After all the buildup and excitement of pregnancy, once the baby is finally arrived, it can feel like all a new parent does is feed her and try to eat or clean either oneself or the house before the baby wakes up again. Cuddling a tiny infant close is sheer enjoyment on its own, of course, but how can a new mom or dad get past that feeling that the early weeks and months are more about surviving and less about enjoying than anticipated?
Avoid getting caught up in your survival-based routine. Start enjoying your young baby in the ways you pictured that you would — and more — now, before the weeks and months have passed and you realize you’ve just been sort of getting by or getting through each day, without really taking the time to do some of the activities you could be loving together.
I write this for you, new and expectant parents, but I write it mainly for myself. I have a two-year-old and four-month-old at home. I work from home, and try, if I can, to get out of the house at least a couple times a week, between naps, meals, potty training, feedings, and cleanup.
It can become quickly overwhelming to the point that it is nearly impossible, without a lot of careful planning, to simply take some time to enjoy, to create a life with your little one that is more like what you perhaps pictured when you dreamt of having children. Time truly does fly, so let’s start now. Here are fifteen ways to stop simply surviving and have more fun with your baby!
15Tummy Time Too
Both of my little ones happened to enjoy tummy time quite well. I’ve heard moms say they simply won’t put their little babies through it because they seem to dislike it so much. If you ask me, maybe it’s the approach that needs a rethink.
During this activity, in which you place your baby on her abdomen on a flat surface, neck and other muscles are strengthened. The baby gets a chance to spend time in a position that’s not lying flat on her back, as for sleep, or semi-reclined in a car seat, bouncer, or parents’ arms. Before you know it, baby learns how to roll over, both front to back and back to front. She learns to scooch or wiggle her way around the area. Eventually, she figures out how to crawl!
Pretty important, then, to get in some supervised sessions of tummy time, huh?
Here’s why I don’t think my girls ever mind it much, and usually really enjoy it. (My four-month-old actually rolled from her back to her front today so she could better gaze at a beautifully enticing bumble bee on her play mat!) I am sure to pick the right time to put baby on her tummy. I pick a moment that she is awake, active, and alert. I pick a time, when possible, that she is not hungry, but I also don’t put her down on her stomach when she has just eaten so she won’t be likely to lose her lunch.
And then? I get right down there with her! It’s so fun, and feels great to recline or stretch out on the floor after many long hours of baby care (lifting, holding, feeding…). She thinks it’s just the best to see my face right there smiling at her, and we play for many minutes at a time, incorporating books and toys along the way.
When people tell me they don’t dance, I’m really, really confused. If nowhere else, surely you must at least dance at home alone, at least when no one’s watching? Moving around to a beat can really lift your spirits, feel great, and be fun!
It’s fun for baby, too! You’ve probably noticed that from day one, babies really respond positively to movement and rhythm. Put those things together and you have a magic baby-soothing routine in the early days and a super fun activity, well, all the rest of the days!
Sometimes I sing the song myself, but what’s really great is to put on a song that you actually like to dance, too. Try a funny disco jam, an R&B hit from your younger years, or whatever nonsense currently happens to be on the radio.
Are your arms, back, or neck feeling tired? You don’t necessarily need to hold the baby in your arms. That fabric baby carrier you purchased or were gifted at your shower? It’s not just for going out and about. You can strap junior to you as you move and groove about the house, and you might even get a few things done along the way.
13Into The Great Wide Open
I’ve done this only a few times with my second baby, as I now have a two-year-old in tow at the same time, around the clock. With my first, especially, though, I quickly got into the greatest shape of my life, and had a lot of fun holding baby close while doing it, by wearing her in a fabric carrier as I went out in nature for simple hikes. I liked to head out to the beach. There are a few nice, fairly easy trails leading out to the ocean around where I live. I’d drive a few minutes, usually, to the trail’s start, ideally make sure baby was fed, dry, and otherwise pretty content, and off I’d go!
Babies love the rhythmic motion of your walk. It’s pretty familiar to them, of course, from all that time they spent being carried around inside mom!
If a baby is alert, he can view the world from up much higher than usual, taking in the stimulating, educational, and exciting sites of trees, plants, and animals. He can feel the wind on his face, smell the fresh air, and really dig the ride! Often, too, a baby will be lulled right to sleep after a few minutes of walking, snug as a bug safely strapped to mom or dad.
12Strength In Numbers
I’m not sure I properly understood the absolute need for camaraderie with others who are going through the same things that you are until I had kids. It’s exactly that phenomenon, actually, that’s important: other parents are going through the exact same challenges, joys, ups, and downs that you are. They have a lot of the same questions and concerns. They have many of the same needs to express what they are going through and share it with others who really understand.
