Did you enjoy your parental leave?
November 6, 2013 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Our first child is due in the next few weeks! This isn't a question about getting ready - we've done a lot of preparation (see inside). I want to know how you enjoyed those first crazy weeks. Were you able to relax into the sleep deprivation and rhythm-less newborn life? Do you look back on those days fondly? We expect to be tired and frazzled, but we want to intentionally savor this special time. We will have ~8 weeks at home together with our baby. Tell me how you did it.

All the baby's things are washed and neatly put away including a zillion burp cloths and swaddling blankets. We have a mobile diapering kit ready to go in lieu of a changing table (small apartment!). There's a box of nursing supplies (from nursing pads and snacks to magazines and chap stick) and a nursing pillow next to the couch. Diaper bags have already been assembled - 2 of them, so one can stay in the car. The car seat is installed. We've got Amazon Prime and Netflix. We have chosen a pediatrician. All of our bills are on auto-pay. Our cats are up-to-date for medical care. We've had our prescriptions filled. The apartment is scrubbed and organized from top to bottom. We have food in the freezer and pantry, extra toiletries and household essentials stockpiled so we don't have to worry about running out of anything for many weeks, and we have disposable dishes in case we're too fried to wash stuff. All 4 grandparents (respectful, helpful, loving people who can be counted upon to actually help rather than just gaze at the baby) will be available to help in the early days, but we've asked them to limit their visiting hours, they won't stay at our place, and we've written a guide for them about how to help with household things so we don't have to have endless conversations about it. Around (what is likely to be) 6 and 8 weeks after the birth, two dear friends are scheduled to help with household stuff for a few days to give us a break. Both of us will be home for ~8 weeks together, and then I (the mother) will have a few more weeks before returning to work.

I think we're well prepared. We have no expectations of getting work or projects done during our parental leaves; we just want to bond as a family, enjoy the time as much as we can, and get to know our child. I get told dozens of times a day how exhausting it'll be (by everyone from checkout clerks to coworkers to strangers on the street), *and I believe it*, but I'd rather not head in to the experience gritting my teeth and bracing for nothing but hardship and struggle. Help me relax and look forward to those early days. Tell me what was beautiful about your parental leave and how you mentally framed the experience.

Bonus: our baby will be very tiny during Christmas (we're not religious but we do love a cozy holiday celebration) and probably Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), too, depending on the birth date. We haven't made plans to go anywhere or do anything during the holidays, but if you have thoughts or stories about marking holidays with tiny babies, I'm all ears.
posted by Cygnet to Human Relations (43 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Have an "out" -- some sort of activity outside the home that one or both of you can do, whether that's a regular meeting of friends that you normally go to or a movie that only one of you wants to see or whatever. Don't get stuck in the house and feel like any time not spent around the baby is "wasted." You will hate each other at some point in this process, because it's not your fucking turn to get up at 3 in the goddamn morning and get the kid back to sleep or because he's folding the diaper wrong or whatever. Remember during those moments that it's not you having this argument, it's this hormonally disrupted, sleep-deprived, in-over-your-head person and the screaming ball of id that you're trying to deal with. So have a method of getting out, even if it's just a walk around the block, and let yourself (and him) take that out when needed. And don't be afraid to take the baby with you to places.

That said, you will enjoy this time. More so afterward in the rosy glow of memory, but there will be things you'll laugh about for years and years to come, and it will all work out fine. Just remember that you're all on Team Childcare together.
posted by Etrigan at 9:47 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did you enjoy your parental leave?

Not really. It's more work than just going to work and the new little "boss" is far less understanding and patient, and you don't get to go home at 5:00 and there are no long Friday lunches. There is nothing particularly awful about it, but it just, keeps, going, and going, and going. There are no breaks. It's relentless. Newborns are boring. They eat and sleep and cry and poop and that's about all. The "fun" part is getting the other parent to agree to watch the kid for a couple hours while you go out and act like a regular person.

But don't worry about it. It is what it is and like anything, it has it's moments. There is no "wrong" way to act and you won't screw it up. You won't find yourself looking back and going, "Oh, if only we'd [whatever]!" There's only so many ways to do it and you'll be fine. Invite people over. Make them cook.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:53 AM on November 6, 2013 [10 favorites]

Mr. BlahLaLa and I had 12 weeks at home together when Baby BlahLaLa arrived. We LOVED it. The first few days/weeks are strange as you adjust to the newcomer, but we quickly settled into a groove. And then we...explored our city! Went to museums! Lazed about parks. Went on a lot of long walks. Met more of our neighbors than we'd ever done before -- just from walking with our baby in a stroller or chest carrier.

There is a beautiful period after the first adjustments are made - enjoy it! For me, the big time when everything got easier was exactly 1 month into it, when breastfeeding stopped being painful. (YMMV, but know that there is a moment when that pain switch just turns right off.)

