Group, online forum help moms meet challenges

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light



Becoming a mother is all about helping guide a new life into the world, but for Jessica Manela Litwack, it also spawned a desire to help guide other mothers as they enter the new world of parenthood.

“Once I had my own daughter seven years ago, I really had my eyes opened up to how challenging it is to be a mom,” said Litwack, who has a master’s in social work from Washington University, “and how valuable it is to have other moms going through similar experiences just to feel validated, supported, commiserate, all of the things that help you get through some of these harder moments.”

That’s what led her to found mamaSpace, a Facebook group she brought online in 2012 and which has grown to include more than 23,000 members who share stories, swap advice and exchange ideas.

Now, the 38-year-old Washington, D.C. area native is taking her concept to the next level with the St. Louis New Moms Group, a six-week session for that meets weekly at Temple Israel. The course, which costs $165, is already underway but future iterations could start in the spring if there is demand. Topics addressed in the group will include everything from making the transition to motherhood and maintaining life balance to creating “me” time and deciding whether to return to work.

This isn’t Litwack’s first time facilitating discussions on childhood issues. The TI congregant is also a certified sleep coach who deals specifically with sleep concerns related to youngsters. She also has a background in Jewish communal life. The decade-and-a-half since her arrival in St. Louis has seen her hold positions at Hillel, in youth programming at the Jewish Community Center, and with the Federation’s development department.

Your social media presence has been running for some time. Why did you decide to begin the in-person group setting now?

Honestly, I’ve wanted to do it for quite a while. But being a mom of younger children myself, there were certain limitations to what I could manage. I had my hands in some different baskets. But I think it is obvious through my Facebook group and the number of mom blogs that are out there that moms get so much out of connecting with one another and just having a support network that makes them feel like they are not alone in their challenges. Personally, it was a good time for me to start it now that both of my kids are in school but I think there has always been a need.”

What happens at St. Louis New Moms Group sessions?

Each week, we will have a topic that we specifically discuss. I will have information to share so I can educate on resources and there will always be time for discussion as well. Other things will come up organically. Each session is an hour and a half. The goal is to have this educational component as well as discussion of relevant topics but also to have the natural connection and community that will be created by being in a room with mothers going through similar experiences.

Will this be a lecture? A class? A conversation?

I never lecture. Even when I go out and give sleep talks in the community, we’re always sitting in a circle with people. I want it to feel very safe and comfortable. I’ll be talking quite a bit about these topics but with lots of room for questions and specific areas of concern. 

Tell me about your experiences as a sleep coach.

I work with families whose babies and toddlers and young children are having trouble falling asleep at night or staying asleep. Sometimes people need help figuring out how to make that not happen. That’s always a big topic for sleep-deprived parents. 

What’s the biggest concern you hear from moms? 

I guess I would have to say it is just the huge shift in your lifestyle. There is a lot of talk before you have a baby about the birth itself, your registry and getting your home ready but after the baby is born, basically everything changes. A lot of the things I’m talking about are the main concerns within that. Your relationship shifts with your spouse, with friends. You are not sleeping as much. You don’t have time to go to the gym or things like that.

It sounds like the Facebook group and these sessions are about more than just information. What else do new moms need?

The missing piece is having those stronger connections. Moms are looking for mom friends. I see people posting about that saying ‘Does anybody live around here? I really want to talk to someone else who has been through trouble breastfeeding or postpartum depression.’ I think people are definitely looking for that.

What kind of feedback have you gotten on the Facebook group? Are people getting the answers they need?

People will say, “Omigosh, I was so tired in the middle of the night and didn’t know what to do. I posted at 2 a.m. and had 10 responses in 10 minutes.”

Jessica Manela Litwack

WORK: Sleep coach (; founder of mamaSpace ( and facilitator of the St. Louis New Moms Group

AGE: 38

HOME: Creve Coeur

FAMILY: She and her husband, realtor Matt Litwack (a member of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees), have two children

INTERESTS: Movies, food, traveling, musical theater

PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: “For a lot of moms who have been struggling with various issues, I’ve heard from them that mamaSpace has really been a lifesaver, that just having the option to very easily access advice and support from thousands of other moms has truly gotten them through some very difficult things…creating this space that has truly helped people. I’m proud of it and it makes me feel really thankful and appreciative that people have gravitated toward it.”

