New parents have a lot to deal with as they learn to care for their baby -- lack of sleep and mountains of laundry are only the beginning. So it's only natural they need a break once in a while to spend time with each other. But leaving baby behind with a babysitter isn't as simple as it may have seemed before he was born. From the practical considerations of feeding and finding a good sitter to the emotional aspects of spending time apart from your infant, there's a lot to think about. Here are the basics on leaving your newborn behind for the first time.
From expectations to reality
Don't be surprised if your pre-baby expectations of life after birth don't mesh with postpartum reality, whether the considerations are practical or emotional. "Before I had Katherine, I thought I'd leave her with my mother or mother-in-law quite frequently," says Melanie Richter of Montreal, whose daughter is three months old, "but I wanted to breast-feed exclusively, and reality set in." Richter was not alone in having to alter her pre-baby conceptions to fit reality. "Before I was a parent," says Jeremy O'Krafka of Toronto, whose daughter, Bryndoven, recently turned one, "I expected that we would leave our child with a babysitter frequently. Now one year into parenthood, my reality seems so different."
When to go, and for how long
Timing is a personal choice and depends on factors such as whether your baby breast-feeds exclusively and if you have willing babysitters that you trust available. Make the decision based on your own comfort levels. Pediatrician Dr. Cathryn Tobin, author of The Lull-a-Baby Sleep Plan(Wiley, 2006), suggests taking brief trips out until you feel confident. "Keep it short and sweet until you know how your sitter and baby cope," she says. And remember that different couples' choices differ: While Richter and her husband had their first outing when their daughter was only a couple of weeks old, Marsha Moshinsky of Toronto waited until six months -- even though she had expected before birth to go out after only a few months.
Also understand that it's okay to desire time away from your baby -- everyone needs a break, not to mention quality time as a couple, with an adult level of conversation. "It is very important for a couple with a newborn to have the chance to enjoy their time as a couple together," says Richter. She and her husband have decided now that their daughter is closer to three months old to have one date night a month (two, if they're lucky) for about three or four hours.
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Picking a sitter
Doting new grandparents are an obvious choice, especially if they live close by. Richter was lucky enough to have both her mother and mother-in-law nearby to take on baby duty so that she and her husband could go out to celebrate their first anniversary. "We are extremely lucky to live so close to our parents," she says. "It certainly makes things easier." As your baby gets older and more used to spending time away from Mommy and Daddy, you may want to consider expanding your selection of sitters.
How to prepare
Before your date, make sure to have a practice run or two. Let the prospective sitter spend time with your baby and help them get to know each other. Dr. Tobin also recommends running through the "What-ifs." Such as,"What if the baby won't stop crying? What if the baby won't feed? What if the baby won't fall asleep?" she says. She also recommends writing a "how-to book" for your baby, with details on such things as how your baby prefers to be fed and put to sleep.
When O'Krafka parents arrived for their first round of babysitting duty, he and his wife briefed them on how to keep their daughter happy. "We arranged for a bath," he says, "the right music for dancing around, the right toys laid out -- and my cell number in case she just wasn't buying into being away from Mom and Dad."
Enjoy your time
It's only natural to have your mind at home with your baby, but try to have a good time as well. "At first I felt a little guilty for going out," says Richter, "but then I felt terrific -- I felt like my husband and I were dating again. And since I had expressed prior," she adds, "I had my first glass of wine in nine months -- it felt great!" Also keep in mind that it's okay to phone home. "You should check in as often as you need to feel comfortable," says Dr. Tobin.
Practice makes perfect
Above all, remember that it will get easier every time you go out -- and even more so with subsequent children. "I feel like an old pro," says Moshinsky, whose second child is almost four months old. "I'm not necessarily better prepared, but I have more trust in the caregivers and know that babies are resilient." So go ahead and make your first postbaby date. With proper planning, you know there's nothing to worry about.
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