Your sleep schedule will be wack, for sure, but the old advice is really the best advice: sleep when the baby sleeps, whether that's 3am or 3pm.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:55 AM on November 6, 2013 [10 favorites]

You sound super organised, I'm a little jealous! :) You have set yourself up pretty well to make this is stress free as possible, so well done. Things you may end up stressing about, which may prevent you from relaxing and enjoying your time:
1. Breastfeeding issues (if you choose to breastfeed). Get help from an ICBLC sooner rather than later.
2. Feeling like you are trapped at home and have cabin fever because you are scared to go out/the pediatrician told you not to take the baby out in public/nursing issues make it stressful to go out. This one makes a huge difference to your enjoyment of your parental leave time, so I really recommend working hard on overcoming this if it happens. I look back and see that this was a huge difference between my first and second child. With the second I was more confident and went out a lot, and therefore had a more enjoyable time. Scout out places to go that fulfill whatever restrictions you are worried about (I had major nursing issues, so I started off going to shopping malls that had fantastic private nursing booths. That sounds SO LAME but it was a stepping stone). Then you can work up to going wherever you want.

Holiday celebrations. I love a big gathering with a yummy meal, and these are great when you have a tiny baby as long you do not try to over-commit. I would say that the least stressful ideal is that you host the gathering (so you are at home and have access to your stuff and baby's napping spot) but someone else actually does the cooking. If you are the sort that is fine with putting baby down to nap in a pack and play or having baby nap on you etc, then have someone else (parents?) host, so you can concentrate on enjoying the food and conversation while caring for baby, and other people can enjoy hanging out with baby and give you a little break. Don't plan to stay home alone for the holiday, because that's no fun!
posted by Joh at 9:55 AM on November 6, 2013

With my first?

Nope. Not at all.

With my second?

Much, much more and that was with the toddler and the baby at home.

My oldest was born shortly before Christmas. We went to the home of relatives near where we lived. General rules: Baby should not be held or touched by everyone and hands should be washed immediately before touching or hold said baby. Do not stay for longer than you can --- if tired, leave. Go only somewhere really nearby --- post partum car riding is not pleasant.
posted by zizzle at 9:56 AM on November 6, 2013

I was on maternity leave about this time last year. While there were parts I loved, I feel it's only now (when I am caught up on my sleep) that I can reflect back and appreciate them. I was on leave for 16 weeks and what got me through the first 8 weeks was someone telling me it would get better after that point. It's hard to function with so little sleep.

Here are some things that helped me to relax:
- set your expectations for the first few weeks at zero.
- when the baby sleeps during the day, I learned I could do ONE of these things: eat, sleep, shower, or do chores. I could only get ONE done per nap and sometimes I regretted my choice. Choose wisely! I favored eating and sleeping since I felt better equipped when I wasn't hungry or (as) tired
- get out of the house. If the weather isn't the best, go walk around the mall. Put a blanket over the stroller/car seat to keep hands away but for your sanity, leave the house. It makes it more enjoyable when you don't feel like a prisoner. Make a list of places you want to go when you get to a point where you feel you want to go outside. I was initially scared to take the baby out but I learned that the more I did it, the less overwhelming it seemed.
- when you are up for a 2 am feeding, take a moment to enjoy it. Odd, I know, but I found there was something beautifully quiet about snuggling and feeding a baby when all else is quiet.
- make regular plans to get a break. Around week 4 I started getting my nails done once a week while my husband watched the baby. It made me appreciate our time together more and I was often anxious to get back but I needed that break.
- I started peapoding - I did not want to deal with grocery shopping at that point. My food was just delivered and I didn't have to drag a baby through the grocery store.
- find your special time with the baby. I used to always hold my daughter for her 1 pm nap and I still love that memory of her snuggled up to me every day while we napped together.
-do you love the nursery? I remember sitting in it at 3 am thinking "well if I have to be up, at least I really like this room!" It was so girly and unlike anything I had growing up that it was a treat to hang out in there.

Yes, you will be hormonal and tired but it will be very special.
posted by polkadot at 9:58 AM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

The suggestion for an out is great. In retrospect, I wish my husband and I had been more proactive about each of us getting some time away on our own. Get out with and without the baby. I was so worried about annoying other people with random baby crying out in public, it took me a while to get over that. Not many people really care that much about crying babies if you're not in completely inappropriate places like a movie theater at night. Now, I hear a crying baby in public and just breathe a sigh of "it's not my kid, not my problem" relief.

I was not prepared for the boredom. Babies are pretty boring. My brain was also not firing at 100% due to hormones and sleep deprivation, so I couldn't concentrate on much besides tv. Be prepared to alter your plans about visitors, it is really nice to have other adults to talk to. We had friends visit the day after we got home from the hospital and I was so freaking happy to see them.

Honestly, I really didn't enjoy maternity leave and was mostly relieved to get back to work. I was really ground down by the sleep deprivation and the endless cycle of nursing and diaper changes. But I'm also an extrovert and really missed interacting with people all day.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2013

I liked it. It felt kind of like one of those adventure vacations (though when I expressed that sentiment to my spouse he looked at me like I was crazy).

It was nice to just hang out and not worry about being anywhere (unless we had a midwife followup appointment scheduled). We napped a lot, we binge-watched TV series in the evening, and we sometimes went out for lunch or dinner just to get out of the house. It's actually pretty easy to go out with a newborn, they sleep a lot, so don't worry if you don't have everything stockpiled, going to the grocery store is nice because people like to coo over newborns and it's nice to walk around a bit.

