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With a newborn around, I can’t get housework done!
Q: My 14-week-old son just wants to be held and doesn’t seem interested in playing with toys. He is more interested in faces, body contact, talking and singing. Although I recognize these are good things, I can’t get any housework done because he doesn’t want to play on his vibrating and bouncing chairs. What can I do?
Nancy Philadelphia
A: Nancy, it’s a constant challenge for parents to balance our time taking care of our children with our other household and job responsibilities. Young children’s ability to play independently depends on their age, development and natural temperament. Babies in the first year of life are naturally programmed to be interested in faces, body contact, talking and singing. This is how your baby bonds with you, learns to trust that you’ll be there to care for his needs, and begins to learn the rhythm of social interactions and language.

Although some babies have a more sleepy and calm temperament and may not need as much interaction, it sounds like your baby has a more alert and socially engaged temperament. This is a wonderful part of your baby’s development, but you may need to change your expectations. When your baby is awake, enjoy playing with him, and don’t expect to get much housework done.

That said, here are some strategies for getting some things done around the house:
  • Put your baby in a baby carrier on your chest, a sling or backpack. You can do your housework (e.g., washing dishes, vacuuming and laundry) while you carry and talk to or sing to your baby. He’ll enjoy the physical closeness to you, the interesting sights and the bouncing motion.

  • Set up a “circuit” of a variety of play activities to entertain your baby for short periods of time. You can include a blanket on the floor with toys and mirrors that he could play with on his tummy, a baby gym with dangling objects that he could play with on his back, a swing, etc. Try each activity for a short period of time until he fusses, indicating that he’s bored, then hold him and play with him for a while, and then switch him to another activity. Over time, your baby will learn to enjoy playing independently for longer stretches of time.

  • Take advantage of your baby’s naptimes to get things done that require more focused attention, such as paying bills or making phone calls. Or take this time to rest yourself. Try to take your baby outdoors every day for a walk and fresh air. Many parents find this helps their baby sleep better.

  • Set up regular times to get help taking care of your baby so you can get a break to get things done or just relax and enjoy yourself, take a long bath, go out with a friend, exercise, go to a movie or concert, etc. This is the time to enlist all the help you can from family, friends and babysitters.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician