The days, weeks, and months after a baby is born are truly magical. The love that unfolds in that time is unlike any emotion that humans experience at any other point in their lives. Yesterday you were pregnant and today—you are parents. This magical time is not without its fair share of challenges.
As a first time mom, you may be learning how to breastfeed for the first time. Even if you already have other children you need to learn your new dance, your new routine with this little one. When a baby is born she is coming from a warm, safe, muffled, and contained environment. Even the sensation of stretching out her arms and legs can be overwhelming to her. The safest, most comfortable place for her, is in mama’s arms nuzzling and nursing at the breast. Taking time to allow this new baby to slowly emerge from the womb out into the world allows many benefits for both mom and baby. This constant nuzzling and nursing allows the mom’s milk to come in sooner and more plentifully; the baby is better able to get the nutrients that she needs both day and night; reduces the risk of postpartum depression; and helps mom and baby stay healthy and heal from the pregnancy and birth.
So then the big question is—with all of this skin to skin, all of this nuzzling and nursing, how does a mama take care of herself so that she can be there for this little creature. In other words “when do I eat, sleep and shower?” Following is a list of things that new parents can do to ease this transition into parenthood. These are true whether this is your first, second, or seventh.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps! This cannot be emphasized enough. Babies are often born with their days and nights flipped. So for awhile—so are yours. Newborns are hardwired to wake every few hours (at least) to ask for more food. This is a good thing. A baby is born with a tiny stomach that can hold the perfect amount of colostrum for her needs. Because of this tiny stomach she needs to refill frequently. As her stomach grows so do her needs. When your milk comes in the baby may sleep for slightly longer stretches at times, but waking every 3 hours during this fourth trimester is normal. So what are new parents to do? Sleep when the baby sleeps—anytime, day or night.
- Limit guests. When a new member of the family is born well-meaning friends and family members want to come see this little miracle. What they do not always realize is how important it is that the mom, dad, and baby get this special time together with each other. Every family is going to have different dynamics so you can take what you want of my advice and leave the rest. My recommendation is that if friends and family are visiting they help out with housework, bring yummy/nutritious food, and facilitate mom and dad spending time with their new baby. If guests are frequently coming in and out of the house it quickly becomes exhausting for mom and dad and overstimulating for the baby. Keep guests to a minimum and ask that they lend a hand (and maybe they will get a bonus baby snuggle!).
- Wear your baby. For most new parents it is not realistic to spend the entire fourth trimester snuggling with baby in bed. We have lives and we have needs. How do we accomplish anything when we are holding the baby all of the time? We wear the baby! Babies love being close to mom and dad and they love being in motion. Get the best of both worlds by putting the baby into a carrier or wrap. There are over a hundred different wraps and carriers out there. You will need to play around with the different options and find one that works for you and your baby. Many of the carriers have a 7 or 8 pound minimum so options may be limited when the baby is newborn. Check out a baby-wearing group in your area. Many have lending libraries so you can try before you buy.
- Freeze meals and set up a meal train. The need for healthy, nourishing food is second only to the need for sleep. During your prenatal preparation time make and freeze ready-made meals that can be easily warmed up in a crockpot, oven or stove. Sign up for an online mealtrain or have a friend set one up for you. A mealtrain allows loved ones to arrange to drop off food on a schedule. New mother’s are ravenous and need healthy food. This is a great option for a baby shower gift and for all of those friends and family members that really want to help.
- Take your maternity and paternity leave. If a couple can afford it, I recommend that both mom and dad take a bare minimum of two weeks of leave from work. Six weeks or longer would be even better. The new mom should not be cooking, cleaning, or doing housework for at least two weeks. If the partner is uninvolved or unable to take two weeks off arrange for someone to stay with her for these first two weeks or longer. If you live far away from family and friends, or are reluctant to share this fragile period of time with them, then consider hiring a postpartum doula. They are there to help with this postpartum transition in a number of ways. Even to hold the baby for five minutes while mom takes a much prized shower!
Try to enjoy this precious time. It won’t last forever and before you know it you will long for those sleepy, milky snuggles.
Chelsea Fredlund LM, CPM