I spent a LOT of time reading books and surfing the Internet stuck under a sleeping baby. That's one thing I don't see on your list. A laptop, smartphone, or tablet is really necessary IMO to keep from getting completely bored. Look into your library's free ebooks and get on some of the holds queues now so you always have stuff to read.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:14 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I LOVED my eight weeks of maternity leave. My husband could only take two weeks, and in that period we were still sort of in management mode, but we were warned (repeatedly, often by the same people) that we'd hate each other at some point and man, that was untrue. We appreciated each other and had a great time. I think you sound incredibly well prepared - more than my husband was, as he proposed a few weeks before the baby was born that maybe we should try to have a yard sale while he was off of work - and like you're setting yourselves up for success.

I was lucky, in that we got a super easy baby and I immediately adored her, so I just got to hang out with this cool little baby who was happy just sitting with me. I loved it. She's almost five months old now and I can't really think of a time where I wasn't way happier with her near me.

Congrats on your new addition. Don't worry about what you should do - if you want to get out of the house, cool. If you don't, THAT'S FINE. Stay home and snuggle. Pick a new series to watch when you want to watch something but are too tired to think hard (I watched a BBC series called Victorian Farm, which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube if that's your sort of thing). Have some magazines handy. Take lots of baths (Epsom salts are really good for healing). But don't feel like you have to do anything specific.
posted by SeedStitch at 10:16 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am on paternity leave Monday through Wednesday, and in the office on Thursday and Friday (when Ms. Fanclub is on maternity leave). The time is precious and I'm savoring it, right now by posting on the Internet with my left hand while I keep Fanclub Jr. asleep by swing his carseat with my right. Get an input method you love on your smartphone! Seriously.

After vast amounts of reading and such, I am pretty sure that Every Baby is Different and these differences will be the largest influence on whether or not you "enjoy" your time. I "enjoy" a lot of my time, but I also breathe a sigh on Thursday mornings when I settle down in my task chair in my office. This is almost entirely because Fanclub Jr. is both refluxy and teething. When he was neither one, it was paradise. So, you rolls your dice and you takes your chances.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 10:19 AM on November 6, 2013

I found the first few months with the baby terribly stressful. It's good that you'll have so many people helping out, you'll need it. I had only my spouse and he had to go back to work right away, so I was alone with the baby most of the time. As tylerkaraszewski said, it is relentless. I found that my usual anxiety was extremely heightened by the hormones and the sleeplessness and everything else. If you have issues like that or have trouble sleeping, find out what you can do now to minimize them. I did try to sleep while the baby slept, but since it took me so long to unwind and the baby only slept for an hour and a half at a time, tops, it was a lost cause that made me even more anxious about sleep. I also have trouble with getting back to sleep if my sleep is interrupted. Work out a sleeping shift schedule now so that you can guarantee yourself as much uninterrupted sleep as possible. If you need chemical assistance sleeping, get it, but beware of Benadryl. My baby had an opposite reaction to Benadryl in his breastmilk which it took me a few weeks to figure out. Turns out the white noise machine we had for the nursery really helped me relax and sleep, so we moved it as needed.

I thought I'd spend a lot of my free time reading, but it turned out there really was so little free time and I was too mentally scrambled to pay attention to anything. Comfort watching was the only thing I could handle--meaning tv shows I'd seen a million times already. I'm an introvert and even though I was by myself, I really wasn't ever by myself, if you see my meaning. All my waking moments were spent reacting to this other human's needs, so I really got burned out on people wanting stuff from me. Once I was able to get away, I didn't want to have conversations or socialize, I just wanted to zone out while getting a pedicure or wander the mall by myself listening to podcasts.

I did make sure I got a shower every day, usually during one of the baby's naps. That really helped when I was feeling like a miserable dairy cow. Even if baby was awake, I put him in our portable bassinet with dangly toys in the bathroom and took a shower.

I have just started to enjoy time with my baby now that he's more reactive and starting to get the hang of human stuff. He's 5 months old.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:28 AM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

It varies - some people find newborns boring, others (like me!) can stare at them for hours and find every breath and poop and burp exciting. Both reactions are OK. I spent a lot of time on the sofa during those early weeks, nursing and letting baby nap on me. Get ready to do some knitting or TV watching...don't expect to get anything done, though. It's a weird time.
Oh and, the main purpose of the first 4-6 weeks should really be getting mom back on her feet. Giving birth is exhausting and your body takes weeks to readjust.
We were generally pleasantly surprised - people had warned us and stressed how hard it is, but to be honest, I found my time at home with a 15 month old much much much harder. The average newborn's needs are very simple and easy to satisfy.
posted by The Toad at 10:30 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ironically, my advice is to let yourself hate it if you end up hating it.

Lots of people told me to enjoy that time, and I did not, not even a tiny bit, and that contributed to my feelings of being a failure at parenthood before I'd even really begun. Letting go of the idea of being a perfect parent helped me enjoy the experience and become a better parent long-term. Your level of newborn enjoyment will have absolutely no bearing on your quality as a parent, now or later. If you do end up hating it, it's not a personal failing.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:31 AM on November 6, 2013 [14 favorites]

This answer may not be popular, but I think it's worth reading. There are vast differences between babies. Sure, there a big areas of commonality, but in the first few months there is a five hour sleep difference between 25th percentile babies and 75th percentile. That is huge. The difference between being tired and getting by on six hours of sleep and having only four hours can leave you having hallucinations.

