Excitement. Fear. Ambivalence. Guilt. Feeling you should feel guilty. A mixture of these emotions? Leaving your baby for the first time can trigger a maelstrom of feelings, and given how dependent and fragile they can seem, that makes sense. And yet babies are also incredibly resilient and as human beings are meant to socialize and form bonds with people other than you, their mother. Not that long ago we lived within larger close-knit communities of family and friends, so babies were used to be seeing and being cared for by a wider number of people. These days in our small family units, it can seem absurd to consider leaving baby with anyone and yet it is healthy and natural to do so.
The main thing to decide is what’s right for you. Many mothers I know have left their babies in the first month. Others have waited a year. I left my daughter with her father every night for an hour to walk and reclaim a part of me after her third week, and then two weeks later went out to the cinema with my girlfriend. The question to ask is ‘what do I need and what is right for me?’ Discuss it with your partner, and of course observe your baby’s temperament and needs, you will find a sensible compromise.
And then predictably, the secret is, plan. When I say plan, this is something I cannot emphasize enough. Because if you plan, then you are less likely to have forgotten anything, and this means you can relax and enjoy your me time.
With whom will you leave baby? With family, with friends, with a babysitter? In some ways it is easier with a qualified babysitter. You can set strict instructions without fear of stepping on more experienced toes. And yet your family or close friends will be your natural port of call. Tricky as it may seem, set your expectations and boundaries with them too. This is after all your child.
Think through the scenario. How many hours will you be away? What food or how many bottles (expressed or formula) will you need to prepare before hand? Everything is obvious to you – where his gripe water is, what her favourite soothing toy is, where the baby carrier is. But for someone who hasn’t been a part of the household this will all be new. The better able you are to prepare the person looking after baby with the details, the smoother the time away is likely to go.
Some practical things:
Where are the emergency numbers? Best to have a list and put them on the fridge. If you are going out to the cinema then perhaps keep your phone on vibrate so you can be contacted in an emergency.
Don’t just plan for baby, what about for you? Will you need extra help in the morning if you’ve been out the night before? If you are going out in the afternoon when you normally prepare for dinner, will you need to get take-out that evening so that you don’t have to race around?
Now take a deep breath, smooth down your hair, and go and enjoy your time away! We both know you’ve earned it.