Is there such thing as "spare time" during maternity/paternity leave?
November 2, 2008 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Is there such thing as "spare time" during maternity/paternity leave?

Our first child is due this month and we're both taking a few weeks of leave from work to stay home with our newborn. Never having been through this, I'm fairly ignorant:

Some people tell me that the baby will monopolize every moment of every day and that we will be too exhausted and busy to think about anything else during our leave time.

Others tell me that the baby will sleep a lot and the down time is good for catching up on projects, creative work, etc.

I'm guessing the answer is somewhere in between, and that it depends greatly on the baby.

What are your experiences?

(I'm asking specifically about the first few weeks, particularly when home on leave from work -- however I'd also be interested in advice on how to balance having a baby/young child with hobbies and creative work--especially when these require hours of intense solitary work).
posted by Alabaster to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do not plan on doing anything whatsoever, as you probably won't.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on November 2, 2008

Of everyone I've known who've had kids -- my sister, my cousins, and too many friends to count -- I've never heard of a single one of them having the time or energy to catch up on creative projects in those first weeks, with the exception of a few who were able to get in some knitting.
posted by scody at 11:43 AM on November 2, 2008

It depends on your child really. Some babies sleep a lot, but most wake up roughly every two hours crying for food; if this is the case, it will wreak havoc on your internal clock and leave you in a semi-daze for months, until she starts sleeping longer. This period is especially tiring for the mother if she is breast feeding.

If your child is sickly, colic, gassy, etc., you will have little free time, that is certain.

The good news is that although it feels eternal while you are living it, in the end it really isn't that long, a few months. Be patient and focus on the little one.
posted by sic at 11:50 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's going to depend a lot on your child's temperament, and you and your spouse's "system". My son is 3 weeks old, and I stayed home for the first two weeks. And our son is pretty mellow and pretty happy to sleep between feedings.

You will be on a 2-3 hour cycle (sleep-eat-poop), so it will be very hard to get any sustained block of time to do any work. I was able to get some work done on the back-end for our baby blog, but not as much or as high-quality as I had originally hoped/expected/anticipated. And my wife was using the intervals between feedings to nap, so if you are the food-giver, you will be more tired than I was/am.
posted by misterbrandt at 11:53 AM on November 2, 2008

Have you googled average feeding, sleeping, shitting patterns for newborns?
Do the math...

They need feeding every 2-4 hours. When they're really hungry, every hour or so. They sleep & shit in between.
Last newborn I dealt with extensively:
They're hungry, so they cry/you catch them before grumpy-ness, you feeding taking 30mins-1hr, leave for a few minutes til they make faces again, spend a few minutes to help them burping (varies wildly depending on your burping skill level, and their ability), they may have a wet nappy again, change,
soothe to sleep (not good at putting themselves to sleep), creep out, have an hour or so, baby wakes up, change if needed, interact while baby is awake, feed again - cycle.

Often the baby-is-asleep period is much too short for a grown adult to get to sleep in, unless they have, say, the kind of military training where falling asleep instantly is required, or previous child-care experience. ;P
By the time you deal with food, sleep, personal hygiene, dealing with nappies etc, visitors, and the fact that often when they're REALLY hungry, many newborns will change to every-hour/hour & half feeding (24/7), and yet other parts of routine are still taking same amount of time, you're only just finished clearing up before they need feed, burp, change, miniscule nap, and repeat.

Maybe you'll get lucky.
(...Do you feel lucky, punk? Sorry)

Two adults to ensure adequate sleeping etc is much better. One adult focus on feeding baby & sleeping (themselves I mean, as they tend to take the biggest sleep-debt hit), and other adult do everything in the house. Can you get a housekeeper to take some of the load off?

I think the catching up on projects thing works if say, you it's something you can do in frequent, 1 hour or so bursts, especially since you're often already in high get-things-done (ie baby) gear, with varying amounts of nesting impulses (like unto that of wanting to have house clean, and life awesome to present to shiny new gf/bf etc - baby). Does intense solitary work in bursts of an hour, work for you?
posted by Elysum at 11:54 AM on November 2, 2008

Since it's your first, I'd expect you to have little-to-no down time at all, even if the baby sleeps a lot. It's a huge adjustment for EVERYONE involved and huge adjustments are very taxing and really wipe you out. Most likely being creative will not even enter your mind as you will be on survival mode at that point. A word of advice - sleep every chance you get - don't waste that precious time on being creative. SLEEP. REST.

Don't expect that your baby will sleep a lot. My first was always awake it seemed. She ate every two hours and was just very alert. I had no down time AT ALL. EVER. It's hard to start a project knowing that you will likely be interrupted multiple times and your project will not be completed. It's frustrating. Don't set yourself up for that frustration. Expect to do nothing and when you are able to squeeze one extra small task in you'll be ahead of the game but don't plan on it.

