First time away from baby

Some parents look forward to their first outing without their new baby, while others dread it. Some are eager to think about something other than diapers and feeding, while others think two hours away from baby is far too long. Whichever category you fall into, there are strategies to help make time away from your little one easier.

For some of you, the first separation may have happened shortly after birth if Mom or your baby were unable to come home right away and were forced to be separated. Maybe a work or family commitment has called upon one or both of you to leave your baby for a few hours. For others, the day hasn’t arrived yet. In fact, it may not be for several weeks or months after your baby is born. However, eventually, you will have to leave your baby in someone else’s care for the first time.

The Stress of Leaving

It’s hard to leave when you know your baby is still so vulnerable, so you may experience different levels of distress at different times. For example, Dad, you may be going back to work just a few days or weeks after your baby is born while Mom may not leave baby for any reason for a couple of months.

Leaving your baby can be a very emotional time. It can bring up feelings of worry, guilt or even a sense of emptiness. These emotions can strengthen if your baby is upset just before you leave or is difficult to console when you return. You may feel terrible that your baby cried for a long period of time or refused to eat when you weren’t there. It’s important to recognize that there is a wide range of experiences as to how parents react in general and how you react in particular when that “first time away” happens.

Dealing with It

If leaving your baby for the first time isn’t that difficult for you, don’t question yourself. This certainly isn’t a measure of how much you love your baby. Enjoy your time away—guilt free!

However, if you are having a hard time leaving your baby, here are some ways in which to handle your first time apart:

  • Accept the idea that, eventually, you will need to leave your baby in someone else’s care.
  • Talk about your feelings with your partner, other family members or friends.
  • Plan and put energy into selecting a childcare provider who provides you with a high level of confidence. Otherwise, when you’re gone, you’ll just be worried that your baby isn’t receiving the level of care that you want her to have. Stress will be your destiny!

Time Away Made Easy

Being prepared for time away can also make it easier. Here are some strategies that can help you prepare.

Teach your baby to be at ease with other adults. Let others hold and comfort your baby. If you’re the only one to respond to him when he needs comforting, he will have a more difficult time feeling calm when others take care of him.

Have your babysitter spend some time with your baby when you’re home. Don’t hover and interrupt. Let the caregiver have some independent time with your child.

Plan a “graduated” absence. The first time, go out for just an hour or even less. Go for a walk or for a cup of coffee. Go out in the yard and read, or go shopping. Each time you go out, stay away a bit longer until both you and your baby get used to the time apart. The idea is to do something where you can control the time and distance you’re away.

Carry a cell phone or leave a number where the sitter can reach you. Knowing that they can contact you at any time can be reassuring.

Tell your sitter that you’re struggling with the whole separation issue and may be checking in. It’s important that your sitter doesn’t become offended when you call to check on your baby—maybe even repeatedly. She needs to see it as helpful for your comfort level. Try not to overdo this though. Make a rule; for example, you’ll only call once an hour.

Planning your Time Away

Make a plan with your babysitter. You know your baby best. You also know how much discomfort you think your baby can tolerate before you need to become involved. Decide in advance what your limits and your baby’s limits are. Do you want to be called if your baby wakes up—no matter what? If so, then tell that to the babysitter. Do you want your babysitter to try her best soothing techniques for 20 minutes, and then if they aren’t working, call you? If so, specify that. Babies under 1 year are too young to be left to “cry it out” with a babysitter. If you can’t be reached and your baby is having a prolonged crying episode, be sure to list who the babysitter should call.

Plan your first outing so that it fits into your baby’s schedule. Go out during your baby’s usual sleep time. Plan your time away so it falls between feedings, especially if Mom is breastfeeding. Try going out during a time in the day when your baby isn’t fussy.

Don’t make a big fuss just before you leave. Your baby will pick up your stress, which is more likely to make him anxious.

Always leave an extra feeding. This is a wise idea, just in case you return later than you planned.

On your return, fall back into the usual routine. Avoid trying to make up to your baby for being gone. There is nothing to feel guilty about; you’ve done nothing wrong by taking some time for yourself.