How do I stay sane while home all day with a newborn?
July 20, 2006 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Metaparenting: How do I stay sane while home all day with a newborn?

Since AskMe helped so much with my last question, I thought I'd pose another one to all the great Meta-Parents out there: How do you stay sane home all day with a newborn?

Before he was born, I worked two jobs as well as volunteer project management work. I was the prototypical "If you need something done, ask a busy person to do it" go-to person.

Our son is now 10 days old. Yesterday and today were my first days home alone with him for the full day, and I knew it would be hard, but I'm finding it nearly impossible to even get out of my PJs. Partly I know its sleep deprevation, and partly its that he's entrancing and I'll lose half an hour just gazing at him after he eats, but over and above that I expected, I guess, to be able to steal a half hour here or there while he's sleeping, maybe once a day, to put the laundry in or change the sheets. At the very least I'd expected to be able to read my email. Or go to the bathroom. :-)

What are your best strategies and tools for staying sane and maybe just a tiny bit productive (not a lot, just a little) with a newborn? How do you manage crucial baby care stuff (like washing bottles and (for me) pumping breastmilk) and maybe get the laundry done or clean sheets on the bed? Or should I resign myself to being camped out all day in the living room, essentials close at hand, in my Pjs for another month at least?

Heres a baby picture.
posted by anastasiav to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My sister taught herself to play the guitar during this phase of parenthood.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:23 PM on July 20, 2006

You will adjust. Millions have. Enjoy.
posted by mrleec at 3:30 PM on July 20, 2006

A baby sling might allow you to carry and gaze and throw in laundry. But 10 days seems well within the adjustment period, so keeping things easy in the livingroom is probably a good idea. Maybe put on NPR or something so you don't feel isolated.
posted by xo at 3:38 PM on July 20, 2006

Baby slings rock. But I'd personally suggest giving up on productivity for a while.
posted by lekvar at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2006

My wife was the one in your shoes, so I don't have firsthand experience being home, all day, with a newborn. That said, here are some things that helped us in the early days.

Whenever anyone comes over to see the baby, insist that they bring something! Our favorites was prepared food. Even if it is just a takeout rotisserie chicken, something for Mom and Dad to eat that doesn't require cooking is crucial. Diapers, blankets, onesies, whatever you happen to need.

If you have family nearby, lean on them. Use them for babysitting (do chores while they are holding/comforting baby), or ask them to do chores while you are caring for baby.

Shower everyday. Otherwise you will begin to feel inhuman.

"Sleep when the baby sleeps." If this works for you, more power to you. It didn't for my wife.

Try a swing or bouncy seat if baby won't sleep in the bassinet/cosleeper/crib.

It will get better. It may be 4 or 6 or 8 weeks, but it will get better. Good luck!
posted by Joe Invisible at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2006

I don't have kids, but a couple of friends who do say that they tried to take a nap when the baby slept. Even if it was just a half-hour, a couple of times a day, it helped enormously.
posted by essexjan at 3:44 PM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: A couple things I should add:

1) I do have a sling, but he seems uncomfortable in it so I don't use it much.
2) I have a list of "five minute tasks" that I feel like I should be able to accomplish some of (change the sheets, empty or fill dishwasher, pay the bills (!) etc), but so far I can't get to any of them.

His dad is a huge help when he comes home from work, but I guess I sort of feel like I'm doing nothing during the day except watching the baby and waiting for dad to get home so I can get a few things done.

The baby himself is a pretty good, laid back baby, but I (and I know this is my problem really) feel guilty about leaving him alone for even a moment, even while he's asleep. Today I had him asleep in his co-sleeper and ran across the hall to use the bathroom, and he woke up and started howling ... and I felt so guilty. This is normal, right?
posted by anastasiav at 3:46 PM on July 20, 2006

It's an entirely new way of life. Staring at babies may not be productive, but it is a joy. Productivity is tough, and probably limited to nap time. If everyone is fed and happy, that's productive.

By the way, babies (and I've helped raise four) can go just about anywhere you do, including the shower, the tub, the bathroom and the corner store.
posted by Bitstop at 3:46 PM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: We're going on seven weeks, and I have to say that I can't imagine doing much more than that the first month. You squeeze in what little you can, and wait for reinforcements to arrive in order to do much else. A baby sling/carrier might help free your hands for certain things, if he'll take to it. I'm currently on a laptop, typing one-handed during little breaks.

