Many days, this chain of events happens in my house:
I say a prayer thanking God for the chance to work from home. About 30 seconds later, I dream of babysitters and working surrounded by adults.
I have learned, the hard way, many things that may help others working from home with a newborn. Here’s the lowdown:
First of all, everything I am about to say is based on my time working from home while Eva was still in school or spending time with grandma. Once summer break began, things changed significantly. Anyone interested in knowing how we do it with a seven year old and a newborn, let me know in the comments.
The most important thing to remember is what I am about to say, so listen up.
Pretty much everything is a craps shoot until your baby is about six weeks old. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Now that we got that bit of disappointing news out of the way, let me explain and let’s cover some basics. Our pediatrician cited a study as she informed me that newborns on average cry for 50 percent of their awake time every day. EVERY. DAY. Babies do sleep on average 12-20 hours a day at least. But that leaves 6-2 hours of crying. For the first 4-8 weeks, realistically expect to manage to work about an hour a day. I know this sounds extreme, but this is a great time to A.) recover if you had the baby, and B.) SLEEP! Sleep as often as possible. There is an adjustment period; adjust in increments. It will help everyone if you cut yourself some slack, sleep as much as possible, and try to be Super Woman only 50 percent of the time. The rest of time, settle for a Princess Leia level of bad ass-ed-ness, or something like that. Try not to kiss your brother, though, because that’s just weird and wrong.
A newborn’s fussiness reaches its peak around six weeks old. For us, it was like someone flipped a switch at the six week mark and I suddenly had a much happier baby.
For my son, the morning is his happiest, most content time of the day. As soon as we wake up he eats, I eat, and then I shower. By shower, I mean a super fast 7 minute shower. I sit him in his bouncy seat by a mirror that’s on the bathroom door right inside the bathroom so I can look at him and talk to him randomly to keep us both happy. By the time we are done with these tasks and he has been changed, it’s time for a nap.
Around 8 weeks old, I started rocking him until he was almost asleep and then I would put him in his crib (I suggest using whatever you want him/her to sleep in at night so he/she associates this specific thing with sleep). It was hit and miss for about a week, with him screaming at me when I would set him down. But, once we established this routine, I could start laying him down when he was ready for a nap without rocking him for more than about 2 minutes. You’ll know when you have the best chance of getting him/her to cooperate with this plan of action by two things:
1. His/her body will be very relaxed, still, and eyes will be drifting.
2. You will be able to move around without triggering any movement or increased alertness in baby.
The reason getting your baby to nap independently is important: the less time you spend getting him/her to nap, the more time you have to use both hands to work.
A formula fed baby of average weight will go about 3-4 hours between eating. Breast fed babies go about 2-3 hours. So, once a baby is fed, they usually stay awake for about an hour. That leaves about 1-2 hours before it is time to feed that breast fed baby again, and 2-3 hours before that formula fed baby needs fed again. For babies two months and younger, expect them to only stay awake for an hour straight, max. Then it is nighty night time again.
If you have a baby who is dependent on the binky to sleep, expect that baby to only take cat naps. Plan on baby sleeping for 20 minutes at a time. Baby sleep cycles only last 20-30 minutes. Some babies wake up at the end of each cycle, while others will stay asleep and begin a new cycle. If a sleep cycle is interrupted, expect a very fussy baby who will need help falling back to sleep.
Early evening is a baby’s fussiest time. I don’t know why, it is like Sundowners for infants. For the first 6 weeks, this will be your worst time of day. I know for my son, I could count on him crying and fussing from 5 pm until I put him in his bath at 8 pm. Then I would get a reprieve for about 15-20 minutes before it continues, pausing only during feedings. From about 5-7, plan on not working during this time and take turns cooking if there are two of you.
After the six week mark, my son became more predictable and less fussy in the evening. My little guy now likes to take a nap at 7. I can practically set a clock by it. He gets unreasonably fussy and won’t stop no matter what I do until I cave and rock him to sleep. He will sleep about 45 min.