Also, there's this thing that goes by the euphemism "colic". What that means is "crying for 3 or more hours per day for 3 days or more per week during a period of at least 3 weeks." Go back and read that once more to let it sink in. All babies cry for extended periods at times, but the 13% of colicky babies cry more than twice as much. Again, most babies are merely exhausting, but some are really much harder to bear. Other people's babies are not your baby.

We made major mistakes and should have switched to formula, etc., etc., and I should have realized I was developing depression (the first time in my life I had any kind of mental condition), but it can get really, really bad.

It can, paradoxically, be especially difficult for high-achieving parents to adjust, because surviving often means doing less and accepting worse. If you've been succeeding your whole life by buckling down and getting it done, with a needy baby the model is flipped on its head. You may have to let the kid cry for a while while you regroup. (In a safe place, obviously, and not for extended periods.) Impose. Ask people for favors. If you don't think you can make it out of the house to pick up takeout, call and beg them to deliver. Seriously.

For me, work was a sanctuary. It was something I was good at. I was really happy to get back. And it does get better, just potentially really, really slowly. My son and I adore each other and he's the source of many of my deepest satisfactions.
posted by wnissen at 10:35 AM on November 6, 2013 [20 favorites]

Totally agree that the answer to your questions depend strongly on the disposition of the baby. Some babies are laid back about being taken on walks and car rides and sleeping, etc. Others will scream at you no matter what. I have found that my life is infinitely better when I let my baby lead. Imposing stuff on him just ends in frustration and unhappiness for all of us.
posted by pizzazz at 10:35 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did you enjoy your parental leave?

About 1% of the time, yes. Most of the time I was getting my ass kicked by the steep learning curve and life altering experience. In the first month it is hard to imagine that life will ever feel normal again. I look back on myself and see how I could have, in retrospect, enjoyed the time a lot more but it is a baptism by fire. Knowing this may be helpful because it is pretty normal to harbor a lot of self doubt as you get acclimated.
posted by dgran at 10:47 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say I really loved that time, since as you know newborns are exhausting, but there were a couple of things that helped me enjoy my maternity leave more:
- The baby slept on me for a great deal of time for the first 6 weeks at least, so I got to read books, watch movies, and play dumb video games, even though I didn't get to actually sleep much myself (he screamed the instant he was set down).
- I highly recommend getting outside for a walk every day if possible. It made me feel so much better!
- My husband went back to work after only 3 weeks, which really sucked, but before he left each day I would take a shower, we would make sure the "chores" were done, and he would make me lunch, so I could just focus on taking care of the baby.

If it's possible, I would recommend having your partner go back to work half-time for the first week or so, to ease the transition for everybody.
posted by Safiya at 10:53 AM on November 6, 2013

I enjoyed it. I did a lot of walking in the city, and a lot of reading and watching television with the kiddo on or near me. I had an easy baby, though, and I think the temperament of your little one is the key variable in your outcome.
posted by gaspode at 11:00 AM on November 6, 2013

So, it’s somewhat difficult to savour the first weeks in the conventional sense. They are exhausting and crazy-making. But I DO look back fondly on that time period now, because I was experiencing something totally new, and because it reminds me of how far I’ve come. Here is the best advice I can give you:

Take photos and videos. I know in this culture of iPhones and facebook and all the other social media that this may sound silly – of course you’re going to document your baby’s life. But what I mean is, be deliberate. The first few weeks you will be so tired and sometimes the last thing you’ll want to do is take a picture, but there are some things about this specific time that you really should try to capture. Your newborn’s cry, for example. You will notice that a baby’s cry changes around 3 months – it goes from a shrill, demanding cry to something deeper, more settled. Once you are aware of this, you will instantly be able to recognize the cry of a newborn when out in public – it’s just different from an older baby. So record this cry, because it will change.

There are other things unique to this time period: The exhausting nighttime feedings. Falling asleep at any time of day or night with your baby. The little sighs and snuffling noises. The startle reflex. The cute little sleep-smiles that come before the real, conscious smiles. And the tiny, tiny fingers and toes. Make sure you capture all of these special moments, because they go by so fast.

Ahh…this is making me nostalgic. Good luck!
posted by yawper at 11:01 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree a million times over with having something outside of your home to take a break from the baby. There is no need to feel guilty over not spending every waking nanosecond with an idiotic grin on your face and you'll be a better parent for it.

The first three months are often called the fourth trimester for a good reason: you're adjusting to being parents and the baby is learning how to, well, be a baby. Nobody knows what the hell they're doing at this stage, parents and child alike. You'll be getting your cues from the baby during this time until you begin to understand each other.

I personally felt the rollercoaster of emotions during that time and the most important takeaway from that was this: there is no wrong way to feel. You'll feel joy, frustration, exhaustion, surprise, terror, resentment, confusion, etc. all of it normal. Just go with the flow.

Best of luck to you and your family.
posted by dr_dank at 11:05 AM on November 6, 2013

My husband had two weeks off and my mom stayed with us for the third week after my son was born. My husband, honestly, got bored because our son was a snacker - only eating a little and then being hungry again in half an hour or so. So my husband couldn't really do much to help. But, he did make me breakfast and lunch and refill my water jug as much as possible. We were pretty much in survival mode as the baby would cry if not fed IMMEDIATELY and didn't want to be set down ever.

