First: pick up a copy of this book if you haven’t already.
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp. I would highly recommend this book. My lactation consultant actually told me about it, and I really didn’t take her seriously at first. I thought that I had already read enough stuff, when in reality… I should have only read this book immediately. By the time I did start reading it, my baby was more than half way through the fourth trimester.
The book actually explains the fourth trimester in depth, so I won’t really go there. Basically, it just explains why your baby cries a lot, and why it doesn’t make much sense to new parents, and how to soothe your crying baby! I’m a scientist at heart, so when my baby would cry for no apparent reason, or with no evident pattern, or even when I thought I had met all of her needs, I began to get frustrated. After reading some of this book, I learned so much, and realized why my baby was crying, that it was normal, and how I could help. So, my recommendation is to read the book so you can better understand how your baby is feeling, and realize that you are, in fact, a great parent after all! It also explains how to start a no-cry sleep training routine from day one; something I wished I would have done.
Second: limit your visitors.
This may not be the same for everyone, but for a breastfeeding mama that feeds on demand, and with a baby that wants to feed every hour, visitors can really hinder your breastfeeding progress. If you don’t mind feeding in front of people, that’s one thing, but I found that in a quiet home with no visitors, I was really able to feed my baby whenever she needed (and in more comfortable, not so isolating locations). I also found that not having to worry about cutting conversations short, entertaining people, or covering myself made me a much happier mother in general. Family members are one thing, and if that family is making you meals, that’s a totally different scenario, because getting healthy meals made for you is a HUGE help. But, visitors that are not helping YOU or taking care of YOU are really just interfering in your progress with your babe. Our baby was born in January, right around flu season, so it was easy for us to say no visitors for a while. Honestly, we started seeing people around five weeks, but still, I tried to limit visitors and any family that was not willing to help out around the house or cook us a meal, because this is not a time for you to entertain. Additionally, limiting visitors limits germs and allows baby’s immune system to develop without a ton of assaults in the beginning.
Third: commit to breastfeeding.
Stocking up on supplies in the beginning was really helpful for me to get through the first four really tough weeks of breastfeeding. I bought nipple cream, nipple pads, nursing tanks and bras, and booby tubes to help with the pain. I SHOULD have bought this amazing wipe warmer from the very beginning because, honestly, it makes a really nice towel warmer, which doubles as a hot compress for your chest. However, by the time I actually bought the wipe warmer, I wasn’t sore anymore. So, my recommendation is to buy the wipe warmer before baby comes, or shortly after, and commit to breastfeeding early on so that you have all the support you can get.
Fourth: don’t forget about how sore you will be after baby comes out, literally. Take care of yourself.
Whether you delivered vaginally or via CS, honestly this is probably 50% of your struggle, at least in the first couple of weeks. Give yourself some credit, mama! You are sore and bleeding, so put together a little ‘caddy’ or basket of supplies to keep next to the toilet so that you can get some relief. For a vaginal birth, I had disposable undies, pads, perineal cold packs, a cleaning bottle, and Dermoplast spray all in a little plastic caddy/container next to the toilet for easy access. I also loaded up on Motrin pretty much daily for the first month. This was recommended since I was breastfeeding.
Fifth: fix your baby’s days and nights early on.
I admit: I didn’t do this… but next time, I WILL do this. My baby was born at 1:30 AM, so by the time we got to the mother and baby unit and settled, it was about 5:00 AM, and that’s when she went to sleep. Her days and nights were pretty backwards for the first week or two, and this was really rough. A lot of babies are like this regardless of birth time. Babies are rocked to sleep all throughout the day (in the womb) and then at night, when the motion stops, they wake up and start to move. You probably felt this at night as you were settling into bed. When they come out, some babies are still mixed up, and it can be really exhausting to get them to switch back (a lot of sleepless nights). So, one thing I read was to make sure that they don’t have any naps that are longer than about 3 hours during the day. I definitely didn’t do this initially and my baby would sleep her long stretch of five hours in the middle of the day. UGH! So at night, she was, of course, AWAKE! I didn’t really start to think about a sleep pattern until days in, and I stumbled across some great You Tube videos to educate myself.
So, from day one, I would recommend making sure your baby isn’t sleeping more than three hours in a single stretch during the day. You can wake them up, nurse them, then put them back down, but make sure their really long sleep stretch (usually around 5 hours for newborns) is getting broken up and hopefully will happen at night and not during the day.
Sixth: have easy but healthy meals on hand, or ask family or friends to bring you food.
My parents stayed at our house for the first few days after baby was born and this was a HUGE help in terms of taking care of us. I have mixed feelings about this that I will explain in a different post, but, if family is willing to help YOU, welcome it. By helping you I mean cooking for you, cleaning for you, taking your animals on walks or cleaning them, doing the laundry, cleaning your house, or basically anything to take care of YOU, so that you can tend to baby. Family that wants to hold the baby and take care of the baby for you is not helpful if you are breastfeeding, and is not helpful in the very beginning. Baby wants mama and mama’s milk pretty much 24/7 and, if you’re anything like I was, you are pretty protective of your babe.
