How to survive and thrive in a world where your new baby looms large
Your hair is unwashed, you haven’t checked email in a week, and you have no clean underwear. Welcome to the “newborn zone,” a dimension controlled by a tiny dictator who has one priority: “Me. Now.”
Of course, your infant is also your top priority. But there are a few other things you need to do, too. Like laundry. And showering. And fixing the occasional hot meal. And spending some time with your husband—remember him? And then there’s the messy house, the unpaid bills, the unwritten thank you notes, the shopping, the postnatal appointments….
The tasks multiply mercilessly, but you can’t get to them because you are now operating on “Baby Standard Time.” BST is all about disruptions: surprise diaper blowouts, emergency breastfeeding in parking lots, and crying jags that won’t stop unless you rock the baby for an hour. When you’re on BST, getting out of your pajamas by noon is a major accomplishment.
The good news: You don’t have to wait until the child is 3 before resuming the rest of your life. Use these foolproof tricks tested by other moms for adapting to BST, so you can survive and thrive in the newborn zone.
Go with the flow
Life on BST is anything but standard, routine, or predictable. Once you accept this, you’ll be able to cope with the chaos.
“Let go of the need to be rigidly structured,” suggests Jennifer Morgan-Smith of Alpine, UT, whose daughters are 5, 3, and 4 months. “Don’t expect to have a schedule in the first few months. Get rid of the belief that you are going to be able to get as much done as you used to.”
Leaky diapers and breasts made Morgan Borin, a Ramsey, NJ, mother of two (ages 4 and 3), realize that flexibility is the secret to living on BST. She took care of what needed to be done and let everything else wait.
Molly Gold, founder of Go Mom Planners and Organizers and a family-management expert, recalls that, like many new moms, she was “crazed to get back to some sense of structure” when her children (now ages 12, 10, and 4) were infants. She suggests new moms keep a calendar to track patterns and look for “windows” of available time.
“You’ll begin to feel more at ease with the unpredictability when you see that you can work around the baby each day to get something done,” she says.
Give yourself time to find your “groove,” advises Amy Laible, a Fairless Hills, PA, mother of a 3-month-old boy. “I fought it at first and it made me crazy. Now I’m giving in to the ‘schedule,’ whatever that may be on any given day.”
Savor small victories
New moms must let go of their old levels of efficiency, Gold says. “Start with just one activity a day, and spread out errands and chores over the entire week,” she advises. “Literally, [doing] laundry may be the best it gets for Monday, and that is truly awesome.”
Don’t wait for big blocks of free time, advises Kathy Peel, CEO of Family Manager Coaching Network and the mother of three grown sons. “I didn’t understand the power of using small bits of time until after my third child,” she recalls. “I would feel guilty because the refrigerator needed cleaning. I could have cleaned one shelf or drawer when I had 5 or 10 minutes and tossed my guilt out with the moldy leftovers.”
Peel encourages new moms to lower their housekeeping standards and clean in 10-minute spurts. That’s enough time to vacuum a room, wipe down kitchen counter tops and appliances, dust a few bookshelves, or fold a load of laundry.
Divide and conquer
Share the load with your partner. Assign one another household tasks. For example, at the end of the day, he may want to spend one-on-one time with the baby, handling bath and bedtime while you run errands. Or, one of you may sign up to tackle your ever-growing laundry pile each week. Turn on some Netflix and pull out some baskets and get folding. However you divvy up your chores, remembering that you’re a team will do wonders for the both of you.
Eliminate morning madness
Your infant doesn’t care about punctuality. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of your boss, who won’t understand why BST makes you chronically late. To leave on time in the morning, get ready the night before, working moms advise.
With five children ages 6, 41⁄2, 3, and 9 months (twins), Chani Zarchi of San Francisco swears by nightly advance preparation. “Staying one step ahead of everyone makes a big difference,” she says. “My husband and I make sure our house is in order at night, which starts our day off on a better foot.”
To take the rush out of the morning, pack your briefcase and the diaper bag, make your lunch, set the automatic coffee maker, and shampoo your hair before bed, Gold suggests.
Morgan-Smith takes time each night to choose her clothes, put her purse by the door, and load the car with whatever items she’ll need the next day. And painful as it may seem, it also helps to wake up before the baby. That way you have a few moments of quiet time before the circus starts.
Beware the witching hour
Around 4 p.m. each day, an evil spell will turn your placid infant into an inconsolable monster and you into a harassed, exhausted mess. It’s the famous “witching hour,” and it puts a hex on your daily dinner preparations.
“The best advice I ever got was from my mother-in-law, who said to start cooking dinner first thing in the morning,” Borin says. “No matter how many times you get interrupted, you will have it done by five o’clock. It may not be as fresh, but who are you cooking for, Emeril?”
Doubling recipes and freezing the extra portions works, too, says Morgan-Smith, who also lets her crock pot do cooking while she’s at work.
Call for reinforcements
Don’t try to be Supermom. “Reach out to others and develop a network of friends to lean on emotionally and as a backup system,” Zarchi advises.
Create a list of tasks people close to you can do, Peel suggests. “In addition to bringing in meals, let them do laundry, run errands, or baby-sit one night a week so you and your husband can go out.”
And join forces with other new moms and share childcare duties, Peel says. One mom can watch the babies for an hour while the other runs errands, cleans house, or catches a nap.
Sometimes, the best help is an extra set of hands until you can manage on your own, Gold notes. Bring someone along the first time you take the baby to the doctor, the store, or out for a walk.
Do what counts
There will always be chores, but your newborn won’t stay tiny forever. Looking back, Borin wishes she had let more slide after her second child was born. “It’s true, they grow up so fast, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
So relax, lie around, and hold your baby, Morgan-Smith recommends. And take lots of pictures—you’ll put them in albums eventually.
One day, you’ll shift from Baby Standard Time to a more stable schedule. Until then, Gold says, “Slow down; smell your sweet baby’s yummy hair; touch her soft skin; and settle in for the most precious, innocent, and blessed time in your life.”
— Marinell James is a San Francisco–based writer and mother of two daughters, ages 10 and 4.