Your first two weeks with baby: A to Z
Wondering what to expect when you bring your baby home from hospital? Yvonne Eve Walus has the lowdown on your first fortnight with your new baby.
At the beginning
Your midwife will assess the baby’s colour and general wellbeing, cut the umbilical cord, wrap the baby, and put him on your chest so you can bond. Later, she will take a few measurements: Weight, crown-heel length, head circumference, respiratory rate, and heart rate. It’s normal for the baby’s skin to appear wrinkly, and for the ears to look squashed after.
Make sure the room is warm, the baby’s fed, and you have everything ready. For a quick sponge bath, place the baby on the changing table, undress her, wet a soft washcloth, and gently pass it over the baby’s skin, starting with the face, and working your way down. Newborns need a full bath only once or twice a week, but wash her face and bottom every day. For a full bath, fill a big bowl or baby tub with water that’s warm but not hot. Support the baby’s head, or place her on a special bath stretcher. Cover the parts you’re not washing with a towel to keep her warm. Wash from the top down with a soft cloth and baby. Remember to wipe the eyelids (no soap), around the mouth, the outer parts of the ears, and under the chin. Remember the leg and arm creases, plus between fingers and toes. Wash the genital area from front to back. Rinse the baby well and pat her dry with a towel. Shampoo the head once a week, shielding the baby’s eyes from the suds. Rinse off the shampoo by squeezing clean water from a wash cloth. A hooded baby towel works best after a hair-wash bath.
Calming a crying baby
Crying is the only way the baby can communicate. But what is she telling you? Is she hungry? Too cold? Too hot? Does she need to be burped (again)? Is her nappy wet? Are the lights too bright, noises too loud? Is she getting sick? If nothing seems to be wrong, you can try to rock her, pat her back, walk with her, make shushing sounds. Baby earmuffs may help in noisy public places. Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, says: “The key to soothing fussy infants is to mimic the womb. Swaddling, shushing, and swinging, as well as allowing babies to suck and holding them on their sides, may trigger a calming reflex.” If the umbilical cord stub has fallen off, try a warm bath together. It’ll help you relax, and it might soothe the baby, too. Sometimes a baby is just fussy, and if your patience is wearing thin, you might need to put her safely in her cot, then walk away.
Call a doctor if baby has:
- A fever above 37.7°C.
- Difficulty breathing,
- A rash,
- Repeated vomiting or diarrhoea over a period of two hours or more,
- Blood in the nappy,
- Yellow or orange skin,
- Inconsolable crying fits, or
- Any unusual discharge.
Some women fall in love with their babies right away. For others, it takes a bit of time. To help the process, hold her often, preferably skin to skin. Talk to her, play, cuddle, look into her eyes and pull funny faces. Be open to advice well-meaning people give, but don’t feel obliged to follow it. You’re doing a great job of looking after the baby, so don’t let anybody guilt you into thinking otherwise. Hang in there; you and your baby are still getting to know each other. In a few weeks’ time, all the baby stuff will be second nature, and you won’t be able to remember feeling otherwise.
During the first few months, breast milk or baby formula is all the nourishment your baby needs. We won’t go into the breast/bottle debate here, except to reinforce that it’s your decision. Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally, and it’s a skill both you and the baby need to learn. Sometimes the baby just won’t latch on, and you may choose to express the milk and bottle-feed it to your baby – or go the formula way. There is no right or wrong. Talk and cuddle your baby while feeding him to aid his brain development. If using a bottle, stay with him throughout the feed and never leave him unattended. Your baby may spit up some milk after feeding. Just put a clean cloth nappy on your shoulder and burp your baby every five to ten minutes during feeding: Hold him upright and pat his back or his bottom. If your baby has reflux, he will struggle to lie flat despite being well-winded. Talk to the doctor if you notice a pattern.
The great sleeping prop
Often frowned upon, dummies can be a great backup option if the baby’s already fed but still fussing. Sleep consultants suggest that if 20 minutes has passed and infant is not settling to sleep, offer them another feed or a dummy.
Holding your baby
Experiment what hold works best: Against your shoulder, in the crook of your arm, with your hands under her armpits. Always support your baby’s head with your hand or arm behind her neck. Bend at the knees—not the waist—when picking up something while holding the baby. You can also invest in a baby sling or a kangaroo-pouch (snug baby carrier) so you can enjoy physical closeness hands-free.
“I, I, I”
Taking care of your own wellbeing is an important part of parenting. It’s not selfish – in aeroplane safety terminology, you have to take care of your oxygen mask before you’re ready to help others. The five areas you need to pay attention to are:
- Your physical recovery after giving birth,
- Hormonal imbalances,
- Sleep deprivation,
- The loss of independence, and
- The responsibility for another human life.
Sleep when your baby sleeps. Go to bed early, even if the dishes aren’t done (the whole idea of household chores is overrated). Go for a walk. Meet with other new mums. Let dad and baby get some bonding time while you sip a latte and read magazines in a café. Ask a friend or a family member to babysit, and go out on a date.
Okay to ask for help
Dad may feel at a loss how to get involved, particularly if you’re not bottle-feeding. Let him take the baby for a walk, change nappies, fetch the baby at night for the feed, let her sleep on his chest. Ask family and friends to help. Tell them exactly what you need – a few
casseroles in the freezer, someone to put up that black-out blind in the nursery, a babysitter for Friday night. Call your midwife, Plunket, or the doctor if you have any questions: Sore breasts, the baby sleeps the whole day, the baby doesn’t sleep, she won’t latch, the nappy is dry, your man is driving you crazy, you don’t have the energy to get up – anything.
