40 Ways To Save Time And Make Life With A Baby Easier
By the Baby Center editorial staff
After your new baby arrives, feelings of joy go head-to-head with heavy eyelids, drained energy, and fragile emotions. Fortunately, there are plenty of crafty ways to save time and make daily life run more smoothly when you're caring for a baby. The following tips gathered from moms and dads are designed to reduce stress, save time and money, and help you stay in touch with the joy of raising your child.
Feeding your baby
"A breastfeeding station is a must. Mine has a glider, a snap-on light, water, reading material, burp cloths, TV and CD players with remotes, and a portable phone." -- Katherine
"Breastfeeding can be a good time to catch up on all those phone calls you don't have time for. I think the sound of my voice soothes my baby." -- Trish
"One of our best investments was a co-sleeper. I don't have to get out of bed for night feedings; I just reach over and pull my baby to me. When she's done, I edge her back to her bed. Neither of us has to fully wake up, which makes getting back to sleep much easier." -- Sally
"I bought microwaveable bags to sterilize breast pump parts, bottles, and nipples. I rinse items as I use them, put them in the bag, and microwave the bag when it's full." -- Suzanne
"Pump milk from one side while nursing on the other." -- Melissa
"One of my best discoveries is a hands-free pumping bra. I can pump while reading the newspaper and eating breakfast." -- Edy
Formula and bottles:
"Buy a 30- to 60-ounce Tupperware pitcher and mix up 30 or more ounces of formula at once. It's good for 48 hours once mixed (refrigerated), and it saves you from having to mix the powdered formula with water for each feeding." -- Julie
"I have a small college-sized refrigerator in the twins' room where I store the evening and morning bottles. We can easily feed them in their room without having to run downstairs." -- Brian and Katie
Once your baby's started solids:
"I prepare a week's worth of baby cereal at a time, measuring out the right amount of dry cereal in individual bowls or cups with lids. Then all I need to do is add milk or formula." -- Paula
"Make batches of baby food, like steamed veggies or cooked fruits, at one time and freeze them in meal-size quantities in small zippered bags. Heat the bags in the microwave." -- Virginia
"I divvy up boxes of snack foods like crackers and pretzels into snack-size zippered bags and keep a picnic basket of bags on the counter so I can grab a few whenever we leave the house." -- Maggie
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"I keep multiple diaper bags packed and ready to go with the basics, and I refill each one after I use it." -- Juliette
"We've made mini-changing stations around the house, in addition to the main one in the nursery. Our stations consist of baskets filled with diapers, wipes, a changing pad, and a few toys. They can be stored under a table or bed." -- Cathy
"Keep a diaper bag in the car ready for a whole day of emergencies: six to eight diapers, a supply of rash creams and wipes, a changing pad, one or two outfits, bottled water, formula if you use it, baby food, juice boxes, snacks, antiseptic spray, bandages, eye drops, fever reducer/pain reliever, tweezers, a jacket or sweater for sudden weather changes, sunscreen, sun hats, and bug repellent. You'll be prepared for nearly everything, from getting stuck in traffic to an extra night of vacation." -- David and Kristen
"Dress your baby in gowns instead of sleepers with snaps. It's much quicker and easier to do night changes, and you can do them without turning on the light." -- Dana
"To save time in the morning, I bring my 11-month-old son in the shower with me. We both get clean, and my son enjoys splashing around at my feet. This allows me almost as much time as I would like in the shower and gives me a chance to keep a close eye on him." -- Heather
Have the right gear ready:
"I keep a basket in the bathroom filled with supplies for my daughter's bath: towels, washcloths, shampoo, soap, lotions, diapers, and wipes. I fill it up each week so I don't have to run around gathering supplies while bathing her. They're always there within easy reach." -- Melanie
The quickie cleanup:
"I use laundry baskets for everything, especially to pick up toys strewn around the house. When I don't have time to clean and company's coming over, I throw everything in a laundry basket and put it in a closet." -- Molly
