You made it through about nine months of pregnancy and hours of labor or surgery, not to mention that annoying stay in the hospital immediately afterwards. They have finally stopped waking you up three times a night to check your blood pressure, and now you're home with the newborn baby. If you are feeling a bit lost, here's some advice on how to keep both of you healthy and happy.
1. Don't expect perfection from either yourself or the baby. The idea is to roll with the punches and just get through this tricky period of adjustment in the best way that you can. Keep in mind that ninety percent is an A. If you are managing to keep the baby fed, and in clean diapers, and you are staying alert to any medical necessities, you are doing great.
2. Make things easy for yourself by keeping materials and supplies close by the places where you will be using them.
* If you are nursing, move your most comfortable easy chair into the baby's room. Set up a table next to the chair for a bottle of water, your glasses, a clock, maybe some music, and anything else you will routinely need during nursing. If you are going to be up in the middle of the night, you might as well be comfortable. Make it even easier on yourself by not even getting up; have one of those new cribs that fits right next to your bed and has a side that drops. Then just reach over, get the baby, and nurse lying on your side.
* If you are bottle feeding, keep everything you need for formula preparation conveniently grouped on the kitchen counter. You will be way too tired to be searching in the drawers and cupboards in the middle of the night for the lid of the bottle. Or, better, just before bed, prepare bottles by taking a clean, empty, DRY bottle and measuring out the dry formula. Then cap it, and place it next to your night stand or in the baby's room along with a couple bottles of plain water - again, pre-measured if you think you might not get it right in the middle of the night. Just open the bottles and mix and feed. In the morning, take the empty bottles down to be washed. Another alternative is to buy the ready-to-feed formula in bottles for night time feedings, but this can get expensive.
* You may have a perineal incision which will require washing with each trip to the bathroom, and this will require certain equipment. There is also a possibility of hemorrhoids. Again, make things easy on yourself by putting all those materials within easy reach of the toilet. It is important to take care of yourself and the closer the materials are to hand, the faster you can get yourself taken care of so that you can get back to that baby. Good products to have on hand are Preparation H, Tucks Pads with Witch Hazel, Tylenol or Motrin. A squirt bottle for gentle cleansing and diluting urine is helpful for this healing area.
3. Sleep when the baby sleeps. It's essential to avoid sleep deprivation so that you can remain alert when caring for the baby. Know how much sleep you need per day and get it in bits and pieces, sleeping when your baby sleeps, and napping when your baby naps--avoid the temptation to catch up on email while the baby is sleeping. You need to rest when the baby rests.
* Place the baby on his or her back and keep the crib or bassinet near you with no pillows, quilts, or toys (a light blanket can be placed below the baby's arms and tucked in lightly along the bottom half of the crib). If you choose to co-sleep, read up on how to do so safely. Also see the Warnings section below about sleeping positions.
* Call your doctor if the baby seems to be sleeping excessively (over the normal 16 hours a day) as this may signal an infection.
4. Ease into a schedule. Some people feel that an effort should be made to get on a schedule right away, and others believe in letting a natural rhythm arise at its own pace. Either way, do what is most manageable for you without causing stress to the baby. It will take some trial and error to find a good balance.
* Try to keep things picked up but don't worry about the dusting and the vacuuming. Some of that kind of thing is just going to have to wait until you get back on your feet.
* Help the baby differentiate night and day by playing and keeping the room bright during the day, and by avoiding playing and bright lights at night. Change your baby's clothing on a constant schedule, as this will help them know that onesies are for playtime and night gowns are for bedtime.
5. Brace yourself for the postpartum blues. Especially if you have had a medicated, surgical or "assisted" delivery. Over 50% of women experience tearfulness, tiredness, sadness, and difficulty in thinking clearly on the third or fourth day after delivery, probably caused by a sudden decrease of maternal hormones. Don't ignore these symptoms and any feelings of sadness or guilt that result; talk about it with someone who's close to you, and don't try to feign glee if you're really feeling down. Feel your emotions all the way through! Some of it will be painful and that is okay. Not only are you adjusting to an awesome event in life, your body is releasing every hormone known to woman around the clock. It should pass within one to three weeks as the hormones stabilize and you acclimate to the new situation.
6. Accept help. If you can afford it, hire a housecleaner, even just once every two weeks. That can help a lot. Get a babysitter if you need a break. If your partner is in the picture, support everything he or she does to help out. Be willing to let your partner dress or bathe the baby, and to take the child out for a walk or a drive; a parent who feels supported in his or her efforts to attend to the baby is more likely to want to spend more time with the baby, and that is likely to be a win-win situation for all involved. Relax and let your partner run with it. Chances are they can change a diaper just as well as you can! Sharing the responsibilities is a good thing. Discuss how you can do more of it.