Jazz, not aggrotech
When it comes to your attitude and mood, think smooth jazz, not aggrotech music. Amber, an Auckland mum, emphasises the importance of the parents’ expectations: “The first few weeks are all about your mindset. Sure, you are going to get less sleep, but as long as you embrace that and enjoy the time with your baby, everything else seems to work out. I always try to get out and about when I can, as I think it is great for both of us!” Accept that you won’t be able to do everything you used to do. Break projects into smaller chunks: Wash a couple of cups at a time; sort the laundry in stages; cook enough rice for two days. It’s okay not to vacuum. It’s okay to get (healthy-ish) takeaways. It’s okay to ask for help – remember, it takes a village to raise a child.
Keeping your baby safe
Keep your baby safe during car trips by strapping her into an age appropriate car seat. At home, make sure her room is well aired and warm. The cot should not be near power points, cords, or curtains; and the bedding shouldn’t be loose. Experts advise to sleep the baby on her back to minimise the risk of SIDS.
When it comes to baby clothes, less is more, because they will outgrow their newborn layette in a matter of weeks. Four sets should be enough: One on the baby, one in the drawer, one in the laundry basket and one drying on the line. Infants are flexible and floppy, so onesies work great, especially the ones with snaps down the front and legs so you can change nappies easily. Babies cannot regulate their temperature as well as adults, so dress him in one layer more than you’re wearing. Because they lose most of their heat through the head, a beanie (or a sunhat in summer) is a must in the first two weeks.
Mani/pedi for the baby
Newborn nails are delicate – the ends usually soften in the bath and flake off. If they are sharp and scratch the baby, consider baby mittens. When the nails harden and need trimming, wait when the baby is relaxed or asleep, and use a small pair of nail scissors. Cut straight across toenails, because rounding the edges can lead to ingrown nails.
The first few nappies will be sticky and blackish-green as the baby passes meconium. Later, the contents will be yellow-brown. Don’t worry if it’s runny, pasty, seed-like or with curds – that’s normal (diarrhoea is more bubbly, watery, and smelly). 10 nappy changes a day is average, and lots of wet nappies mean that your baby is getting enough fluid.
Watch out for the signs of postnatal depression. Everybody feels “down” from time to time, but if you experience any of the following for longer than a few days, speak to your midwife or a doctor:
- A reduced ability to enjoy things (reading, TV, speaking to a friend).
- Persistent sad or irritable mood.
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt.
- Anxiety or panic attacks.
- Inability to sleep even when you have time.
- Inability to eat or hold down food.
When he’s alert, put your baby on his tummy (use a hard surface like the floor) so that he can develop strong neck muscles. He will try to lift his head to see around him, but he won’t be able to hold it up for long. When he’s on his back, tickle his hands and feet with toys of different textures (feather, woollen beanie, silk scarf) to make him aware of his fingers and toes. Place a mobile over his bed for visual stimulation, and introduce him to sounds of running water, rustling paper, humming, music, and anything else you can think of.
Rashes or baby acne are common in the first few months, but be vigilant about the meningitis rash (one that does not fade when you press it with a drinking glass). In general, if a rash is accompanied by a raised temperature or unusual behaviour, consult a doctor. To avoid nappy rash, change the nappy as soon as you notice it’s dirty, and apply a nappy rash cream. If the skin is already raw, don’t wipe but rinse with water instead and pat dry.
Experts agree that, whether you give birth vaginally or by C-section, your body will need time to recover. Consider waiting until your midwife or GP deems it safe – it may take four to six weeks after childbirth.
With the birth of your baby, something happens to time. Sometimes minutes last forever, sometimes hours feel like seconds. You often don’t have time to have breakfast or brush teeth. Says a former CEO, “Life is both busier and slower now. I don’t get much done. I spend hours in bed with my baby, feeding or sleeping. I sit on a garden bench and watch her sleep in her buggy, or I roll on the floor with her.”
The cord was cut when the baby was born, and only its stump remains. Within three weeks, it’ll fall off. Until then, keep it clean and dry. Your midwife will show you how to look after it properly. Seek help if the area looks infected or smells funny.
Even if you’re a sociable person, try to limit visitors in the first two weeks. Apart from immediate family and closest friends, postpone introducing your baby until you’ve recovered (physically and emotionally) and established a routine. When they arrive, visitors can make their own tea, and if you leave a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the room, they might take the hint and offer to run it over the carpet.
Many women put on weight during pregnancy, and most struggle to shed. It makes sense: For nine months, you’ve been growing your baby from two cells into a person, sharing your brain, lungs, stomach and kidneys with another human being. And now you’re spending most of your time feeding, changing, carrying, and rocking your precious child to sleep. That’s a pretty tough toll for your body. The changes may not be permanent, but be patient.
Although you may feel exhausted by all the “do” and “don’t” rules you suddenly have to memorise, remember to feel some joy and excitement about this new adventure.
Baby yoga (classes in which both mums and babies do gentle stretching poses) is an excellent way to bond with your infant, improve her digestion and make her sleep better. For you, it’s a chance to relax, stretch, and ease into exercise.
Zzzz is for sleep
Your baby’s tummy is tiny, so he will get hungry often. Because he can’t distinguish between day and night, you have to teach him by introducing a night time routine. Bathe and feed the baby at about the same time every day, then place him in his cot when he’s already drowsy. If he likes it, swaddle him. Turn off the light and draw the curtains. You don’t need the house silent, but avoid any sudden loud noises.