My second seemed to sleep a lot (I thought there was something wrong with him he slept so much - but it turns out he was completely normal). But even though he slept a lot, I was still too exhausted (and so was my husband) to do anything beyond the basic survival skills.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:57 AM on November 2, 2008

nthing the above - based on my own experience
You'll be too mentally exhausted to undertake any creative project.
Use your spare time to sleep or do something not baby related with your SO
posted by motdiem2 at 12:09 PM on November 2, 2008

You're going to get a lot of varying, anecdotal responses here, so your major takeaway will probably be, "It depends."

As I remember it with my son, up until 4 or 5 months he seemed most content to spend most of the day sleeping in my arms. So I got a lot of rote, one-handed-typing computer work done then. It was OK for answering e-mails and updating static HTML pages, not so good for creating graphics or doing anything that involved multiple brain cells. I also watched more TV during that period than I probably every have at any other time in my life...
posted by lgandme0717 at 12:16 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had no downtime. The only thing I caught up on during the first 4 weeks was everything on the DVR and a few DVDs, viewed groggily while I nursed endlessly on the couch.

If mom is nursing, she will have little time to do anything, including sleep, shower, eat, or go to the bathroom. So dad should be doing everything else - laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, dishes (I'm using "should" meaning "for greatest efficiency").

If your family is bottle feeding, then dad can do some/half/all feedings while you share other duties, which gives mom more time to shower, etc.

Finally, after a few weeks, I was able to get a hold on my son's sleeping patterns (and they have no sleeping pattern at first) and when I had 30 - 45 free minutes, I would nap.
posted by peep at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2008

I remember the first two weeks at home with my first child as lovely and cozy. There was free time becasue Cooper slept a lot -- but it was at such unpredictable hours that we didn't really get much done. Except we napped and had a few visitors and tried out the new stroller/baby carriers, and watched DVDs. I'm not sure "catching up projects" would have been possible, but there were bits of free time...
posted by Badmichelle at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2008

The baby will sleep a lot -- but, and this is a big but, will also eat a lot & poop a lot. My experience is that I found the advice to largely be sleeping when the baby is sleeping to be accurate. Any household sleep cycles will be pretty severely disrupted in ways that will be hard to imagine prior to experiencing it.

For both of my kids, they ate every two to three hours as newborns. Then they were awake some, and then they slept... I'm pretty good at naps but not so good that I didn't stay awake more during the day than I probably should have (showers eventually have to be taken & sooner or later you run out of meals made by grammas). During the night when they woke up in the newborn weeks, at night I probably got 45 minutes to an hour of sleep at a time out of those two to three hour chunks of time.

Eventually schedules will sort themselves out, nap times & the like, but not those first weeks. And just as they seem to settle into a schedule, they may change it on you. My second slept through the night for a month from four weeks to eight weeks... and then that was not to be seen again until she was three years old... I really would look at the newborn weeks as adjusting to having the kid and figuring out how to take care of it.

I'm the producer of a site for parents (though I think all our members are mothers) who are trying to balance parenting and creativity and it seems like these tend to be the ways that tend to work for parents balancing creativity & kids -- the creative project changes and adapts to 'intense solitary work' during nap times & after bedtimes; project adjusts to having this new, small, demanding person around and frequent/constant interruptions; arrangements are made with partners or other babysitters to make the required time available for the project; or project is postponed until such a time when the kids are not so dependent.

In our house this is how it works: I provide my husband with uninterrupted time by watching after the kids when they were little and at this point they're independent enough that if I'm not home and he can deal with interruptions periodically he'll say, "Daddy's going to write now, you can play outside or play inside, but don't interrupt me [with reasonable expectations set of what appropriate times for interruptions would be]." He postponed working on his stuff for a long time though (not just because of the kids though) too. Me? I adapted to being interrupted. Since a lot of my creativity is wrapped up in music, sharing that with my kids is something I *want* to do though. And when I don't want to share it, I wait until they're in bed.

Persistence & creativity in figuring out how to find time to express your creativity is key. If you can figure out how to do it earlier rather than later in the scheme of things, more power to you! Congratulations on your impending arrival and may the wind be at your back in your creative pursuits!
posted by susanbeeswax at 12:23 PM on November 2, 2008

If is your first you will have a hard time finding time to shower. Babies are so awesome even when the baby is sleeping you will probably prefer to just watch it rather than do projects. The only way to balance having a baby with hours of solitary creative work is to have a partner who will take up ALL the slack. This tends to not be a good thing for relationships, especially if the dynamic is the mother doing all the work while the new father is not compromising or making any changes.
posted by saucysault at 12:31 PM on November 2, 2008

When my son was ten days old I wrote a blog entry after keeping track of everything we did for twenty-four hours (self-link, obviously). It might give you an idea of what's to come. Of course, your baby may vary.

