I was visiting a parenting website the other day and found a question from a reader asking for advice. She asked, “Is it okay to leave a newborn alone so I can take a shower?” Honestly, I couldn’t believe the question! Why would it not be okay?
The postpartum period is a stressful one. Both baby and mother have needs to be met and parents must be aware of that. One of the causes of postpartum depression is lack of sleep. Another is lack of awareness that, not only does the newborn have requirements, Mom and Dad have to be considered as well.
Birth is the first step on the road to maturing into a self-sufficient adult. Babies leave their mothers’ bodies and begin the process of becoming independent. Even when they are newborns, they need time to be alone, to learn to self-soothe, and to be able to enjoy their own company. When a mother rushes to baby at his first cry, offers the breast or bottle to soothe him, lifts and carries him, she often doesn’t know what he wants. To wait and listen, to learn the different cries and requirements is mandatory. If the baby has been fed an hour ago, has been burped, changed and cuddled and put down to sleep, it’s wise to think first and not rush in at the first sound. He may settle on his own, and should be given the chance.
When her baby has been settled after feeding, this is the time that a mother can take a nap, and take a shower or bath. If you don’t rest when the baby does, you’ll suffer from exhaustion and depression.
Moms who are breastfeeding every hour in order to soothe the baby back to sleep, are doing their babies a huge disservice, and are ending up with raw, cracked and painful nipples. Also, mothers who are feeding too often, and “wearing” their babies to be with them constantly, are often unaware of the consequences of their actions. Not only are they depriving their babies of a necessary chance to learn to be independent, but they are depriving their partners of their opportunity to bond with the baby. As well, moms are worn out from constant care and lack of sleep. Because they’re tired and find it easier, they often co-sleep with the baby in their bed, starting down a path of bedtime problems as well as marriage difficulties. I read a statistic that seventy per cent of children ten years and under have some type of sleep problem. Another statistic: seventy-five per cent of fathers of kids with sleep problems are sleeping on the couch or in the guest room. Marital intimacy disappears with lack of privacy and lack of opportunity.
When a baby is a newborn, he can sleep in a cradle or carriage next to your bed for a couple of weeks. Hopefully feedings will be at least three hours apart very soon. If not, do consult with your doctor, as she will assess whether Baby is getting enough to eat. It’s advisable that you get up and go to a rocking chair to feed the baby a night feeding and then place him back in his bed. The sooner you can move him to cradle or crib in his own room, the better. You’ll still be able to hear him, but won’t be wakened by the sounds he makes during his sleep or semi-sleep. You’ll be able to sleep with your partner, as you’ll leave the room to deal with baby’s needs.
Take every opportunity to look after yourself. Rest a lot, and – yes!- take a shower while Baby rests or sleeps. If breastfeeding, pump a feeding for your partner to give, and take a walk or a nap that will rejuvenate you. Often dads will do a night feeding to let moms have a break, especially on the weekends. Let your partner have a chance to take some of the load off your shoulders.
Just remember that baby-wearing and constant hovering is not meeting the needs of your baby. For the sake of the whole family, allow the natural separation between you and your child to take place. Baby-wearing takes place in cultures where mothers are on the move during the day and have to take their child with them. In North America, this need is a rarity, indeed.
I recommend using a playpen or “play yard” from the time your baby is a few weeks old until he learns to climb out himself. This gives him a place to get used to being alone and learn to self-soothe with a cuddly toy or mobile. Here he’s safe from the family dog and can rest and play happily alone. You can check on him from time to time to make sure all is well, and take him out for a play time or a walk. He’s safe while you do the tasks you have to do in the home or home office.
Allow the natural separation between you and your child to progress and continue as he grows older. Foster the independence and self-esteem he will need as he becomes an adult, by giving him the space to “be” and enjoy his own company, starting from the time he is born.
And, remember – look after yourself, too!
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