You have finally gotten your baby down for a restful nap. You have anywhere from a half hour to two hours, depending on the age and temperament of your baby. What can you do that will be most useful and productive during your hands free, baby free time?
Rest/relax. No matter how long baby is going to nap, whether a half hour or two hours, take at least twenty minutes to unwind and relax. Put your feet up and shut your eyes. Put on some soothing music or read, but lie down and put your feet up. The better you feel, the better you can care for your baby.
If you are a brand new mother, for the first few weeks, you should sleep every time the baby sleeps, which isn't very often quite honestly. It may seem like all your baby does is eat and sleep, but it takes a good forty five minutes to feed, burp, change, and soothe a newborn back to sleep. So every two hours when your baby is ready to eat again, you will actually only be looking at about an hour between "feedings". At this stage, it is very hard to put baby down and rest, but do your best. Lie with your baby if can or if you would like, but get rest. Period. Everything else can wait.
As your baby gets older, she will sleep for longer intervals at some points, and you will be less tired, but still get some rest and relaxation in every day to keep yourself refreshed and happy. Most babies don't sleep all the way through the night because their stomachs are very small and they need to eat more often. You definitely are not sleeping like you used to, so form a new habit and rest before you do anything else. If you wait to rest until after chores are done, you run the risk of baby waking up, and you being tired at that point and longing for some rest, so do both of you a favor and rest first! As soon as your baby lies down, you lie down also!
Catch Up. Whatever you have been putting off all day, do now. Make that phone call, do the dishes, sterilize the bottles, mix the formula, throw dinner in the crock pot, fold the laundry, run the sweeper, etc. All of these chores still need to be done even after the baby arrives! There are actually now more dishes and laundry to do, but don't let it make you feel overwhelmed. It will all get done!
After you have rested for at least twenty minutes, you can begin to play catch up at home. Do what is MOST needed first. If you are running low on bottles, be sure to wash and sterilize them at least. If you can't get the formula made, that can wait until baby's feeding time. If you're running low on clothes, put some laundry in. I do a load every day. If you are feeling overwhelmed, call someone to help you. They can watch the baby or feed her for you while you catch up or they could even do your housework for you. People can be very helpful when it comes to new mothers.
Pamper yourself. In addition to being rested and having your chores caught up, taking care of yourself will make you feel good and will improve your attitude and outlook on just about anything. Lack of sleep and the stresses of a new baby along with the added weight from pregnancy can make anyone appear to be not at their best. Taking time while baby is resting to do your nails or apply lotion or even makeup will make you feel better. While your baby won't notice, your husband, family, and friends sure will!
Another quick pick me up is a new hair color or a touch up from a previous color. When your hair looks healthy and shiny, you just feel better about yourself overall. Maybe a friend could come over and help you with some highlights!
Your husband really does understand and see what you're going through. Don't be afraid to ask him to give you a massage or rub lotion on your feet. He can even do this when you're sleeping; "killing two birds with one stone" so to speak.
If you are so lucky as to have enough time for a quick workout or yoga session, try to take advantage of this also. In addition to making you look better, these down time activities will also boost your energy for the rest of the day and keep you in better shape for handling your growing and soon to be very active baby!