For me, I wasn't feeling very creative at all between the sleep deprivation and the stress of caring for a newborn. So even if you find the time you might not bein the mood.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:35 PM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Our son is one month and one day old today. We're both self-employed, and both planned on taking as much time off as needed and sharing the responsibility as much as possible.

For the first two weeks, don't count on doing anything that isn't baby-related. Even with both of us around full-time, life consisted entirely of either caring for the baby or catching quick naps. I have absolutely no idea how single parents manage it without going insane.

The past two weeks have been better -- our son is, by all accounts, unusually calm and good-natured and sleeps for very long periods (as much as 6 hours at night!) So we're relatively well-rested, getting almost enough sleep, and generally taking care of business. Even so, I've managed to get a grand total of two and a half hours of work done since the baby was born, and the two of us have left the house for nonessential reasons exactly twice each.

"Hours of intense solitary work": ha ha ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA hee hee ha ha hee ha ha ha ha. Ha. No. You are totally kidding yourself here (frankly, before the baby arrived so was I; I had these happy illusions about the kid sitting quietly in a crib or sling gazing happily at me while I worked at the easel. Boy was I wrong.)

It's true that occasionally you'll luck out and the baby will zone out quietly for a three-hour stretch during the day, you will have no way to predict when this will happen; any kind of work that requires concentration or, say, the use of both hands, is right out the window, because I guarantee that just when you're starting to get into the flow you'll be interrupted. I'm currently not counting on getting back to work until the new year at least, and I won't be taking on any jobs that require actual brainpower until the kid's old enough for daycare.

And we're lucky. We have an easy baby (my previous AskMe not withstanding :) Some kids need feeding every two hours for weeks. So, short version, yeah, it definitely depends on the baby, but even at the extremes don't count on getting anything done during this time. You'll just be setting yourself up for disappointment.
posted by ook at 12:47 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

[as a point of interest: including diaper changes and one-handed typing while trying to rock the baby with the other, that comment took me 40 minutes to post]
posted by ook at 12:49 PM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

My kid had feeding issues. So it was cry, spend 45 minutes feeding baby, put baby to sleep, pump, clean parts, rest for a few minutes, baby is up again and you do it all over. We had weigh ins and lactation consultant visits. I got mastitis and took to my bed with fever for a few days. I had post surgery pain from c-section, getting out of bed was a hassle. My hormones crashed and I got the baby blues, so I spent a few days crying myself. The baby was not happy and cried a lot. We had constant stream of visitors and phone calls. Both me and my husband were 24 hours on call for 8 terrible weeks. It sucked. Forget work.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:05 PM on November 2, 2008

"these require hours of intense solitary work"

Plan on setting your hobbies and projects aside for about half a decade. Multiple sequential hours of concentration pretty much fail to exist for the first several years. There will be a point where you may start to see an hour or so of "free time" per day, but that's still a couple of years away.

"Some people tell me that the baby will monopolize every moment of every day and that we will be too exhausted and busy to think about anything else during our leave time."

These people are telling you the truth.

"Others tell me that the baby will sleep a lot and the down time is good for catching up on projects, creative work, etc."

These people are either lying or don't have babies.
posted by majick at 1:11 PM on November 2, 2008

Very little non-baby time here after my first was born, and none after my second. I got a little bit of work done -- some loose ends I had to tie up on a project I was working on -- but it was hard. My son was a round-the-clock nurser, a poor sleeper, and I developed post-partum depression. You might not be unlucky that way.

It's been six years and it still feels relentless...
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:20 PM on November 2, 2008

New mom here. Yeah, I don't know anyone who had any "spare" time with a little baby. And if you do have the energy to do something non-baby related, you should have someone stay with your wee one and go out as a couple to have time alone with each other.

It's a beautiful time in your life, and your creative projects can wait. If you can get some done, that's great, but don't count on it. I saw in a previous question that you are bottle feeding. So, if you really NEED to get something done, one of you can cover for the other, which you've probably realized already.

One other thing to consider besides the baby's own demands--you might have friends and relatives who want to come by and see your baby--that can take up a lot of time too.

Good luck with the first few weeks!
posted by tk at 3:00 PM on November 2, 2008

The first few weeks with our eldest were fabulous. She slept great, ate great, basically did everything great. I went through the first few seasons of The Gilmore Girls on dvd while feeding her :) Everything was very low-key and relaxed. We were out of the house and looking for things to be doing within 3 days of her birth.

