Mary Anne's Guide to NewbornsA couple of my friends have had babies recently, and as I listen to their struggles with their newborns, I'm reminded of all the things I wish I'd understood in advance. There's a *steep* learning curve to your first new baby, and so much gets hurled at you all at once. Here are some things that may help. Some of this is mommy-specific, but a lot of it applies to mommy's partner(s) too.
- sleep -- expect to be woken every 2-3 hours for the first month, and have to be awake for at least 30-45 minutes each time. You will feel horrible; an occasional all-nighter in college is not enough to prepare you for this. It's because baby's stomach is too small to hold more than 2-3 ounces of milk. She's not doing it to torture you. When they say to sleep when the baby sleeps, they really mean it. Let other people do *everything* else except eat and shower and pee for you. Even if you can't lie down and properly go to sleep, dozing on the couch while holding the baby will help. Turn off the tv sometimes so it doesn't keep you awake when you should be dozing.
- love -- don't be surprised if you don't love your baby right away. It is a sack of potatoes, a sleepy demanding creature that will not even smile at you for weeks. It may not show much personality at all. It is hard to love a lumpy sack. Don't worry, just keep taking care of it, and the love will come. This applies to both mommy and partner(s) -- really, to anyone who spends much time at all caring for the little bugger.
- kangaroo care -- this may or may not help with breastfeeding, but regardless, spend as much time as you can snuggling with your naked (diapered is okay) baby against your skin (partners too!). It is just really lovely, and one of the few rewards you get in the first months. It'll help you love her more too.
- stay inside -- for the first month, it's really best to avoid other people as much as possible. Why? The reason to avoid people is that what would be an ordinary cold with a light fever for a two-month old means, for an under-one-month old, a possible multi-day emergency stay in the hospital with a spinal tap. Terrifying. So there's a reason for the old tradition of the 'lying in' period, and you should follow it. If there are people you really want to see, have them come to you, and make them wash their hands before touching the baby. If they have a cold, don't let them come at all. And send someone else out to the store if you need things!
- the first six weeks really are like running a gauntlet. It may well be the most physically demanding, emotionally draining thing you will ever do, and all the while, people around you will expect you to be joyous and ecstatic. Screw them. You just concentrate on getting through this, and trust that IT WILL GET BETTER. Because it will, I promise.
- bring a boppy to the hospital; they'll keep trying to pile up pillows, but it'll be ineffective and make things harder
- if you possibly can, even if you feel like utter crap, within the first hour after delivery, try putting the naked baby on your naked stomach and see if they crawl up and latch on their own; make your partner/doula/doctor aware that this is a priority for you, because it may make your life infinitely easier later on. Even though I was in shock after the c-section, I wish I'd asked for this.
- understand that the hospital's supposed 'lactation consultants' are probably actually nurses who have taken a one-week course -- they usually know three things to try, and will try them forcefully and repeatedly -- but only in five minute chunks, before they rush off to another room. If they are upsetting you, send them away and snuggle your baby. Say, firmly, "I'd like to be alone with my baby right now, please." If you can't send them away, have someone else do it for you.
- trust your instincts on what seems to be working for you -- Kavi and I did pretty well with side-lying nursing in the hospital, but the nurses were worried that I'd fall asleep and roll over on her, and kept trying to get me to sit up (v. difficult with c. section) and do football hold (which, as it turned out, probably exacerbated the overactive letdown reflex she had so much trouble with). I really wish I'd ignored them all and kept doing co-sleeping and side-lying feedings in the hospital.
- try to understand how the breast works. I had no clue about engorgement, for example, so when my daughter started refusing my huge, rock-hard breast on day 2-3, I didn't know what was going on. I eventually figured out the pumping out some of the excess would make it much easier for her to latch onto, but we lost a good day or so to this, at a critical period. It also helps to understand how much you need to feed/pump to establish a good supply, what foods can help with supply, at which point the breasts switch from on-demand production to something else, etc.