"I purchase all the 'quicker-picker-uppers,' like sanitizing wipes and dusting cloths, and keep them handy in whichever room needs cleaning. As I walk through the room, I grab one and clean my way through. It's more expensive, but it saves time." -- Catherine
"Emptying the dishwasher is a snap if you put your silverware in head-down and grouped together. This way, when you only have a minute to empty the dishwasher while the kids are asleep, you can grab a section at a time and slip it in the drawer." -- Brenda
"I write a 'to do' list for the week on a dry-erase board. Having everything written down, and crossing things out once they've been done, keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. It also gives my hubby an opportunity to help without having to ask me what to do." -- Natasha
"To keep track of bills, I use a flexible folder with 12 slots labeled January to December. After I pay the bills each month, I take the whole stack of paperwork and slide it into the appropriate slot. My checkbook and stamps go in the front." -- Kate
"If I straighten up the house each time my daughter naps it doesn't get overwhelming. When she goes down for the night, I usually don't have energy for much, so I pick one thing, usually the dishes, and allow myself to wait until the next day to do the rest without feeling guilty." -- Ryan
"Keep a bucket near the sink. Each time you're done feeding your baby, rinse the bottle, nipples, spoons, bowls, etc. to remove food and put them in the bucket. Add some detergent and hot tap water. Tackle the rest of the cleaning when you have time. Because everything's soaked, it'll go faster." -- Pravina
Make it a game:
"When my daughter wakes up in the morning or from a nap I do things around her room while she's still in her crib. We sing, talk, and play games while I put clothes away, sort laundry, restock diapers, pick up toys, and vacuum. She watches me all around her, and she's in a safe place and not underfoot." -- Heidi
"I place socks in large mesh lingerie bags so I don't have to search for them in the dryer." -- Kelly
"Instead of using a long block of time for laundry, I do it as I go, starting a wash at night before I go to bed and switching it to the dryer in the morning. I throw dry clothes in a basket and fold when I get the time, like when my daughter's napping. I've also stopped buying anything that needs ironing. Those days are gone!" -- Jill
Splurge on help:
"A bunch of my friends went in together and gave me ten housecleaner sessions as a baby shower gift. My son is now 7 weeks, and this was one of the best, most thoughtful presents I received. You can always buy things, but time is so precious." -- Lisa
Feeding the family
Cook in bulk:
"When I do find time to fix a meal, I make huge amounts and freeze the extra in freezer bags, ready to be heated up when I don't have time to cook. Many foods lend themselves well to freezing, including soups, stews, pasta sauces, and bean and rice dishes." -- Margarita
"I prepare enough food for three days. That way we don't get caught in the pre-packaged food trap. I make vegetables, steamed chicken, and other meats, cut up pieces of fruit, and put everything in zippered bags in the fridge." -- Cathi
Keep it simple:
"If you've put your slow cooker away, take it out again. I put in a bunch of veggies, rice, and meat in the morning, add water and spices, and turn it on. A hearty meal is ready by dinnertime." -- Rosemary
"I try to make meals that require only one or two pots. They're faster to make and easier to clean up. We like pasta tossed with olive oil, garlic, broccoli, and precooked frozen shrimp." -- Linda
Pick up the phone (or the mouse):
"I do as much online grocery shopping as possible. It's a super timesaver." -- Claudia
"Delivered pizza or Chinese food is a godsend. Keep an envelope of cash in the kitchen for tipping the delivery guys and gals -- they'll become welcome friends." -- Sully and Nicky
Other things to remember
"When we need to get our son ready to go to daycare, I express milk from one side while he nurses from the other. Meanwhile, Daddy is in charge of getting the diaper bag together and the car seat ready. All I have to do is burp him and strap him in." -- Amanda
"My husband gives our 4-month-old a bath every night. Our son loves it, and it makes him sleepy so it's easier for my husband to feed him and put him to bed. It's great father-and-son bonding, and it gives me time to myself after a full day caring for our baby." -- Callie
"My partner and I recently started a cooking schedule. During weekdays we each cook twice and on Friday we go out or get take-out. This has saved us tons of time. Also, knowing that I'm cooking twice a week means I plan my meals ahead so I have the ingredients on hand." -- Heather
