"Don't be such a baby!" It's one of the oldest taunts in the book. But what harried mother hasn't glanced at her tiny dictator in the highchair and thought, Hey, that doesn't look so bad! After all, babies have their every need catered to. They have precious few worries or obligations, and even their most primal instincts are indulged. Why, they even have people actively encouraging them to nap. Is that a good deal, or what?
Well, you can't go back to dumping carrots on your head and flinging the bowl on the floor, but there are quite a few "babyish" behaviors moms can enjoy—and even benefit from. Here are 10 ways to get in touch with your inner child.
Exhaustion, hormones, frustration, and a red-faced, howling baby can make even the calmest mother want to break down and sob. Go right ahead, urges Wendy Young, a child and family therapist (and mom of three) in Bessemer, Michigan. "Scientists have shown that crying reduces tension and eliminates toxins from our bodies," she says. "In short, crying gets the sad out."
In fact, when a team of biochemists at the St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota analyzed the chemical content of tears, the researchers discovered that the so-called "emotional" tears (unlike tears cried while, say, chopping onions) were chockfull of proteins and hormones that our bodies produce when under stress. By letting go and letting our tears fall, we're ridding ourselves of these chemicals—one reason you might feel better after a good cry.
Leaving Cheerios aside, it's probably safe to say that babies get most of their calories from liquids and purees. Why not follow their lead at your own snack time? "I'm a huge fan of the blended fruit/yogurt/ice combo," says Nashville mom Susannah Felts, whose 2-year-old daughter, Thalia, loves what she calls "foodies" (that's "smoothies" to you and me). Protein powder is an excellent way to boost your smoothie's staying power, and they're a good source of nutrition on the go. Hint: Purchased bags of frozen fruit make prep a snap, or you can freeze a sliced banana or other fruit yourself (perfect for fruit that's nearing its expiration date).
There's no limit to the combinations—soymilk, honey, flaxseed, kefir, and even granola are all delicious, blender-friendly combinations. Make a double portion and your next healthy snack is ready to go when you are. Sippy cups and straws are optional.
"Sure, I sleep like a baby," the old joke goes. "I wake up every two hours and cry!" (Okay, it's not so amusing when you have your own erratic sleeper in the house.) While infant night-time sleep patterns leave a lot to be desired from an adult point of view, "napping during the day is a great way to catch up on lost sleep," says Rallie McAllister, M.D., co-author of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. The average new mom gets 20 percent less sleep per day than she did before giving birth. (It's exhausting to contemplate!) Studies have shown that moms who steal back their snooze time by napping with their babies are less likely to suffer from post-partum depression.
What's more, "moms who nap are more likely to have babies who nap, since newborns tend to adopt their mothers' circadian sleep rhythms," McAllister says. And since lack of sleep alters your body's production of appetite-regulating hormones, exhausted moms may feel hungrier in general and less satisfied after they eat. "With less sleep, we tend to increase our caloric intake," she says.
"If you watch your baby closely," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., mother of two and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, "you'll see her whole tummy rise and fall with each breath." As we grow, we tend to breathe much more shallowly, often using accessory muscles in our neck and chest. In fact, taking quick, shallow breaths without using your diaphragm can actually cause a full flown panic attack, Lombardo says. But research has shown that deep, slow breathing is a wonderful counter to anxiety and stress. "Belly breathing calms and relaxes you," Lombardo says. "It's like a glass of wine without the calories!"
Here's how to do it: Place one hand right above your belly button (just over your diaphragm) and begin to breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly. If you can see your hand rise and fall with every breath, you're using your diaphragm to fill your lungs with air. Aim for at least 15 belly breaths; afterward, you'll definitely feel calmer and more relaxed.
Babies demand food whenever they're hungry (4 a.m, anyone?) and stop eating the minute they're full. Not a bad plan for a mom, especially if she's anxious to return to her pre-baby weight, McAllister says. "If adults only ate when they felt hungry, most of us would find it easier to lose weight," she says. But even if you're not actively trying to shed pounds, mimicking your baby's eating patterns is beneficial: "Eating small, frequent meals helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which means less hunger, fewer carb cravings, and more energy with fewer 'crashes'," she says.
Whether they're batting at mobiles or squealing at the family cat, babies love to play. And while lots of parents find that goofing around with their little ones is a great way to recapture the lost joys of childhood, it's important to remember to keep grown-up "play" part of your life, too. Don't lose track of what you used to do for fun before you became a mom.
You'll probably have to work a little bit harder to make time and space to play, but it's worth it. "You can't just have life be all work, or you'll end up terribly stressed and possibly even resenting your baby," says Alexa Stevenson, St. Paul mom to Simone, 2. Whether it's something structured and vigorous (tennis, yoga, a jog without the jog stroller) or low key (reading, knitting, or even losing yourself in a video game), take time to have fun—just like your baby does.
"Babies relieve themselves with abandon whenever the need arises, and moms can take a lesson from that," McAllister says. Instead, we all know that moms are often so harried they don't even have time to get to the bathroom. Quite simply, it's bad for your bladder and bowels not to heed the call of nature when it comes: A chronically unemptied bladder can lead to urinary tract infections, and suppressing the urge to move your bowels can cause bloating, abdominal discomfort, and constipation. So listen to your body and do as your baby does—go when you've gotta go.
Your baby loves being read to—why wouldn't you? Thanks to the wonderful world of podcasts and audiobooks, you, too, can experience the forgotten pleasure of having someone read you a story. (It's a great way to "read" when your hands are too full to hold a book. "I keep my iPod handy so I can listen at various times—like when I'm doing brainless chores like unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, or fixing dinner," says Susannah Felts, who recommends National Public Radio and The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization, as sources for podcasts. "The stories are both an escape and a great way to feel connected to the broader culture—a stimulating world beyond that of mom-itude, full of creative people. It's nice to feel like you're engaging with that world—even if you're busy washing dishes or Swiffing up cat fur."
All over the world, parents swaddle their babies tightly in blankets to promote sleep and decrease fussiness. It's a time-tested solution for infant crabbiness that really works. Babies (especially newborns, who were, after all, quite constricted in the womb) love the secure feeling of having their limbs cozily wrapped.
Margaret Moxley, a mom of three in Nashville, swaddled all three of her babies—and herself. "I sleep with the covers wrapped around my head and ears and tucked under my chin, the better to drown out birdsong at 5 a.m. and spousal snoring throughout the night," she says. One potential bonus: with your ears tightly under wraps, your snoring spouse might be the one to first hear your baby's 2 a.m. wakeup call! Either way, having a little cocoon to sleep in is a plus for any new mom's jangled nerves, and makes it easier to tune out distractions so you can fall—and stay—asleep.
Or at least ignore one. Babies don't care if the laundry's folded and the floors are immaculate— and if you find yourself struggling to maintain unrealistic standards now that you're a mom, you're stacking the deck against yourself. Julia Litton, Minnesota mom to 8-year-old Patrick and 2-year-old Edward and Caroline, "really let things go once the twins got mobile," she says. "Patrick was a tidy kid who, even as a baby, would eat without spilling a drop. Edward has a similar temperament, but Caroline? She's a hurricane." After getting over her initial shock (where did this kid come from?) Litton learned to laugh at and even embrace Caroline's propensity for chaos.
"I've just resigned myself to books and toys all over the floor, because there's no point in putting them back." Litton does confine the confusion by restricting the twins and their toys to certain areas of the house, but mostly she's just lowered her standards—for now. "I can't stay on top of two toddlers and keep a clean house, so I just go with it," she says sensibly. "And I always remind myself that this is all temporary—one of these days I'll probably miss the mess."