My fourth week was the first I had by myself. I hardly left my rocking chair. Baby wouldn't let me put him down when he fell asleep after eating. If he woke up, he'd cry and need soothing all over again. My main goal this week was to get the one load of cloth diapers washed and put on the line. I think I succeeded most days. Otherwise I sat with a baby on one arm and a book or my smartphone in the other. All day.

I was finally able to do things on week 5. As in, able to put him down occasionally and get the dishwasher filled/emptied. I think I added daily dog walks with the baby in a wrap carrier on week 6. I took 12 weeks off.

What saved my sleep/sanity was my midwife telling me to learn how to nurse laying down.

Did I enjoy my parental leave? Yes. I really did. It was summertime and the dog walks were lovely. Once we got to week 5, I was getting the hang of it and had 7 more weeks after that to enjoy my son growing.

I made the mistake of driving 1.5 hours to my friend's bridal shower the day before my son was 2 weeks old. I was a nervous wreck - babies that little definitely don't care about the clock and being somewhere at a certain time. He was fine for most of the drive - I fed him in the parking garage when we arrived - and slept for most of the shower, but my adrenaline rush was waning after the shower and baby was tired of being in his carseat, and the drive home was horrible. He screamed like I'd never heard him before and I couldn't see him and we were on the freeway with miles before the next exit and I was trying too hard and I now have anxiety attacks when preparing to drive myself and the baby anywhere. So, the moral of the story is, if you are going somewhere for the holidays with a small baby, make sure it is within 30 minutes of home, that your partner is with you to help, and that it is low key with little to no expectations of you.

It is OK to say no to invitations - you will have just had a baby and you now have the best excuse in the world to say no and to be late.
posted by jillithd at 12:02 PM on November 6, 2013

I agree with most everyone saying it totally depends AND don't worry too much about it BUT...I must say I am super happy that I took tons and tons and tons of pictures and little videos during that time! We're only six months out and already looking at the pics of when she was super tiny with nostalgia! I know people advocate for just experiencing things and living in the moment and not experiencing things through the camera lens..but just have to say I am so happy to have all this wonderful documentation of the baby...and myself and my husband too...during the very beginning.

another thing, regarding nursing: i think if I had known that it is normal for it to be difficult to breastfeed, normal for it to hurt REALLY AMAZINGLY badly, and that it does get better--that would have helped those early days to be so much more relaxed. So know that if you don't already. I hope you are one of the ones who has it really easy but if not, just be ready for it and the knowledge will help a TON.

Also: for some reason, even though everyone told me how hard it would be and how bad the sleep deprivation would be...I have to admit there's just no way to really be prepared. I researched, I listened...but I *still* fought the middle of the night wakings. After too many days I finally just ...gave in. That relieved a lot of stress and sadness.
posted by rio at 12:17 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I took 12 weeks of leave, and my husband took 2. Our baby was born a month early (surprise!) at a different hospital than planned (surprise!), ended up admitted at another hospital for jaundice 2 days after we were discharged (surprise!), was diagnosed via newborn screening with a rare, life-threatening genetic disorder when he was 6 days old (surprise!), and ended up in a third hospital for monitoring due to his condition while I was laid up in a fourth hospital's emergency department due to the flu (surprise!). This all happened during the first 2 weeks. During the first month we also had outpatient doctor appointments and lactation consultant appointments pretty much every other day due to the events listed above. I had to wake my baby up every 3 hours to feed him for the first 3 months of his life, and it took a while to get enough breastmilk pumped for night feedings (we had to mix what little I did pump with his medications first), so I did not sleep more than 2 hours in a row for over 2 months. This all took place in the dead of winter in Minnesota during flu season, so we stayed inside at home.

I look back on this period with a sharp pang of remembered fear and panic, regret that it was not the peaceful experience I had envisioned, and wonder that we even made it through. And we were LUCKY - things could have been so much worse. I don't write this to terrify you, but to state that while it is great to prepare, in the end you really can't control much of anything. What happens happens, and you and your family will do what needs to be done. And the amazing thing is that you will do it without question, which is the beautiful thing. You will have an amazing new person in your life with their own unique needs, and you will move heaven and earth to meet them. Best wishes to your growing family.
posted by Maarika at 1:11 PM on November 6, 2013

Line up folks who will be happy to come to your house and hold the baby while you sleep. Pump some milk so they can do feedings while you sleep and shower and do things that don't demand holding your baby 24/7.

I did this for my sobrina and I'm ashamed she had to call and ask me. I LOVE holding babies and watching TV. I just sat on her sofa and let her sleep. Six uninterruped hours of sleep make a HUGE difference in how you can approach being a new mom.

Be prepared to be up at really strange times. 3AM, wide awake. Get books that don't require a lot of serious plot following, or better yet, re-read your old favorites.

It's the weirdest, bestest, hardest learning curve, but you look into that little face and it's all worth it.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:13 PM on November 6, 2013

If possible, consider doing shifts instead of taking turns at night. This way, you don't have to figure out whose turn it is. You may also be able to stagger your bedtimes to compensate.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You probably don't want to hear this, but in want it out there: It was a horrible, brutal time for us, filled with stress and anxiety and levels of sleep deprivation I literally didn't think where possible. Wnissen's example could have been written by us. It was unbelievably hard.

