgreens, or visitors may bring a non-perishable food item and receive a $5 discount. Food items will be donated to the Project Hope Food Pantry in Hot Springs.

Tickets can be purchased online at MagicSprings.com.

Little Rock Family Giveaway

Little Rock Family will give away two admission tickets to Magic Screams each Wednesday in October (Oct. 8, 15, 22, & 29). Visit our Facebook page each Wednesday and follow the instructions for your chance to win!

10 Things to Do at the Arkansas State Fair

Gallery by Arkansas State Fair

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Arkansas State Fair! From Oct. 10-19, families can celebrate the milestone anniversary by enjoying all that the fair has to offer -- from rides and slides to livestock competitions and professional bull riding.

Here are 10 things to do with your family at the 2014 Arkansas State Fair!

1. 75th Anniversary Parade

To commemorate the big year, the Arkansas State Fair will host a special parade in downtown Little Rock -- the first State Fair parade in the state since 1986. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. Oct. 11, with marching bands, floats, cars, animals and more promenading down Broadway to Capitol Ave. and concluding on the east side of the State Capitol building. The event is free to the public.

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2. Midway Rides

You'll find 56 carnival rides in the massive midway, including several new rides like The Enterprise, a ride that exerts centrifugal force on riders as it transitions from horizontal to vertical. Other new rides include Hang 10, YoYo, Baja Buggies and Happy Swing. Ride tickets are not included with gate admission.

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3. Professional Bull Riding

Alright, cowboys and girls. The Professional Bull Riders Tour rides into Barton Coliseum with veteran competitors and up-and-coming riders. Ridin' in the Rock performances are at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17-18. General admission tickets are $10, reserved seats $20; gate admission to State Fair is not included.

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4. Fair Food

You can smell that deep fried goodness for a mile -- play it safe with perennial favorites like funnel cakes, cotton candy and corn dogs. Or, try one of the inventive new fair foods, including Cajun fried ribs, fried peaches and cream, bacon-wrapped fried chili dog, a French fried baked potato or even fried lemonade. Either way, you can choose from approximately 50 delicious food vendors when your family needs a snack.

5. Live Concerts

Check out the concert lineup, which will please fans of all musical tastes. "Bad to the Bone" George Thorogood will kick things off on Oct. 10. The week will also include performances from country artist Travis Tritt (Oct. 11), '90s R&B group Color Me Badd (Oct. 15), Sisqo-fronted R&B act Dru Hill (Oct. 16), classic rockers REO Speedwagon (Oct. 17), and "Cooler Than Me" singer Mike Posner (Oct. 19). All concerts are included with general admission. Premium upgraded concert seats are available for $15.

6. Livestock Competitions

This annual tradition showcases some of the state's finest beef and dairy cattle, swine, sheep, goats, poultry and rabbits. The Junior Livestock Sale of Champions will be held in Barton Coliseum at 1 p.m. Oct. 17. Livestock competitions will also be held daily on the fairgrounds. Families can also wander through the livestock stalls to chat with the competitors and meet the animals.

7. History Museum

Do you know the fair has its very own Arkansas State Fair History Museum? The museum has been open for five years! You can relive the 75 years of history in the museum, which is located adjacent to the Farm Bureau Arts & Crafts building. Music lovers can also check out classic rock memorabilia in the Barton Rock and Roll Museum located inside the northeast concourse of Barton Coliseum. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily for both.

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8. Attractions, Attractions, Attractions

Take a break from the high-flying rides in the midway to enjoy a few popular attractions, including the dancing, 9-foot-tall Rock-It the Robot. Another hit is the Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, featuring animals from around the world and pony rides for kids. And don't miss shows like the Swampmaster Gator Show, New York Daredevil High Dive Show and the Show Me Swine Racers.

