TV’s Top Parenting Advice

There are lots of “how-to” guides for new parents, but there’s only one that includes a story from Al Roker about how his daughter “latched on” when he was on his way to get her a bottle during the night—a piece titled “Man Boobs” in the book’s breastfeeding section. Mary Ann Zoellner and Alicia Ybarbo, friends, moms, and producers at the “Today Show,” offer this and other entertaining and insightful stories about being a parent, along with straightforward advice for the first year of parenthood, in their new book, “Today’s Moms: Essentials for Surviving Baby’s First Year.”

Zoellner, mother of 4-year-old Zurielle and 2-year-old Arabella, and Ybarbo, mother of 6-year-old Jack and 4-year-old Lucy, fondly remember when the idea for the book first came about. It was four years ago, and Zoellner was a new mom of a 6-month-old. She was in the Miami airport when a string of moms asked her about her innovative baby gear, a stroller with retractable wheels and handle that turned into a car seat, which she’d learned about from her colleagues at the “Today Show.” Right there, she realized that she and Ybarbo had unparalleled access to expert advice on countless topics that moms (and dads) are concerned about. She immediately called Ybarbo at work, and with these two hardworking producers at the helm, it wasn’t long before plans for a book was underway.

“There are so many [parenting] challenges that you don’t read about many places,” says Ybarbo of the impetus behind writing “Today’s Moms.” “We think this book is going to help a lot of new moms feel comfortable about what they’re doing about those first few months of parenthood.”

As segment producers, Zoellner and Ybarbo spend their days researching, asking questions, and gathering information. They used these same skills to compile advice for their book. But what makes their take fresh and interesting is that they combine parenting advice with personal stories, so that moms realize that they are not alone in dealing with various parenting issues.

Both Zoellner and Ybarbo felt it was important to include in the book personal accounts that offered different viewpoints on issues like natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and vaccines. Ybarbo says that part of the book’s purpose is to comfort parents and let them know that “no matter how you are as a parent, no matter what path you take, there’s someone just like you going through the same thing.” They also wanted to be honest about the difficulties of parenting. “We wanted to be realistic,” says Zoellner, explaining that often, being a new parent is painted as being a blissful experience, but that scenario is not the reality for many people.
“Today’s Moms” is filled with advice from “Today Show” experts, including experts in finance, medicine, and lifestyle. Zoellner and Ybarbo have been lucky enough to have these experts on hand as their children have grown up. Most recently, Ybarbo went to the “Today Show’s” resident hair stylist to get advice after her 4-year-old daughter cut her own hair. But the authors have also talked to the show’s experts about weightier topics, like how to sit down and discuss serious family-related issues with their children.

The authors say that, like most parents, the hosts of the show were excited to share their parenting stories. Zoellner and Ybarbo couldn’t decide which host would make the best sitter, but they did say that if the hosts were to babysit, the children would be as neat as pins with Matt, they would have the time of their life with Meredith, Al would cook them an amazing feast and organize their social schedule, and Ann would teach them a great life lesson.

While Zoellner and Ybarbo enjoyed writing the book, they won’t be leaving their TV day jobs behind anytime soon—they’re both extremely passionate about what they do. “I love the live element and working with the guests,” Ybarbo explains. “We are in a continuing education program because with each new segment, you have to brush up on whatever it is you’re going to produce.” It helps that they’ve enjoyed a supportive work environment and hands-on husbands who take over when they have to work late. Zoellner explains that at the “Today Show,” the executive producers have had a “family-first attitude, so if any of us has a crisis with our children, aging parents, or other family issues, they are always more than willing to give us time off to deal with issues.” Zoellner and Ybarbo have also worked out flexible work schedules. At times, they can go to work before their children wake up and then return home for breakfast with their families before heading back to the office to finish their day.

As for what their kids think of their jobs—they’re still figuring out what exactly their parents do. Ybarbo says, “For a while, my kids used to think that I’d go to the office every day and Dora would be there, because when I would bring them in, it would be for a Laurie Berkner concert or a Dora performance. So for a while, [they’d say] ‘Are you gonna go see Dora today?’”

For Zoellner and Ybarbo, “Today’s Moms” has not only offered an opportunity to focus on one of their biggest joys—parenting—but also to connect directly with their viewers “The ‘Today Show’ has always been a show that woman and some men turn on in the morning to hear all the day’s news, but also to hear about all kinds of parenting advice and what you need to know about your children,” says Zoellner. “For us, this book is making the connection between the women who watch the show and the women who make the show.”

New Parent Know-How
Mary Ann Zoellner and Alicia Ybarbo’s favorite parenting tips from their book, “Today’s Moms: Essentials For Surviving Baby’s First Year.”

Alicia’s Favorite Tips:

Create a partnership with your pediatrician. Don’t be intimidated by your pediatrician’s M.D. Sure, doctors are experts, but you’re paying for their expertise, and you are worthy of respect too.

Make time for “me” time. When I was on maternity leave, sometimes the only “me” time I got was when my husband returned home from work. Even though I was past the tipping point of tired, I forced myself to shower, get dressed, and go out and see a movie by myself or meet other new moms for dinner.

Save money now for the baby to come. It’s wise to start tightening your belt long before the baby is born. Financial expert Jean Chatzky suggests that couples live on one income during the pregnancy to create a nine-month cushion for unexpected expenses, new baby furniture, or a college savings account.

Mary Ann’s Favorite Tips:

When people say, “this always happens,” they are often wrong. For example, people say that you will instantly fall in love with your new baby. This may not be true for all new moms, but the relationship with the baby will grow better over time, like other relationships.

Be prepared for (but don’t necessarily expect) postpartum depression. I had severe postpartum depression, which is more common than most people think. It’s a good idea to talk to your obstetrician, midwife, and partner before birth in case it happens.

Have a picture of your baby handy if you pump at work. It will help with the letdown reflex. Thanks to “Today’s Moms,” NBC has devoted a room in the medical center for pumping moms!