The hardest part was that it just didn't stop. The baby crying and not sleeping just never stopped. There were certainly moments of joy and happiness, every day, but most of it was sad and exhausted for us, I am sorry to say.We were under prepared, nit logistically, but emotionally and mentally, and when things started going downhill we were to shell shocked to recognize what was happening and address it.

We had a challenging baby, I grant. And we got through it, and have another coming in January and looking forward to it. But keep your expectations open, don't be afraid to ask for help. We found a lot of messages society has about the new born stage, delivered both explicitly and implicitly, made things very hard for us.
posted by smoke at 1:56 PM on November 6, 2013

That all said, I just want to reiterate because I'm afraid that I scared you - there was much we enjoyed in that period also; every baby truly is different; and regardless of how it plays out for you, remember that somewhere there is a parent who has experienced or is experiencing very much the same thing that you are, and all those experiences are okay. Also, people with unwanted parenting advice can fuck right off. :D
posted by smoke at 2:15 PM on November 6, 2013

Lots of great advice here!

My youngest (of two) is 21 years old now, so it's been quite a while since I was the mom of a newborn, but one thing I still recall is how painful breastfeeding was, due to cracked nipples. It was like having little paper cuts all over. When the baby nursed, I felt like levitating from the pain.

One hint I had read about, but did not try, was to soften the nipples in advance by rubbing lanolin in them. Important: you should do this while you are still pregnant! I think it's really too late to try once the baby is born and you are actively nursing. (If anyone has tried this, I'd love to hear if it worked. As I said, I did not try this myself with my firstborn. I had read about it while I was pregnant, but did not realize until too late what a problem cracked nipples can be. I did plan to do it for my second baby, but was waiting until the last several weeks of pregnancy. That plan failed when the baby was born ten weeks early!)

Aside from that, I found the lack of sleep to be very disorienting. It's hard to imagine beforehand how hard it is to get by without a solid night's sleep. But you sound as prepared as possible, and you are going into it with a great attitude. I predict you will do well!
posted by merejane at 2:27 PM on November 6, 2013

I enjoyed mine and look back on it with great fondness. My husband was home for 5 weeks with us and we really enjoyed ourselves. My son was born in late October. We went to a Veteran's Day parade that the baby slept right through. There were Christmas craft fairs almost every weekend. We went to a BBQ cookoff competition and gorged ourselves on pork. On days when we had rough nights before, we lazed about watching movies or football while I nursed the baby on the couch. At the tail end of all that, it was Thanksgiving and we drove an hour and a half to see my family for the weekend. It was very low key, and we just hung around and ate delicious food while my family cooed over the first grandchild. If I needed a break, I'd make the excuse of needing to go nurse the baby in a quiet room, when really I just wanted to lay down for a nap. I had a c-section, so the first 10 days were a little rough for me physically, but I was still making short trips to target and the drug store within that time frame, just to get out of the house.
posted by chiababe at 2:47 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Relatedly, previously: http://ask.metafilter.com/195338/Newborn-baby-hacks.

I did! A lot of the time. We had a great sense of humor and teamwork, so that helped. Things that might have frazzled us often made us burst into laughter. It's already a blur, I have to admit, but I do look back fondly on the time. I did regularly tell people that new parenthood felt like "joyful drudgery" though, so that says something about my mindset at the time. (Actually, I still think that's true many months later.)

What worked besides humor and teamwork, and being fortunate enough to have a baby who was pretty easy most of the time ... I spent a lot of time with friends and new moms (I joined an active moms' group), so I had a lot of camaraderie. I spent a lot of time outdoors - often walking about 4 hours a day with the baby in the moby wrap. I watched a bunch of TV programs while the baby slept in my arms - I really got into The Killing, for example. Just fun and entertaining stuff. I napped some every day, so I actually felt pretty rested (more than now that's for sure!) I enjoyed the pure adorable babyness of the situation. We created a really beautiful nursery where we enjoy spending hours of time. We took tons of photos during that time period.

It certainly was not all rainbows and unicorns, but overall yes, I remember that time fondly.
posted by semacd at 3:57 PM on November 6, 2013

Ours was great. Our son was born just before the 2012 Olympics, so we laid around watching that 24/7. The best to watch while happily hormonal cuddling a wee baby! In absence of that, you can always marathon fun TV shows on Netflix. Also, as others have said, get out of the house once you feel up to it! We went all over and had a great time. When baby is that small, they're easy to take places because you don't need to pack much (particularly when you're breastfeeding).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:22 PM on November 6, 2013

We loved those first weeks at home as a family (my partner had two weeks paternity leave) and found it much, much easier than we had been led to expect - your child may vary. We asked that no one visit us during those two weeks so we could have that time just for us and I'm so glad we did as the baby maintanence was easily managed by the two of us. She was on a three hour schedule so our world revolved around that but we usually left the house at least once a day - mostly for a walk or a visit to our favourite cafe, nothing too full on as my lady parts were...recovering. So many firsts! I will never forget the look on her face the first time she felt the wind (the weather, not bottom). We spent the rest of our time relaxing on the couch and watching movies, napping or staring at the baby. Congratulations
posted by Wantok at 5:38 PM on November 6, 2013

