There’s a lot to be said about taking care of a newborn. There is a reason they call this phase “The Fourth Trimester”. Newborn babies are essentially helpless. They know how to find the milk if they are close enough to your chest and they know how to tell you when they are unhappy. Other than that, they are completely dependent on their parents, predominantly their mother if she’s breastfeeding. And dealing with the constant demands of a tiny human is utterly exhausting. It’s the one thing EVERY mom told be would be the hardest part of the first few months – learning to function on no sleep.
Sleep deprivation is something all parents share, no matter the age of their children. However, this is but one of the many challenges that new moms deal with when bringing home a newborn. Priorities change. Only the necessities matter, at least for a while. In the first month with a newborn survival mode definitely kicks in, at least it did for me. Below are tips I would give to any new mom. Some of these things I did, some I wish I had.
- Let your significant other help. In the first weeks home with Leo, I wanted to do everything myself. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I was trying to prove. But it took me awhile to accept my husband’s help. In fact, all he wanted to do was help in whatever way he could. You do NOT have to be Wonder Woman, at least not right now. Let your partner help you help yourself. It will be better for you and the baby.
- Procreate with someone who cooks. Whether you gave birth to your baby, had a surrogate, or adopted, make sure your partner can cook. Meeting the constant demands of a baby leaves very little time for you to take care of yourself, let alone eat. And for mom’s that are breastfeeding, it is especially important to eat a balanced diet. I have always felt fortunate to have a husband that can cook – he actually does most of the cooking at our house. And I was especially grateful for his culinary gift in the first weeks we were home with Leo. Leo would nurse, get burped, be held for about twenty minutes so he wouldn’t spit up so much, and then sleep for maybe 30 minutes, 45 if I was lucky. Then we would do it all over again. Thirty minutes is barely enough time to enjoy a meal, let alone prepare one too. I relied on my husband for all of my meals until he went back to work. It was like having my own personal chef. After that, I ate when I could, which sometime meant putting Leo in his “hammock” while I scarfed down a bowl of oatmeal.
- Stay hydrated. Breastfeeding makes you thirsty. And when you’re constantly needed, it can be hard to get enough water, especially when your hands are literally full. Keep a water bottle next to you when you nurse. Better yet, leave a couple bottles around the house in the rooms you frequent. Just be sure to clean them out regularly, or better yet, have your significant other do that for you (See tip #1).
- Sleep when you can. Everyone always says to “sleep when the baby is sleeping”. When your baby is three or four months old and takes naps that last an hour or more, then yes, by all means – “sleep when the baby is sleeping”. But if your baby was like my son, during the first few months he rarely slept more than 30 minutes at a time during the day. And if you are anything like me, a 30-minute nap only leaves you feeling more groggy. However, here is where I definitely urge you let your partner help. Let them burp the baby and put him down for a nap so you can at least get a full hour of sleep before you have to wake up for the next feeding. I didn’t let my husband help as much in this way in the beginning. Looking back, I wish I had from day one.
- Take a shower everyday. This was the one thing I made sure I did for myself each day. If Leo wasn’t asleep, I would put him in his Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play Sleeper in the bathroom with a pacifier while I took a shower. I would talk or sing to him or play music or white noise – whatever worked to soothe him that day. However you can swing it, as long as your baby is in a safe place, shower or bath daily – it will make you feel human. Comb your hair, even it your just redoing your bun. And put on clean clothes, even though you will more than likely be covered in some type of bodily fluid within five minutes of picking up your baby.
- Go for walks as soon as you feel ready. I had Leo at the beginning of spring, so I was taking him for walks in the stroller starting when he was a week old. Some days he was bundled up in a hat, mittens, and a blanket, but as long as it wasn’t too cold, we were going for that walk. I would have gone crazy if I had been cooped up in the house with him any longer. Our daily walks gave me the light exercise I needed and the fresh air I craved. I took my time, listened to my body, and by the time he was three weeks old I was back up to three miles a day. If you can’t go for walks right away because you had a c-section or some other complication, at least sit outside for a little bit each day. The fresh air and sunshine does a body good.
- Take care of your lady parts. After you give birth in a hospital they make sure you have everything you need to take care of your vagina. Whether you have a c-section or deliver vaginally, heavy duty maxi pads are in your future. And you will be hard pressed to find pads as heavy duty as the ones they give you in the hospital. Be sure to take home any extra you have upon discharge. Once that package is open, it’s yours to keep anyway. For those mother’s that deliver vaginally, there are three other items that you will be grateful for in the weeks after giving birth as well, witch hazel pads (i.e. Tucks), a squirt bottle, and Dermoplast. The hospital should provide these items for you as well. And once again, any leftover supply you have is yours to keep, so pack them up with you when you are discharged along with those heavy duty pads and any extra mesh underwear you have laying around your hospital room. If you have invested in more natural products to help you heal, by all means, whatever works best for you. Just make sure you don’t forget to take the time to take care of yourself – your vagina will thank you.
