I had great plans to write and publish a blog yesterday (to celebrate wee man being a week old), but ended up with a trip to hospital. Having a second emergency caesarean section at the age of 41 is no walk in the park. First time around I felt pretty fantastic. This time things have been a bit different. Thankfully, there have been no issues with baby. He’s been great, breastfeeding well, peeing and pooing loads, and settled and content in between feeds. I can’t believe that he’s already 8 days old today. He still feels so new, and yet we’re all gradually getting used to having him around, and learning what his whimpers and grunts mean. The first time around, our world turned upside down and a baby seemed so HARD. Second time around, it’s still hard, but he hasn’t disrupted our life to the same extent. With the experience of hindsight, the newborn stage is probably the simplest of all the stages. Their needs are basic and straightforward, meet those needs and they really don’t require much else. It is still time-consuming and exhausting, but as I said, relatively straightforward. I’d like to pretend that we’re on top of everything, sitting in a pristine, tidy house, but that would be a lie. A big fat lie. I often say in my Bumps, Birth and Bonding classes that the first few weeks are about establishing priorities, these are different for everybody, but it’s impossible to achieve everything you normally would in the first few weeks. I don’t need an awful lot of sleep, but I do like a daily shower and eating three meals (and chocolate). I’m not bothered about cleaning and tidying, but I do stay on top of the laundry. Your priorities might be different from mine, but here are my suggestions for what to do in week 1 and what can wait:
TO DO IN WEEK ONE
- Rest, REST, REST. I can’t stress this enough. You’ve just given birth. Most societies have some sort of tradition of looking after new mothers. Often new mums are looked after by female members of the family for 40 days after a baby is born. In that time, all mums do is rest, recover, and feed baby. All the other household tasks are taken care of, for them. Those of us who live in the West get a bit of a raw deal. The expectation is that we’ll be back in our normal clothes, and doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping and the school run by day 3. It puts an awful lot of pressure on us. I’ve had a few complications since baby was born. So, yes, I’ll not be doing the school run any time soon. Or even wearing “proper” clothes: jammies and maternity clothes are fine for now. Both my hubby and mum have been great at helping out with looking after my older daughter, and with the cooking, laundry, and cleaning. Not everybody is that lucky, but I’ve worked hard at relinquishing control over those things I normally do, so that I can take my own advice and rest. If you can, let the cleaning slide, dig out some frozen meals from the freezer (if you got a chance to do some batch cooking before the birth), or order a takeway, and spend time with your baby, cuddling, drinking in that delicious newborn baby smell. Have yourself a “babymoon” and get to know your baby.
- You can’t hold your baby enough. This ties in nicely with point number one. You’ll never get these days back with your baby, they are so lovely and special. I love the concept of the “fourth trimester”, where the first three months of a baby’s life are about a gentle transition to the world, with minimal stimulation and lots of holding and cuddling. From a biological perspective, we are carry mammals. Like our primate cousins, our babies are designed to be carried and fed frequently. Our babies are also the most vulnerable and helpless of all mammal babies. It’s no surprise that human babies need to be held and cuddled, and often won’t settle in a cot. Their biology dictates that they need this, because without it they feel vulnerable and unsafe, unable to fend for themselves. I heard Nils Bergman (the doctor who “invented” kangaroo care for premature babies) speak a few years ago, and it was fascinating learning how babies’ brains develop neural pathways and “good” genes are switched on when babies are cuddled and held close. As I’m writing this, I have a baby snuggled up on my chest. I’m not spoiling him, I’m helping him develop to his full potential. And did I mention he smells delicious?
- Get breastfeeding off to a good start. You might be starting to notice a theme with these three points, because they all tie in beautifully. Getting lots of rest and cuddling your baby gives you plenty of opportunities to breastfeed. The first few weeks can be time consuming where breastfeeding is concerned. Babies have tiny tummies, only holding a teaspoon or two of milk in the first few days. There is a beautiful synergy between the size of babies’ tummies, the frequency with which they feed (hourly feeding is fairly normal for newborns) and the fact that the more frequently babies feed, the more milk you’ll make in the long term. Invest time in breastfeeding now, and it’ll pay off later. Positioning and good attachment is essential, so if breastfeeding is painful or your nipples start to get pinched or damaged, make sure you get expert help with feeding. Most women will experience some discomfort at the start of a feed, but this should start to ease after a week or two. Feeding should definitely not be painful. Frequent feeding isn’t a sign that baby isn’t getting enough milk, it’s normal, so if your baby is feeding frequently, but settling in between feeds and having lots of wet and dirty nappies, then you can be assured that he/she is getting enough milk. If you aren’t breastfeeding, it’s worth adopting a “baby friendly” approach to bottlefeeding: little and often, and watching for baby’s hunger and fullness cues, rather than trying to get him to take a set amount at certain times.
THINGS THAT CAN WAIT IN WEEK ONE:
- Establishing a routine. Routines sound great and for some mums, they can give a sense of control and order to the chaos of the early newborn days. Babies don’t do particularly well with routine in the first few days, though, as their needs are often immediate and erratic. Often baby books perpetuate unrealistic expectations of newborns, insisting to parents that if the correct steps are followed, baby will go for 3 hours between feeds, settle in a cot and sleep all night. Some babies are remarkably chilled out and will adapt to these routines. Most will not. In fact, one study published yesterday highlights that trying to follow these routines often contributes to feelings of depression and failure in new mums, because babies just can’t adhere to these routines.
- Bathing your baby. As a midwife, parents often ask me what they can put on their babies’ dry skin. I always ask them how often they are bathing their baby. Invariably, they tell me that they’re bathing their baby every day or other day. Babies have really delicate skin, and need to be bathed infrequently, once a week is probably frequent enough, using only water, and most babies don’t even need to be bathed this frequently. I gave my wee man a quick dip before we left hospital, mostly because he has a lot of hair and it was a bit mucky looking. I haven’t bathed him since. I haven’t even (gasp!) bothered with “topping and tailing” him – that elaborate daily cleansing routine midwives have been teaching parents for decades. I check his skin folds, especially his neck because milk can dribble down there, and his groins, but I haven’t cleaned his eyes, because they aren’t sticky or mucky, and I didn’t touch his cord at all, which fell off on day 5. His skin is perfect – no dryness or rashes. In a few weeks, when you can gently introduce a (flexible) routine, an evening bath can be part of getting a baby settled down for the night, but it’s not necessary for now.
- Say no to visitors. I have wonderful friends, not one of them has come near me! They have messaged me, and let me know that they’re thinking about me and they’re eager to visit, but they have respectfully let me decide when I’m up to seeing them. To be honest, part of me wants to see my friends and show off my gorgeous baby, but I really just want to stay in my little bubble at home for the time being. Feel free to use your midwife as a scapegoat for keeping visitors at bay, I often tell parents this when I’m doing community visits. Just say something like “My midwife has told me I need to limit visitors because I need to rest after the birth”. Or if you must have visitors, ask them to put a load of laundry on for you, or bring some groceries, or a meal. Maybe they can hold the baby while you get a shower, or a nap.
Maybe these tips won’t be relevant to you, but they’re helping me at the minute. Physically, I’m slowly mending. I’m a bit sleep deprived, but coping with a quick nap in the afternoon and an early bedtime. Mostly, I’m just very content. I’ve waited for this wee man for so many years. He is very, very loved. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy these precious days with my baby, and the rest of my family. And maybe write a blog or two.