The baby’s born and we’re going home – now what?
All new parents walk out of the hospital with their newborn feeling a mix of delight and anticipation about what lies ahead of them. Every one of them hopes to do everything right, but knows they are bound to feel uncertain about what is going on with this new, utterly dependent little person they have created.
Even before leaving hospital both parents are likely to feel quite overwhelmed by their birthjourney and the experience of finally holding their baby in their arms. Especially for the Mother the excitement of the birth and responses of family and friends may make it difficult to rest, and the baby’s need for frequent feeds and cuddles around the clock can result in absolutely exhausted parents heading out of the hospital carpark with their special cargo strapped into his baby capsule.
These early weeks at home with your new baby provide a precious time for parents and baby to bond as a family – this is your Babymoon – here are my top tips:
Limit visitors! Everyone’s excited about the new arrival and want to visit. So have a plan, and a gatekeeper – this is usually the partner. Discuss this as a couple in detail BEFORE bub arrives, and make a list of who you feel comfortable with, and who you do not – both in hospital and at home. Keep in mind babies are likely to need feeding and care and don’t know when visiting hours are… be prepared to send people away if you are exhausted from the previous night’s feeding frenzy, feel emotional because your milk’s coming in, or are just not ready to share your baby just yet. REAL friends will understand and not be offended.
Having clear guidelines worked out in advance about when and which visitors can come can avoid misunderstandings and anxiety at a time when the new mother is in a fragile physical and emotional state after the birth.
One tip about managing visitors which I shared with my homebirth mothers was to go into their bedroom to feed or rest. Visitors are likely to feel less comfortable in this more private zone of the house and less inclined to follow her, and hang around than if she is in the living areas. Retiring to the bedroom can be a subtle but effective sign to visitors it’s time for them to go.
Cuddle baby skin to skin with Mum and with Dad often. This will enhance the hormones of love which enable bonding and breastfeeding, and also comforts baby especially if she is unsettled or overtired.
Accept help with daily chores but keep visitors to a minimum in the early days. The type of visitor you want is one who checks when it suits you to come for a quick visit, arrives with a pre-cooked meal and puts it in your fridge, puts on the kettle to make you a cuppa, walks through to the laundry and finds the inevitable load of laundry which is in the machine, hangs it out, folds the clean laundry in the basket which she is chatting, and asks if you need any shopping done before she leaves.
Fathers can do so much to assist the transition for the couple becoming a family. Fathers these days are much more involved in the caring and nurturing of the mother and baby, which is wonderful. Helping, or even taking responsibility of the daily chores of laundry, dishes, and meals will take pressure off the new Mum.
Lower your standards – cut yourselves some slack regarding housework and meals.
Rest together, and allow yourselves to have private quiet times enjoying and exploring your new life as parents. Fatigue and new parenthood go hand in hand, so make sleep a top priority and figure out how to get as much of it as you can. Some parent-tested strategies include napping when the baby sleeps, swapping shifts with your partner (for instance, taking turns going to bed early or sleeping in), and learning to breastfeed lying down so you can rest at the same time.
Get outside – even a little walk around the back garden – with or without baby – can blow the cobwebs away and refresh the mind. Gentle exercise after birth is beneficial, but don’t overdo it.
Avoid outings that involve busy environments – shopping centres, Mum’s Groups, family gatherings etc. Your newborn is vulnerable to germs/pathogens from well meaning contacts. Don’t let anyone kiss your baby, especially if they have any cold sores or oral lesions of any kind. Don’t let people who have colds or coughs hold your baby, and avoid smokers holding bub too. High density environments like shopping centres are best avoided, at least until baby has had his/her first immunisations around 2 months of age, and no caring friend should visit with a child who has been unwell. Siblings and other children are the most common transferees of RSV which gives them a cold but can make a newborn very sick, very quickly. This may all sound “over the top” however this is a common story when babies are admitted to Paediatric wards with viral infections, even when being breastfed.
Embrace the concept of your life following a 24 hour cycle for the first few months, and let go of “day and night” expectations. Understanding and accepting that this pattern is part of the new parent deal will help you to go with the flow of getting up in the night and permitting yourself to sleep in the daytime when you need to do so.
This can be a real struggle for women who are used to being highly organised with everything in order – and I think this is why some parents are attracted to the idea of “getting into a routine”. It just doesn’t work in the early weeks and the baby has not read “the book”. He is just doing what he has been pre-programed to do over thousands of years of evolution – being a dependent baby who requires protection, breastfeeding and reassurance that he is safe.
Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are a high price to pay for a tidy house, and the reassuring news is – the 24/7 wake/feed/sleep cycle doesn’t last forever.
Learning a relaxation technique and using it daily can be really helpful to de-stress. Deep breathing, a walk, a relaxing bath with someone delegated to watch the baby, and utilising‘ positive self talk like “it will get better, it’s not forever” can defuse negative thoughts and feelings if they creep in to a very tired mind.
Access reliable resources – be discerning about the information you receive. There is some really dodgy information out there in parentland so check the credentials of things you read on the internet or even in some books. Everyone will have advice from their own experiences, but when it comes to your baby YOU are the expert so trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. The first six weeks or so will be the most demanding time of new parents’ lives, they are on a very steep learning curve. But most survive. Some even do it all again!