I had a serious case of new-mom jitters when I brought my firstborn home from the hospital, but I quickly found my groove. In fact, I was so confident in my ability to care for my newborn that I basically decided I was not only his best caregiver but also that I should be his sole caregiver.
I became convinced my husband—you know, the guy who provided half our child’s DNA—wasn’t capable of bathing our little man with a gentle yet thorough touch comparable to my own. As the better bather, sudsing the baby would clearly need to be my job. It was so sweet of my mother-in-law to suggest she change her grandson’s diaper, but … what if she used the wrong rash cream? Or secured the tabs too tightly? No, it was best for me to handle that task, too. And while my sister no doubt meant well with her offer to look after her nephew while I grabbed a quick nap, it would have only ended in disaster. What if he stopped breathing, and she didn’t notice? It was clear I was the only one capable of properly handling all things baby.
Let me tell you, though: It was a tiring path. I’m not the first mom in the world who has experienced the “I must do it all” insanity, and I certainly won’t be the last. But, like most do, I came around to my senses after a few months of working myself silly for no good reason, and I learned how to—in the wise words of Elsa (Frozen, anyone?)—let it go. Perhaps I can help you do the same, too. Let me share what I’ve learned along the way.
Baby knows best
You are going to be your baby’s favorite. That much is undeniably true. But think of it this way: If your favorite ice cream is chocolate, does that mean a scoop of mint chocolate chip would harm you? Or that you wouldn’t appreciate a little strawberry every now and again? It takes all flavors to make the world go ’round, and your kid needs to be exposed to a healthy helping of them. Think of all he’d be missing out on if he never got to savor the taste of Chunky Monkey.
Yes, some dads can be kind of clumsy when they give newborns baths. They might not get that baby quite as clean as you’d like. (I speak from experience.) But every time your partner has the opportunity to give it a try, he’ll get better—and he and baby will bond a little more. “As mothers, it is our responsibility to facilitate bonding between our babies and their loved ones,” says Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, pediatrician for Bundoo.com, an online parenting resource run by physicians. “Part of that [responsibility] is giving them time together to play, cuddle and receive care.”
It’s important for your wee one to connect with and know he can trust people other than you. You are his shining star, but you can’t fill his whole sky. “Bonding between baby and dad, siblings, grand-parents, cousins and other caregivers is an important part of helping your child understand that [he is] part of a community,” Connolly shares. When others participate in your baby’s care, it helps him learn to trust others and form attachments with family and friends. Plus, when he runs to nana with his arms wide open, it makes slipping out for date night that much easier.
Of course, baby and his newfound friends aren’t the only ones who will benefit from mom taking a break from diaper duty. It’s going to do you a world of good as well. As a new mom, you desperately need rest. I don’t care who you are; if you’ve given birth within the last year, you aren’t getting enough sleep. It’s a fact of parenthood. If someone else is willing to take care of your babe for a bit so you can take a breather, you should take them up on it. (Fair warning: The offers will stop coming if you keep turning them down, so don’t be afraid to relinquish your powers early, while everyone is still eager to nuzzle your newborn.)
You’ll also be amazed at what you can do with your hands when they aren’t full of baby. Wash the dishes, paint your nails, eat a sandwich … heck, you might even be able to finish a cup of coffee while it’s still warm. The freedom found in even just five baby-free minutes could brighten your whole day. Motherhood is overwhelming, and stepping away from time to time is essential to your sanity. Once I let other people help me care for my infant, I realized just how liberating it could be. And you know what else I realized? They actually all did just fine. No near-death experiences or too-tight diapers—I was worried about absolutely nothing.
Plus, I have to say, it’s so sweet to watch your gangly hubby master a swaddle for the first time. And the look in my mother-in-law’s eyes when my little guy smiles at her is heart-melting. I’m so glad they have the chance to get to know this incredible little man I brought into the world. They consider it an honor to be a part of his life … and I know he’s honored that they are part of his, too.
Lights, camera, action
Even with knowing how beneficial it can be for everyone, putting your help-me plans into action can be a challenge, particularly if you’re a nursing mom. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen.
Eat and run
If you’re comfortable giving your baby a bottle of pumped milk, consider having dad take over a feeding or two per day (or, preferably, night). If you’re worried about nipple confusion, ask your partner to bring the baby to you in the wee hours (and take him away post-feeding), so you can nurse your little one without having to actually get up and do the diapering/ soothing/walking. During the day, you should be able to feed your munchkin, immediately hand him off to someone else, and score at least an hour on your own.
Talk it out
If you’re nervous about letting someone else take over baby duty, talk to him or her about it. When your mother knows you’re stressing about the baby crying uncontrollably, she can assuage your fears by promising to call you immediately if that happens or by telling an anecdote about how she handled your little brother’s colicky days. Or, as is often the case, simply voicing your concern out loud might make it seem far less frightening. Your anxieties could magically ease over the course of the conversation.
Care to share
Whenever I left my son with someone else, even for a short time, I made sure to let him or her know—usually via a fairly long handwritten list—my baby’s likes, dislikes and normal routine. (Likes: A secure swaddle. Dislikes: Cold baby wipes.) Do I know if my lists were ever paid any attention to? Well, no—not really. But it made me feel better to share that information, and that was what was important at the time. You certainly can—and should—share tidbits about your baby that will help both the caregiver and receiver feel a little more comfortable.
Once you’ve shared your knowledge, it’s wise to let helpers take control (unless they ask you to step in). You might be tempted to offer up suggestions and direction a little too frequently if you’re continuously peeking over the shoulders of baby’s alternate providers. Step back, and let them do their thing. Of course, I’m not suggesting you hand your little one over to a total stranger and walk away, but those you love and trust have to learn their own way of caring for baby—and you’re only going to make everyone unnerved and unhappy if you’re constantly butting in.
Build up trust
To make the transition easier, build up to your hands-off moments in increments. Start with letting your sister bond with baby for 15 minutes while you fold laundry in the next room. When things go well, you’ll probably be OK leaving her in charge while you take a 30-minute walk around the block the following week. Next, enjoy an hour-long nap while she plays a rather one-sided game of peekaboo downstairs. Eventually you’ll be comfortable leaving baby in her care while you grocery shop, go to doctor’s appointments and more.
As a new mom, it’s natural to want to take care of everything yourself. And your motherly instincts definitely make you the best person for the job. But, Connolly reminds, “A baby who bonds not only with his mother but also with several members of his family will be happier and healthier emotionally.” For baby’s sake, your sake and the sake of those who love you, let baby spread his shining personality and sweet smile around; you’ll all be better people for it.