If you have a new baby in Chicago during the winter of 2014, you are likely to be experiencing the true meaning of cabin fever. Days spent strolling through the Chicago streets or along the lake front with your baby seems like a luxury when temperatures are so cold that going outside can put your life and the life of your child in jeopardy. This is a particularly challenging time to be a new parent because the simple condition of parenting a small child means that you are likely to feel somewhat isolated. Long hours spent feeding, changing and lulling your baby to sleep make escape from your home a daunting proposition. If you have mastered these tasks enough to feel confident in your ability to pack up the diaper bag and load your baby into the car seat, you should at least be rewarded with feeling like you can safely walk outside your front door.
I frequently tell new moms that one of the best ways to fend off those feelings of cabin fever and isolation is to make a plan to leave the house once a day. But what do you do when you simply can’t leave the house? Here are some different things you can do until it is safe to venture out again.
1) Extra intensive tummy time practice. Everyone knows they should be doing more tummy time then they are actually doing. Its one of those things I frequently hear moms feeling guilty about. Many babies aren’t very happy during tummy time so it is normal to shy away from an activity that makes your baby upset. However, I can’t emphasize how important improving your baby’s core strength is. Since we are instructed to place our children on their backs for sleeping, they don’t have as much opportunity to build those core muscles. These muscles not only help with gross motor development but also control many of the muscles involved with speech. Improved core strength will help you baby become proficient at rolling and thereby increase their ability to self regulate when finding that comfortable position for sleeping which in turn equals better sleep—the Holy Grail of parenthood. Does your baby seem to hate tummy time? Here’s a video that offers 5 different ways to do tummy time that can be helpful for getting in the practice but not producing the tears. When your baby cries during tummy time and you swoop him right up, you send the message that you also think tummy time is bad. Try to spend a few extra moments interacting with your baby and soothing him before picking him up. Helpful sleep hint: once your baby is skilled at rolling out in your play area, let him practice rolling in the crib. Many children who know how to roll become intimidated by the crib rails and forget they can roll in the crib.
2) Expand your repertoire of children’s songs. If you have a child under 1, you are likely to have several years ahead of you of singing children’s songs. When you have your first baby, you probably don’t remember all the words to Rubber Duckie and You Are My Sunshine and Hush Little Baby. Your voice is your baby’s favorite sound, no matter how bad you actually think your singing is. Your baby loves your voice the most. Sure, there are any number of baby music CDs available and Pandora even has a children’s lullaby station, but knowing a couple of standard children’s songs can help get you through some tough car rides (if you are ever able to leave the house again!) when you baby starts screaming and all you can do is sing to calm him down. Singing is also great when you decide not to waste precious moments when your baby is asleep to shower and actually do it when he’s awake. Try putting him in a bouncy seat in the bathroom (don’t forget the buckles) and sing to him from the other side of the shower curtain. See how many songs you can get through before he needs to see your smiling (and now clean!) face.
3) Make an actual physical photo album. With digital photos, we rarely make photo albums anymore. If you are able to print out some of those baby photos and put them in a real album, someday, when your baby is older, he will love looking at pictures from when he was a baby. Better yet, print out just a few of your family photos of the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and make an album that belongs to your child. Some of my children’s favorite books were these albums that they could touch and play with and begin to recognize the faces of family members who lived far away.
It’s a tough winter to be a new parent. Hang in there! I now tell my kids that they are survivors for weathering this winter. You are a survivor too and will appreciate those walks along the lake that much more when (if!) summer finally arrives. Until then, bundle up!