I take advantage of the evenings, when my husband gets home from work, for bigger things (you know, the aforementioned shower, dinner, etc.). We get cleaning done on the weekends. Our little girl eats often and insists on being held most of the time, though, and I'm sure this isn't the case with everyone.

They say to sleep when baby sleeps, but I just can't bring myself to do it yet. You may have better luck.

As an aside, I hope everything went okay with the diabetes, and you were able to stay with your midwife.
posted by moira at 3:46 PM on July 20, 2006

I was a "helpful family member" for a baby a few months ago.

That feeling of doing nothing but waiting for the baby to do something (poop, pee, wake up, need to be fed, etc.), is totally normal.

But use that time to read or catch up on some series that you never could before (but try for a book or a show that doesn't require a lot of attention.)
posted by k8t at 3:50 PM on July 20, 2006

Today I had him asleep in his co-sleeper and ran across the hall to use the bathroom, and he woke up and started howling ... and I felt so guilty. This is normal, right?

Yes. Things will relax as you get accustomed to each other.

Try a swing or bouncy seat if baby won't sleep in the bassinet/cosleeper/crib.

And if all of these fail, get an Amby. We are finally getting some sleep.
posted by moira at 3:57 PM on July 20, 2006

posted by matteo at 4:07 PM on July 20, 2006

Congratulations! Your baby is beautiful.

Give yourself a little break. He is ten days old. You will never get this time back with him again. Enjoy staring at him, because in about two years when he won't look at you except to spit you're going to need something to fall back on. :) Once he is a little older it will be easier to get back into a routine.
posted by sugarfish at 4:12 PM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Congrats. My wife and I actually got very little done for about the first 3 months or so after our daughter was born, and I think that is OK. We were either feeding her, changing her diaper, or sitting still while she took her nap. The naps were especially great/problematic because she often fell asleep on our shoulders which meant were were stuck there for the duration of the nap.

Here are a few suggestions: (1) Don't expect too much of yourself. This is a great time and it will be over before you know it. (2) To increase our comfort we arranged a conformable chair in our living room with access to a TV, the computer, and reading materials. We found we could get her to go to sleep and then we would have access to these things which made life easier. (3) Don't underestimate yourself (kinda the opposite of #1, but most parenting advice seems like this). Looking back, we were (justifiably) wimps with our baby. We could have tried to do much more (use a sling or a baby carrier) if we had wanted. I know this just by looking at parents with 2 or more kids. (4) One of the best pieces of advice we got was not to be too quiet around our daughter's naps. We made normal amounts of noise. It was difficult at times but at a few months old we didn't have to worry that a ringing phone or a knock on the door would wake her. Definitely a case of short-term pain for long-term gain. In contrast our friends who tried to keep things quiet have 2.5 yo that still need dead quiet during nighttime and naps.
posted by Tallguy at 4:22 PM on July 20, 2006

ok my son is 6 months old. when he was born, i volunteered for all the night duties. people will tell you many things, but i got him on a schedule. i've heard the arguments for and against. but a schedule will allow you to plan around your baby's eating cycle. it seems barbaric at first - letting him cry for 10 minutes sometimes so he'll eat on time - but its great. once you accept he'll be up every 2-3 hours to eat, you can pace your day. people told me i shouldnt take my newborn outside, but my pediatrician said it was fine. so we made sure to get out of the house as often as we could. get some sun. go shopping. make sure you get the sling. i had a baby bjorn...

if youre not breastfeeding, thats should make things even easier. doctors have known for 40 years breastfeeding overrated. my wife pumped, breast feed and we gave him soy milk. but like many other women, we had getting him to latch on. she has large breasts but small flattish nipples. it also helped that my son was too lazy to stay latched for very long. he literally slept 22 hours a day for the first month. when confronted about the breast feeding article, my doctor owned up to it. breast milk burns faster, it seemed to me, so while my wife was breast feeding he woke up every 2 hours. when we supplemented with formula he slept for 3, sometimes, 4 hours.

i read a lot of books. i started a sports blog. i also caught as much sleep as i could. i spent a lot of time taking care of my wife. i learned infant massage and played a lot of PS2.

good luck!!!
posted by Davaal at 4:40 PM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: anastasiav : "His dad is a huge help when he comes home from work, but I guess I sort of feel like I'm doing nothing during the day except watching the baby and waiting for dad to get home so I can get a few things done."

You are, that's normal, and it's perfectly fine. My wife did the "sleep when the baby sleeps" thing, and any other stuff that had to be done (laundry, bills, etc.) was either handled by me, or was done by my wife when I came home from work and took care of the baby.

