Newly pregnant moms have plenty to look forward to. There are entire books written on the topics of pregnancy, nursing, infancy, and more, but there’s nothing like experiencing it for real to show moms what parenting is all about. But first, they have to survive the newborn period.
Newborns are squishy, adorable, and perfectly helpless- the ideal recipe for encouraging mom to respond to their every sigh and squeak. But tending to a newborn can drain mom, dad, and the family pets- particularly when the crying starts.
No matter how angelic your infant, adapting to parenting a little one (even if it’s your second or third little one) is a challenge. Fortunately, there are survival techniques that experienced moms can share, and luckily, it doesn’t take an entire book to pass along the insight.
Whether it’s your first or fifth baby, the newborn phase is a unique and special time for moms especially. It’s your time to recover from birth, bond with your little one, and create the family that will carry the child through his or her life. So here’s what you need to know about this transition time, and how to cope when it gets tough.
1. More Than Three Trimesters
Pregnancy lasts for three trimesters, but many experts now say that babies need a “fourth trimester” once they exit the womb. This stems from the fact that babies are ill-prepared for life outside the womb- look at their impossibly large heads- and that they’re relatively helpless without mom. Therefore, most new babies are “clingy,” and for good reason. Mom is their anchor to the world and their sense of security. After all, babies start their lives floating around in warm water listening to mom’s heartbeat.
Unfortunately, living in the real world after only 9 months in the womb comes as a shock to infants. As the Huffington Post explains, aiming to “replicate the baby’s ‘womb world’” can help the transition. That means rocking or swaying baby, maintaining background or white noise, feeding babies on-demand, swaddling, and babywearing to keep them close to mom or dad.
2. Bonding Begins Here
Mom Rochelle Gonzalez told SCRP that while her then-newborn Ivan was in the NICU, she rarely used her phone because she was so busy with her little one. But once they came home, she found herself using her cell to stay awake while nursing. However, she noted, she was missing cues from Ivan, like facial expressions that indicated whether he was getting too much milk.
Many moms don’t immediately feel bonded to their newborns- and that’s normal! But experts say that feeding is the most crucial time to connect with baby, whether they’re breastfed or bottle fed, SCRP reported. Instead of “brexting,” a term people use for texting while breastfeeding, moms should focus on their babies’ faces, one lactation supervisor suggests. After all, babies can only see things clearly within a distance of a couple of feet, so your face is in perfect view while they’re eating.
3. Sleeping Baby Myths
Dr. Sears, the modern mom’s baby expert, busts myths about sleeping babies and offers advice on how to cope. First, he explains, babies don’t sleep like we do. They slip into sleep gradually, which is why some parents think their baby is asleep but get a startling surprise when the little one begins crying as soon as he’s in his crib. Babies need to be “parented to sleep,” Dr. Sears explains, and that means extra time to get babies settled into a deep and comfortable sleep.
But don’t get too excited about bedtime yet- babies have short sleep cycles and a built-in survival technique that involves waking at night. Babies wake when they’re hungry, cold, sick, or just lonely, and reaching for mom fulfills important emotional and physiological needs. Night waking is also good for baby’s brain, some experts say, because it helps prime baby’s brain-building functions.
4. Moms Missing Out On Naps
With all that brain-boosting night waking, babies don’t let moms sleep much (sometimes dads, too). Although baby’s naps offer mom a slight reprieve, cat-napping for an hour or two at a time isn’t the way adults are meant to sleep. This is likely the main reason why new moms are always exhausted and have trouble functioning- sleep is important!
While the age-old advice to nap when baby naps is a sound start, many moms don’t have the luxury of putting aside household or personal care responsibilities to nap a little longer. Plus, they have to eat and shower at some point, right? In the end, asking for help is probably the best way to get a little rest. Having someone take care of baby’s diapering and rocking needs for a bit can give mom a rest, whether baby takes a bottle or not.
5. Watch The Baby Not The Clock
Just like when he was in the womb, your new baby will want to eat when he feels like it, not after you’ve showered and fed yourself. For both breastfeed and bottle-fed babies, feeding on demand is becoming the go-to technique parents use and professionals recommend. In fact, a study in the European Journal of Public Health studied over 10,000 babies to determine differences between feeding on cue and feeding on a schedule.
The results showed that moms who scheduled babies’ feedings got more sleep and were more confident than moms who fed on demand- but they showed no differences when it came to depression. Schedule-fed babies, however, had worse cognitive and academic outcomes than on-demand eaters. This led researchers to conclude that scheduled feeding may be right for mom, but it’s not best for baby.
6. Eat More To Make More
For nursing moms, how much milk they’re making and how much baby’s eating are two of the most stressful considerations in an infant’s early months. Moms question whether babies are eating often enough, getting enough fat, or whether they’re eating too often but not receiving milk. A common question on parenting forums is how to make more breastmilk, and many moms obsess over this (I did).
But experts say that the best way to ensure a healthy milk supply is to focus on how the baby eats- an efficient nursling is the first step in ensuring enough milk gets to his tiny tummy. Therefore, avoiding pacifiers and bottles in the early days keeps little ones at the breast more often, resulting in a supply and demand effect. The more baby eats, the more milk mom produces- but she still needs to eat healthy food and drink plenty of water, too.
7. Lonely Moms Club
One fact that many parents neglect to tell expecting moms is that being a parent to a newborn can be insufferably lonely. Especially if it’s your first child and you’re used to being around people (grown-up people) daily, adjusting to life at home with a newborn can throw you for a loop. Apart from depression (we’ll get to that next), many new moms feel underwhelmed with new motherhood and feel like they lack purpose in the early days.
