I felt silly for doing it, but I couldn’t stop myself any longer. During a midnight nursing session, struggling to stay awake and fighting the dread I felt for the day to come, I pulled out my phone and typed in the search bar.
“What are you supposed to do with a newborn all day?”
They didn’t cover this at the hospital. Oh, they went over car seat protocol and safe sleep practices and what to do if the baby runs a fever. They reminded me to take my pain meds and drink a lot of water and hold the baby like a football while breastfeeding (which I never did, because it felt ridiculous and uncomfortable, and also I hate football).
But they didn’t tell me what I was supposed to do with myself — or the baby — in between the frequent feedings and diaper changes and desperately trying to get some sleep.
In the first few blurry days, filling spare time was the last thing on my mind.
I was just trying to keep my little scrap of humanity alive — and myself, for that matter. My son’s post-birth weight loss and my own dangerous levels of sleep deprivation made for a scary, weepy, hallucinatory few days. The “new baby smell” wasn’t something I even had the wherewithal to look for, but when I could scrape together enough brain cells to string together a complete thought, I berated myself for not appreciating my son’s first days more.
(Here’s the thing, though: he will never remember those days. Honestly, I don’t remember much of them, either. He was fed, and warm, and dry, and cuddled, and safe, and that was what mattered.)
But once those days were past, and I was just working my way through the first month or so… well, that was when I began to wonder how I was supposed to occupy him. And me.
I had a Pinterest account full of colorful, sensory activity ideas.
I had a stack of board books to read aloud. I had plans for stroller walks and playground trips and library story-times. But all of these plans required some sort of interaction on the part of my son, or at least the ability to hold up his own head. While he was snuggled in my arms, tucked in the blanket I’d carefully knitted for him, I felt…
I’d just come down from an anxious first pregnancy and intensely stressful birth experience. My mind and body had been racing nonstop for the majority of the last year, and maternity leave was a sudden, screeching halt.
Some afternoons, I’d hold my son while he napped and then sneak a few chapters of my book.
Religiously, I refused to turn on the TV, assuming that I’d ruin my son’s attention span for life if I exposed him to screens too early. I even tried not to let him see my occasional, guilty phone-scroll.
My husband, enjoying FMLA and resting sore muscles from a summer of physically taxing overtime work, had no such compunctions. When he was not taking a turn changing or rocking or bottle-washing, he happily played computer games or lay on the couch with a paperback.
“We should talk to the baby,” I told him.
“About what?” he’d ask. “He can hear us talking to each other, right? That’s good for him.”
So I sat and held my newborn and stared at his face and wondered what was wrong with me, that I didn’t find his face more interesting. Was I a detached parent? Was I missing some key component of the bonding process? Or was it simply the fact that newborn faces are not intrinsically interesting for hours on end? Now and then, I unwound enough to read a few pages or watch part of a Sherlock episode with my placid and unbothered spouse (while letting my thoughts flit occasionally to the black-and-white infant flash cards I hadn’t bothered to buy. WOULD I REGRET THAT FOREVER?).
And when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I googled, “What are you supposed to do with a newborn all day?”
The Internet search results were inconclusive, other than “change, feed, burp, put to sleep, bathe occasionally, repeat.” There was very little in the way of entertainment options.
Perhaps this is because newborns are not intrinsically capable of enjoying entertainment for minutes, let alone hours, on end.
Nearly two years later, my son is now energetic, well-adjusted, affectionate, and funny. He loves it when I read aloud to him (sometimes a little too much) and has a passionate relationship with the great outdoors. He shows no signs of permanent damage from my lack of experience in entertaining a two-week-old.
Looking back, I regret only a few things about his infancy.
I wish I’d made a few more freezer meals ahead of time. I wish I’d let myself nap whenever I had the chance instead of frantically feeling as if I needed to constantly check on my son. And I wish I’d turned on the darn TV when I wanted to and rewatched Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. It would have been good for my soul.
So, if I could tell a bored, anxious, neurotic new parent any one thing, it would be this:
The baby doesn’t care if you want to read your book or watch your show. The baby. Just. Wants. To be held.
That’s it. The baby doesn’t need activities and a ton of entertainment or even intentional conversation. Most of the time, the baby is sleeping.
The baby is okay.
You’re doing okay.
And if it makes you feel better to put Netflix on in the background while you rock your sweet, tiny person, then you should go ahead and do that.
It’s going to be okay.
How did you occupy your time when your baby was just a little lump of a human?
Did you read? Binge shows? Walk a mini-marathon through your neighborhood? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
Our Next Reco: What you Need to Know About Newborns