Having a baby is a really exciting time however it can also be full of anxiety and hesitation for some. As much as we feel prepared during the pregnancy it often seems of little or no use once the baby is born.
Does anyone truly know what to expect in the first few days and weeks following the arrival of your precious baby? How is it you can go from being in total control at work, perhaps leading an entire team and yet have no idea of how your baby needs to be led? Babies do not come with a “policy and procedure” folder nor do they read your diary or schedule.
Initially it is best to accept this and not try to “fit” them in to your busy world. It takes time to establish feeding, get to know how your baby is communicating, and physically recover from the birth amongst many other factors. Many cultures still have a period where there is no expectation on the new mother to cook, clean or even leave the house. She is nurtured and cared for, allowing for recovery and milk making. In our Western society of 2013, I feel many women have so much pressure placed upon them, to be able to manage the household and care for a newborn. This can ultimately be detrimental to her health and wellbeing.
In order to give realistic expectations of that first week after the birth, I will set it out day by day. (I will assume you have had your baby in a hospital setting.)
Day 1- Birth Day
Once your baby is born, you may be required to rest in bed until your epidural has worn off for example. This usually takes several hours. You will remain in bed for 12 to 24 hours following a caesarean birth. A sponge in bed to freshen up and some sips of water to drink will be welcome!
If you have had a vaginal birth with no epidural then you can hop up and shower when you feel ready. However, remember there is no rush so enjoy the quiet time with your new baby. He or she may want a breastfeed at this point and while you both smell so natural it is an ideal time for baby.
Make sure you ask for help if you need it to get the attachment correct from the start. The midwives are there to support you with all feeding options: either breast or bottle.
Observations will be done to both you and bub. Some babies will just want to sleep, others will be awake and alert and others will be crying. A lot of factors influence bubs behaviour at this point such as length of labour, type of birth and drugs used in labour amongst others.
By now you will have seen many midwives change shift. A lot of women feel as though they receive contradicting information and advice from each one. Try and remember it may not be conflicting it is just that especially with breastfeeding things can change from one feed to the next or even from the start of a feed to the end of the same feed. This means what you may have been told at 11am could be different at 3pm. Take all this advice on board and do what feels right for your little family.
Babies are often settled and sleep well at this time, recovering and resting following the birth. It is important that you do the same. Hospitals are not great places to rest as there are many people involved in your care however try and sleep while your baby is sleeping as you never know what the next night will bring.
It is important to drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet to heal and recover from the birth as well as make milk for your baby.
Your baby might start to wake up today. It can feel as though all you are doing is breastfeeding and your nipples might become sore, cracked or even bleeding with bub on and off breast all day into the night. Take care and ask for help with each feed, which is what the midwives are there for.
This frequent feeding at this time is usually because your milk is “coming in”. The baby hurries this process by feeding regularly.
Often day 3 is the day you have a room full of visitors as they have all left you to recover following the birth until now! Just beware it is very tiring to have visitors and a room full of people is not conducive to a mum who needs to breastfeed, is still sore, tired and emotional.
Hormones are shifting and you can often feel very teary, tired and overwhelmed. Often being referred to as day 3 / day 4 blues. In the majority of women this passes with a good cry and some sleep. However if these feelings don’t shift over the next few weeks, it is time to seek help as you may be suffering from Post Natal Depression. It is ok to ask for help, many women struggle alone ashamed to admit they are not managing.
The latest statistics suggest that 1 in 7 new mothers are diagnosed with PND. Ensuring you have strong support around you when leaving the hospital is vital to good health. It might be your partner, mother or a professional.
Some babies will be settled at this point and others might not, still waiting for mums milk to come in. Some mothers will notice a big change in the size of their breasts as their milk changes from colostrum. It can be very painful at times and some women will feel like they are getting the flu-some Panadol and cabbage leaves on the breasts can ease the discomfort for about 24 hours.
In the first few days your baby’s poo will have been a thick tar like substance called meconium and as they begin to drink more it changes to a yellow/brown colour which has “little bits” as people describe it once your milk is in. Lots of wet nappies too by now, generally wet each time you feed.
When you leave the hospital there is no one at the end of the buzzer to ask for help. Often couples say they didn’t know what to do with their baby once they got home and it felt very scary. There is no right or wrong answer just do what feels right for you.
You will still have some degree of vaginal blood loss (for around 4 to 6 weeks post-delivery.) that might increase with a breastfeed. Hormones involved in breastfeeding are also responsible for contracting the uterus, hence the increase in blood expelled. If your blood loss suddenly becomes very heavy and bright red then give your Doctor a call or go to emergency. Occasionally some placental tissue can be retained causing excessive bleeding.
Day 6 and Day 7
Make sure you are resting/sleeping when your baby is asleep. The housework and cooking will wait or someone else might do it! Your baby might want to feed every hour or two or every 4 hours at this stage both extremes are normal. No newborn behaviour is identical and they don’t really have any predictability in regard to their feeding or sleeping yet.
Just begin to watch and wonder. Learning how he/she is communicating with you often takes weeks, even months. Be patient and go with the flow.
Enjoy your baby and as long as you are doing what feels right for you then you won’t go wrong.
I hope this blog helps provide some practical and realistic information about the first week after your baby is born. A couple of key points – the importance of rest, following your baby’s cues and that asking for help is ok.