What is life with a baby like?
Quick answer: You have a lot less time for yourself, but you learn to be a lot more productive with your time and might discover a new passion for your ambitions. At least that’s what happened to me.
How life was going to be different was a question I thought about a lot when I was pregnant. No doubt most people do. I also find myself thinking about it now, when I’m having a night out with childless friends. Do I feel somewhat rueful when friends complain that they will have to get up at 11am the next day, for their trendy brunch plans? Am I impressed yet ever-so-slightly envious when they rattle off a list of pleasant activities and errands achieved earlier, sans toddler? Perhaps, although I try to refocus quickly. No-ones aims were ever achieved by wallowing in jealousy (tempting though it is).
The simple answer is that life with a baby means you have less time for anything that doesn’t involve the baby. Dramatically less time. That includes housework, homework, work-work, cooking, dressing, washing, eating, seeing friends, your husband, your sex-life and you, yourself.
But because of this, perhaps from a kind of self-preservation instinct, your determination to find time for yourself grows more fierce. You become slightly better at compartmentalisation and may find that you are less stressed about things. I suspect this may be due to the fact you are too tired to care about the more trivial aspects of life. Fretting over an email’s phrasing becomes less significant when you still have to feed a small child, prevent them from harming themselves, bathe them and persuade them to sleep before your next window of time.
The idea of “windows of time” has become central to my life at the moment. I try to organise and plan so that when I have my next window, I can achieve as much as I need to. I have a routine for LP so that the times when he sleeps hardly vary from day to day, and most of my windows come during his nap times. Generally this system works really well for me, although I do have to try and make sure that I’m not just rushing through life.
Finding windows of “you-time”
LP’s routine is far from an original idea, I first got onto this track by reading about Tracy Hogg’s EASY routine. Following that link will take you to The Baby Whisperer Forum, which will give you more details than I would ever be able to. Tracy Hogg was a British nanny nicknamed “The Baby Whisperer” who published several books on routines for babies that didn’t rely on watching the clock, but recommended following babies’ cues and supporting their natural rhythms. It has a loose structure with a nifty acronym, below:
E – Eat
A – Activity
S – Sleep
Y – You
Put simply, when the baby’s needs have all been met and they are showing signs of being tired, you can put them down for a nap and have some much needed time for yourself, even if it just means having a nap as well.
Now that LP is almost a toddler, life is much easier than when he was little and the days naturally fall into a version of the above. However, I must admit that it wasn’t quite as simple as this when he was first born. In fact I didn’t even find out about the EASY routine until he was at least three months old. So I’ll tell you what life was like with a baby at the different ages I have experienced:
Life with a newborn baby (0-3 months)
- A massive shock to the system for which nothing can prepare you. Despite what people seem to think when they tell you to sleep beforehand, there is no way to store up sleep for when the child arrives, and even if there was it would most likely be used up during the birth process
- A haze of cherished snuggles, hair-tearing frustration / exhaustion, an endurance trial of nappy changing, millions of baby photographs, never-ending breastfeeding, crying sessions from both you and the baby and also the occasional rays of sunshine where you meet a friend for a coffee and manage a conversation while the baby is asleep
- A time when you have never loved or appreciated your partner more, yet also a time when you may consider punching them as they lie snoring beside you, whilst you handle another 3.30am feed. Thankfully your hand will be supporting your baby’s head
- A time where the most important thing to do is go with the flow and bond with your baby. There is almost no time for anything else but the baby
- When I realised that, unlike my mother’s advice that babies sleep whenever they are tired, my baby was easily overstimulated and got overtired quickly, which ironically meant he couldn’t sleep (not ironic in a funny way though)
- At this age, babies have very short periods of being awake and happy before they need to rest again. In the early days, a nappy change might be all the “Activity” they can handle…
Life with a pre-mobile baby (3-8 months)
- A time when things are starting to get a little bit easier, as you have a feel for the length of time baby can go between feeds / naps
- The time I realised that I needed to organise my day around LP’s naps or regret it. But as soon as I was really getting into a groove with that, weaning came along and feeding and preparing food suddenly took everything over
- A period when I was really getting tired of being woken up every two hours at night to feed my son
- An exciting time when smiles and laughs were becoming more frequent and we were starting to be able to do more things together
- Once LP was established on solids, his routine became much more predictable and he started to settle for naps more easily and sleep for longer. By the end of this period I had nailed his awake time and fixed naps for the same time each day, so we each new what to expect
Life with a mobile baby (8-13 months)
- When your child’s personality really starts to shine through. For us, life has been better than ever
- Baby can eat almost the same food as us, which means less time spent cooking separate meals.
- They can crawl and get into everything. Harder work for you, but entertaining for baby. LP used to get so frustrated at not being able to move the way he wanted. Now he has started to toddle it’s a revelation
- When they begin to understand more about cause and effect, and think more closely to the way an adult does. Communication and understanding each other becomes easier even though talking is a little way off. Plus, full-blown toddler rebelliousness hasn’t arrived yet, so they may still comply with your requests to stop trying to pull the TV down or hand over a small item before it goes in their mouth
- For us at this time, LP is a happier baby and makes everyone around him happier
Life with a baby is richer than life without
My son and I have been through the rough times where we have no understanding of what is happening to either of us and are starting to reach a place where we can communicate, play together and share more of life: time, the same food.
Life can be filled with activities that we both enjoy such as playing with toys, swimming, sunny walks in the park, even meals out together. It’s not as challenging to leave him with babysitters, since there is less chance that he will cry purely for the need of comfort – it’s usually just because he is tired or hungry. As long as you keep to the routine, he will usually settle himself down for a sleep in his cot or a travel cot at a relative’s.
The time we have together is richer because of his endless energy and curiosity. Plus he is just plain funny sometimes. And the time we have apart is also special, whether that’s just having time with his father or writing something for this blog.
And there’s nothing like the motivation of trying to get something done before the baby wakes up to really drive you.
Speaking of which…I hear baby singing coming from the nursery. See you later.