How to get it all done when you have an infant.
How do I keep the house clean and take care of my family when I have a baby? Of all the emails I receive, that is the question I hear the most often. You’ve asked for it. So here it is. The answer. How to do it all when you have a baby . Well…. sort of.
Parenting advice is not new. Here are some interesting tidbits from days gone by:
“Pregnant mothers should avoid thinking of ugly people, or those marked by any deformity or disease; avoid injury, fright and disease of any kind.” –1920s, Searchlights on Health: The Science of Eugenics, by B. G. Jefferis and J. L. Nichols.
“Handle the baby as little as possible. Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm, and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs. A baby should cry vigorously several times each day.” — 1916, The Mother and her Child by Drs. Lena and William Sadler
And in 1878, in The Physical Life of Woman, Dr. George H Napheys cites a published study by child care expert Dr. Henry Kennedy. The study presented evidence that, if you truly wanted your child to maintain health, the baby’s sleeping position most always be with the head pointing due north.
“There are known to be great electrical currents always coursing in one direction around the globe. In the opinion of Dr. Kennedy there is no doubt that our nervous systems are in some mysterious way connected with this universal agent, as it may be called, electricity.”
Find these fascinating? Learn more about those and why those beliefs existed when you Check out this post by Therese ONeill, which I absolutely loved stumbling across during my research.
I wanted to start with these because in fifty years someone might read what I’m about to write and include it in with the ridiculous beliefs from the past. That’s they way it works because we can only write from where we are at the moment, and we are where we are because of commonly held beliefs. This post is no different. Keep that in mind as you proceed.
So, let’s begin with the obvious. There are only so many hours in a day, and for people without infants or young babies those hours are generally divided into the essential tasks (work, hygiene, cooking, eating, and such) plus approximately 3 additional activities (work out, clean, shop, etc.)
When a new baby comes along our hours are divided very differently. We still have the essential tasks to do, and we still have the additional activities to do, but baby is taking up a good 1/2 to 2/3 or our allotment of hours. So what’s a mom to do?
I took a look at how things were done back in the day when everything seemed to get done, and I spoke to a few grandmothers about how things differ now from then. This is what I learned.
There are a few issues that come up with baby:
- lack of sleep/ physical exhaustion
- lack of time/ baby occupying most of it
- lack of mobility/ it’s harder to get around with a baby
- higher expectations than years ago
- a much more public eye peaking into our lives
We know these are the issues, so the sensible thing to do is to prepare for or eliminate as many of them as possible, starting before baby is born. Let’s start with ways to combat the first three.
Interviewed Grandmas far and wide suggested the following for BEFORE baby arrives:
- Before baby comes, pack away every “extra” that you can.
Decorative items, books, un-needed furniture, small appliances you seldom or never use, china, pretty things, everything that is absolutely not contributing to your existence in any meaningful way. Yes, the house is going to look naked. Yes, it will remind you of Amish farmhouses. That’s okay.
Because once baby arrives, your home will be filled with baby paraphernalia anyway. And you’ll have substantially less to clean, fret about, or have baby break or get hurt on. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did.
I didn’t say throw away. I said pack away. You can bring it all back out in a year or two. It’ll be like Christmas that day. In the meantime, don’t skip this step. If it isn’t gathering dust, you aren’t fretting about it.
- Temporarily re-home houseplants, fish tanks, small pets like birds (but not intelligent birds that are bonded to you) and hamsters, and other living things that you might not have time to give the needed attention to. Dogs and cats are not included here. They consider you family and will suffer when separated. If it only considers you a feeding source, “out-source” it for a bit. At least until baby is regularly sleeping through the night and still taking a good long nap during the day.
- Before baby arrives, insure that the house is as clean as is humanly possible. Start with a clean slate so that upkeep will be easier.
- Before baby arrives, stockpile frozen pre-made meals. Every time you cook, cook 2 or 3 so that you can freeze some. If you do that for a month or two, you are well set for the first few months after baby arrives.You can prepare crock pot meals in advance. You can do one or two of those “cook one day and create meals for 30” things. I did that once just to check it out, and aside of the fact that the meals tend to be higher in fats because they freeze better that way, it was truly wonderful. Every morning I took something out of the freezer, and every afternoon popped it in the oven. Viola! Done.
- Before baby arrives, arrange for a regularly-scheduled baby-sitting trade with another mom. At least once each week for 3 hours. You will use those three hours to catch up on errands, house keeping, or sleep. They will be a life-saver. And you won’t feel the least bit guilty because you are keeping hers for 3 hours at some point too.
