When my husband and I brought our baby home from the hospital, we were a melting pot of anxiety, exhaustion, and elation. We walked into the front door after a quick stop at Target to pick up some last-minute essentials, and when we finally got ourselves inside and settled, we looked down at our tiny baby girl and then back at each other. The only thing I could think to say was, “So…..what do we do with her now?”
It sounds funny, but I genuinely had no idea what to do with a newborn. They can’t really DO all that much when they’re little. They can’t crawl or roll over and they aren’t all that aware of what’s going on around them. For all of you first time mommas out there, here’s a list of things to do with your new baby…for their sanity and yours.
1. All the Walks
Especially if it’s nice outside, take this opportunity to take ALL THE WALKS with your new baby. Most babies love the stroller. It was a surefire way to get her to nap when she was little, and it was a great way to start a gentle exercise routine postpartum. Being outside is good for the mind and soul, especially when you’re cooped up at home with baby all day. You can even plan a coffee shop stop into your walk. You can enjoy a latte and read a nice book while baby catches some zzz’s. Soooo nice. If it’s too hot or cold outside to do this, find an indoor mall to go to. Baby can still nap and you can still hit that coffee shop.
2. See a Lactation Consultant
Even if this isn’t your first baby, if you plan on breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to see a lactation consultant as soon as possible. See someone who specializes in this and not just whoever the hospital sends to your room. This can help give your nervous, hormone-riddled-new-mom-brain some peace and make sure that you and baby are going to have a healthy, long-term breastfeeding relationship. Lip and tongue ties are very common, and the lactation consultant I saw in the hospital was unable to identify them in my baby. We struggled to breastfeed for about a month before we got my baby’s ties revised. Babies that have these will struggle to breastfeed and will possibly cause damage to mom. The more uncomfortable breastfeeding is for you, the more likely you are to do things like pump and supplement, which will ultimately shorten your breastfeeding relationship. You need support to breastfeed. It isn’t a simple task for many moms, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do it without some help from a qualified professional.
3. Go to the Zoo
If the weather is nice, don’t stay cooped up inside all day, as tempting as that might be. Grab the stroller and hit the zoo, the aquarium, or anywhere that will be a nice change of scenery. My instincts during those first few months were to nest and seclude myself from the world while I tried to figure out what I was doing. During the dreaded “fourth trimester”, your mind and body feel completely alien. The combo of your hormones and sleep deprivation can trick you into being emotional about anything and everything. Your body looks unfamiliar, your breasts now belong to a tiny, wailing milk fiend, and sex is the last thing on your mind. Do yourself a favor and make at least one weekly outing. Bonus points if you can find at least one other mom friend to do this with. You will appreciate the sunshine and fresh air, and I can’t tell you how crucial it was for my sanity to confide in another mother who was going through the same things I was.
4. Playtime on the Mat
Newborns can actually play a little! Just a few hanging toys above their heads will captivate them for hours, just make sure they are hung low because newborns can’t see very far! This little mat doubles as a great place to practice tummy time. My baby hated tummy time, but strengthening the back and shoulder muscles is critical to their physical development. Try a few minutes at a time if your baby really hates it, and then gradually increase the time. My baby didn’t start enjoying tummy time until she could roll back and forth independently at around 4 months old, so don’t worry if yours takes a while to warm up to it!
5. Bath time
Baths are a wonderful way to spend time with and relax your baby. We didn’t give a bath every day because too much bathing can dry their skin. We would bathe ours every 3-4 days, barring any unfortunate diaper blowouts. There are lots of tools for safe bathing with a newborn, but we liked this simple baby bather. We still use this with my daughter at 10 months old. She also loved when I would float her on her back while we were bathing her. Something about that reminds them of being in the womb and is a great way to calm a fussy baby. In addition, while this is difficult to do alone, if you have a partner who can shower with you and baby, it is a really nice bonding activity for all of you. The skin on skin contact and the warm water was so soothing to my daughter when she was fussy.
Take some swim classes with your baby! This is another way to meet other moms and do some great sensory exercises with baby. Most places offer free swim lessons to babies under 6 months. Check out your local swim studios to see what is available.
7. Mommy & Me Fitness Classes
Whether it’s yoga or a barre class, it’s great to find places that understand the needs of a new mother and allows you to bring baby with you. These classes work best when baby is little and can nap in the car seat while mom gets her workout in. This is also a great place to meet new mom friends!
8. Nap When They Nap
I thought this tip was silly before I became a mom. I was determined to be the SAHM who cleaned the house, ran errands, and cooked while my baby napped. When you are in the trenches of the newborn phase, you will very quickly learn to enjoy at least one or two naps a day with baby. I used to hate naps. Now, they are the only reason I get through the day sometimes. Giving yourself some grace and catching some zzz’s with baby will keep you from being a zombie. Showing up for your kids, your husband, and yourself is much more important than keeping the house clean, trust me.
9. Baby Wearing for Sanity
There will be times when you do need to clean the house, but baby just wants to be held. When they are newborns, it is important to respond to their cries. You are building a relationship of trust and want your baby to feel loved and safe, so leaving them to cry it out while you clean the kitchen is cruel. Our brains are also chemically wired to respond to baby’s cries, so chances are you won’t be able to ignore the crying even if you wanted to. Keep baby quiet and happy by them while you do your chores. This is a great way to keep everyone happy and get your work done too. We liked this wrap because it was simple to use! If you are planning on breastfeeding, I would wait to buy this until after baby arrives. Your dimensions will likely change dramatically once your milk comes in.
10. Get Some Time for Yourself
When my baby was about 6 months old, I realized that I had not spent more than a couple of hours away from her since she had been born. Between breastfeeding and being a SAHM, I was getting zero time for myself to refuel. Because I am an introvert, this had completely drained me. I was short-tempered and felt exhausted all the time, even after a good night’s sleep. I realized that I wasn’t giving myself what I needed and all of my relationships were suffering as a result. Motherhood had become a burden and I wasn’t taking any joy in it. Though it may feel selfish at first, you need to give yourself time to recharge. Whether that means spending a few hours at a coffee shop with a good book while dad watches the baby, going to a hotel to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep, or going out with your girlfriends for happy hour, do whatever it is that makes you feel like a person again. You are more than just the caretaker for a baby. You are also a woman, a wife, a daughter, and a friend. Staying in touch with every side of yourself will make you a better mother and it will help you enjoy motherhood a lot more.