Davaal : "breast milk burns faster, it seemed to me, so while my wife was breast feeding he woke up every 2 hours. when we supplemented with formula he slept for 3, sometimes, 4 hours."

We're doing primarily breast-feeding, but when during the first month, he got a big bottle of formula before going to bed at night. He would sleep much longer (at least until the first wakeup, after which he was back to the regular 1.5 hour wakeups)
posted by Bugbread at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2006

Cut yourself some slack! It is only 10 days since a major physical effort, and there have been huge hormonal changes in those days. You ought to be taking things very gently at this stage -- you are still vulnerable physically and mentally.

It is very important that his dad builds his own relationship with the baby. So leaving them alone together while you go and shower etc is a good thing to do.

As your energy returns, it is useful to have a light bouncy chair that you can move around so that the baby can sit and watch you doing things.

Do make the most of this time, and that doesn't mean do lots of housework -- babies grow and change very fast, enjoy him as he is now.
posted by Idcoytco at 4:56 PM on July 20, 2006

Just another parent chiming in to say that this is totally normal. I remember clearly how frustrating this is! But it does get better. I know no-one, even supermoms, who did much in the first few weeks. Your kid is not even two weeks old yet! You're just not used to this type of work. Your main job is to keep the baby fed and not go totally insane, and most of us didn't quite manage the sanity challenge. I also napped when they napped -- it isn't the level of productivity that you're used to, but you need all the sleep you can get to avoid going on a tri-state killing spree (or at least I did). But you have to rest and watch some horrible daytime TV and marvel at how stupid it is. Your body just went through a lot.

It really gets better in little bits -- in a while, you'll be doing household chores while he sleeps for an hour or two, and then at maybe six weeks (or thereabouts), he'll start sleeping for several hours and things start coming together.

Don't feel bad if you leave him long enough to go to the bathroom! He'll be okay. Remember the second part of your tasks! (Although I think I did discover that I could pee while breastfeeding in an emergency. But I am not proud of it.) It is really hard to find time to brush your teeth but just hang in there for the first six weeks or so. Enjoy the total waste of time gazing at your sleeping baby that you made! Take as much video and as many pictures as you can! If you have friends or family nearby, ask for help and actually take them up on it and don't feel bad.

Congratulations! Beautiful baby!
posted by theredpen at 5:02 PM on July 20, 2006

not sure if this what you're looking for, but my coworker with a new 2nd baby said someone gave him this for his 1st kid and both kids have loved it -- he says it put(s) them to sleep instantly. Apparently, babies love to be swaddled and this thing makes it easy & provides you easy-diaper-access.
posted by j at 5:15 PM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: [Okay, I will preface this by admitting that this advice is coming from someone who (foolishly! idiotically!) returned to work four days after my first child was born, because I was working from home and thought how hard could it really be to work full-time with a newborn and no help? -- but this is also coming from someone who just wrote the chapter on life as a new mother for the 2007 edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" on pregnancy and motherhood, so... there's that.]

You have the whole rest of your life to be "productive" in the sense of the word as you have come to know it. Right now the best thing you can do for yourself is sleep when you can, scale back your expectations of what you are "supposed" to accomplish, and take your time acclimating to this new phase of your life.

There's productivity and there's productivity. You know? At ten days postpartum, getting through the day without sobbing might be an incredible accomplishment for some people. It's discombobulating to go from a work-centered notion of productivity and accomplishment to a totally different kind of life, and being gentle with yourself is important. If setting small goals for yourself -- to get dressed every day, or to answer an email or something -- makes you feel "on track," then by all means, do that. But try not to feel like you have to "do" something in order to be doing okay at all this. Being with your baby, sleeping when you need to sleep, crying when you need to cry, eating when you need to eat, and trying to figure out the sleeping, eating, crying existence of your newborn is agenda enough for now.

Congratulations! Welcome to one of the most intense and incredible years of your life.
posted by mothershock at 6:00 PM on July 20, 2006

Also -- I think in terms of staying sane, it's really important to connect with other people who are going through what you're experiencing. Whether that means talking with your spouse, or reading books on adjusting to motherhood, or going online and reading blogs by women who are mothers, or attending real-time meetings in your community especially for parents of newborns, connecting is really important -- especially as the early months of new motherhood can be so cocooning.
posted by mothershock at 6:17 PM on July 20, 2006

Newborns do look sort of squished in a sling, but they actually like being all squinched up in there. If you have a little guy, you can put a folded up recieving blanket in there under him, which will prop him up a little bit. Babies also like it best if you stick them in the sling and then get moving. Once they mellow out or start sleeping, you can bop around getting stuff done. By the time my son was 3 months old he would see me get the sling and start to wiggle with anticipation, he loved it so much.

