Archive Monthly Archives: December 2017

Cross-channel ad startup AdStage raises $2M

AdStage announced today that it has raised an additional $2 million from Verizon Ventures.

The company offers tools for businesses to manage their ad campaigns across Facebook, Google, Bing and elsewhere, and it says it’s currently managing $100 million in quarterly ad spend. CEO Sahil Jain recently told me that his goal is to create a broader marketing platform including content marketing, marketing automation and sales automation, as well as ads.

Verizon Ventures previously led AdStage’s $6.25 million Series A. (Verizon owns AOL, which owns TechCrunch.)

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GE is taking over Lena Dunham’s newsletter this week to honor women in science

‘Girls’ creator Lena Dunham is the founder of ‘Lenny Letter.’
Image: Sipa via AP Images

Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter is spending the week talking about the importance of women in science thanks to a check from General Electric.

The web publication and newsletter kicked off a weeklong branded content deal its first ever with the industrial giant on Tuesday with a wide-ranging interview between Dunham and Beth Comstock, GE’s vice chair of business innovations.

The Girls creator asked Comstock about the state of women-focused media and marketing, hurdles and successes in her career and how GE helps women better break into technology and science.

The Fairfield, Connecticut company is mentioned often and the marketing message made unusually blunt for a piece of branded content, which typically keeps sponsors’ involvement subtle in the interest of luring advertising-adverse readers. Dunham’s tone keeps the interview light and colloquial, nonetheless.

But GE said its other installments look beyond the company to more broadly celebrate the role of women in the industry. The newsletter is rounding out the week with a sci-fi narrative from author Alice Sola Kim, an interview with Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani and GE technology-inspired art from Rachel Levit Ruiz.

GE has proven itself to be a big believer in this type of content marketing; it frequently buys article placements in online publications across the board and has even gone so far as to launch its own tech news site.

The company saw Lenny Letter as a creative way to reach a certain digitally tuned-in female audience, said Alexa Christon, GE’s head of media innovation.

“We were really impressed by ‘Lenny,'” Christon said. “They’re really pushing the envelope in sometimes difficult conversations. But also, they’re not a mass outlet. They go after a niche audience that is very, very engaged.”

Since Dunham and Jenni Konner founded it last fall, the feminism-focused publication has launched a website to compliment its biweekly newsletter and signed a major deal with Hearst to help sell display ads on it. At the time of the deal, the site also announced plans to build out more sponsored content.

Dunham has described the newsletter’s audience as “an army of like-minded intellectually curious women and the people who love them, who want to bring change but also want to know, like, where to buy the best tube top for summer that isnt going to cost your entire paycheck.”

Well-placed branded articles and videos and other advertising efforts have helped GE hone a brand image as a hub of science and innovation a helpful asset as the rise of tech titans like Google, Apple and Facebook threatens to make the 123-year-old Thomas Edison-founded corporation look stodgy in comparison.

“The company’s really pivoted over the past five or so years,” Christon said. “We’re really focused on where industry and big data combine and really pushing into a phrase that we use being ‘digital industrial.'”

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Jack Ma Woos Mom and Pop Shops in U.S. Jobs Push

Sam Wolf moved his family's health and wellness business online more than a decade ago. The Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based company runs its own warehouse and sells thousands of nutrition products in dozens of countries through its own website as well as on Inc. and EBay Inc. But all that know-how didn't quite prepare Wolf for the experience of selling into China through Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s online stores.

Most small U.S. companies don't have the brand awareness in China to stand out among the millions of goods on Alibaba's websites, let alone the expertise that's required to take a product from a U.S. warehouse to a Chinese consumer's doorstep, cutting through the red tape to gain access to an otherwise inaccessible market. Alibaba is the virtual mall that houses the brands, but sellers are in charge of production and distribution with little clarity on the demand for their wares.

"If you want to get rich quick selling into China, this is not the way to do it,'' said Wolf, who started LuckyVitamin's online store in 2005. “There's investment up front and inherent risk. This is not just like selling products on Amazon and EBay where you just sign up and list."

