Okay…now the worst is over. The delivery is done. You are now a parent!
It is an amazing and incredible experience to look at this new baby and know that you are now responsible for the well-being of this little person.
Well, you are going to take care of your baby. But first, you need to take care of yourself.
You are likely tired, relieved, overwhelmed, in pain (if you’re mom), and did I mention tired? The first two weeks are often a big blur. The first week often feels like one long, jet-lagged day. You may have done all-nighters when you were younger…but how about fourteen all-nighters in a row? How about three months’ worth? You will likely not be sleeping through the night for the first few months. Some people say that you will finally get a good night’s sleep in, oh, about, eighteen years!
But truly, thousands of women deliver babies every day. It is amazing how well you will be able to handle the every two-to-three-hour feedings, even if you are sleep-walking through much of it! Trying to learn new skills while sleep-deprived can be very overwhelming and difficult to do. But do not be concerned; your body and mind will adapt. There is an end to sleepless nights at some point, and then you have an adorable little person to show for all of your hard work.
I clearly remember one occasion when I woke up one night to feed my newborn baby. I was in the nursery in this big, comfy sofa chair, holding him while he nursed. My body was feeding him on autopilot, and my brain was in a hazy, half-awake fog. At some point I must have fallen asleep in the chair where I was feeding him. When I woke up, I was in a total panic as it registered in my cloudy brain that my arms were empty! I thought for certain that I had dropped my son on the floor and that he was injured. Luckily, it turns out that some part of my brain was functioning enough to put my baby back in the crib before I fell asleep. My heart rate still goes up when I think about that episode!
You may have heard the old wives’ tale that you lose brain cells every time you have a baby. While scientifically that may not be true, it sure feels like it. And if you have more than one child, then just forget it! (Well, you will anyway!) I find that many parents had no idea that the first few months would be so hard. Consider it a challenge that you must rise up to meet—and one that is well worth it!
So, how can you make it through? Here are some helpful tips:
- Get help…useful help. Most grandparents are great. So use them while you have them. If they are willing, try to let them take over a feeding, or at least watch the baby in between feedings if you are breastfeeding. Try to sleep when they are helping you. However, if having your parents or your in-laws over for the first two weeks will increase your stress level instead of relieving it, then tell them to come over after that time has passed.One mom described to me how her mother-in-law flew in from across the country to help for the first two weeks. But instead of being a help, her mother-in-law just bossed her around, constantly correcting her regarding the baby’s care. Her mother-in-law still expected to be treated as a guest and have her meals cooked for her at the same time. This mom was so tired and confused, and she was resentful of her mother-in-law’s presence during this stressful time. You do not need this kind of help!
- Let your spouse or significant other take on some of the duties. This is particularly helpful for moms who are breastfeeding. If you are going to do all the feedings, you will only get at most one to two hours of continuous sleep at a time in those first two weeks.If you can at least once a day try to pump your breast milk if you are breastfeeding and let someone else do a feeding so that you can get a minimum of four hours of sleep in a row. Once your baby has latched on well for a few weeks, you can safely use a bottle for a feeding for most babies. Your body and brain need enough time to get to deep REM sleep so that you can feel refreshed. If you are not well-rested, you are not helping yourself or your child. It is amazing how wonderful you’ll feel if you can get four hours of uninterrupted sleep!
- Sleep when your baby sleeps. People will tell you this often. But you’ll find it is actually quite difficult to tune out your “mommy” or “daddy” sense and just go to sleep. This is especially true if your baby is in your bedroom. The best way to work around this is to have someone you trust to take care of your baby in another room in your home, preferably as far away from where you are sleeping as possible. Otherwise, if you hear your baby crying, it will be your natural instinct to go to her. Only when you cannot hear noises from your baby will your body and mind be able to relax. Also, go easy on the caffeine. Not only does it go into your breast milk, but most people are not able to sleep if they have had caffeine recently.Write things down. I always tell my new parents, “If you have questions for the doctor, write them down. Do not feel silly coming into the office with a list of questions. We are all used to it. That way you can have all of your questions answered in one visit.”Almost every day, I have a mom start to ask me a question, then stop, stare at me blankly, and say, “I know I was going to ask you something, but now I cannot remember what it was!”
- Have a plan…then plan to change it. Your baby is a person, a person with his own needs, desires, and expectations. Imagine that if when you first started dating a person, you began to dictate when everything was going to happen—when you would eat, when you would go out, what you would both wear, and when you would both go to bed! The relationship would probably not last very long.This new baby is not just an extension of you. He is a new person. Your baby does not know what you had envisioned, what a perfect parent and perfect baby do. He doesn’t understand that you think he’s going to eat every three hours on a schedule from day one. He does not know that you are determined to breastfeed him for his entire first year of life. So…go with the flow. Read the cues that your baby gives you, do your best to translate them, and realize that many times there is not necessarily a “right” way to do things.
- Add thirty minutes to an hour to the time it took you to doing things before. The days where you could just throw on your shoes, grab your keys, and jump into the car are gone! The process of getting out of the house and into the car takes significantly longer now. Once you have your baby fed, ready to go, and strapped into the car seat, inevitably she will poop and then start to cry to be changed. Then, once you have her changed into a clean diaper and strapped back into the car seat, she will spit up all over her clothes (and yours!). And once you change her clothes, clean yourself up, and strap her back in the car seat, she will cry again to be fed—you get the picture. Just be prepared for the normal delays that come with a baby who cannot tell time and does not know that you are already twenty minutes late for an appointment!
- If you are overwhelmed, cry frequently, feel like you are not connecting with your new baby, or do not feel like you can handle the pressure of motherhood, then call your obstetrician or doctor for help. You could have symptoms of postpartum depression. This is a common problem and should not be dismissed as “normal post-baby blues.” It is a real disease, like diabetes or asthma, and you should not just suffer through it or try to ignore it. Postpartum depression is treatable and can be dangerous if left untreated. Having a baby is tiring, but it should still be wonderful and enjoyable as you consider the tiny little person you have made.
Adapted from Chung, S., Dr. Sandy’s Top To Bottom Guide to Your Newborn (2011), Sentient Publications.