My second was just as easy but having a 19 month old as well made everything less low-key and relaxed. Having to stay on a "normal" schedule for the eldest put us into a much more sleep deprived state.

I'm 39 weeks pregnant with our 3rd (who I would love to meet tonight...come on baby!!!) and am hoping and praying he's as easy going as the first 2.

It's standard advice that I'm sure you've heard a billion times but sleep when the baby sleeps. It makes such a difference. Let everything else slide unless you want to do it. Dishes can wait, hobbies can wait, the first few weeks of your baby's life will never be here again.

Congratulations on baby!
posted by Abbril at 3:22 PM on November 2, 2008

With mine, the first few weeks were probably the easiest, as our little guy slept a lot and pooped just once a day. Maybe we were lucky. In our little "spare" time we blogged the baby and flooded Flickr with his photos. That was the extent of our creative endeavors.

To help out, the best decision we made was to co-sleep. It made it easier on everyone, especially mom who can feed even while sleeping. Our friends always complimented us on how fresh and rested we appeared. It's not for everyone, but it worked for us.

Now that junior is eight months old things have changed a lot. He's now rambunctious and mobile, an unreliable napper, and a light night sleeper. Your daytime hours (which for me means all weekend) are all about keeping baby entertained, fed, dry, clean, and out of your expensive electronics. Free time happens at night, so if you're a night owl, great. If your kid is a good night sleeper, awesome. My wife is a designer and works from home. We have a part time nanny who is worth every penny. It's the only way to get any time to focus.

And, congrats! No matter how difficult those first few weeks are, make sure to cherish and document every second of it because they go by really fast.
posted by DefendBrooklyn at 5:06 PM on November 2, 2008

My kiddo was born in January of this year. The first month or so was pretty much an experiment in sleep deprivation. I expected to have some downtime in there somewhere, but there really wasn't any once we got the baby home. In the hospital, you'll have odd blocks of time that you can kill reading or (if you have WiFi) surfing, but it comes in fits and starts. Once you're home, and until your child starts to get into a regular sleeping pattern, it's amazingly hectic.

Life gets a lot better once meals and sleep get into a regular pattern. It didn't take too long for ours to sleep through the night. And now, he's into a very regular pattern that gives me nice pockets of time that I can use for productive work (or hanging out here, of course).
posted by wheat at 5:10 PM on November 2, 2008

For the first 8 weeks or so of his life, my son had a routine that went like this: he nursed off one side, crapped his pants, had a diaper change, then nursed off the other side. At this point he'd sometimes fall asleep at the breast and wake up still latched on 20 minutes later to nurse some more (cluster feeding) or he'd be awake and need to be loved and entertained for an hour or so, at which point he was ready to nurse/poo/nurse again. Sometimes he'd actually get a good nap in when he fell asleep nursing, but for the most part only if I just continued holding him rather than trying to put him down in his basket.

He did sleep on his own at night and would easily go back to sleep on his own in his basket after any night time feedings & their accompanying pants crappings and diaper changes, but he pretty much needed someone doing something with him all day long. I could watch tele / dvds and sometimes read while nursing him or holding him while he slept (and I tried to stay awake so as to not drop him on the floor), but that was about it.

We went into the newborn baby phase with the idea that we'd see how things went with our particular baby and maybe I'd have time to get some work done here and there / go to the pottery studio / etc, and I really wish we hadn't had that idea in our heads at all, as it set me up to feel that "just" taking care of the baby wasn't enough, I should be doing more, that my husband must expect me to be getting more done than I was, etc. I think it would have been much better to just assume that we wouldn't be getting anything at all done on top of baby care and then we could have been pleasantly surprised if this didn't turn out to be the case. So that's my advice to you...have low expectations! Oh, and some babies crap their pants every friggin' time they eat. Boy, I wish someone had warned me about that one.
posted by toodles at 6:17 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Find an online moms community, and if you don't have a laptop, get one. NAK is mommy-board speak for nursing at keyboard. You'll use that acronym a lot! I did do a lot of surfing and reading and dvd watching those first few weeks, which luckily were more relaxing than awful. I managed to shower every morning and I never really had any of those zombie-like days, and my baby was a sucky napper and didn't sleep through the night for a long time.

It's busy, but a good kind of busy. Don't be too freaked out by people's posts. Enjoy!
posted by printchick at 6:40 PM on November 3, 2008

Oh, yeah -- seconding the post about low expectations...just don't have any, know and realize that your job is caring for that baby. And chill out and enjoy.
posted by printchick at 6:41 PM on November 3, 2008

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