- When it comes time to feed your baby, get comfy. We invested in a La-Z-Boy recliner because I knew that I would be spending many hours nursing our baby in that chair. In the first month I probably spent about 8-10 hours a day on and off in that chair, nursing, burping, and rocking Leo. A regular rocking chair or glider would not have cut it for me. After a while I was able to nurse him on the couch or, when he got bigger, in bed. But at first it was all about the La-Z-Boy. And now that he is so engaged in his environment he is easily distracted and it makes it hard for him to concentrate on eating. Feeding him in the quiet confines of his room makes it a little easier for both of us so, once again, I rely heavily on our recliner when it’s time to nurse him during the day. Whatever you can afford, a comfortable chair is one nursery item worth spending a little more on. Your butt and back will thank you.
- Get to know your baby’s different cries. This will take time and patience. At first, when Leo cried it all sounded the same. My husband and I basically went through the same check list every time he cried until we figured out what was wrong. But if you pay careful attention, over time you will be able to distinguish a hungry cry from a tried cry, a “I need to burp” cry from a “I need to poop/or pass gas” cry, and a “I’m wet/poopy” cry from a “I’m hurt cry”. Actually, before we had Leo a friend of ours who had recently had a baby shared with us an old clip from Oprah that featured a guest named Priscilla Dunstan. This clip goes over Dunstan’s baby language theory and the different universal cries she believes all babies use to communicate their basic needs. This clip helped my husband and me immensely. It taught us to pay attention to the sounds Leo made before he started to cry hysterically, which in turn, helped us decipher what he wanted much more readily.
- Feed your baby when he’s hungry. At first you will probably feed your baby every 2-3 hours. But once they regain the initial weight they’ll lose after birth, you should feed your baby on demand. I remember when Leo was about two weeks old he went through his first growth spurt. However, at the time, I was not aware this was happening. All I knew was that he was crying all the time and the only thing that made him stop was my feeding him, even if he just nursed an hour before. I didn’t realize that he was telling me that he was hungry because he was going through his first growth spurt and needed to eat more frequently to help increase my milk supply. After a few days of this I realized what was going on. Since then, whenever I hear his “I’m hungry cry” I feed him, regardless of when he last ate. I’m not concerned that he’s overeating – I know he’ll stop when he’s full. And since I started feeding Leo on demand, he only really cries when he’s tired. Don’t worry so much about watching the clock and timing your feedings – your baby will let you know when he’s hungry and when he’s done.
- Skin to skin contact is great for you and the baby. In the hospital they often encourage new mothers to snuggle with their newborns skin-to-skin, also known as kangaroo care. It’s actually great if your partner does this with your baby too. I remember my husband taking off his shirt when Leo was just a day old and holding him against his chest – my ovaries nearly exploded. The warmth of your skin and sound of your heart beating makes them feel safe and secure. I tried to do kangaroo care with Leo when I remembered, but I usually only resorted to it when he was really upset. I wish we had down more skin-to-skin when he was little. There’s nothing like baby snuggles.
- Wear your baby. I don’t mean go off the deep-in like Buffalo Bill (too creepy?). But do invest in a wrap or baby carrier that accommodates newborns. I bought a Moby Wrap and used it all the time when Leo wanted to be held and my arms were tired. He didn’t like it at first, but he soon learned to enjoy being all snuggled up next to my chest. We still use our Moby around the house at times, but when we are out an about we use an Ergobaby carrier, which I find more comfortable when we are on the go.
- Limit your visitors, at least in the first month. And make sure visitations are kept to no more than an hour. Do not feel bad about kicking people out if they over stay their welcome. It’s important that you use any free time you do have to get to know your baby, eat, or sleep. There will be plenty of time for family and friends to see your baby over the course of the first year. And make sure anyone that does stop by brings food.
- Take lots of pictures. Every mom will tell you that the time goes by all too fast. And it does. In those first weeks and months with your baby you will be so tired your memory will not always serve you well. Take pictures as often as you can. Better yet, have your partner take pictures of you with your baby because selfies can only capture so much. I remember being in the hospital with Leo and I remember bringing him home. Other than that, the first month is more or less a blur. I am very grateful that I can look back at all of the pictures my husband and I took during the first few months. They depict precious memories that I will cherish forever.
It may not seem like it at first, but you will survive the first month with a newborn. New challenges will arise, but you will overcome those too.