Still, entrepreneurs like Wolf are the sellers Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma wants to woo when he arrives in Detroit this week for his company's Gateway conference. The two-day event is drawing thousands of U.S. business owners, from farmers to managers of more established brands, to learn how to succeed in China through Alibaba. For Ma, it's following through on a promise he made to U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year to create one million jobs in the U.S.

Jack Ma and Donald Trump on Jan. 9, 2017. 
Photographer: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

While Ma's offer was seen as good diplomacy after Trump's tough campaign talk on trade and tariffs with China, it wasn't purely altruistic. Ma has big ambitions. He sees Alibaba turning itself into one of the world's most powerful economies by serving 2 billion people and helping 10 million small businesses trade on the web. By his own calculation, Ma says China will only be able to provide 40 percent of that market. The rest will have to be found overseas. 

That's what brings China's richest man to America's heartland. The event will feature speeches from Ma himself and his executive team, as well as United Parcel Service Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Abney, Martha Stewart, and panels with small U.S. businesses like Wolf's that are already selling on one of Alibaba’s virtual malls. Alibaba offers sellers the opportunity to reach the almost half-a-billion shoppers on its sites, but the path to those consumers is full of hurdles, from the language barrier to differences in understanding the Chinese buyer.

Alibaba already has hundreds of thousands of U.S.-based companies registered on, a business-to-business platform primarily used for sourcing, and more than 7,000 brands across its online stores including Tmall Global, where companies sell directly to consumers. Taobao Global is another Alibaba virtual store, where more niche international brands can list online. LuckyVitamin started offering its products on Tmall during Alibaba's annual one-day shopping blow-out, called Singles' Day, last November. LuckyVitamin got just one order that day.

Since then, LuckyVitamin's sales from China have grown in line with some of its other newer markets, though China is still a small portion of overall sales. Wolf describes working with Alibaba as starting a whole new business, rather than just tacking on a new sales channel. The company has had to enlist the help of various third parties to deal with translation, regulation, logistics. In addition to paying those partners, there's significant setup work and transaction fees that LuckyVitamin has to pay, according to Wolf.

The Gateway conference, the first that Alibaba says it plans to host annually, is meant to make the daunting task of selling through Alibaba easier for small businesses. The event will walk sellers through the process and connect them with partners like international trade specialists and logistics experts.

Persuading companies like LuckyVitamin to sign on could help Ma fulfill his employment pledge to Trump. On a conference call with journalists last month, Ma noted that Alibaba has created more than 33 million direct and indirect jobs for China, so he's confident he can create 1 million positions in the U.S. over the next five years.

"We are positive that this week’s conference will be the beginning of helping a large number of additional U.S. small businesses reach the more than 500 million Chinese consumers who are hungry for high-quality American products," an Alibaba spokesman said in a statement. "This will help create more American jobs and drive more demand for U.S. products."  

Wolf says that LuckyVitamin, which currently has about 200 employees, has added about half a dozen workers since starting to sell on Tmall. It's impossible to say how much of that growth is attributed to Alibaba, Wolf says, since as overall sales have been increasing domestically and in more than 30 countries, it's unavoidable that the company would hire more people for customer service and in its distribution centers to pack and ship inventory.

"Would I say that this has created more jobs?" Wolf asks. "We've definitely created jobs but I can't exactly say because of what.'' Still, Wolf does concede that selling in China is “absolutely driving the business and sales." 

Baozun Inc. is one of the many companies that help international brands like Burberry and Calvin Klein sell online to Chinese consumers. Backed by Alibaba, Baozun takes care of the process for companies from start to finish, including website design, customer service, technology infrastructure, warehousing and delivery, and marketing. Though publicly traded Baozun mostly works with large multinational brands, it's hoping to attract more boutique sellers as a result of Alibaba's push in the U.S. 

"The obstacle here is complexity; It's very hard to understand" the process of selling into China through Alibaba, said Baozun CEO Vincent Qiu. "It's very challenging for a small-, medium-sized enterprise to do it themselves. There's a lot of knowledge and experience that's lacking."

Qiu says that the trickiest part about working with smaller companies is developing brand awareness among Chinese shoppers. Niche brands on Tmall won't get much traffic unless Baozun does heavy content marketing on their behalf, he said. 