9. Creative Arts

In the Farm Bureau Arts & Crafts Building, visitors will see artists displaying their crafts, hobbies and even cooking skills. Judging for the Gold Medal Flour Cookie Challenge with take place at 3:15 p.m. Oct. 13, and an Arkansas Photography Contest for amateur photographers will be judged at 1:15 p.m. Oct. 10. Other competitions include amateur wine, floral arrangements, honey, ice cream, pies, barbeque and chili.

10. Fireworks Finale

The 75th Anniversary Arkansas State Fair will end with a bang on Oct. 19, with a fireworks show lighting up the night sky. Following the main stage act that evening, the fireworks will begin at approximately 8:15 p.m.

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Ticket information:

Advance Purchase Ride Passes are available at 77 participating Walgreens stores in Arkansas and redeemable for a one-day unlimited ride armband at the State Fair. The special $22 pass can be redeemed at midway ticket booths any day of the fair, except Dollar Day (Oct. 13), and will save patrons $3.

Advance gate admission tickets are $5.99, children and seniors $2.99. Advance gate admission tickets may be purchased at Walgreens locations through October 10, or at the Fair Ticket Office and online at ArkansasStateFair.com before 5 p.m., Oct. 10.

Regular gate admission is $10, children ages 6-12 and seniors ages 60 and older $5, children under six free; fairgrounds parking is $5 per vehicle.

Families can also take advantage of daily deals and specials, including Dollar Day in which admission, parking and rides are $1 each; Kiddie Days in which children ages 6 and under can ride Kiddie Rides free; and more. Click here for all fair promotions.

Healthy Habits: 5 Important Vitamins You Need During Pregnancy

Image by Shutterstock

In our October issue, Dr. Kimberly K. Reynolds, a practicing physician at The Woman’s Clinic, P.A., who is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, shared a few rules for necessary diet changes for a healthy pregnancy. She detailed which foods women should skip completely and which are safe to consume in moderation. You can read the full article here.

Dr. Reynolds also gave a few suggestions for vitamins and supplements that women should plenty of during pregnancy. Here are five she recommends:

Calcium

You need 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily to help build Baby’s bones and teeth. Get your daily dose through milk products or non-dairy sources like broccoli, dark leafy greens, sardines, or calcium supplements.

Folic Acid

“Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily for at least 1 month prior to pregnancy and 600 micrograms of folic acid daily during pregnancy may help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s spine and brain called neural tube defects,” says Dr. Reynolds. You can supplement your prenatal vitamin with foods like dark green leafy veggies, orange juice, beans and fortified cereal.

Iron

“During pregnancy, you need double the amount of iron; the daily recommended dose of 27 milligrams will help your body make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby. Prenatal vitamin supplementation and foods rich in iron should be part of your daily intake,” says Reynolds. Stock up on animal proteins, or veggies like soybeans and spinach.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Found in many kinds of fish, omega-3 fatty acids are important to your baby’s brain and eye development. Women should eat a least two 6-ounce servings of low-mercury fish or shellfish (such as shrimp, salmon, catfish, pollock, scallops and sardines) per week. If you aren’t a seafood lover, another solution is DHA supplementation and most prenatal vitamins now contain this mercury-free omega-3 fatty acid. DHA supplementation is not a replacement for seafood intake, but can help improve the nutritional deficiency.

Vitamin D

“Pregnant women need 600 international units of vitamin D a day,” Reynolds says. “Good sources are milk fortified with vitamin D and fatty fish, such as salmon. Exposure to sunlight also converts a chemical in the skin to vitamin D.”

Bonus: Water!

“By drinking 64 fluid ounces of water (approximately 8 cups) per day, plus adding 1 cup per 1 hour of light exercise, you are preventing dehydration,” says Dr. Reynolds. “In the third trimester, dehydration can lead to preterm labor.”

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About The Author
Jennifer Pyron is the Associate Publisher and Editor of Little Rock Family magazine. She is the go-to gal for family events, activities, news and opinion. She and husband Charles are the proud, exhausted, penniless parents of Charles Jr. and Emily. Plus, should you need a pop culture lifeline on "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire," you may call her.
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