- Seek out and purchase time-saving devices such as these bottle sterilizers and diaper pails:
- Make it widely known that you will gratefully accept gifts of single-service housekeeping services for use after the baby is born. (as shower gifts, for example.) If you started out in good shape, then a single 3- or 4- hour cleaning service could set your entire home back to a clean slate 4-6 weeks after giving birth. How would that feel? And likely that gift would replace a pile of cute little baby clothes that the baby would never have worn anyway. They grow faster than they can ever wear all the clothes you will receive as gifts.
- Even if you intend to use cloth diapers, purchase a package of disposables so that when you are exhausted you need not worry about being on top of diaper duty. Babies can go through far more diapers than you are prepared to think about. At least you won’t be caught short in the middle of the night.
- If you can afford one, invest in a robotic vacuum. One like these is great:
But don’t use it while you are walking around with baby in your arms. Have it run during nap times or night time.
- Before baby comes, pack away every “extra” that you can.
10. Research home-delivery grocery service in your area. In our area we have PeaPod and a few other smaller ones. We also have Walmart grocery service where they shop and all you do ispick it up. Both can be very helpful.My experience with these is that despite paying $5 -$7 for delivery service, I saved a ton of money because I was sticking to my exact list and not succumbing to impulse shopping. They still take coupons too. Check them out. You might never go back to shopping for yourself.
If you’ve done all of these things ahead of time, you are off to a good start for eliminating many of the small time-sucking tasks after baby arrives. You have far fewer things to collect dust. You don’t have to worry about plants or small pets for a bit. Your house is vacuuming itself. Your shopping is being done for you. You have a month or two of frozen dinners ready to go. Daily sanitizing of baby bottles is a snap. Your house is clean and you have a good plan to get it back to perfectly clean in 4-6 weeks. And you have built in personal time after baby is born.
How does that feel?
Tips for After Baby Arrives:
The big thing after baby arrives is going to be physical exhaustion. You just gave birth. And you are sleep-deprived. And you may have hormonal-induced depression. Those three things together can create the perfect storm. This is no joke. So sleep becomes a primary goal in your life, as it should. Your body heals during sleep, so you need to grab sleep at any moment that you can.
Here are some helpful tips from Grandma:
- First, keep a notebook out to track all things baby. Your brain is going to be tired. Don’t trust yourself to remember all the details. When did baby eat? How much? When did baby have a bowel movement? What color? How much? If baby is sick, medication? How much? What time? Naps– how long? what times?You are going to begin to see a pattern in baby’s habits.
Once you see a pattern, you can start to actually plan your life. If you didn’t write it down, you are less likely to see patterns and less likely to be able to create a schedule for yourself and baby. Most grandmas that I spoke to were huge fans of schedules. Not forced schedules. A naturally evolving schedule that created peace and predictability in the home.
You will know, for example, that you can’t squeeze in a food shopping trip if baby normally wakes and eats at that time you are planning to go. You will also know that if baby normally sleeps for 3 hours in the afternoon, it’s a good time to leave baby with a nervous new dad or, for older babies, with an older teen child while you run to the market.And if you are exhausted, it can make a huge difference just knowing that if you push through the next 40 minutes, you can then nap for 2 or 3 hours. It’s enough to keep you sane.
- Begin very early on to teach baby that there will be quiet times where they are going to be placed in their crib awake and alone. You can keep a baby monitor with you so you know baby is perfectly fine. These need not be long periods. Ten or twenty minutes at a time is sufficient.But this does two things.
(A) It gives you time to shower when you know baby is safe and happy. And (B) It creates a baby that doesn’t need to be held all the time. Which brings us to #3
- Teach other family members and visitors not to pick up a baby who is happily playing or occupying itself. You are aiming to help your baby learn how to entertain herself for short periods of time. Grandma’s are terrible at following this rule. I know. I’m a grandma.
- Nap. When baby naps, you nap. Or during one of baby’s quiet times, if you are exhausted, grab a 20-minute nap in the same room.
- Accept offers of help. If someone says “Can I do anything?” Automatically answer “Yes! Thank you!” Make it roll off your tongue as a reflex. There will always be something someone can do. Whether it’s loading/unloading the dishwasher or running to the market or helping with a fussy baby while you shower. Take it. Every single time.
Don’t be bashful.They are offering because they want to feel useful. Help them feel useful.
- Don’t be a control freak. Your baby’s father is capable. He may not do things exactly like you do, but he’s perfectly capable. Let him love and care for his baby too. It helps you and it helps him bond. Don’t deprive your baby of that. Step back. Leave the room if you have to. Let him do his thing.