One thing that saved my sanity when he was a newborn was books of short stories. I would lie down on the the bed with him to nurse, prop myself up on one elbow and read til he fell asleep or was ready to go do something else. I found it easier to get in and out of reading short fiction than longer works.

But yeah, he's only 10 days old. Don't hurry things. Let people help you and get out of the house for walks with him. Looks like your local library in Portland has a baby story time twice a week. I used to do these as a librarian, and they are a lot of fun. Usually fingerplays, bouncy rhymes and a chance to connect with other caregivers. Have fun!
posted by Biblio at 6:42 PM on July 20, 2006

Use paper plates, cups, plastic tableware for a while to cut down on dishes, order takeout for supper, rent movies or tv shows, read novels or magazines. Ask friends/relatives who come to help with cooking/housework/laundry, etc while you hold the baby. Have a week's worth of meals in your fridge that can be eaten one-handed. When someone offers to do something for you, accept. It's really hard to swallow your pride sometimes, you think you can do it yourself. Think about how other cultures handle childbirth. I understand that some South American mothers don't get out of bed for a month afterwards. Their extended family does everything for them. That would have driven me crazy, but there is a reason, I guess.

No one realizes how mind numbing it can be at home with a newborn until they've done it! However, don't overdo anything either. You're still healing from the birth too, even if you had a perfect delivery. Most likely you're still bleeding, it will stop much sooner if you don't do the laundry and other heavier chores until it's stopped for a couple of days.

If your sling doesn't seem comfortable for the baby, find another one. I have 3 types and use them all for different things. My favorite one at this age was a fleece pouch, although you can also recommend a wrap sling or ring sling easily as well.

Check out your local chapter of la leche league, even if you're not having trouble breastfeeding it can be a way to meet other mothers who are in the same place. Or look for a local Attachment Parenting group to join. Talk to other people, don't be afraid to leave the house. Babies are incredibly adaptable and you're human, don't feel guilty for showering or peeing or eating. Those things will help you feel human.

Good luck and enjoy your beautiful baby!
posted by Buck Eschaton at 7:12 PM on July 20, 2006

Lots of great advice above. Nothing much more to add except to say, Relax. Allow yourself to be lazy. Go ahead and gaze all day at your baby. He's beautiful, I don't blame you for wanting to! Don't try to be the perfect mom, and don't feel guilty when he cries a bit, because guess what? He won't remember doing it. : ) Really. And yes, they grow up SO fast. I know it doesn't feel like it now, but what you're going through will end eventually, so just take one day at a time and try to remember each day with your baby son. Have fun!
posted by misozaki at 8:02 PM on July 20, 2006

anastasiav, you're doing great.

I would like to reassure you that babies are a lot tougher than people give them credit for. Anyone who had a second child can attest to this. Also, babies get used to things. If the kiddo takes a little while to get used to bopping around in a sling (or some other contraption), I assure you it will cause no lasting damage.

Also, you should note that babies sometimes cry for no good reason. They start for no good reason, and they stop for no good reason. So feel free to pee at need.
posted by popechunk at 8:38 PM on July 20, 2006

Sorry, I didn't read the comments so maybe I'm repeating but:

I'd try again with the sling. Try some differentpositions or, if nothing else, try an upright front pack (like a snuggly or a Bjorn). I did dishes, worked on the computer, cooked, talked on the phone, folded laundry, peed, changed my pants, went grocery shopping, etc, etc etc, with my baby in the sling. It saved my frigging life.

Hang out with other moms or dads of new babies. A new moms' group is a good way to find these folks. Or the park. These folks will move at your pace and talk to you like adults!

Finally, I'd just try your best to give it some time. THis is a pretty special moment that wont' come back. Those longs minutes staring at your baby won't be available for ever, so I'd say try your best to forget the dust bunnies and piling dishes and soak up some baby love.
posted by serazin at 8:58 PM on July 20, 2006

Oh ya, and I would really recommend against an eating schedule (pediatritions don't recommend it anymore, and it screws with the kids ability to monitor their own hunger IMHO) but a sleep schedule could really help keep you sane. This is not something you need to worry about at 10 days though - also IMHO.