7. Carry the baby close to you in a baby carrier when you move around the house or when you go out. Strollers are nice, but you may find that keeping the baby right on your chest will be the most convenient for you even while you cook meals. Taking a walk outside can be very refreshing for both you and the baby, and a baby carrier can make getting around very easy and comfortable for both of you.
8. Ease into a different diet. If you ate your way through nine months of pregnancy with the mindset of providing for two, don't expect to immediately go back to 1400 calories a day and the will power of a professional bodybuilder. It may take a week or two for your habits to adjust. Plan to eat 3 healthy meals a day, and give yourself a little flexibility with your snacks until your body catches up with your eating habits. After your doctor gives you permission, start exercising again in small increments. If possible, join a gym. Not only will going to the gym get you out of the house, you will be inspired to stay on track by all of the twenty-somethings in sports bras and spandex. Don't forget to drink enough water and take a daily multivitamin.
9. Keep your social life balanced. Some moms will find time away from the baby to be relieving, while others will prefer to keep the newborn with them at all times. It's an individual choice. Either way, stay in touch with your support system, whether that consists of the father, your close relatives, or friends. Consider finding other new mothers and connecting with them. Many places have groups of moms who meet regularly, and they can often be found with a little research on the Internet. As far as guests are concerned, limit people from visiting during this time when your child is vulnerable to contagious illnesses; most people are at their most contagious before they show symptoms of being sick.
10. Know what to expect from the baby. Don't be surprised if the baby loses a few ounces of weight during the first few days after being born--they'll usually bounce back to that weight after seven to ten days. Look for the baby to demand to nurse every 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, appear satisfied after feedings, takes both breasts at each nursing, wet 6 or more diapers each day, and pass 3 or more soft stools per day. Have the baby checked up on by a doctor on the third or fourth day after birth (if the newborn was discharged within 24 hours of delivery) and two weeks after birth; this is a good time to ask the doctor any questions you may have. Always remember and keep up to date with shots. Immunization, flu, and others are important to get during this and the next few months. You may choose to decline or postpone immunizations. Smaller babies, especially premature, are more delicate and they don't have the immune system of a toddler or preschooler.
* Spitting up is not uncommon and is nothing to be alarmed about, as long as the baby's weight gain is on schedule.
* The umbilical cord stump will usually fall off during the second week; until then, give the newborn sponge baths instead of tub baths, dab the stump with alcohol, and fold the front of the diaper down below the navel to keep the area aired and clean.
* If the baby is circumcised, place a dab of petroleum jelly on the circumcised area to keep the diaper from sticking to it.
11. Remember to enjoy that baby. The first few days and weeks will be rough, and you might be tempted to forget that you are in the midst of a miraculous and wonderful time. So even though you will be tired and sometimes stressed, do remember to soak in the joyful parts of the day. Cherish every minute, even when you are up at 2 am giving the baby a feeding and you look out the window and all is dark except your house. These few months will pass quickly and believe it or not, you will miss it!
* Ask for and get help. Being a mother is a job in itself, never mind laundry, cleaning, cooking, changing the oil in your car, and all those other things that have to get done. You don't get awards for doing it all.
* Depending on your individual situation and when and if you will be returning to work, it is never too early to start making plans. If you are returning to work, solidify your childcare arrangements. If you will be spending your days momming, start connecting with Moms in your area and locating Mommy and Me classes.
* Keep the camera right out in the open and use it every day for one or two shots. Your baby will change fast, and before you know it, you will be making a slide show for graduation from high school. For that you are going to want to have plenty of nice pictures!
* Remember that this is the "first time" for your baby, too, so they assume that whatever you're doing, that's the way things are supposed to be. Your baby will not be criticizing or judging you.
* An important reminder-when your baby cries, do not take it personally. Their unhappiness is about them, not about you. There's no such thing as a "good" baby---or the converse---a baby who is crying in order to be bad or irritate you. Also, don't forget that babies aren't always crying because they're sad. They can't talk or enunciate anything, all they can do is utter an uncontrolled burst from their vocal chords. Know your baby, and you will know what he/she wants when crying.
* Whenever possible, lean on your partner for support -- they will also feel more involved and invested!
* The most important advice you can get is to ignore all the well-meaning people giving you advice. At the end of the day, what works the best for you and your baby is what you should do.
* Know the latest information on sleep positions and educate anyone who is helping you so that they will do the right thing in this regard. If anyone else looks after the baby, clarify that the baby is always to sleep on its back--a baby that is accustomed to sleeping on its back and is then placed to sleep on the stomach or tummy is at greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
* Call the doctor if you spot extreme floppiness, jitters, fever (rectal temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius), and very loose and watery stools.
* Pay attention to any hard spots in your breast tissue if you are breastfeeding, as there is a slight chance of a plugged milk duct becoming infected. Call your doctor if you develop this problem.
* Take Post-Parteum Depression seriously. It's a medical problem, not a sign of you being a bad mother. It can be treated and you will enjoy being a woman and mother much more.