3 Areas To Focus On To Survive Your First Week With A Newborn
I absolutely remember getting home with my first baby and thought "Oh my god! How are we going to manage this?" With just my partner and myself, and no real help from family we did manage to muddle through. 20+ years, 2 more babies and a career in birth and postpartum has led me to knowing there are three key areas to focus on when you get home with your baby. These are not annoying, impossible tips to strictly follow, but areas to focus on and manage at your own pace and your own way. Being a parent is so individual and there is no right way to do it, but lets look at the places where you can focus your energy for the best chance of survival.
It is important to remember that you have just had a human exit your body. And whether they came out your vagina, or through your abdomen, this is a huge, physical and emotion journey you just took. And instead of being able to sit back and reflect on this mind blowing experience, you are now in charge of the survival of a creature you know little to nothing about. The good news is, babies don't need a whole lot. One thing they do need is a parent who is looking after themselves and taking their recovery seriously.
Whenever possible, get rest. This is not the time to worry about vacuuming, cooking, laundry, work or any other person but yourself. I know for many of us, this is difficult but it's oh so important. If you don't take care of yourself, you could end up worse off and then you really can't worry about anything else. So before your body rebels against you, just get as much rest as you can. After feeding baby, if possible, pass them off to someone else and lay down. Lay down without your phone or any other electronic device. Go to a space away from baby, with maybe some black out curtains and try to sleep. Whomever you gave your baby to will come get you if they need fed again.
Stay On Top Of Your Meds
Whatever the hospital or midwife recommends you take, take it. Your body has done so much and may be achy and sore from the experience. The medication they give you will help manage the discomfort while you recover. Any medication they give you is also not contraindicated for feeding baby from your body, so don't worry about that. And if you feel extra sore and achy, try an Epsom salts bath or hot showers. They can help ease the muscle aches you will feel.
If they have told you to take the medication for x number of days, do that. Don't stop early because you feel better. You feel better because you are taking the meds. If you stop early you may start feeling achy and uncomfortable again and it will take you a few days to get back on top of it when you go back to the meds. Take it until it's done.
Stay Well Fed And Hydrated
Start planning this now. Before baby comes. Cook and freeze easy meals that are healthy and will aid in your recovery. And if people are coming to visit, make sure you tell them the price of admission is a home cooked meal. They have to pay to see your baby, and this is the price. Look into meal and grocery delivery as well, to cut down on cooking and errand running.
Being well hydrated is important on a couple of levels. The first being, if you are body feeding, you will need to replenish the fluids being removed from you body by baby to make more milk. If you become dehydrated, your milk supply will actually decrease. When you sit down to feed baby, have a glass of water or something beside you to hydrate as you feed. The second is, you may have swollen feet at the end of your pregnancy. Most hospital or medicalized births involve I.V. fluids, so the swelling before labour only gets worse after labour. Staying well hydrated will allow the new fluid coming in, to push the old fluid out. Your support people can also massage your feet and legs, pushing the fluid back up the leg into the system, or if you have a deep tub to have a bath in, this can also help. But if the swelling goes to your hands and face, make sure you contact your care provider right away. This can be postpartum pre-eclampsia and is quite dangerous.
Let People Help
I know asking for help is difficult, and accepting help when offered is more difficult. Maybe you feel like if someone is offering help, they are suggesting you can't do this, that you are a bad mum or that you are failing. Just know, this isn't the case. They may know exactly how hard it is to have a newborn and don't want you to have such a hard time. Plus often people don't know how to help so they may be relying on you to tell them what to do. So tell them what you need.
Asking for help and getting help is not a sign of weakness. Try to remember that, as a species, we were not meant to do this alone. In generations past, we would have been doing this with our family tribe or clan or unit. The elder women would have helped with feeding you and baby, younger women would have been looking after you and the home while you recovered. We no longer have this intergenerational support any more but that doesn't mean we don't still need it. So if family and friends aren't able to help, consider hiring a postpartum doula to help out afterwards. A postpartum doula can make a great baby shower gift, so add it to your registry.
One of the more common concerns I see from soon to be parents is round feeding baby. They so often are bombarded with horror stories about latching and not having any milk and baby starving. The reality though is, these stories will often come from places where the feeding parent had little support, and a lot of anxiety around the act of feeding. And lets be honest, many times a new feeding parent, especially in hospital is going to get a ton of conflicting advice and support that will either sabotage the experience or add to the anxiety. So how do we manage it?
Focus On Latching
After baby is born, when surrounded by nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, focus on getting the latch right. If the latch works, everything else falls into place. Don't worry about how often you feed baby, how long you feed baby, don't time things in those first few days. Just focus on the latch and putting baby to the chest every 2-3 hours until your mature milk comes in.
If the nurse tells you to only "feed baby for 10mins and then we will top up with formula" for no apparent reason, just keep focusing on the latch and keep baby at the breast until they are asleep, even after doing breast compressions to squeeze more in. If the latch is good, the milk will flow and supplementation won't be necessary.
If the hospital lactation consultant wants to solve your latch problem with a nipple shield, ask them to keep helping you with the latch and how to wean off the nipple shield. Nipple shields will decrease your supply and won't help fix your latch. If the latch is good, nipple shields won't be necessary.
Remember Cluster Feeding Is Normal
Cluster feeding and growth spurts will occur around day 3 and day 6 and are normal for bringing in your mature milk and bringing baby back to their birth weight. So just hang out in bed, have baby brought to you and feed feed feed.
During this time, remember to stay hydrated and let people help. They can help by not feeding baby, but feeding you. Changing baby's diaper, soothing them and holding them between feeds so you can rest.
When you bring a new baby home, people will definitely want to come and see the baby. They want to hold the baby and bring them cute useless gifts. But in that first week or two, while you are recovering we don't need baby snugglers, we need parent helpers. They can come and visit but that visit will involve bringing you food, running an errand, filling or emptying your dishwasher, putting on a load of baby clothes and sticking around until its dried so they can fold it too.
The visit should be to listen to you, feed you and maybe, just maybe, holding baby while you shower.
Also, do you have Covid protocols in place for your visitors. Will they have to be vaccinated? Will everyone still be masked? Have these arranged prior to baby coming so people won't be surprised when you ask them to follow the rules of your house. Make sure they wash their hands before holding baby, irregardless of covid. As a postpartum doula, I've had parents try to hand me baby as soon as I walk in the door, but I won't hold baby until I have washed my hands.
I hope you found this helpful, and saw the underlying theme of it all. Get Rest, Stay Hydrated and Ask For or Accept Help.
Bonus Tip: Stop Googling!!!
I know the appeal of asking the internet for help, googling things that are new and strange to you. Crowd sourcing information on FaceBook groups. I've done it myself. But I encourage you to scale back on where you find information. Often times the information can be horror stories that will add to your anxiety, it could also be old or inaccurate info, and if its being found on Facebook, it may be just bitterness from an internet troll. So be ca