Christopher Tang, a professor at University of California at Los Angeles's Anderson School of Management, is skeptical that there is even enough demand for small U.S. brands in China. Aside from fresh produce that Chinese consumers are increasingly buying overseas for more variety and higher quality –  like Pacific Northwest cherries, Washington State apples, and Alaskan seafood –  Tang says shoppers have access to enough products online.

"The market for goods is already saturated,'' Tang said. “If you try to introduce brands in China from America that aren't well-known, I don't think Chinese consumers are going to be excited about it.'' 

For more on China's tech industry, check out the   podcast:


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    The Walking Dead guide to surviving as a new business

    Image: Gene Page/AMC
    [Editor’s note: Spoilers for The Walking dead throughout.]

    Its bleak and we both know it the kind of soul-crushing downer that goes way beyond horror and into something more existential and emotionally haunting.

    The twists are exciting, sure, but its not so much the unexpected that scares us; its the stuff we saw coming or (in retrospect) the stuff we should have seen coming. Theres happiness from time to time bright triumphs of human spirit and social ingenuity but if were honest, those moments, just like everything else, are short lived.

    According to the Startup Genome Report, the survival rate for startups is a mere 10%. Put more starkly: 90% of all startups die within their first three years. (Oh, did you think we were talking about something else?)

    As Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar and Veniam told Foundr Magazine: Startups are really hard. Every successful one had terrible hurdles and setbacks that they had to overcome. These challenges are the norm and not unique to you and your startup.

    Its bloody, sweaty, tear-filled work but once youre hooked, good luck turning away.

    The question is: What do startups have to do with a pop-culture phenomenon like The Walking Dead?

    Turns out, everything.

    In fact, there are at least four lessons everybodys favorite post-apocalyptic horror-scape can teach you about surviving as a startup. Here they are in all their unsettling glory.

    Never fall into a coma (or get caught sleepin)

    Image: AMC

    Rick Grimes nightmare like most zombieland protagonists begins with a wake up. Hes alone, disoriented, and (as usual) oily. The world has changed, and not for the good.

    The lesson here is obvious, but many startup founders still ignore it. Whether your niche is B2C, B2B, SaaS, or old-fashioned ecommerce doesnt really matter the world changes fast. Everyday a new technological evolution emerges: Drones, self-driving cars, holograms, dynamic online personalization, VR, AR, AI, and a host of other acronyms. And that doesnt even factor in trends in the wider culture.

    Daniel Marlin from Entrepreneur and the Huffington Post puts it like this: The same rings true for the changing landscape of start-ups. Consumers evolve, corporate hierarchies adjust and sometimes cease to exist altogether in favour of a more dynamic structure.

    The best way to stay awake is to combine two approaches. First, take advantage of social-listening and online alert tools to systematize paying attention, both to your industry and pop-culture trends. Barring this automated approach, new developments will inevitably fall through the cracks.

    Second, regardless of your niche, service, or product, do whatever you can to move towards an agile workflow. First used in car manufacturing and then applied to technological development, agile prioritizes iterative testing, runs on tight feedback loops that include real users, and puts decision making in the hands of the people who are closest to the problem being solved.

    In truth, these two steps are the only way to ensure you dont wake up to a future thats passed you by or one thats stalking your death.

    Never hesitate to murder your darlings (even if its your mom)

    Image: AMC

    In a show full of heart-wrenching scenes, few stand out like the death of Lori Grimes. Matricide is a bold move for any plot, but immediately after giving birth well, brutal doesnt really do it justice.

    And yet, however brutal it may have been, one of the keys to surviving The Walking Dead is to do whatevers necessary, when its necessary, sometimes to even those we hold most dear.

    The same is true for startups.

    Part of what fuels startups is the belief in an idea. Such belief is crucial when it comes to enduring the inevitable ups and downs that confront all founders. The trouble is that belief especially dogmatic, hard-headed, despite what everyone says I know its brilliant has a darkside you might not expect: Love.

