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Parenthood: Life After Baby

"How exactly does life change after a baby?"

Sleep Schedules Vary

A typical newborn sleeps 16-20 hours in a 24-hour period. It sounds like a lot, but it doesn't feel like much when that sleep is broken into bits and pieces throughout the day -- 20 minutes here, 40 minutes there, maybe three hours at a stretch if you're lucky. And a newborn's schedule may change from day to day, making it difficult to make plans or schedule appointments.

Don't expect to get much done during baby's nap time. During the first few weeks, you may find you need that time to nap yourself. "I always recommend that when the baby sleeps, the mom should rest, not do lots of chores," Stein tells WebMD. "Mom's main priority should be survival and getting sufficient rest. And trying to relax and enjoy her newborn -- they change so quickly."

As your baby matures, he will not need to be fed as often and will start to sleep for longer stretches at a time. There's no way to predict when your baby will sleep through the night, because there is tremendous variation in when babies reach this milestone. But the American Academy of Family Physicians says a typical schedule for a 4- to 7-month-old might include seven hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and at least two naps during the day.

Freedom Will Return

Once your baby adopts a regular routine, you may find it easier to plan outings or work on projects around the house. But older infants and toddlers require constant supervision, so free time will remain scarce. Whether you stay at home with your baby or return to work, psychologists say it's essential to carve out some personal time.

"Almost every minute gets spent either working or doing things for or with the babies," says Charles Winick, PsyD, a psychologist and father of 10-month-old triplets. "The only nonwork/baby aspect of my life I have retained is going to two or three baseball games a month. My enjoyment of these games is maximized because so little of my time is now my own."

This feeling that your time is no longer your own can be one of the toughest adjustments for first-time parents. Kovacs recommends comforting yourself with the knowledge that your baby won't always be so dependent. "The moment the infant comes out of the womb, a process is starting," he tells WebMD. "The infant becomes more and more self-sufficient... By the time they start elementary school, children are relatively self-contained and can entertain themselves for hours at time. Freedom is coming back slowly."

Reviewed on November 19, 2008

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