Ask the expert: What do I need to know about the post-birth period?

What did your antenatal classes miss out on teaching you? New Zealand writer and midwife Kathy Fray gives her opinion on the things new mums need to know about the post-birth period.

Q: What are the top things mums-to-be should know about the post-birth period, which may not be covered in antenatal classes?

  1. Use a primary care postnatal facility. Regardless of where you give birth, try to get access to a local birth centre for your postnatal inpatient care. Because they are primary care facilities, this means they are not dealing with the acuity level of medical complexities that secondary and tertiary care hospitals are geared for. So, frankly, the birth centre midwives can end up having more time to give you some patient one-on-one assistance with teaching you to teach your baby how to latch well. And this successful establishment of breastfeeding is a really big deal in those first three or four days.
  2. It is not your job to stop your baby from crying. Crying is your baby’s main language of communication, so not wanting a baby to cry is like not wanting a toddler to talk! I always say, “Your job is not to stop your baby crying – your job is to learn to understand what your baby’s different cries mean.” I have a whole chapter in my OH BABY book dedicated to this topic of “Why They Cry”, which is soooo useful to have on your coffee table in those first weeks as it tells you all the signs of each cry, what they mean, and how to remedy each scenario. 
  3. Babies need to be taught how to become great sleepers. There is a really common misunderstanding with brand new parents that newborns are generally natural sleepers, because often in the first 24 hours, that is practically all a baby does. Then 48 hours later, they are just feed-scream-feed-scream-feed-scream, which is confidence-shattering at some soul-destroying level of mothering incompetence. Then the milk arrives, and they finally sleep again (for a few hours). Then, once home, the busyness can take over, and new parents forget (or don’t realise) that the commonest reason a baby is not feeding well or not sleeping well is because they are overtired, because they are overstimulated. The babe has spent nine months in darkness with muffled sounds – for a brand new baby, going to the supermarket must feel like a psychedelic LSD acid trip! So pre-birth, as first-time parents-to-be, get informed about infant sleep habits. Actively learn what it is you need to know.
  4. Cabin fever is a good thing. Without fail, one of the commonest problem-creating behaviours I see with brand new mums is their obsessive necessity to “do it all” six weeks too early. Within days of getting home, they’re attending the antenatal class coffee group, and booked into the baby photographer, and hosting Auntie Mary visiting, and posting updates on Facebook, and, and, and. Indigenous peoples and Asians (as a big generalisation) do the postnatal period way better than Western mums… And we wonder why we suffer from such crazy levels of postnatal depression. Here are my Golden Rules:
    • Keep baby at home for 40 days and 40 nights minimum
    • Once baby is over five weeks and over five kilos, then they are robust enough to face the world
    • As a new mum, for the first two to three weeks, intentionally live in pyjamas, because you are deliberately not planning to go anywhere or do anything other than feed your baby and sleep – adopting the mantra “If my baby is sleeping, and I’m not sleeping, I’m wasting my sleep time.”
    • Then for the following three to four weeks, intentionally progress into comfortable T-shirts and trackies, but you are still deliberately trying not to need to go anywhere or do anything other than feed your baby and enjoy the immense and fleeting preciousness of mothering a newborn.
    • At five to six weeks, a momentous day naturally comes when you know it’s time to intentionally put effort into your appearance: Maybe straightening your hair, or perhaps a bit of mascara and lippy, and putting on some non-sloth clothing, because today you are deliberately planning to go out. Today you and your non-newborn are going to the coffee group or going to your girlfriends or going to your Mum’s, or going to the mall to sip a fantastic barista coffee and munch on a gorgeous muffin, because this is the first day of the new you… The new amazing, fulfilled, confident, energised, mother you.
  5. Realise that the first six weeks are tough. And get over it. Sorry to sound harsh, but the first five to six weeks are hard. It is what it is. And lots of people are likely to have already told you it will be tough, exhausting, intense, an emotional roller-coaster of worries and joys, and a level of sleep deprivation you have never experienced before. Get over it. Intentionally not whine, and deliberately not whinge – because trust me, girlfriend, if you do not find your happy place, you will later regret it. When that babe is a few months old, and you see a brand new baby, you will find your mind wishing so strongly, so deeply, from the core of your womanhood, that you hadn’t “wasted” that short blip of time of mothering a newborn with all your stressful anxieties and unrealistic expectations.A piece of your spirit will wish you could do it all again, with less tears and more joy. And as your wise woman knows without doubt, that if you had just dropped the reins to enjoy the ride, the journey would have been way smoother. You can feel like you want to apologise to your adorable crawling giggling babbling babe, and tell them how sorry you are that for practically the entire first month of their life, you missed so much of the ecstatic delight of their newborn delectable gorgeousness – but you’re not missing it now!
Kathy Fray (kathyfray.com) is a New Zealand writer and midwife, author of the best-selling OH BABY… Birth, Babies & Motherhood Uncensored, and internationally popular OH GROW UP… Toddlers to PreTeens Decoded, and body-mind-spirit manuscript award-winning OH GOD – WHAT THE HELL DO I TELL THEM?! Guide for vaguely spiritual Parents. You can catch Kathy, as well as many other parenting experts talking live from the Seminar Room at New Zealand’s biggest baby event, the Baby Show, which takes place between 18-20 August at the ASB Showgrounds. Buy tickets today at www.babyshow.co.nz.  

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What was your baby's birth like? We're looking for new mums who'd like to share their birth stories. If you'd like to send your birth story for consideration to be published on our website, please email it to editor@bumpandbaby.co.nz. Stories need to be 600-800 words max. It's okay to use first names, but please don't identify midwives or hospitals/birthing centres - we really want to know about YOU and your experience!