Honestly the first two or three days home from the hospital were a bit of a blur in my mind. I think my husband and I got about two hours of sleep for the first three days, in total. My mom cooked us food and did our laundry, took our dog for walks, cleaned our birds’ cages, and in total, just took care of everything around the house. She didn’t expect to hold the baby or take care of her at all, and this was a huge relief. I welcomed the help and it kept me eating and drinking so that I could keep up with breastfeeding. I say this because if you are breastfeeding, it is so important to take care of yourself. If you don’t have parents or family around, prepare and get easy but healthy meals to make. Pre-made salads (salads in a bag), healthy microwaveable meals, pre-stuffed or pre-seasoned meals that just require a quick oven heat… things like that. If you can afford it, a food delivery service may be really helpful for a little while. Our local Sam’s club had a lot of things available, however for vegan meals, I stuck with salads, spinach, and a lot of microwaveable or easy oven-baked Trader Joe’s meals. But eating regularly, even if you have never done this before, is KEY to keeping up with the amount of sleep deprivation you will go through and the amount of milk you need to produce, especially in the first few weeks.
Seventh: give in to some nice baby ‘tools’.
I was not about any tools, rockers, or baby soothers. But, after a couple of weeks of very little sleep, I began to ask around, and realized I should have had these in the beginning. A co-sleeper. We tried the bassinet, but I would check on my baby periodically because her clothes were so big in the beginning and we were terrible swaddlers. So in addition to the co-sleeper, getting a good swaddle blanket or swaddle system is really helpful, too. But, back to the co-sleeper: I found I was most calm when my baby was with me at night, when I could hear her breathing and feel her heartbeat. The problem was, it wasn’t safe for her to sleep on my chest, and I didn’t get much sleep, either. I wished I would have gotten this co-sleeper from the beginning so that I could have put her in my bed on day one, but safely. I found that once we did get the co-sleeper, I could actually go into more of a deep sleep knowing she was safe and I couldn’t smother her in bed. You may want to put baby in their crib from the beginning, but I just wanted my baby next to me, and this co-sleeper came in really handy for that. Having baby close by is also really helpful for breastfeeding through the night. My baby woke periodically to feed at night and having her in our room was convenient.
A Dream Glider or rock-n-play was a game changer for nap times. This really soothed our baby to sleep during the day and allowed us to get a couple of hours to take showers, eat, sleep, and take care of everything else. We didn’t use it at night, but for naps during the day, it was helpful.
A white noise machine. Confession: I JUST got one of these (6 months in) and… my baby goes to sleep really easily now… I sort of feel ashamed, why didn’t I do this earlier? I should have. Not all of it is due to the white noise, but if you are following Harvey Karp’s advice (Happiest Baby), he recommends a white noise machine. Good to get it now and not have to suffer unnecessarily through the four month sleep regression or the six month sleep regression (what I just did).
Eighth: know you will be emotional, and that it’s normal. ASK FOR HELP.
I was so emotional when I came home from the hospital. I cried every day; sometimes happy, sometimes sad, and sometimes in pain. Sometimes, I would imagine terrible situations and cry. Why? Hormones. Sleep deprivation. And, there’s a lot of change that happens in a very short amount of time to your entire lifestyle. The hyper-emotional state does wear off over time, but always be weary and on the lookout for PPD (postpartum depression). Hormone fluctuations added with extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and, the feeling of constant inadequacy, especially if you have a fussy babe, can lead to depression really quickly. It’s not you, it’s the ‘perfect storm’ that brews when you bring a baby home. Make sure you are communicating with friends and family; ask for help and welcome encouragement. This is one of the hardest things you will go through (besides birth), and it’s really important to have a support network in place. Now is not the time to isolate yourself from all communication. Most moms are happy to give advice when asked, and you can take everything with a grain of salt. Trust your intuition. You know what is best for your baby. Realize that everyone and every book will tell you something different. There is not one manual on how to raise a baby; YOU are your best resource. Trust your instinct and always do what feels right, but also be mindful of when sleep deprivation is starting to take over.
Within the first two days, I needed help; I asked my pediatrician who then referred me to a wonderful lactation consultant. I saw this consultant twice within the first week of bringing baby home, and honestly, it was mostly for emotional support. She helped me with feeding too, but mostly, she just hugged me and encouraged me and told me that I was good enough. Because honestly mama, you will feel like everything is wrong at some point after you bring baby home, but you are doing everything right. Seeking help was hard for me; I wanted to be ‘good enough’ and not need it, but there is no shame in utilizing the help that is provided to you. I also attended a mom’s group each week (provided by the hospital for free) and this, although a struggle to get to sometimes with baby, was the difference between night and day in my emotional and mental state. Just talking to other moms and realizing I was not alone in this journey, and that ALL mamas are going through the same thing, gave me peace of mind and a lot of encouragement.
The first 12-14 weeks are pretty hard. It’s the time when baby is still getting used to being out of the womb, and he or she doesn’t really have the physical or psychological capability to comprehend or make sense of surroundings, or life on the outside. Babies are often colicky, fussy, and cry for no reason during this period, but it does get better. I remember being so nervous to take my baby out anywhere in public during this time for fear she would start crying and I wouldn’t be able to soothe her. After about 3 months, (some have even said as early as 9 weeks), baby goes through a few developmental milestones and begins to make sense of the world on the outside (I downloaded the Wonder Weeks App on my phone to track these milestones). Things become a lot easier, and baby doesn’t cry for ‘no reason’ anymore.
My husband and I used to joke that going through the first few weeks with a newborn must be a form of torture. Hours upon hours of sleep deprivation and having to listen to your baby cry just for a few minutes will raise your blood pressure and make you crazy. But, as with most things concerning a newborn, it does get better. Document your time, write in a journal, record the good moments, take so many pictures, and breathe through the bad moments. These difficult moments go by so quickly, and, in a blink, your baby will be six months old, or a year, or graduating from high school, and your brain will have suppressed those sleepless, barely conscionable nights; you will hardly remember them. But for the time being: you’re a warrior, and you will make it to see the light of day again!