For more information: or 

Kid's health, A to Z

A letter-by-letter guide to your family’s health

St. Louis Family Magazine

By Heidi Dean, Emily Lombardo, Julia Cain, Alexa Beattie


A is for Artificial Pancreas

The FDA has approved a new treatment, dubbed the artificial pancreas, for kids with Type 1 diabetes. According to Dr. Neil White, professor of pediatrics at Washington University, the newly approved treatment will likely be available this fall and is a combination of two commonly used devices, the Medtronic 670G Pump and the Continuous Glucose Monitor, with an algorithm built in to enable the pump to be controlled by the sensor glucose reading. Simply put, this wearable device could mean no more finger pricks.

B is for Broken Bones

It happens; kids fall and bones break. While recovery time is much speedier for kids, Dr. Brian Kelly, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, recommends waiting two to three months before getting back to sports and risky activities to avoid re-breaking (something 4 to 8 percent of kids do) healing bones. Bottom line: Rest is best.

C is for Cancer

Childhood cancer is the second leading cause of death for young children. That reality is what motivates Dr. Robert Hayashi and his colleagues at St. Louis Children’s Hospital to research and use innovative treatments. Hayashi’s oncology department takes a radical, individualized approach to treating cancer, utilizing such treatments as genomic-based therapy. And this fall, a new immune therapy will be available at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The goal: to fight cancer while reducing any harmful effects on children’s bodies and long-term health.

D is for Tooth Decay

Tooth decay in kids is more prevalent than asthma, obesity, and diabetes, and the numbers keep rising. Besides the obvious tactics like brushing, Dr. Holly Ellis of Ellis Dental recommends that kids drink tap water (not bottled water) with meals for the extra fluoride to protect their teeth. Bottoms up!

E is for Eczema

More than 31 million people in the U.S. have eczema, with a childhood prevalence of 10.7 percent. “Eczema symptoms most often include redness; dry, scaly skin; and itch,” says Dr. David Hartenbach, a pediatrician with Esse Health. Hartenbach recommends petroleum jelly as the best moisturizer for kids with eczema, while hydrocortisone and antihistamines like Benadryl can help treat redness and itch.

F is for Flu Shots

Barnes-Jewish Hospital offers a free flu shot clinic for those aged 6 months and older. Last year nearly 20,000 free flu shots were given during the month of October. Go to to find a local vaccination site.

G is for Gas

Gassy babies are nothing to worry about, and in fact, gassiness is to be expected. Babies under 4 months are normally suffering from colic, making them a little fussy and uncomfortable but not actually ill, says Dr. Joshua Arthur, SLUCare pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

H is for Hearing

Four out of 1,000 babies will have hearing problems, but only one of those four will need cochlear implants, according to St. Louis’ Center for Hearing and Balance Disorders. The implants can be placed in infants as young as 1 year old and have virtually a 100 percent success rate. Intensive rehabilitation after implant surgery ensures kids start preschool at age 4 without disadvantages to their peers.

I Is for Itch

If your kid has the itch, then rest assured it’s not chickenpox, because two doses of the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine are 98 percent effective. Dr. Hartenbach says other common causes of itchiness are likely poison ivy, allergic reactions, or eczema.

J is for Jaundice

Around 60 percent of infants develop jaundice within several days of birth, and almost all premature babies born before 35 weeks of gestation develop jaundice according to Dr. Jagruti Anadkat, a neonatal-perinatal pediatrician at the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital. Severe cases can be treated with phototherapy, a standard procedure in which babies are exposed to fluorescent light. “It's a very safe therapy with little adverse effects with short-term use, and potential long-term effects are unlikely,” says Dr. Anadkat. The NICU at Children’s Hospital is designated a Level IV unit by the American Academy of Pediatrics; it has state-of-the-art equipment and offers the highest level of care available for critically ill newborns.

K is for Katie-Do Kare Kits

Once a month, with help from her family, Madeline “Maddie” Domian assembles big white gift bags, ties them with blue or pink ribbons, and delivers them on rotation to patients at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and Mercy Hospital–St. Louis. These bags are Katie-Do Kare Kits, cancer treatment survival “packs” filled with lip balm, hats, puzzles and crayons, and anything that might make life a little better for area children undergoing chemotherapy.