Where I live in Santa Barbara, California, there’s a group the community has done a pretty darn good job of funneling us new moms into. Representatives from the organization even came to speak at the childbirth courses offered at the local hospital (where a very high percentage of women in the county end up giving birth). Many women sign up as being interested in the group for moms and new babies, providing their due date so that a volunteer from the group can contact them and remind them to come join a discussion group for a few months or so postpartum.
From there, moms can continue to connect with each other in closed Facebook groups. Here, we can plan play dates and outings. A favorite of mine is when we all go to the zoo! We can also share the things we’re going through, ask questions, complain when we need to, and celebrate when we want to.
No one understands what a new mom is going through like another new mom. And even if you think while you’re pregnant this is not necessarily something you’ll be interested in or have time for, I’d encourage you to at least explore the options for meeting up with other moms in your community. It makes the journey a lot more fun!
My husband and I sort of led the pack in our social circles, having our first baby a year or two before others we knew started getting into parental mode, so to have a place to connect with others doing the mom or dad thing has been really good.
11Come On Over
Baby eats every two hours, at least. Baby sleeps every two hours, at least. In the early months, this leaves a matter of minutes between when you have to assist baby with the next eating or sleeping. These minutes can quickly be dominated by changing a diaper or changing soiled clothes. They can also be your only chance during the day to eat something, drink some water, or go to the bathroom. Sometimes — sometimes— you even get to fit in a shower.
A fun (if challenging!) job it is, indeed, if you ask this mom of two. But it can easily, quickly get lonely. The closeness you feel with your children is probably unmatched by any other relationship you’ve ever had. It is a beautiful thing. But it is not a replacement for interaction with other adult humans.
Finding it hard, though, to have a spare minute to even think about getting out of the house? How about having people over? Other new moms, your family, friends, and neighbors may be ready and willing to come over for as long or as little as you’d like to keep you company. And while they are there, they may even help with a few diaper changes or things around the house. And maybe they’ll even bring you food!
There is one way I can almost always get a really good laugh out of my four-month-old, and it’s been this way since she was even younger than she is now. While she’s lying on her changer, I sing a silly song or just make silly noises in a sort of rhythm, and I clap her hands together. They’re starting to open up a bit now as she spends a bit more time in this world, but even when they were tightly clenched little newborn fists, she could not help but be intrigued, eyes sparkling wildly and a huge belly laugh bursting out as silly Mama moved her arms and clapped her hands along to the “song.”
Babies love anything with a beat, be it a nursery rhyme, a ’90s jam, or nonsense strings of syllables coming out of your mouth. Add movement to it, and they can go wild with delight. And so will you!
Pregnant you strolling through the park might find it hard to imagine a tiny newborn enjoying this area where big kids come to run and play. But even very young babies will love the fresh air and varied sights and sounds to be enjoyed at a neighborhood park. Whether it’s from a stroller, riding along with mom in a fabric carrier, being held in your arms, or reclined on a blanket on the grass, what a joy for both you and your little one to get some time outside!
You can help baby to begin to associate words with what he sees: tree, kid, ball, grass, soft, flower, clouds… The list is of course as limitless as our language. Getting out of the house will likely give you a totally new mindset, too. You’ll see kids toddling or running around and realize this infant of yours will be there in the blink of an eye. You’ll lovingly watch the breeze tease your little one’s soft, whispy hair. A day, or even just a few minutes, at the park might be just the thing for the two of you to enjoy, and much earlier than you might think.
8Moving And Grooving
One of the best things I did during my first pregnancy was to ensure that I had a jogger stroller at the ready for my postpartum days. That way, as soon as I was ready, within the early weeks, I was out the door, walking, then walking faster, then running again before I knew it.
One of the very best things I did during my second pregnancy was to have at the ready a double stroller I could have my toddler in the front of and my young baby in the back of, clicked in within her infant carrier.
See, one of the very best things you can do for your spirits and to really get to enjoying life, if you ask me, is to be out in the world moving. The endorphins from the exercise, the fresh air, the sight of your baby out and about in this wide world… All are such a delight. Even if it’s just a stroll around the block, your body and brain will probably thank you for it.
7Bon Appétit, Baby
Some of my earliest memories are smell associations, with mom’s clothes, family friends’ houses, and so on. Some of my earliest other memories are of baking pizzas in the kitchen with my mom and rolling out cookie dough with Grandma. Are some of yours maybe similar?
What a fun idea, starting from a very young age, to cook with your little one! No, I’m not talking about having them around any excessive heat, frying oil, or sharp knives, but what if they are siting snug in a bouncer seat as you go about your chefly business, describing what you are doing, and maybe even letting baby touch and smell various ingredients as you add them to your masterpiece?
With babies and kids always hungry (ahem) for knowledge, this is a great way to help them as they begin to form associations and understandings about the world around them.
Plus, momma’s gotta eat!