    When we come to love our ideas themselves, not the solutions they aim to offer, we become blind. We lost sight of what really matters: not products, not promotions, not methods outcomes. In his 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures, On the Art of Writing, Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first to coin the phrase murder your darlings, and Stephen King took it one step further, Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

    As hard as it is to watch on the small screen, following that advice is even more difficult in the real world. Brittany Berger head of content and PR at Mention offers this advice as an antidote: You need to remember that you do not matter. Separating myself from my work has been key in helping me make decisions based on business instead of emotion.

    Case in point, one of Brittanys darlings was Mentions weekly Twitter chat. As a social media startup, that makes perfect sense. The only problem was, it didnt deliver any bottomline results. Popularity can fuel our egos and certainly has a role to play in marketing and PR but if it doesnt deliver, its time to break out the machete.

    37Signals founder Jason Fried nails this fundamental principle: Start getting into the habit of saying noeven to many of your best ideas. Use the power of no to get your priorities straight. You rarely regret saying no. But you often wind up regretting saying yes.

    In other words, be ruthless with the ideas you love. The more you love them, the more dangerous they can become.

    Never make a bad situation worse (and it can always get worse)

    Image: AMC

    As disturbing as Carl Grimes’s matricide was, Season 7s premiere The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be took it to a whole new level. After the long-awaited arrival of Negan, Abrahams folksie, profanity-laced wisdom was the first to fall victim to Lucielle.

    Bad situation? Yes. But does it gets worse? Indeed.

    In a fit of justified outrage, everybodys favorite unfortunate son, Daryl Dixon, rises up. He cant help himself, and we get it. Unfortunately all the righteous indignation in the world wont help when youre outnumbered and outgunned. Driven back to the gravel, we wait for the hammer or, more accurately, the bat to drop.

    However, in lieu of Daryl, Glenn is the second to go (complete with some serious eye-bulging and character-breaking guilt for Daryl).

    The lesson? No matter how bad a situation is, our tempers, resentments, fears, and especially our mouths can always make it far worse. Whats more, the stress levels inherent to startups makes this an even more pressing concern.

    Lively discussion is one thing. And fostering a culture of disagreement is essential. But those two ingredients only take shape in the shadow of another: Safety. Combining two unlikely sources the first cast of Saturday Night Live and Google Charles Duhigg calls attention to the crying need of safety in successful organizations: [M]ost important, teams need psychological safety. To create psychological safety team leaders needed to model the right behaviors.

    These behaviors include deceptively subtle habits like not interrupting team members, ensuring everyone has equal time to participate, and especially calling out intergroup conflicts and resolving them through open discussion. Notice that each is about what leaders dont say, biting their tongues and pushing back against their own knee-jerk reactions.

    Its obvious you dont want to be a Negan-style leader, but the Daryls inside all of us are far more likely to make things go from bad to worse within a startup.

    Never go in alone (ever)

    Image: AMC

    While the previous lessons all come from some specific high points in The Walking Dead, we could easily locate this one in every episode ever. Dodging zombies might get you out a sticky situation now and then, but finding food, fire, shelter, weapons, medicine, and transportation is not a single player sport. And that doesnt even include the threat that comes from other people.

    Simply put: If you go in alone youre not coming out.

    As with zombies, so with startups. Launching a successful product or service is just the first fight. You also have to develop sales, marketing, and public relations as well as run bookkeeping, accounting and finance. Theres funding, operations, hiring and firing, building and then maintaining QA on a website, customer service, and most daunting scaling. The list goes on and on and on.

    In the words of Leonard Kim, one of Inc. Magazines top digital and youth marketers: If you’re thinking of doing a startup yourself, then you have absolutely no clue what you’re in store for. I’ve spent most my adult life doing startups and and if I can admit I don’t know how to do so many of these things, then it’s okay for you to do the same.

    Admitting our ignorance doesnt just apply to teams, it also applies to partners. After getting burnt early on in his career by a bad choice, Mashable contributor Josh Steimle took a hardline and decided to go it alone in his own agency. As he explains: I struggled for the next 10 years, never really getting anywhere. Finally, in 2013 I relented and brought in a partner. A year later revenue was three times larger than it had ever been before because I invested in the right person that excelled where I couldnt.

