Can't remember what you did in the last hour? You're not alone, Mommy. "Most of the time, we're on autopilot," says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center. As a new mom, you're likely to be overtired, overwhelmed, over-everythinged. "But by bringing our attention to whatever it is we're doing with our children, instead of being lost in thought, life gets more alive -- we have more of an ability to remember what is happening," says Winston, coauthor of Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness. Discover these easy ways to tune in to your tot, no matter how insane your day is.
During nursing sessions, take mindful breaths.
Be aware of your inhalations and exhalations, and the sensations you're feeling while you nurse. Observe Baby's breaths too. "It's natural for your mind to drift," Winston says. "Just return it to the experience of being with her."
When rocking your sweetie, focus on your movement.
Consider the feeling of his snuggly body nestled against your chest, says Larissa Duncan, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, at the University of California, San Francisco. Warning: may cause you to repeatedly kiss the top of his head.
Zen out as you stroll.
Notice the sensation of your feet against the sidewalk, the wind against your skin. Take in the sounds and sights and watch Baby noticing them too. When random thoughts pop up (what you're making for lunch, the latest Real Housewives dust-up), acknowledge and then dismiss them. If you spend even part of your walk trying to be mindful, you're doing it right. The point isn't to remember every detail but to train your brain to live in the present so that important moments become more memorable.
Follow her lead.
"Babies have an incredible sense of being fully present, so when I felt disconnected as a new mom, I would tune in to whatever my daughter was doing," Winston says. "It would quickly take me away from my concerns and bring me right into the moment." Whether she's gurgling at the cat or shaking a rattle, get down on her level and share the wonder (and don't let the tumbleweed-like dust bunnies under the sofa distract you).
Embrace your excitement.
During really big events -- like your munchkin's first steps -- tap into the joy and pride you're feeling. Then call a friend to share and keep the bliss train going.
Just after she dozes off, linger by the crib.
Study her relaxed face. "Reflect on how hard your child is working to learn the ways of the world and how hard you're working to be the best parent you can be," Dr. Duncan says. "When things get tough, call on the memory of those peaceful moments."
Lights, Camera, Baby!
"They tell directors, 'Don't work with babies -- you never know what will happen,' " says Angela Galletta, a Hollywood filmmaker and producer. But when it's your baby, that's part of the fun! Some video tips for you, Mommy Spielberg:
Design a set
Create a staging area where your baby feels comfortable -- perhaps a corner of a playroom or her bedroom, suggests Galletta. The space should be bright and free of clutter, with just a few toys that engage her. Consider investing in a small tripod or camera holder. This will help you keep the cam steady -- and it will let you get in the frame sometimes too!
Plot it out
Make a list of all your little starlet's expressions and habits that you want to preserve for posterity, so you and your Mommy brain will remember to record them. Of course you want plenty of feature films headlining Baby, but include a supporting cast whenever you can, says Kimberley Blaine, executive producer of the web series TheGoToMom.tv. Get lots of footage of older relatives -- Grandma giving your guppy a bath or a usually stern grandfather breaking character and being silly with his grandkid. And, needless to say, make an appearance yourself every now and then.
Don't forget the sound
The most successful videos aren't all about the visual effects (hence the Oscars for sound editing). When your baby begins to babble, record only the audio at times. "Point the camera toward the cover of a book or a photo of your child, then sit and play," Galletta says. You can even edit this audio over something else -- say, footage of your sweet pea rolling around in the yard. Make sure there's no background noise, like the hum of the refrigerator or your neighbor's barking dog.
Have fun editing
Experiment with the Windows Live Movie Maker or Apple iMovie editing software that probably came free with your computer. "They're intuitive programs," Galletta says. Running through a tutorial can also provide inspiration (in addition to what came with your software, there are loads on YouTube).Try mixing movies from different cameras too: a camcorder, a pocket video recorder, or your phone. "It creates a sense of time passage when you have that variation in look and location," Galletta says. If the quality of a clip is poor, make it black and white, Blaine suggests: "Then it looks vintage-y."
Save as much of your footage as you can
"Edited pieces are good to show family and friends, but the raw footage is what you'll really cherish," Blaine says. "It's the reality show of your life. Don't trash clips because you think, 'Oh, I didn't look good.' Your children will want to see you in your bathrobe!" Download videos every month and back them up to an external hard drive. If you plan to delete them from your computer, save them to DVDs.
Quick video tips
1 Turn off your camera's date stamp: It's distracting when you watch the video. Instead, announce the date when you begin.
2 When filming, follow the rules of photography: Find a spot with great light, and duck down to shoot from your child's point of view.
3 Go all artsy! Pan your camera into the scene; it will create a blurry transition that's effective when you're editing clips together.
4 Narrate. Don't be shy -- use a silly voice or a funny accent if it feels more playful. If you hate it, you can always go back and record over it.
Better Baby Pictures: It's a Snap!
You've shot gazillions of photos of your cutie pie but have only a dozen or so gems? Our pros can tell you why.
You shoot picture after picture.