To date, Domian, a seventh grader at Rockwood South Middle School, has distributed 515 kits and has no plans to stop soon. The Katie-Do Kare Kits are named for Maddie’s aunt, Katie Reinhold, who died of gastrointestinal cancer in 2015. “I wanted to do something,” Maddie said. “Even in hard times, [my aunt] would be thinking about others—people who had it worse than she.” When her aunt was diagnosed, Maddie started selling lemonade and cookies with her sister, then donated the $80 proceeds to the American Cancer Society. “I wanted to do more,” she says. A school service project provided the initial platform. Now, she has a Facebook page and a YouCaring crowdfunding page; a room of her house is devoted to assembling kits.

Last May, she was honored with Prudential’s Spirit of Community Award for Missouri, and Massachusetts General Cancer Center recently named her one of 100 individuals making a difference in the fight against cancer. Maddie is modest when it comes to talking about the recognition she and her kits are receiving, she is thrilled that her idea is catching on. “Life is short,” she says, “but I want to spend it in the best way possible.”

L is for Lung Transplant

St. Louis Children’s Hospital is one of the few hospitals in the country where pediatric lung transplants are performed. “The OPTN (Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network) just implemented a new policy which allows organs that come from pediatric donors to be shared with pediatric candidates up to 1,000 miles from the donor hospital before any of those organs are offered to adults,” says Dr. Stuart Sweet, a pediatric pulmonologist. “That’s a major benefit to children waiting for a lung transplant, and we’re just beginning to see that benefit here at St. Louis Children’s.”

M is for Medicine Dose

Put down the kitchen spoon, and step away from the medicine. The biggest issue with proper at-home medicine doses? “Not using the correct measuring device,” says Dr. Heidi Sallee, Saint Louis University School of Medicine associate professor and director of the pediatric residency program. For children under age 2, check with a pediatrician; for those over age 2, follow package instructions by weight and use the supplied measuring tool.

N is for NICVIEW

SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital offers families a digital connection in the neonatal intensive care unit through a live video program called NICVIEW. Small, on-bed cameras are attached to bassinets, so families can see their babies in real time via a secure online portal, which can help ease the stress of having a child with an extended stay.

O is for Overweight

The fight against childhood obesity is multi-faceted. Dr. Matt Broom, a SLUCare pediatrician and director of the Danis Pediatric Center, recommends a daily 5-2-1 approach: five servings of fruits and veggies, no more than two hours of screen time, and at least one hour of physical activity.

P is for Pets

Fido doesn’t have to be so far away! The Purina Family Pet Center lets children staying at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for five or more days visit with their dog or cat in a special, pet-friendly place. “For some, it has been weeks or even months since they’ve seen their pet, so the reaction to being reunited is priceless,” says Rita Scott, child life assistant and Purina Family Pet Center lead staff.

Q is for Q-tip

Ah, the misused Q-tip. While some may advertise safer cleaning, Broom doesn’t recommend using one to clean kiddos’ ears. Children aren’t known for sitting still, and a sudden movement while using a Q-tip could cause accidental injury. Stick to a mild rinse during normal bath time or a tissue.

R is for Relaxation

Relaxation is crucial, and it may be easier to achieve if you plan for it. From meditative walks to deep breathing while blowing bubbles, relaxation doesn’t look the same for everyone—and that’s OK. Dr. Dehra Harris, a Washington University pediatric psychiatrist, suggests three tips for parents to add relaxation to their family’s routine: 1. Schedule, in advance, a time to relax. 2. Choose a sustainable activity. 3. Be realistic about your child and his or her age, energy, and interests.

S is for Strep

Children under age 3 are rarely impacted by strep throat, according to Sallee, but school-age children are most prone to the bacteria. Wondering if it’s strep or a cold? “One of the key differences of strep throat is it does not have upper respiratory symptoms,” she says.