Stop and smell the roses
"I try to remember that the world isn't going to end if dinner isn't at a certain time, or if the house isn't completely clean, or if the laundry isn't done. If my daughter is crying or having a tantrum, the best thing I can do is forget everything else and give her all the love and attention I can. Soon she'll be so independent that she'll want to do everything alone." -- Jennifer
"I think if you're a stay-at-home mom or dad, the main thing to remember is that you're staying home to raise children and spend quality time with them, not to have the perfect house." -- Valerie
"When the world gets too hectic, I stop whatever I'm doing and just sit down and play with my daughter. It's amazing how much clearer my head is afterward, and I don't feel so pressured to get everything else done. The laundry and cleaning will be there the next day, but what you do with your child today will be a lasting memory for both of you." -- Amy
How Motherhood Makes You Smarter
By Catherine Guthrie
No doubt you've heard the unflattering (but not uncommon) mothering stereotype that babies suck as much energy from your brain as they do from your body. Ouch. Sure, childrearing takes a toll -- as evidenced by the time you squeezed nipple cream onto your toothbrush. But giving birth is hardly the equivalent of a frontal lobotomy. In fact, motherhood may be the ticket to boosting your brainpower.
So says Katherine Ellison, the author of the new book The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter. In her book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, veteran foreign correspondent, and working mother of two young boys presents compelling evidence that having babies can make you smarter.
Were you afraid your brain would suffer after you had children?
Yes, I was concerned I'd lose my mind to a world of diapers and baby bottles. In fact, a few weeks after my first son was born (while I was on leave from my job as a foreign correspondent), I had a troubling dream: Space aliens had landed in Brazil's capital, but I chose to stay home because I wasn't sure the story was worth pursuing. In the dream, I completely lost my reporter's instincts. It hit me that this nightmare epitomized my fear that I'd traded in my brain for a new baby.
But sometime later, I read an article about two researchers who discovered that mother rats were smarter -- specifically in learning and memory capacity -- than rats that never had babies. And it got me thinking maybe there's more to motherhood than I'd thought.
How does motherhood make women smarter?
Because smart is such a vague term, I broke the brain-boosting benefits of motherhood down into five attributes in the book: perception, efficiency, resiliency, motivation, and emotional intelligence. Each category is supported by many animal studies as well as some human studies showing ways in which mothers have an edge.
The first category, perception, deals primarily with the five senses. One of the most interesting studies showed pregnant women had sharper "visual acuity" than women who weren't expecting. By that I don't mean they suddenly had 20/20 vision but they did notice a lot more. Studies show that pregnant women also have an enhanced sense of smell, which theoretically serves to protect the unborn baby from foods that are potentially harmful.
Other findings show that mothers can experience a boost in motivation, fearlessness, and the ability to multitask and cope with stress. There's also exciting new research suggesting that oxytocin -- a hormone important to labor and breastfeeding -- improves moms' capacity for learning and memory.
Emotional intelligence is probably the clearest category in which mothers benefit, though. One of the biggest brain boosts for moms is the ability to see the world through someone else's eyes. In so many relationships, if you don't agree with a person you can just walk away. But you can't walk away from your child. At least, not if you want to be a good parent. Instead, you've got to stretch your mind to understand his point of view.
Did you find that people expected you to be "less smart" after you had children?
Yes. For instance I'd be sitting around with a group of women and someone would say something silly and then laugh it off as "mommy brain." Those kinds of experiences, trivial as they may seem, can make you feel as though you're going to accomplish less in life as a mother than you otherwise might as a childless woman.