    More than just surviving

    Of course, at the end of the day, you want your startup to do more than just outlast the 90% who dont make it. You also want to thrive.

    How? By paying close attention to what might at first appear to be an unlikely source: The Walking Dead. First, stay awake to trends and innovations. Second, say no even to your most-loved ideas. Third, cultivate safety instead of making bad situations worse. And fourth, surround yourself with people who can address your own weakness.

    Theres no denying its bloody, sweaty, tear-filled work. Robin Chase was right: Challenges are the norm. But if Maggie Rhee can bring new life into an all but dead world so can you.

    Aaron Orendorff is the founder of iconiContent and a regular contributor at Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider and more. Connect with him about content marketing (and bunnies) on Facebook or Twitter.

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    Kashmir: Social media gag on government workers slammed – Al Jazeera America

    Al Jazeera America

    Kashmir: Social media gag on government workers slammed
    Al Jazeera America
    Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Government workers in Indian-administered Kashmir have decried a government ban prohibiting them and their families from expressing political opinions on social networking sites. Under a new order issued on
    No 'Anti-National' Posts, Criticism of Policies on Social Media, J&K Government Tells EmployeesThe Wire

    all 31 news articles »

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    Hook, Hold, Reward, and Motivate: Content Marketing Lessons from a Former Teacher – The Content Standard by Skyword

    The Content Standard by Skyword

    Hook, Hold, Reward, and Motivate: Content Marketing Lessons from a Former Teacher
    The Content Standard by Skyword
    Just like marketers could rely on polite audiences in the golden age of advertising, teachers could rely on fearful students to give them their undivided attention. Fast forward to today. If a teacher from that age could see a modern classroom, he or

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    Videopaths platform adds crucial context to video could it fight fake news?

    Part of the reason so-called fake news videos can spread so virally is that there is very rarely any supporting information attached to the video. Further links and verified sources just dont get attached, either because there is no way of adding that to the video or the maker and/or the sharer just dont bother. So a ton of video comes out that has no clear sources, or context. Thus, blatantly false stories are now getting traction alongside legitimate ones because there are no backlinks, or source materials attached. You can see this again and again on Facebook and YouTube for instance.

    But could there be a way to bolster editorial credibility and help viewers to identify legitimate video sources amidst the noise?

    Berlin startup Videopath thinks so, and its doing it via a new twist on the old idea of embedding web content into video, creating a new way to bring sources and CTAs right into the player. With this format, viewers can click in for more info directly in the player.

    Now, granted, clickable video as a concept has been around for some time. Video companies like Cinematique, Wirewax, Zentrick have had clickable hotspots in video for years. But one of the biggest challenges with clickable video is that unlike a clickable photo, video is dynamic: what may be in frame in one moment can be gone in the next. So trying to create clickable video, specifically with moving hotspots, often results in a gamey, distracting experience for the viewer.

    Instead, Videopath has come up with a simple, intuitive interface which lends itself to contextual information around a video. Add the ability to bring entire websites and social channels into your video, and you super-charge the experience. Heres an example in action from the tech office space, Interchange, in London:

    With Videopath we are bringing the contextual power of the web into video says Anna Rose, CEO and co-founder of Videopath, Our dream is to help infuse more information into video and present this to viewers in an organised way that empowers them to learn more about the topic.

    Say you have a short video report. With Videopath, you can include the latest updates by adding the twitter feed, offer back story with the wikipedia page, or raise money for a cause by adding a donation form directly into the player. All of these content pieces are helping to give viewers more info to work with and providing them with relevant calls to action as they watch.

    Videopath has a builder that lets anyone put together one of these videos quickly. The product has already used by how-to and informational video creators including publishers Tamedia and Prisma in Europe and brands Babbel, Body Shop, and Daimler. The player was also recently shared by the Grammy award-nominated singer Jewel on the Dr. Oz blog. Videopath is at the core of Jewels #NeverBroken project an interactive video series about Mindfulness.

