The first time you leave your baby – the alternative essentials
In the last trimester of your pregnancy, friends with kids might start talking about the first time you leave your baby and have some time alone, or as a couple. At the time, you feel horrified even thinking about this, especially when you haven't yet given birth. Fast forward to around week 12 post-birth and you might start to think about leaving the baby - maybe for an hour, a meal out or even a weekend away.
The grown up idiot looking for trouble (GUILT) will be skulking around at this time and he probably won’t leave your side, so you need to learn to live with him and try to find coping mechanisms for the guilt hotspots. Eventually, the guilt will subside as the desire to find time for you individually, or as a couple will supersede the more-than-likely unfounded worries about leaving your child.
We've put together a list of the common concerns surrounding leaving your baby for the first time, and provided our honest take on each one. Again, we’re banging the preparation drum in a big way. Think about these areas in advance, plan around them and feel safe in the knowledge that you’ve covered the major bases.
Letting go of control.
“I’m not frightened to let go of control” I hear you say. Let’s ask you the same question the afternoon before you’re due to leave your baby for the first time. We’re all against being labelled as a control-freak, but in my opinion, control is totally fine when it comes to your child and totally normal, too.
It is very common to have that anxiety-in-your-tummy feeling when playing out the scenario of leaving your baby. You may struggle with letting someone else take control, whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. The feeling of carrying your baby for nine months, then being with him/her 24/7, to then suddenly being apart, feels like a loss. Yes, that sounds OTT, but it is the exact feeling I had when I left my son Flynn for the first time. My hormones didn’t help and the overly full boobs also reminded me that I had left him. Do expect a few tears and don’t feel silly if you do have a little cry.
So here’s my advice: the first time you leave the house without the baby, I would leave your partner at home. Stage things by gradually increasing the amount of time you leave the baby with one another before you then decide to leave the house as a couple.
Anxiety around leaving your baby for the first time should be renamed lost baby syndrome (LBS). LBS sees you panicking when you can’t, for a split second, see or hear your baby and you imagine they’ve been lost or hurt. I had this feeling a lot in the first few months and it was down to a lack of sleep, my anxiety levels building and me not putting my coping mechanisms into place. Anxiety, if it isn’t managed, can reach such a high, that parents catastrophise and imagine unpleasant scenarios involving leaving their baby. A vicious circle is then created, whereby parents need time away for themselves, but the anxiety keeps on taking over and prevents them from doing so.
To alleviate or manage anxiety, you need to plan ahead. Don’t leave things such as who is going to look after the baby, how and where to the last minute. One potential anxiety trigger might be: who is looking after the baby and whether they will adhere to your routine/way of doing things. So how do you get your head around this so you can leave the house?
- Write down your plan for your baby even if it’s not a formal routine. You will have a way of doing things, so this is your plan. Cover off the time period just after the babysitter arrives in the event of you being late. Include things like what the baby does and when, quantities, preferences and potential reactions such as crying and what this means.
If you think your babysitter will deviate away from your plan because they have an idea of how they think things should be done based on past experience (this is usually grandparents!) you can’t stop this from happening. But, you can stop how you visualise the outcome of this. In a nutshell, the person will only try something they have confidence in themselves and this won’t be to outsmart what you’ve put into place or because they think what you’re doing is wrong. If they do try something, they will always have your plan to fall back on. I know your anxiety will build just reading this, but this is the first step in letting go of a bit of that control. This will come in handy as the child grows, and you realise that sometimes, whatever you try to steer them towards, they just won’t do it and you have to let them be and relinquish control. Also, remember that babies are smart from an early age and they will soon let the babysitter know if what they’re trying isn’t working for them. And the babysitter will immediately revert to what it is you told him/her to do for fear of the situation escalating.
Choosing your babysitter
Grandparents, friends or a local babysitter - whoever it is, it is worth that person spending time with the baby in your company. The control aspect comes into force a little here, but believe me, watching that person comfort your baby and follow your guidance, is very reassuring and may save a few check-in calls and texts when you do leave the house.
If you can leave the baby with somebody you know the first time you leave him or her, I would also recommend this. Alternatively, there are some fantastic babysitting agencies out there who have reference-checked and qualified sitters. Do your research and shop around.
Another tip is to agree a text update time. The first time we left Flynn with my Mum, she must have received 20 texts and five calls from us within two hours. It made her nervous and we didn’t enjoy our evening. In the end, we agreed on update texts – once just before bed, once just after and again, to let us know if he had woken at all.
For those Mums who are breastfeeding or combination feeding, leaving your baby can be painful physically as well as emotionally. After the 6-8-week mark once your breast-milk quantity has adjusted to exactly what your baby needs, you can skip the odd feed and go out. Before then, you should really monitor how your boobs feel if skipping a feed. If they get hard, lumpy and start to develop red patches, use a breast pump. Don’t pump too much, however, as this can further stimulate your boobs and you could end up with increased supply the following day. Keep monitoring your boobs whilst out, as mastitis in the early days can set in pretty quickly.
Your body won’t stop producing milk if you go out and skip a couple of feeds
You won’t immediately get mastitis if you skip a feed
Unless you’ve got a massive supply of milk, you don’t have to pump every time you skip a feed. I personally found that pumping to take the edge off (and stop the leakiness) every second feed that I skipped, was enough.
Your boobs won’t leak through your pads, bra, and top if you skip a feed. Really, they won’t.
Be vigilant of your boobs when you leave the baby. Here is my checklist for Mums leaving baby when breastfeeding. Forget the concept of a clutch bag, as you need something a little bigger!
Breast pump (charged, but also take spare batteries). I used the Medela Swing pump and thought it was excellent.
Two empty pre-sterilised bottles (just in case you stay out longer and need to pump twice, but want to keep the milk you’ve pumped from the feed before.) For those who are unaware, you shouldn’t pump new milk directly into a bottle that contains milk that has been pre-pumped and then refrigerated.
A mini cool bag with a couple of ice blocks, so that you can keep any pumped milk cool until you are able to put it in the fridge.
A plastic steriliser bag – lots of different companies sell these. If you’re leaving baby overnight, you will need to pump a few times and may want to keep the milk if you’re near a fridge.
Material breast pads. I hated the disposable ones that reminded me of sanitary towels for your boobs. I found the material ones were so much comfier, didn’t smell even if I had them in for a bit and my milk leaked and were far more absorbent.
Leaving your baby isn’t easy and nobody will blame you for coming home after just 30 minutes or calling the babysitter over and over. In fact, people expect it to happen. However, what is really important is that you keep pushing the amount of time you leave the baby for. Time away from your baby is something you should explore, as the benefits of feeling like an individual or a couple, can be so beneficial.