You sound really well prepared! I had 2 weeks before my husband went back to work, and some of that time (when we weren't stressing about how we would do nights when he went back to work) was really lovely (particularly once we worked out that for our son a baby carrier mostly equalled cessation of crying). There is a lot of quiet time together while the baby sleeps, and watching each other cuddling and interacting with our baby was really wonderful - despite having been with my husband for such a long time, seeing him as a parent showed me a new side to him, and that was a really special experience. We also enjoyed getting out of the house, once I was feeling more recovered from birth, and taking little walks while blearily talking to each other. As others have said, I would have some passive entertainments planned - books, tv shows you want to watch together. I watched a lot of tv while breastfeeding. I also tried to take a bit of time to write down my thoughts over those first few months, which I'm really glad I did - my memory of that time now a year down the track is not the sharpest - and do a couple of small video diaries of us all together, which is also really nice to look back on.
posted by fever-trees at 5:52 PM on November 6, 2013

The first six weeks after my first was born were awful. There was no sleep, lots of crying, hormonal changes. I love my kid but it was a horrible time. I had a super-easy unmedicated birth and no problem with breastfeeding either. Things with my second were better (course it probably helped that I didn't give birth or breastfeed #2, my partner did). Not that much better though. There's a reason we don't have a third.

All of this is completely subjective of course. My partner remembers the periods after both births as nothing but roses and sunshine. We were both off work for goodly periods after the births, I don't know how we would have done it otherwise. Keep expectations low and hope you'll be those magically blessed parents that see every moment as a sparkling crystal of joy.
posted by Cuke at 6:13 PM on November 6, 2013

I agree with the advice above that you should abandon your commitment to the idea that you _won't_ be gritting you teeth, as well as to the idea that you _will_.

Some people find focusing on hopeful possibilities to be helpful, but with a life-altering event like this, I find it more helpful to prepare for the possibility that it will be really, really hard. The vast majority of parents I know -- no, actually, every single parent I know -- found the first 6 months to be very, very tough, because of the sleep deprivation. Even when people say they know how tiring it will be, it's one thing to observe someone else experiencing that, but until you've experienced several months without REM sleep yourself, you just can't fathom what that will be like. Kind of like a two-month long all-nighter.

So my advice would be to batten down the hatches and prepare for a very tough journey. And then if it's not that bad, you'll be able to enjoy it. I can't see how being prepared for the worst would prevent you from enjoying the experience in any way if it turns out to be less awful than expected.

I wonder if what's going on is you're trying to regulate the anxiety you're feeling right now. It's normal to be worried, but you will be able to handle it. In the midst of all the exhaustion, you will have happy moments. When my son was born, it was both the happiest time of my life, and the most exhausting. Neither one cancels the other out.
posted by ravioli at 6:51 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, I loved my leave with my daughter. She was hard, hard work but rediscovering and sharing life with someone so new, that I made!, was exciting and wonderful and joyous. I took her absolutely everywhere, in a big wrap sling (like a moby wrap) and got so much pleasure out of introducing her to new smells, sights, textures and sounds. I was bloody tired (she was a high needs baby) but I forced us out of the house as much as possible and tried to expose her to as many new experiences as I could. I highly recommend a sling so the baby's head is close to your level and it's easier to walk, especially in winter (just wrap a big coat around the both of you, if it's raining an umbrella covers you both). Get out of the house as much as you can, and you will have a new appreciation for even the most stale, mundane, everyday things because you are responsible for a new life and exposing that new life to all the world has to offer. I still get blown away by the wonder and joy of it all, even when I could literally throttle her (she's now two and a half).
posted by goo at 7:30 PM on November 6, 2013

Sleep when the baby sleeps, don't worry about the house.
posted by JujuB at 7:35 PM on November 6, 2013

It sucked. Baby didn't gain weight and had feeding plan. It was a blur of pumping, finger feeding, supplemental nursing at the Breast, nipple shields, and tears. I had a c-section which wasn't that bad but I felt like my insides were falling out for three weeks. I got post partum depression. I got mastitis. And then you have family, friends, and strangers at the grocery store telling you that you're doing it wrong just when you're at your lowest.

There's nothing I could have done to prevent it. Try not to have too many expectations of that time.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:57 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm on parental leave as we speak, and I'm enjoying it... but it took me twelve weeks to get here. The first eight weeks were relentless, as others have said before, and the next four were slowly more and more enjoyable, probably because that's when Baby McCatburglar started taking good naps during the day and sleeping longer stretches at night. If you are breastfeeding it is especially bad, because in the beginning the baby wants you and only you 23 out of 24 hours in the day. There were lovely bits, of course, but mostly what I remember is looking into the future and seeing a neverending stretch of constant breastfeeding and sleepless nights. But that was the hormones talking.

Looking back on my experience, I think the best way to help you enjoy your leave is to think about what kind of person you are and what things you like to do now. Are you outgoing and sociable? Then you need to surround yourself with friends and family. Are you introverted and like spending time alone? Then severely limit visitors (this was part of my problem- too many visitors in the first few weeks drove me insane). Are you very active? Then make all possible effort to get out of the house as much as possible. Do you like to sit around and watch TV? Then you're in luck, because that is super easy when you have a newborn.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:57 AM on November 7, 2013

I quite enjoyed it - I had no expectations of it being wonderful, but we were blessed with an easy baby (she must have cried at some points, I'm sure, but not very much!). And thank goodness she was so easy because my physical recovery... was not. I felt great for the first 5 days, and then not for another like 8 weeks.