- the best book I've found on this is The Nursing Mother's Companion, lots of practical, non-judgemental advice, and if you keep nursing, will be useful throughout the months to come. I also learned a tremendous amount from Kelly mom and the Yahoo pump moms list. I wish I'd started reading them about a month before delivery, instead of waiting 'til after.
- consider cup-feeding if you're having latching difficulties -- I wish I'd tried this, in retrospect, before we gave her a bottle to supplement. The SNS didn't work for me, because when we were already having trouble latching, adding a little plastic tube to the latching process was like adding insult to injury. (It might work well for someone who has no trouble with latch but who is having trouble with milk production, though.) Cup feeding might have kept her from getting used to the ease of the bottle; I don't know.
- when you're trying to breastfeed, expect that it may take a long time to get in position, get comfortable, get a good latch, etc. Long time, as in 30-45 minutes. So try when you're rested and able to be relaxed and patient with the process, and when you have someone there to give you moral support
Useful Stuff to BuyThere are lots of things that are fairly obvious, but here's some that worked really well for us.
- boppy! or boppy-like device. Something to nurse baby on, but also a safe place to put baby down on the couch initially, so she can't roll away. I loved my boppy. Super-useful for a good three months, at least.
- if you have multiple floors, you need a changing station on each floor, with a safe place to change her, diapers in right size, sensitive wipes (although apparently a damp paper towel will do, it's easier to use wipes, especially early on when you're going through a lot of them), diaper genie. I also highly recommend a small laundry basket on each floor to toss soiled baby clothes into.
- baby carriers: the Moby Wrap was great with a newborn; I could swaddle her in it and comfortably type, make breakfast, wander around the apartment for hours (without back pain). The Bjorn was excellent a little later -- easy for me or friends watching her to put on and take off, with such obviously great support for the baby that it reassured those unfamiliar with babies that they weren't going to drop or break her.
- pump -- if you're going to be exclusively pumping, it's worth the rental cost of the Medela Symphony for efficiency (least time spent pumping, because it works fast) and gentleness on your poor nipples. If you're not exclusive, then Pump in Style works pretty well, and is portable. Have a hand pump for emergencies in your diaper bag, and be sure you have tubing and bottles for it in there too.
- bottles: BPA-free bottles. I know the Medela ones are safe, as are the Born Free ones. I don't know about others, but while I'm not certain of how serious the risks are from using bottles with BPA, I know that I sleep better knowing that hers are BPA-free.
- diaper bag: backpack style is ideal, as it will let you wear baby on your front, bag on your back, and still have two hands free for the rest of life. Be sure it has a side pocket you can easily reach where you can stow the current bottle of milk -- hugely helpful. I picked one that was big enough to hold my laptop as well, which has worked out really well for travelling; when I fly, I only need the one bag on the plane -- it holds diapers, computer, wallet and iPhone, book to read, toys for her, etc.
- moses basket and rocking stand -- this was great to have on the first floor, as it provided a safe place to put her down, and the stand ($40) meant that if she started to wake up, and moved, it would often rock her right back to sleep, without any intervention from you. She's still sleeping in it at six months, and loves it. We love being able to carry it from room to room.
- lots of onesies or little wrap tops (she'll go through 4-6 in a day), burp cloths (you can use receiving blankets, but they're a little big for it), and someone to do laundry for you. Do *not* try to carry a full laundry basket in the first weeks after a c-section -- you may feel like you can, but it is heavier than is good for your incision, and you really really don't want to rip it open again.
- receiving blankets -- you need these to swaddle her initially. 4 or so will probably be enough, though we had 8, I think, and it made life easier. Practice a lot in the hospital, when the nurses are there to help you. Swaddling will save your life. (If your baby likes it -- apparently, some don't, and I weep for those poor parents.)
- a swaddler -- we used a SwaddleMe, and it was a fast and easy way to swaddle her after about three months, when she was starting to outgrow the receiving blankets. It's not so useful before then, as it's too big for a little baby. Depends on the size of your baby, of course. Kavi was about seven and a half pounds.
- a sleep sack -- essential item for keeping baby warm at night without increasing risk of SIDS through blankets that may smother. You want 2-3, for when one's in the laundry, as she *will* spit up on it occasionally.