Good luck! It's a very intense, crazy, scary, wonderful time!
posted by serazin at 9:00 PM on July 20, 2006

Dude, he's under ten days old and you've already posted baby photos to flickr? You're ahead of the game.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:01 PM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: I'll chime in with many others in saying it's too soon to be worrying about productivity. As many have noted, you're still recovering from birth. You just produced a brand new human being. I think that covers your productivity quota for at least a month...

Time spent observing/being with/mooning over your child is not unproductive. You will learn things you don't even realize and these things will ultimately allow you to be more productive (how baby sleeps, what different kinds of crying mean, what works and doesn't work to soothe, etc.)

It gets easier. Sleeping periods get longer, you adapt. Your comfort level with leaving the baby alone for longer periods, and even letting a little crying occur while you take appropriate care of yourself, will develop. But you do have to adapt to a different pace of life and productivity with a baby is very much a moving target. At going on two years as a full time at-home dad it is still a moving target.

Everybody has a favorite book. This book was hugely helpful to us.

Rocking/vibrating baby chairs can really help promoting longer sleep periods early on. We had a vibrating chair that was a sanity preserver on many occasions.

I mean this in the nicest possible way: we spent the first forty days of our child's life feverishly commuting back and forth between work, home and the hospital, trying to save money/maternity leave in preparation for the day when we finally got to take him home. Take that as a little perspective, appreciate this time you have and take it easy and slow. In the long term you'll never regret a half hour spent just gazing at and cherishing your baby, so you might as well start not regretting it right now. Give yourself some more pajama time and try not to stress it.

Finally, cutey booty! Okay, that's not really advice but it had to be said.
posted by nanojath at 9:02 PM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Beautiful baby! Congratulations. He looks big!

I bet that you are a little more rattled than you are letting on here. It's totally, 100% normal. Day 10 is a hard time - it's something to do with hormone levels. On my 10th postpartum day I burst into tears in the kitchen and accused my husband of wanting a divorce. Yeah, for no reason whatsoever.

The two week mark is a big turning point. 4 or 5 more days from now you'll feel more like normal.

Are you starting to get a feel for his sleep patterns? I thought my son had NO regular pattern, especially because he woke up for the morning at completely different times (5 am one day, 8 am the next day), but one day I just started jotting down the times that he was sleeping, and a pattern emerged. No matter what time he woke up, he would begin a nap one hour after waking in the morning, for example. That nap length would vary, but the next nap would happen 2 hours after waking from the first nap. So I could mentally plan ahead for little tasks and things that needed to be done.

Hang in there. Each day is a little brighter, really.
posted by peep at 10:03 PM on July 20, 2006

Sara Anne : "Dude, he's under ten days old and you've already posted baby photos to flickr? You're ahead of the game."

Yeah. You posted a question on Mefi, and uploaded photos from your camera to the computer, then on to Flickr, and put captions on them. You have managed a lot more in your first 10 days than my wife did in hers. You are being productive, just not as productive as you'd like. The secret is not being more productive, but realizing that you are already being productive, and reducing your goals from impossible levels to normal levels.
posted by Bugbread at 5:27 AM on July 21, 2006

For both our children, the first two weeks was characterized as two hour feedings every two hours.

But, it gets better.

The two milestones I like to tell new parents is at six weeks and six months. At six weeks, a bit of a routine has established, and you can start to anticipate nap times to do the chores like laundry.

At six months, life has pretty much adjusted to include the new baby. Bedtime routines are established, and if you're super-lucky, you might be down to one or two wake-ups in the evening.

You might even feel like *gasp* watching a movie with your SO in the evening.
posted by Brando_T. at 10:31 AM on July 21, 2006

Brando_T. : "You might even feel like *gasp* watching a movie with your SO in the evening."

I so look forward to this day. I have just been assuming that I'd see my next uninterrupted DVD in a few years when junior starts school.
posted by Bugbread at 11:54 AM on July 21, 2006

(thank you Contacts, or I would have missed this.) Your baby is gorgeous! Well, it is now a week later. I bet it's already easier. As I remember the first few weeks were the hardest because everything was so new. Both you and baby get used to this new world fairly rapidly so that baby care becomes less all consuming. It's still tons of work though. My wife did the heavy lifting, bless her, but when I was alone with the baby I remember sometimes putting him into the car seat/baby carrier and carrying him around the house with me when I needed to do a chore here and there. He loved the swing too. They don't buy you much time, but even a few minutes can be precious at this stage. Trust me, it gets easier pretty quickly, and it's one of the most amazing times you will get to spend with your child so enjoy it as much as you can.
posted by caddis at 2:12 PM on July 28, 2006

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