It would have been nice to have more food options - I normally am pretty good with making meals from whatever we have around, but I found that I didn't really have the mental focus to put into that aspect and wished I'd had more easy meal options (we live in a rural area so takeout is not an option).

I was mostly on my own during the day, so a lot of time was spent watching movies, reading the internet and holding the baby as she slept - not because she needed to be held, but I just never got enough of it. But I'm definitely a homebody, so this kind of schedule agreed with me. People would advisr me to get out of the house, take a break, etc etc, but I found that I didn't really didn't need to. I was happiest cocooning with the baby at home, and only going out a few times a week so she could be admired by others.
posted by raxast at 9:58 AM on November 7, 2013

I did enjoy my parental leave, and I think it's because I set the bar really, really low for the first two weeks. Like, ridiculously low. I don't think I left my bed for any length of time unless it was to pee or shower. My husband took care of laundry, most diaper changes, meals, you name it, and I laid in bed with the baby and breastfed. I had a c-section, so getting in and out of bed was hard anyway, and I was happy to just lay about and nurse.

If you're the antsy type, this obviously wouldn't work as well for you, but I highly recommend it if you can swing it. I was running on low sleep, yes, but the extra rest I got during the day helped out with that, and the lack of stress from normal household upkeep helped a lot too.

I wasn't a huge television person before I had a baby, but I watched a TON of television while on maternity leave - I would sit down to nurse and turn on a 45 minute show. Baby would be done after about 30 minutes but would fall asleep, and then I didn't want to move him, so I'd start another episode, and partway through he'd wake up to nurse, and the cycle would repeat. Find a series to blow through and just enjoy it!

You sound super prepared, so I think as long as you don't overdo it, you'll be fine. Congratulations!!!
posted by meggan at 2:29 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've got an *almost* one-year-old (sob, it goes so fast!), and because of our employer situations, my husband ended up taking leave, and I went back to work after a few weeks. He's still home with the kiddo and has had a great time over all.

Lots of good advice here, but I think the most important takeaway is that your enjoyment of the newborn phase almost completely depends on the temperament of your baby. We ended up with a legendarily laid-back, happy, self-contained little baby boy. Our nephew, born a few weeks later, was a trial from day one. And let me emphasize: there was absolutely no predicting either outcome pre-birth. Also, parenting styles (sleep, eating, etc) have been similar for both boys.

So, for us? We adored our new family time together, quickly adapted to parenting and learned how to incorporate our little bundle into a fun on-the-go life that was surprisingly similar to the one we'd been leading pre-kid. My sister and her husband had a completely different, absolutely miserable experience.

Here's something not many people talk about: if you end up with an easy baby (like we did!), everyone will adore him/her, and you will too. Life is great! Blue skies! The whole world is on your side! But if you end up with a difficult baby (like my nephew), people might find that baby, er, less appealing -- and you might too. Then, life is hard. You're fighting a tough battle with few resources. And the whole world actually, might not be on your side.

We were offered an overwhelming degree of support during those newborn days, in part because our little boy has always been easy and fun and pleasant. My sister has had a more difficult time mustering up offers of enthusiastic help from her network of supporters, because my nephew, for months, screamed incessantly any time he was awake, which was most of the time. He wasn't cute and cuddly for many months and this was not only frustrating for everyone around him, but it was incredibly disappointing and wholly overwhelming for his parents.

As a sidebar: it's very important to advocate for challenging babies — and for yourself, if you end up parenting a challenging baby. Because often, challenging babies get the short end of the stick, and it's possible that that "short end" might actually exacerbate the situation.

In our case, I am grateful beyond words that we ended up with this lovely, easy baby, and I dearly hope we are as fortunate when number two comes around. But I'm sure not gonna count on it.

BTW, my nephew is now *the most* adorable, charming, funny little baby-toddler.
posted by mmmcmmm at 2:33 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The baby's 6 weeks old now :) Time for an update.

We are, for the most part, enjoying our time. I'd say 80% of it has been lovely.

Things that are helping us enjoy:
-He's an easy baby. He started smiling at 2 weeks (probably thanks to being 2 weeks late) and he doesn't cry much. He's very interactive and engaged with the world. Everybody was totally right - parenting a newborn is vastly, vastly easier when he's content, and we're so fortunate that most of the time, he is. Our baby has had a few really miserable days and those days were sooooo much harder for us.
-Both of us being home. This has been so, so nice.
-Getting out every day on walks, to cafes or museums or similar, and trying out "adventures" like car trips to the beach, real restaurants, etc.
-Not trying to get much else done.
-All the prep work did in fact turn out to be useful.

Things that have been hard:
-I had a very difficult birth and it was 2 weeks before I could stand more than 30 seconds. Physical recovery took the stuffing out of me and I needed a LOT of help in the early days, even to just take care of myself.
-Having a really small apartment that makes hosting anybody (even the super helpful people who do our dishes and cook for us) challenging.
-It's very cold and very snowy here; getting out of the house is more of a production. And I can't nurse the baby outside.
posted by Cygnet at 6:31 AM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How do you deal with a guy who has fear of...   |   How can a cancer patient get free emergency dental... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.