What to do with a newborn
I was surprised at the amount of downtime I had with a new baby.
I remember the first few months of staying home with my first baby. I assumed I’d be swamped with my new tasks of parenthood: nursing around the clock, diaper changes, rocking baby to sleep, etc.
Somedays it did feel like every minute I was busy caring for my new little one. But other days, I was surprised by the amount of down time. Somedays I was racked with guilt feeling like I wasn’t doing enough.
Somedays I was just plain confused on what to do. Plan infant outings? Playdates for my newborn that couldn’t see more than 6 inches away still? Or use the spare time to make my house sparkle?
I’d often end the day with the feeling that I certainly hadn’t accomplished enough.
Unfortunately, downtime with a baby isn’t a guarantee in the United States. In the US, nearly 1 in 4 women return to work just two weeks after giving birth.
Though time home with your new baby really shouldn’t be considered a luxury, but rather a necessity, that’s how it is in the US—which only adds to the pressure to have the most fulfilling time at home. The reality is, caring for a newborn and adjusting to life postpartum is not constantly shrouded in rainbows and stardust. Sometimes things suck. Sometimes things are boring. Sometimes things are lonely.
I really wasn’t prepared for the less glamorous parts of staying home with a newborn. If I could go back in time to my first few months as a new mom, here is what I’d tell myself:
1. Take things one small chunk at a time. Whether that means taking things one week at a time, one day at a time, or even one hour at a time. If it’s not a great day, choose a smaller increment.
Some days my mind would get sucked down the “If this is how it is, this is how it will be forever” wormhole—which simply isn’t true. It’s a special, very unique time being alone with a newborn, but it’s not always great. You can do this.
2. Forget the opinions. Sometimes it can be suffocating to try to live up to the imagined opinions of other people. Or maybe you yourself had opinions about the right way to care for a newborn and are finding things to be different than you imagined. Maybe you worry you aren’t wearing your baby enough. Or holding baby too much and not having them nap in the crib. Maybe you ended up co-sleeping when you swore you never would.
Sometimes, unsure of if I was doing the right thing, I’d poke around on the internet, cruising the parenting forums. The never-ending portal of internet opinions can give me the night sweats! If only I could get that time back I spent worrying about other people’s opinions to instead relax and enjoy being with my new baby. Do what works for you. It might look different every day. And if you’re really unsure, call up a pediatrician you trust for some advice.
3. Relax and enjoy yourself. As mentioned above, I wish I had enjoyed myself a bit more. Now caring for several kids, I look back and marvel at my time with just one tiny baby with such simple needs. Needs I could usually meet while laying on the couch.
I remember feeling bad for spending too much time watching Grey’s Anatomy or not doing any laundry. Now I long for the days when that was even a possibility! Enjoy that cozy time with your baby and spend it however it feels good to you and your little one.
4. Try some daily goals. In those early days, I’d often feel overwhelmed with how to spend the day. Then the end of the day would come, my spouse would come home and ask “What did you do today?” And I’d struggle to come up with an answer.
The truth is, keeping a tiny human alive is no small feat. And though you may be doing the same tasks on repeat for a few months, it does not mean you’re not doing anything.
But sometimes I’d long to feel a bit more productive beyond the baby. Those days, I’d set two goals for myself. The goals could be anything including chores (unload the dishwasher, put laundry away), a self-care task (take a shower, water the plants, paint my nails), or an activity (go for a walk, buy more diapers).
Some days I did much more than two tasks, but I found so long as I did two things I usually felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I’m sure that number is different for every person, so try to find the right one for you. But remember, caring for a newborn is hard work, so be generous with yourself.
5. Make a game plan for loneliness. As rewarding as a child can be, they’re no substitute for adult companionship. And when you’re home alone with the baby, that becomes even more apparent.
Make sure to schedule in some time to connect with people who care about you. That could look like going to a fellow parent’s house for coffee, arranging a dinner out with your friend once a month, FaceTiming a loved one, joining a book club, etc.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to go ahead and schedule these connecting moments even if you aren’t feeling too lonely. Preventative care is key.
6. Brace for mood swings. If you experienced the joys of pregnancy, you’re already familiar with the roller coaster pregnancy emotions can be. And the fun doesn’t stop there—that wild hormone ride keeps on keeping on as you plough through postpartum life. Your body is busy adapting to caring to a baby outside the womb and that takes a very physical toll.
As always, if your darker moods are making it difficult to cope with life or feel unusually prolonged, seeking help from a mental professional can make a huge difference in navigating those feelings. Postpartum depression affects between 10-20% of new moms, but is not limited to only birth mothers. Non-biological parents and people of any gender can experience PPD as well.
So hang in there and take good care of yourself. We’re pulling for you. You are exactly what YOUR baby needs. 😍