Perhaps more important, I got a new editor after my second son was born who let me know that he thought I was going to be less productive and that I wouldn't be able to keep my mind in two places at once. He was wrong, of course, but his distrust shook my confidence for a while.
In what ways did motherhood make you smarter?
I found motherhood tremendously stimulating, like getting a crash course in human nature. I also got much better at time management. Because I'd been a newspaper reporter, I thought I was good with deadlines. But when I had a baby, the deadlines got a lot less flexible. I was forced to manage my days in a whole new way.
As a mother, the notion of having less time to waste informs your whole life. I became smarter about networking with other women, handling chaos, and dealing with difficult people. I know if I returned to the daily newsroom today, I'd be more savvy in dealing with editors having temper tantrums! Apparently former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shares my viewpoint. When asked which part of parenting helped most in her subsequent diplomatic career, she answered, "Getting people to play well together!"
More generally, motherhood helped me focus on the future. I became determined to prioritize things, like environmental issues, that will matter more in my children's life than my own. At the same time, I found the motivation to accomplish other ambitions I'd had for many years. For instance, I'd always wanted to have a close-knit group of friends, more creativity in my work, and a lifestyle that would give me the leeway to write longer articles and books. All those things came true after I had children. It wasn't simply the act of being a mother, it was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish for myself and for my kids.
Several women in the book talk about making the same type of change. It's sort of like a midlife crisis. Once you have children, you reorganize your priorities. You think about your legacy and take your life more seriously when you realize your children will examine it later.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching the book?
My research was full of surprises. One thing that jumps to mind is a series of studies done by scientists in Switzerland, who compared the brain scans of parents to those of childless people. They found parents' brains were more active when listening to a baby's cry. On the flip side, brains of people who didn't have children were more active when they heard a baby's laugh.
This suggests that a rewiring of the human brain occurs once you have children. Some researchers see it as evidence that motherhood makes women more empathetic. One scientist I interviewed says that moms learn empathy skills with their babies that they can later take out into the world at large.
Another surprising study showed that mothers react even to the annoying sound of a baby's cry with parts of the brain that are activated during pleasurable activities like eating a good meal or winning money. By equating the nurturing of a child with great food or sex, nature is ensuring that you'll bond with your baby, and stay engaged with the mental challenges your child will present you with for years to come. It's a pretty great system!
How does "daddy brain" change after the baby arrives?
Some interesting recent studies show that new fathers mimic in many ways the hormonal changes their wives go through, although on a much lower level. For instance, expectant fathers experience a surge of prolactin, a hormone typically associated with nurturing and breastfeeding, as well as increased levels of estrogen, the "female" hormone. Experts aren't sure why men experience these changes, but they think the higher hormone levels may help dads bond with their offspring. And the changes aren't all chemical. I interviewed many fathers who told me they had become more patient and empathetic after spending a lot of time taking care of their kids.
How do mothers make each other smarter?
As a mother, you learn to strategize. When you see mothers exchanging information on the playground, for instance, it may look casual -- but they're often earnestly collecting information that will ensure the well-being of their offspring, such as the name of the best teacher at the local school and whether strep throat is going around. Swapping this kind of information isn't rocket science, but it's important in an evolutionary sense.
Are the mind-boosting benefits of motherhood temporary or permanent?
That's hard to measure with humans, but in rat studies the benefits of mothering last until the animals reach an age equivalent to age 80 in humans, which I find very encouraging. And, when it comes to people, we know that seniors who are more connected to the outside world, especially through their children and grandchildren, are often healthier -- mentally and physically -- than those who are isolated. So motherhood continues to pay off late in life.
Why do you say mothers today need to be smarter than ever?
The mental demands on mothers are greater than ever. To do a good job of helping our children thrive, mothers today have to be information analysts. We're constantly bombarded with information from television, parenting books, and talk shows -- not to mention, constant news reports about increasing rates of childhood asthma, autism, and ADHD. We have reason to worry and be up-to-date on everything from mercury in tuna to arsenic in playground equipment.