- Hire a babysitter to sit with baby while you are home. It’s a great way to start to acclimate a teen who you will use for unsupervised baby-sitting in the future. You get to see how they interact and it gives you much needed time to do the things you need to do.
When baby is older or if you have more than one child.
- Nobody is special. If it’s time to bathe, everyone bathes. If it’s time to eat, everyone eats. You do one thing at a time, and everyone gets done. This way you aren’t bouncing around like a ping pong ball trying to run from one thing to another and back again. Loosely translated: routines and schedules are key.
Families that just go with the flow are often the most chaotic. Have typical normal and nighttime routines. Have typical times of the day when all toys and games get cleaned up. Have set meal times. Have set bath times. Have set bed times. It’s a struggle at first, but a routine is your best sanity giver. And as mentioned before, you can actually plan your life.
Just knowing when you are going to be able to take a shower is huge.Babies and children tend to do better with a predictable routine as well. They will give you a lot less trouble if they know that a bath is going to happen after dinner–no matter what. No amount of tantrum is going to change it. And they’ll go to bed easier if they know that after bath is a book and then bed. No matter what. They become calmer and more cooperative.
- Baby is not special. Baby needs special care, but baby is not special. Toddlers will act out if they feel like baby is getting all the attention, so don’t be afraid to invest in wraps, backpacks, Bumbos, bouncy seats, swings, and other props that will allow your hands to be free to tend to your toddler and young children.
- Enlist the help of your toddler. Make a big deal out of them being “older” so they get “special privileges.” (make sure that they feel that THEY are special, not baby.) That sets them up for being older so they have special responsibilities too–like gathering toys so that nobody trips while walking with the baby in their arms. If you have children ages 3 and up, also see this post about teaching kids to help around the house.
- Gates and other restraints. I heard this one a few times. Door and stair gates were huge, and there is no reason why they should not still be a key tool to keeping children contained and safe. Think of it as expanding the pack and play. They outgrow that tool, so you make a single room a giant pack and play.
Baby proof it meticulously. Make it as safe as possible for baby and toddlers. Then corral them in for short periods of time while you switch the laundry over or cook a meal.You can also combine tools. For example, If baby is still very little, she can be strapped into a stroller while indoors too. You can move that easily around the house while you clean. You can do that while the toddler is gated into a safe space.
- Learn a few speed-cleaning routines. How much can you accomplish in 15 minutes if you are focused and going as fast as you can? It’s amazing when you try it. You can transform the main pathways of your home with a short burst of activity. It’s even more effective if everyone in the family is doing it at the same time. In our house we used to put music on then go! It was fun and everyone felt better when we were finished.
- Special toys. We used this one effectively for cooking times. My children and grandchildren had certain toys that were only available to them while I was cooking. That way they were sure to be interested in them when I needed them to be. It kept them busy and out from under my feet while I was walking around with knives and hot pans. As soon as mealtime was over, those toys were put away. You can do the same for laundry time, shopping time, or any other time that you need to insure they are playing without you needing to entertain them.
If you have a fussy baby:
Some babies have higher needs than others. If you have a fussy baby, the number one thing I can tell you to do is ASK FOR HELP!!! Immediately follow that with this: know that it won’t last forever. And follow that with this: Lower your standards for a while.
Survive it. Everything in your house will still be there in a few months. Your only goal is to get yourself and baby safely past this difficult time. You are allowed to be selfish for the two of you.
If you have friends with perfectly happy babies, hide them in your social media feed for a few months. You don’t need those comparisons. You are in survival mode.
Eat take out. A lot. And sleep every chance you get. We’ll see you back here at about 3 or 4 months. I promise it passes. It gets easier.
Go. Right now. Nap.
Everyone should change their visibility settings
Most of the women I see stressing about their lack of ability to do it all are feeling stressed because of two main flaws of our current times:
- They are comparing themselves to the very filtered lives they see others living on social media, and
- They are plastering their own insecurities and perceived failings all over that same social media.Stop that!
NOTHING you see on Facebook is real. NOTHING. It’s filtered. It’s photoshopped. It’s fake. Stop comparing your reality to their fairy tale! My lord. Just hide everyone except humor sites for a while.
Lastly, Get Some Sleep!
Go to bed earlier. Once the kids are in bed, come back to do your final sweep of the kitchen and prep for the next day then GO TO BED. Record your favorite shows and watch them during the day while you do your tasks. Nighttime is sleep time. You might even have the energy for a little romance if you can get to bed earlier routinely. Because, after all, once the kids are all settled in we know that the hubby wants your attention too.
If you can, schedule a monthly date night. Kids with the sitter. You and dad out by yourselves. Because the ultimate goal is to grow as a person, not to lose touch with the you that you are inside.
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