The key to life with a newborn is knowing what to expect in the first 5 days so that you’re not caught off guard, instead you feel prepared for life with your newborn(s).
The truth is, there is no such thing as the “only way” to transition into life with a newborn. It’s different for every family, but there are common threads. Being a parent requires on-the-job training to become your own baby expert, you will learn how to read your baby as they grow. However, I will share doula tips that your doctor, friends, and family may not have talked about.
The first milk you will produce for your baby is known as colostrum. Literally drops of colostrum, the liquid gold. You’ve heard the quote “big things come in little packages.” This is so true when it comes to colostrum. Colostrum is a superfood, tailor-made for your newborn. One drop is packed with antibodies called “secretory immunoglobulin” created to help protect the mucous membranes in the throat, lungs, and intestines, and every drop teems with white blood cells that defend your baby against viruses and bacteria. You may only transfer a few drops to your precious baby’s mouth as you breastfeed, but that’s OK – a little bit makes a big difference!
Frances Jones, a lactation specialist and coordinator of the milk bank at BC Women’s Hospital, says even a little bit can make a big difference. “If you’re having trouble getting your newborn baby to latch, you can hand express a little colostrum for him,” she says. Try expressing a little every couple of hours and feeding your baby with a spoon or cup. Your newborn has a very small stomach, the size of a marble, so it doesn’t take much to fill their belly. Try feeding your baby every two to three hours, because the more they suckle, the faster the colostrum will give way to milk. It’s a supply-and-demand process so nursing your baby soon and often after birth encourages milk production.
The second night after birth is a little hairy.
Your new bundle of joy suddenly realizes they are no longer inside the safety of your womb. They aren’t hearing the constant lullaby of your heart beat, warmth, tightness, and security they felt inside. They are out of the womb in this big, bold world and may not be happy about it. They were used to getting all of their needs met, all the time. Food was on a constant supply, the temperature always perfect, it’s almost like they have been at an all inclusive beach resort for 9-10 months meditating on the beach with the ocean sounds as their back drop and now… everything has changed.
This postpartum transition might look like a protesting baby waking up every half hour to feed. Feeling like a sore, sleep deprived zombie, thinking your not making enough milk to sustain them. But, this is not the case. Your baby just needs reassured that all their needs will be met, that you’re close by to feed, settle & snuggle them. Your body and breast are like their second home for now. This is totally normal, so don’t be afraid. There is nothing wrong with your baby(s). Or you. Or your milk. (here is a great guide for surviving the second night)
Your milk will become more plentiful, or “come in,” at some time between the second to the sixth day after delivery. Your breasts can feel like boulders, caused from extra blood, along with some swelling of tissues that produces the fullness. All this additional blood comes rushing in to assure there is adequate nourishment for your new baby. There may be times when baby is not waking up to be fed as often as they should. If your baby had been sleeping for more than two or three hours, try to gently wake them up. A newborn needs to nurse at least 8-12 times in 24 hours so it is especially important to continue to nurse the baby frequently, and removing milk from the breast will offer some relief.
A comfortable warm shower after feeding can reduce discomfort and make you feel human again, or damn near close!
Postpartum should not be a quest for independence, the “I can do it” attitude that blocks us from reaching out for help, do not be the martyr. With a little planning in advance, put out the call for postpartum support, you may be surprised who responds and how. It starts with re-orienting our minds and replacing old beliefs of “never enough” with the understanding that recovering and tending to the baby, for now, is more than enough. In fact, it is everything!
Some newborn parents can’t wait to get out of the hospital, others are not sure how they will fare going home, without the immense support they had in the hospital. And having ample support is key! The first few days at home with your newborn can be overwhelming, special, emotional, and a time warp all in the same breath. It is a whole new world and time to retreat, rest, nap and bond with your baby, eat warm foods, cocoon without errands, and acquire a support system to help pull it off. Society may not offer safety nets anymore, but we can start to make our own.
Creating a structure of supportive people to be on hand to help will allow a little more opportunity for rest; by letting some things go and shifting your priorities, you can recoup even more.
Day 5 & Beyond!
Getting in the groove postpartum. Think of getting in the groove to be more of a “loose routine” rather than a “schedule” to follow for the first few weeks postpartum. I am a lover of acronyms because they are easier for me to remember larger ideas. Here are a few to consider adopting.
Life with a newborn tip #1 is used for soothing a crying baby. The G.I.F.T. acronym.
G. Go! If your baby starts to grunt, stir, and awake or cry, get moving! Attending to their needs quickly helps them develop secure attachments and bonding. It also gets you into action.
I. Inhale! Take a deep breath and be gentle with yourself and your new baby. Learning all the new responsibilities takes a lot of deep breathing.
F. Feed! Sit down and get in a comfortable position. Relax yourself and feed the baby.
T. Touch! Caress your baby’s smooth skin and take time to adorn over their tiny, beautiful body. Adding comfort and relaxation to you both.
Life with a newborn tip #2 is the E.A.S.Y. routine for sleep.
- E. Eat! Time to feed the baby and yourself. Have you heard the phrase “eat when the baby eats, sleep when the baby sleeps?” Keep this in mind as you adopt the E.A.S.Y. routine. Wherever you plan to feed your baby, having some snacks and water within reach is essential. This can also be a time when your partner, doula, fiend or family member has food ready for you to munch on while you’re feeding the baby. They get bonus points for feeding you!
- A. Activity! You can use this time to burp the baby, change their diaper, hand them to someone else so you can go to the bathroom, or play, talk, sing, and bond with your baby. Then begin to settle in for the next step.
- S. Sleep! Newborns typically need to sleep 14-17 in a 24-hour period, the entire central nervous system, including the brain, undergoes immense development. Brain cells divide and differentiate prenatally, but then must reorganize and mature in infants. This maturation process helps your baby develop new motor and cognitive skills. Sleep is also essential for mom too! You are recovering from pregnancy and birth. You are no longer getting 6-8 hours a night of uninterrupted sleep. Taking naps is how you now get 6-8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period? Take naps!
- Y. You! After you take a well needed nap and the baby is still sleeping you can focus on you, your needs… Not chores, let those go or have someone else help with that! This is your self-care. Do you want to shower or bath, get some fresh air, go for a walk, sleep more (can’t get enough sleep in those first days), eat, meditate, read, snuggle with your newborn, talk to a friend or doula. This is time to focus on your needs alone. You can’t give from a cup that’s half full.
Just take life with a newborn and postpartum recovery one day at a time.
Please, be gentle with yourself and give yourself space for learning new parenting skills. You are not looking for perfection, you’re looking for improvement through time and experience. Just as a stone is polished by the waves of time, you evolve, grow and become smoother and more efficient. There is a reason babies don’t come with a manual! Every baby is different, and every mother is different, and every family is different.
Remember, being a parent requires on-the-job training to become your own baby expert, you will learn as they grow.
Be willing to make mistakes.
When you experiment with something new (which sometimes turns out to be a mistake), you are like a scientist reading the response, adjusting your course, gathering data on your baby and your parenting style. Eventually, over time, you will become confident and figure out what works, for yourself and your baby. Patience and love is key!