At the same time, to truly protect our kids, moms must often confront a culture that in many ways is harmful to children. Advertisers now spend fortunes marketing directly to kids -- encouraging rampant consumerism and unhealthy diets. A surprising number of moms step up to the plate and become more assertive.
What advice do you have for new mothers?
Just appreciate how much you're learning and how much your brain is being challenged and enriched by your baby instead of turned to mush. You may feel exhausted, but if you pay attention to how much you're learning in an incredibly short time, the sheer enormity of it is energizing.
Oh, and don't underestimate the importance of sleep! If you and your partner share the responsibility of getting up at night with your baby, it'll make both of you better parents in the long run.
The BabyCenter Seven: How to make the most of your mommy brain
1. Take Back Motherhood: If you lost interest in world affairs when your baby was born, don't fret. Your brain hasn't shrunk -- it's just otherwise occupied. New moms become super-attentive learning machines, says Ellison. Your baby is challenging your brain on every level, every minute of the day. You probably haven't absorbed so much new information this quickly since you were a baby yourself, so give credit where credit is due.
2. Sleep: Sleep deprivation is inevitable, but no one should shoulder the burden single-handedly. In the first year of your baby's life, his primary caregiver stands to lose 700 hours of sleep. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep can mess with brain function. In fact the brain's frontal cortex, responsible for keeping you alert, innovative, and flexible, is the first to falter during extended sleep loss. So don't surrender your Z's without question. Instead, sit down with your partner and make a sleep plan. Then stick to it. For each of you to stay as rested as possible, Ellison suggests trading off in three-night shifts. If you're breastfeeding, have your partner bring the baby to you, and pump milk ahead of time so he can bottle-feed the baby when it's your night off.
3. Breastfeed: Oxytocin, a hormone released during childbirth and breastfeeding, promotes feelings of calm and cements the mother-child bond. And recent research suggests that this natural mellowing agent may boost your capacity for learning and memory. For a continuous supply of this hormone breastfeed your baby. Experiments show that nursing moms feel more relaxed physically and emotionally and are more sociable than mothers who don't breastfeed.
4. Get social: Don't let motherhood turn you into a lactating hermit. Being a new mother means you're vulnerable in a whole new way and need people in a deeper sense than you ever have before, says Ellison. Seek out other mothers at the playground, the gym, even the grocery store. Other mothers empathize with what you're going through like no one else. One large study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that belonging to a strong social network correlates with better mental functioning. Plus, social support helps ward off postpartum depression -- a problem that affects 10 percent of new moms.
5. Don't be a couch potato: Having a baby doesn't mean you should trade your gym membership for Tivo. Unlike watching TV, exercise makes more blood flow to the brain and fights off the blues. Make exercise a priority rather than a luxury. Create a pact with your partner to support each other's exercise habits by babysitting while the other goes for a walk or to a yoga class.
6. Eat your veggies: Your mother was pretty smart to give you this advice. Studies have found that antioxidants in fruits and vegetables can help prevent declines in brain function due to aging, and leafy green and cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, cauliflower, romaine lettuce, and spinach) are particularly helpful for older women's memories.
7. Don't neglect the other parts of your brain: Even though your brain is tuned to the mommy channel most of the day, don't forget you also have a "me brain," a "friend brain," and a "spouse brain." Take time to stay connected to yourself and the people who loved you before you became a mother. If you can afford a babysitter, don't feel guilty about spending an hour at a coffee shop staring out the window instead of running errands at full speed or working. If a babysitter is out of the question, use nap time to squeeze in a phone call to a friend and give yourself five minutes to talk about children. Then deem kid-talk off-limits so you both can connect on a different level.
The same goes for your spouse. When you finally eke out a few minutes alone, whether at night or (lucky you) on a date, allow yourselves 15 minutes to chat about kid stuff, then make the topic taboo so you can remember what it was that made you decide to have a child together in the first place.
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