The best way to get out of a newborn slump is to get out and get around people. Invite a friend over (bonus points if they hold the baby while you snag a shower and a meal), go for a walk, take yourself and baby out for coffee (or tea if caffeine bothers you and baby), or join a local moms group.
8. Postpartum Depression Probability
Postpartum depression is a different animal than the typical newborn slump where moms go stir crazy home alone with their joyful bundles. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), up to 1 in 7 new moms experiences postpartum depression (PPD). PPD doesn’t always arise immediately after birth, but moms are most susceptible a few days or months after baby is born.
Symptoms of PPD range from anxiety and changes in eating habits to paralyzing fear of being a bad mom or uncontrollable mood swings. A particularly traumatic birth, previous depression or anxiety, and isolation can add to the intensity of PPD or prove to be the root cause. Fortunately, there are tons of resources available for moms with PPD, and there is help no matter how severe or how mild your symptoms are.
9. Diapering For Moms 101
Did you think I meant newborn diapering? Sure, that’s not a walk in the park either, but I’m referring to moms wearing diapers, not their babies. It’s one of those gross things that moms never used to talk about but is now gaining internet notoriety. Apparently, dads didn’t know that moms wear postpartum diapers- at least, they didn’t until one dad shared his wife’s bum pic with the world.
But seriously, many moms suffer heavy postpartum bleeding, so we might as well wear diapers to keep from making a mess everywhere. The good news is, it’s completely normal- WebMD just notes to look out for troubling symptoms like soaking through pads quickly, passing clots larger than a golf ball (eek!), or discharge that lasts longer than 4 to 6 weeks. Other than that, the best advice is to stock up on postpartum pads- lots of them.
10. Hormonal Havoc Happens
If you’ve already had your first (or subsequent) child, you may be familiar with the hormonal rollercoaster that follows birth. You might look at your baby, appreciating the cuteness, and then start sobbing because life is just so beautiful, and then five minutes later you might snap at your partner for waking the screaming gremlin that your baby has just become.
Either way, it’s all completely normal, and just because you feel overemotional doesn’t necessarily mean you have PPD or any other condition. “Baby blues” is considered something separate from PPD, and according to WebMD, it can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks, although sometimes longer. There’s no remedy for postpartum weepiness, either, except to wait it out (and try not to maim your spouse in the meantime).
11. Strange Baby Symptoms
Just like moms’ hormones are all over the place after birth, babies’ can be, too. While babies are in the womb, MedlinePlus explains, they’re exposed to moms’ hormones through the bloodstream. After birth, it’s like a sudden detox on baby’s system as everything drains away, but you might see visible hormonal effects for a few days to weeks afterward.
Some hormonal symptoms in babies include swelling around breast tissue (in both boys and girls), swelling or discharge in girls’ vaginal areas, and even fluid leakage from babies’ nipples (boys and girls). The fluid is called witch’s milk, although it’s not really milk, and it usually goes away within a couple of weeks. Another common hormonal sign is that of baby acne, which should also clear up on its own within a few days or weeks.
12. High Icky Factor
There’s no nice way to put it: the newborn period is seriously gross. Between mom’s dealing with postpartum bleeding, possible stitches or a healing C-section incision, and baby’s spit up and smells, there’s a whole lot of oozing and retching going on. From that first super gross baby poo to mom’s first trip to the bathroom after taking laxatives (many hospitals will push them on you), moms with a weak stomach can expect to be hugging the toilet.
Then there’s keeping baby clean and relatively pleasantly scented, which is tough to do if they spit up or have explosive diapers. Plus, all babies, but particularly chubby babies, tend to store fuzzy bits and sour milk in their neck folds, which can cause them to get rashes and creates an unpleasant odor. Basically, expect to bathe you and baby frequently, and learn to hold your breath for as long as possible.
13. Hands Off The Merch
People love newborns. Obviously- they’re cute and cuddly and they [usually]smell delicious. But that doesn’t mean every new mom wants random strangers putting their grubby paws on the baby. Since people gravitate toward newborns, parents might want to consider wearing baby out in public (strangers would have to get uncomfortably close to lay a hand on a worn infant), hanging a sign on the car seat, or just avoiding public places for the first few weeks at least.
While people typically mean well, most moms (myself included) are averse to having people they don’t know touch their newborn baby. It’s worse when you’re in a public place because most people touch everything and don’t think about washing their hands. Unfortunately, new babies are particularly vulnerable to illness because of all the new germs they’ve never slobbered on before (that will change quickly, though).
14. Dad On A Mission
Although I’ve read plenty of firsthand accounts from breastfeeding moms who lament their husbands’ useless nipples, particularly during nighttime nursing sessions, many dads simply feel useless when it comes to baby care. People dote on pregnant moms and their experiences, but dads often get left out of both the rehashing of the birth story and the stress that follows.
For moms with partners who want to take a more active role in parenting the new baby, hand off tasks that free you up to shower, eat, relax, or whatever else you feel like doing. Everyone will be better for it- especially baby, who will learn that they can go to dad for things later in life, instead of banging on the bathroom door while mom’s trying to find a moment’s peace. Think about giving dad bath time, diaper duty, or just infant playtime.
15. Whoosh And It’s Gone
The newborn phase technically lasts 3 months, but it often feels like it goes by faster. Your newborn baby will change so much in his or her first few days of life that it seems like you have a whole new child by the one-month mark. It’s a grueling journey to be sure, but it’s also the most rewarding part of parenting- at least so far.
You get to watch your tiny creature grow their personality and preferences of their own, and it’s an amazing thing to watch, even though you’re going on three months with insufficient sleep and probably haven’t had a hot meal since you left the hospital. Fortunately, no matter how draining the first few months are, you will no doubt look back on them with tender memories, because soon enough comes toddlerhood, which makes nearly every parent crave the newborn days again.