T is for Ticks

Ticks can transmit a multitude of diseases including heartland virus, which was first identified in Missouri in 2009, is carried by the Lone Star tick (the most common tick in Missouri), and features flu-like symptoms. To avoid bites, Arthur recommends using proper bug spray and wearing protective clothing like long sleeves. Should a tick be spotted, remove it from the base using tweezers and dispose of it carefully. You can also dry your clothes on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any hiding ticks.

U is for Ulcers

If your young one suffers from the occasional mouth ulcer (commonly referred to as a canker sore), don’t worry too much: they aren’t contagious and probably don’t warrant medical attention in healthy children if they are infrequent. Although hard to treat, says Dr. Elaine C. Siegfried, professor of pediatrics and dermatology, some swear by homeopathic remedies, vitamin B12 lozenges, Vitamin C, and alum paste. Top tip: Any sores that also appear in the genital area while a child has mouth sores should be checked by a pediatrician.

V is for Vaccines

A new meningitis vaccine covering meningococcal serotype B was recently released (the existing four-type vaccine covering serogroup A, C, W and Y is given at ages 11 and 16). While there’s no official recommendation from any governing body yet, Broom says parents of 16- to 18-year-olds should ask their pediatrician if the new vaccine is right for their child—especially if they are headed for the military or college.

W is for Whooping Cough

The best way to protect babies from pertussis (whopping cough) is still for expectant mothers to get a Tdap (tetanus and diphtheria plus acellular pertussis) vaccine, so the developing baby will be born with immunity, says Broom. This protects the baby better than if every adult caretaker gets vaccinated after the baby is born (though that is still a good idea, even with maternal vaccination).

X is for Xenophobia

Racial bias starts in children as young as 3 years old. To combat this bias, Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Saint Louis University, recommends introducing young children to different cultures in books, art, or other media. Make a point of taking grade-schoolers to art exhibits or churches of a different culture on a monthly basis. For teens, the Missouri History Museum exhibit #1 in Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, open through next April, provides a springboard for deeper conversations about race.

Y is for Yearly Physicals

Twenty-six. That’s the number of well-visits from birth to age 18. Babies will have seven physical exams in their first year of life: when they are first born, then at two weeks, two months, four months, six months, nine months, and 1 year. Between the ages of 1 and 3, kids have one exam every six months, bringing four more visits to the pediatrician. From ages 4 to 18, the schedule switches to yearly exams, bringing 15 more exams.

Z is for ZZZZZ... Sleep

Who you gonna call? A sleep expert! Jessica Manela Litwack is a certified “gentle sleep coach” who creates individualized, step-by-step plans to teach children ages four months to 6 years the vital life skill of putting themselves to sleep. Parents everywhere heave a collective sigh of relief once they’ve received a sleep plan, which factors in parenting philosophy, child’s age, health and temperament, mother’s well-being, and related family dynamics. (For more information, visit

Clarification: This article has bee updated to reflect that strep throat is not a virus.


Sample Workshops

Expectant Parents Sleep Prep 101


Expectant parents spend plenty of time during pregnancy reading up on birthing and registry items, but how much time is spent learning about their new baby’s sleep? Often, when a new baby arrives parents feel lost about how much their infant should be sleeping, how to get them to sleep, where they should sleep and what to do when they’re not sleeping. This workshop will prepare you for what to expect and how to manage the first few months of your newborn baby’s sleep. Discussion topics will include-

*Sleep Totals and Awake Windows (or how much your baby should sleep and how long they should be awake)

*Comfort methods and how to help your baby sleep

*Cribs, Bassinets and Co-Sleeping- What’s right for you?

*Sleep Safety

*What do you do when your baby isn’t sleeping well?







Gentle Sleep Solutions Workshop


Taught by Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, Jessica Manela Litwack, MSW, this workshop will give parents the tools for sleeping success in your home. You will learn all about how children’s sleep develops, how to determine the best schedule for your child and how to tell when they’re tired, ways to create healthy sleep habit and routines, and how to approach sleep challenges. Participants will complete a history of their child’s sleep and time will be spent discussing individual sleep concerns. Solutions for the sleep issues presented will be a central focus of the workshop through group discussion and one-on-one time with Jessica. Participants will leave the workshop with a plan for how to manage their child’s sleep issues and will be offered email support for one week to ask follow-up questions.







Join the conversation at mamaSpace! 



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