After his late nap, I give him a bath every single night. I only use soap on him every other day or so to prevent his skin from drying out too much. I am a firm believer in baths. It is so incredibly soothing for babies. We begin this once the cord stump was gone. I know people think it is a bad idea to bathe your baby every day, but really 10 minutes in some warm water is not going to hurt him. At worst, I have to slather some lotion on him (all newborns I have ever met need lots of lotion but it gets better once all the dry skin has sloughed off). After his bath, I use this time to set him in his bouncer or swing next to me and get about 20-30 minutes of work done. I couldn’t do this without a bath. He is so incredibly relaxed.
Once your baby hits about 6 weeks, patterns should start to emerge. You will notice times that he needs to nap longer, eat more frequently, stay awake longer. If you are having trouble figuring out his natural routines, download a baby tracking app. Similac and Gerber both have apps. You can time naps and enter every feeding. After a week, a pattern should emerge that will help you plan your days.
Now that we covered the basics, here are some practical tips:
Prioritize your work. Pick two things every day that MUST get done.
Put your work into two separate lists. One list consists of work that requires two hands. The other list is all work you can do one handed, with a baby that might possibly be screaming in the other arm. Save the one handed tasks for awake times. Use nap times for the two handed tasks.
Plan to work in 20-30 minute increments during nap times. If he/she sleeps longer, then you can keep at it.
Invest in an exercise ball (like the 65cm size) to use in place of a desk chair. My son is very cooperative with one handed work if I am sitting on the ball bouncing slightly. Also, holding him tight against me, belly to chest/belly with a binky in his mouth, his body swaddled, and me bouncing on the ball is sometimes the only way he goes to sleep if we are having an especially bad day (usually a day involving gas bubbles…he has the gas bubbles, not me, ha). He has pretty much given up the binky completely these days, though.
Plan to only get about 3 hours total a day that you can use both hands simultaneously for the first 3-4 months.
Check out the Ingenuity automatic bouncer seat (best part is it was only $40.00 at Target). It is the only bouncer that actually bounces…the rest just vibrate and make noise. Swings are amazing. These handy tools keep him entertained while he is awake as long as I can talk to him and smile at him every couple of minutes.
Don’t forget to try just setting the baby on his/her back in the floor next to you while you work. Sometimes babies just need space and a little freedom to move. It is usually the last thing parents try out of complete frustration only to discover that the baby quits fussy and starts looking around instead.
Talking to him constantly when he is awake and a little fussy usually keeps all-out crying at bay. Work out loud.
For the baby 0-8 weeks, a baby wrap or carrier may be your best bet at keeping the little one happy for about 30 minutes. This could be a great option if you need to make a phone call and keep the baby from screaming. My son really likes his carrier as long as I am moving…a lot. Like outside taking a walk, or in the grocery story shopping type of moving. So, I downloaded an app for my phone to automatically record phone calls. This has eliminated my need to take notes. I schedule my phone calls for times that either I will have someone else on hand who can take a crying baby or when I can strap on the baby carrier and take a walk. Luckily, I live on a relatively quiet street, and I’m in shape enough not to huff and puff while walking and talking.
Word of warning: I find it impossible to focus on the task at hand when my child is screaming in the other room, completely safe and cared for by anyone that isn’t me. I know intellectually that Dad or grandma or my friend is doing everything I would be doing and he is just upset, but I still can’t make my mind shut the sound out. I have quit fighting it and just go get him usually. So, even if you get help a day or two a week or in the evening, be flexible and do what comes natural. It will work out much better for all of you in the end.
If you know another work from home parent with a newborn, band together. Take shifts. Usually both babies won’t be fussy at exactly the same time. Take shifts. At the very least, cooperative working, or working in the same space with your babies, with someone else in the same situation will provide some encouragement and adult conversation for you.
Never underestimate the power of getting some intelligent conversation. Or caffeine. Caffeine is pretty amazing, too.
That’s all I’ve got! Good luck to you working moms!