Instead ... Define your focus.
Before you start clicking, ask, "What's my motivation?" suggests photographer Me Ra Koh, author of Your Baby in Pictures. If you're documenting an experience, like the first bath in the big tub, go for a pulled-back shot that emphasizes how tiny she looks in the tub. If you're trying to capture details that define her personality, zoom in on that funny pout she always makes.
You snap when it's convenient.
Instead ... Wait for the right light.
Pros hunt for bright spaces, Koh says. Find a well-lit area near a big window or a sliding glass door, and do a little photo shoot. If the light is too bright, buy an inexpensive sheer curtain and tack it up over the window. By all means, though, use a flash to capture special moments in darker settings.
You strike where there's action.
Instead ... Encourage action against a neutral backdrop.
From a lighting perspective, it's smart to shoot outside. It's even better to do it against concrete, which is neutral in color so light bouncing off of it flatters skin, Koh says. Inside, photograph your child on a mellow-colored carpet or bedspread.
You shoot from above.
Instead ... Get low and get close.
"People tend to miss a lot when they take photos from their own vantage point," says Caroline Kaye, a photographer in Cold Spring, New York. Stoop down and move in close so your beautiful bébé fills the frame.
You grab the camera when Baby does something cute.
Instead ... Re-create the moment.
Her wide-eyed look when she's fiddling with a new toy: priceless. The side of her leg as she rolls away from that would've-been-perfect shot, not so much. "By the time the camera shoots, the moment is over," Koh says. "Don't put pressure on yourself to be fast. Note the magic that you're seeing, then re-create it." Stash away a couple of toys in a box and pull one out for a photo op, or grab a bottle of bubbles and have your partner blow while you snap away. The results will be just as good as an impromptu shot.
You click only if he's happy.
Instead ... Document all the faces you never want to forget.
Think of the frown she wears when she's practicing a new skill, or the vulnerable look with the quivering lip. "I took an amazing photo of my younger daughter in her crib with ginormous tears running down her face," says Kaye. "I want to remember those moments too."
Quick camera tips
1 To reduce camera shake, turn your body into a tripod: Stand with feet slightly apart and tuck in your elbows.
2 If your little squirmer is on the move, set your camera to the "sports" setting, and capture her as she wiggles.
3 Clothes? Less is more. You want to see her kissable belly and dimpled thighs. Long live the diaper shot!
Just look at that book!
You've collected the congratulatory cards. You're taking photos (and photos and photos). You're tracking the milestones. Put 'em all together in a truly special keepsake.
Upload your images to a site like Shutterfly or Snapfish and pull them into a project. These sites have easy-to-use templates; many let you grab photos from Facebook and Flickr and even tell you if the image will reproduce well in the format you've selected. (Can you say fail-safe?) Another option: Download software from Picaboo or Blurb. (For other creative ways to use your favorite model's pictures, log on to americanbaby.com/photo-crafts.)
Make a storyboard
"Before you start creating a digital book, make an outline," suggests Lara Hoyem, senior director of photo books for Shutterfly. "Detail all the major moments and occasions you want to mention." For creative inspiration, browse other people's projects in the community sections.
Don't go nuts
Put no more than a few images on a page. "Three is a good number," says Bethany Andrews-Nichols, a graphic designer and mom in South Burlington, Vermont. "An odd number tends to look better." If you have an amazing photograph, give it a whole page.
Add color with captions
Tell the story behind the photo and what you were feeling at the time it was taken. As your child starts speaking, you might even want to design pages around the things he says. "My 2-year-old constantly says, 'I wanna hold you,' so I dedicated a page to that phrase with a picture of her with her arms raised, ready to be held," says Jennifer Sheran, a mother of three in Atlanta.
Think beyond photos
Consider scanning in emails or screenshots of Facebook or Twitter updates -- perhaps your friends' reactions to the breaking news of your newborn's arrival. Andrews-Nichols included a napkin from her hospital stay with telephone numbers scribbled on it. As she says, "There's something to making a book out of things we can touch -- and preserving little pieces of our son's history."
1-Minute memory holders
High-tech, low-tech, no-tech -- here are some moms' über-smart systems for keeping track of the cuteness.
"I have a color-coded Google calendar for each of my kids that's synced with my phone. I try to add milestones and cute things they do as soon as they happen." Carmen Garcia-Beaulieu, mom of three, Orlando
"About once a month I like to write, in a hardcover book, notes on funny or sweet things that have happened. It's turned into a bit of a journal for me, with my thoughts and feelings about my two wonderful kids. When they are older, I hope it helps them better understand me and the choices I made." Robin Bectel, mom of two, Alexandria, Virginia
"I capture memories in my blog. And those little moments that don't make the cut I keep in a Word file called Baby Notes." Jen Carsen, mom of one, Portsmouth, New York
"I post Facebook status updates on funny things the kids say or do. Then when I have time, I transfer them to a notebook." LeAnne Ruzzamenti, mom of two, Sacramento, California.
Originally published in American Baby magazine.