    With this format it is possible to create a full content package bringing together your various channels and content blocks to create one central experience driven by the video. For example, you can add a social channel, extra footage that didnt make the final cut, sign-up forms, surveys and informational resources.

    Rose says they are seeing amazing engagement with our player, over 30% of viewers click in to see extra content (which compares with the 2-5% that comparable clickable video solutions get), and we are seeing 45% more time spent on the project with the Videopath interface. Metrics aside, Videopath remains focused on providing real value to viewers.

    To date many of Videopaths customers are top brands using Videopath on their content marketing channels. But Rose sees the market for this tool as significantly wider: As people are getting more of their information from short form video, a product like Videopath becomes relevant for a wider range of content types such as for investigative reports, video journalism, event documentation and education. We have shown that Videopath provides real value to viewers as it allows them to dig deeper into a topic, but at their own pace.

    Its certainly come at the right time. As Albert Wenger from USV explained at the recent Slush conference in Helsinki, providing more context to content would be a first step in solving the misinformation problem. Proving more context would be a good thing, so meaning, linking back to the story, what do we know about the publication it came from, linking back to source material

    With this spirit in mind, Videopath aims to bring context back to the post truth wild west of digital video giving viewers the tools to start investigating and delving deeper into the content that inspires and informs them.

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    9 early signs of pregnancy that are easy to miss

    If youre trying to get pregnant, it can seem like eternity until you get a positive pregnancy test. To make it even more of a challenge, many of  the early signs of pregnancy can be mistaken for your menstrual period, a stomach bug or even stress.

    Heres how to tell whether your symptoms are early signs of pregnancy or something else.

    1. Increased vaginal discharge
    If you notice an increase in vaginal discharge, you might think you have a vaginal yeast infection or, if your cycles are irregular, you might think youre ovulating.

    But leucorrhea, a clear, odorless vaginal discharge that doesnt cause itching, is an early sign of pregnancy. Leucorrhea is a result of the increased blood supply to the vaginal and genital regions which increases vaginal fluid, Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a board-certified OB-GYN in Mt. Kisco, New York, and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V, told Fox News.


    2. Spotting and cramping
    Its easy to mistake spotting and cramping for the start of your period, but it can also mean youre pregnant. Often times when the embryo implants in the uterus, [women] can have some spotting or light bleeding that oftentimes [they] will mistake as a period, Dr. Kelly Kasper, a board-certified OB/GYN at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, told Fox News.

    Although this implantation bleed is nothing to worry about, its always a good idea to put a call into your doctor if you have any of these symptoms to rule out miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when the embryo implants itself in the fallopian tube or in the abdomen. This condition affects between 1 and 2 percent of pregnancies, according to a 2014 article in the journal American Family Physician.

    3. Fatigue
    Its easy to blame feeling run down on clocking long hours in the office, a hard workout, lack of sleep or stress. Yet for some women fatigue, especially if its overwhelming, is the first sign that theyre pregnant.

    4. Strong or brittle nails
    Many women notice that their nails are stronger than ever, and although this is due in part to pregnancy hormones, taking prenatal vitamins before conceiving has a lot to do with it too. 


    5. Increased sense of smell
    If you live for your cup of joe in the morning but all of a sudden the aroma makes you sick, you might want to take a pregnancy test. Sense of smell can become extraordinarily keen, and in fact, certain smells that people might have enjoyed in the past, they may find to be totally nauseating, Dweck said.  

    6. Bloating and constipation
    Its easy to blame bloating, gas or any change in bowel habits on a change in diet, a vacation or PMS. In the early weeks of pregnancy when progesterone starts to rise, however, everything can slow down. If youre craving carb-heavy fare and cant stomach vegetables, it can also affect your GI tract.

    7. Frequent urination
    An increase in both blood volume and the filtration rate of the kidneys will make it so that you need to urinate more frequently.


    8. Mood swings
    Chalk it up to not sleeping well, PMS or stress, but irritability can mean youre in the early weeks of pregnancy.  

    9. Breast soreness
    If your breasts feel tender or your nipples are sore, its easy to think its your period but often the difference is the severity. Even your shirt touching your nipples could be noticeable, Dweck said.  

    Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at

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