6Light As Air
Iridescent, rainbow-kissed spheres dance almost weightlessly through the air, drifting by on the slightest breeze before landing on a flower or finger with a soundless, delightful “pop!” Is there anything more magical than blowing bubbles?
It takes me right back to sunny afternoons on the back porch, just me and my dad — and my Minnie Mouse bubbles bottle — having a grand old time.
Show your baby this wonder, and maybe even get back into the fun of childhood yourself. There’s the traditional bottle of solution with a wand you blow through to produce said magic yourself, or even handheld bubble-making fans to be found in every drugstore these days, which make a small storm of bubbles available at the press of a button.
Thrill your little one, and most likely become the most popular person at the park, by getting outside to have some fun with suds. It’s a great reminder that the simplest things can and should be marveled at.
5Squeeze And Squish
Babies (and people in general?) love to explore what result they get when they perform a certain action. It helps them learn about the opportunities and limits, alike, of this weird wild world.
How delightful, then, to see what happens when they press (or have mom or dad help them to press) that colorful pile of stuff in front of them? Squish! Play-Doh is a classic, right? Or just make your own using salt, flower, and water, and if you’re feeling like making a bit of extra effort, even a little food coloring to make a few different hues.
Very young babies can take in the sights and smells, and perhaps feel how the clay reacts when pressed and molded by their hands. And of course at three months or so, the fun can really begin, when baby starts to reach out and grab. (Just be careful as with everything because what goes in baby’s hands might in the blink of an eye make it into baby’s mouth, and even if the clay is nontoxic, it probably isn’t your first choice for junior’s first food.)
4Artist In The Making
You needn’t be able to skillfully manipulate a paintbrush to be an artist; that’s for sure. Hands are wonderful tools, indeed. A piece of paper, a waterproof surface, and some water-based paint can be tons of fun to explore with your baby.
You might try sitting him in your lap at the table, some newspaper with white paper on top acting as your canvas. If he’s sitting unsupported and ready for the high chair, this can become his station for painting and other such play.
You can talk about the different colors, make simple shapes and describe them to your little one, or just let the smearing begin, delighting at the wonderful way the colors blend to make new ones and how something interesting and eye-catching evolves when color meets paper meets human hand.
And, hey, in the end, you have an awesome keepsake — or even more awesome gift for grandma!
3Fun With Strumming
I am by no means a talented guitarist. But when I was in maybe junior high or early high school, I was interested in the instrument and my mom sat down with me and taught me the few folk songs and popular songs from her day that she knew. It helped me to learn a few basic chords, and even after all these years, I remember (mostly) the words and can re-figure out how to position my fingers to form the chords.
This came in very handy once my daughter came along! It delighted her to see how when I pressed this thing called a guitar in a certain position and strummed it just so, a collection of notes came out that sounded just like that! Magic!
Before I knew it, I was forming the chords with my fingers while we both sang and she stood in front of me and strummed!
Just be prepared, as your baby gets older and participates more in this way, to lose the pick into the guitar many, many times.
Don’t have a six-string lying around? Trying drumming on an overturned bucket or pot, or shaking some beans in a jar.
Do you have that feeling that all you are able to get done is baby-related? Between feedings, changes, and naptimes every hour or two, do you find yourself with tasks or work around the house piling up, your few spare moments spent sitting sleepily staring at your phone?
You know what makes me feel good, and just might help you to better enjoy this new life with baby, as well? Getting shit done.
Think small or think big — it’s up to you. Small might be paying some bills online or responding to a few emails. Medium might be vacuuming or preparing some meals. Large might be working from home on your laptop. I can tell you from experience that while not all of these options will be the best choice for you personally, they are all entirely possible.
While babies certainly do rely on us for constant supervision and care, they also rely on us to be sane, functioning people, and to help them realize they are separate individuals who can learn to function, little by little, on their own. She might think it’s a blast to watch you push that noisy machine back and forth across the carpet. She could happily suck on her hands or crinkle a toy as she listens to the gentle clickety-click of your keyboard. She can certainly study your words and inflection as you make a phone call or two.
My point is, in learning to enjoy life with baby, it might help to dive right back into just living your life, with them now along for the ride.
1Spa Day, Sort Of
Warm water: soooo relaxing, or, if you splash and play, so fun! Although a baby probably doesn’t get too dirty, especially in the early days, and a gentle wipe down with a warm wash cloth in problem areas every now and then often does the trick, bath time can still be a fun — if not yet entirely necessary — activity for you to enjoy together.
Those newborn tubs you can insert inside the bathtub and sometimes even rest baby in a sling above can be very handy for when you actually need to get baby clean after a large spit-up or diaper blowout. It can be really fun, too, though, to get right into the tub yourself (the big one, that is).
You might wish to try this one when a helper such as your partner is also at home. That way, one person can be in the bath and safely hold baby for a nice soak and the other adult can receive baby in a towel when bath time is done.
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