One moment really stuck out for me when it came to taking home my first baby. On day three, the midwives told us we were ready, and it was time to take him home. My husband and I looked at each other as if to say "so we are now solely responsible for taking care of this tiny human … are you sure?"
I'm told it's totally normal, as the reality of being completely 'in charge' of a baby can be panic inducing for many a first-time parent. But as much as the panic is normal, so too is acing (okay, managing) in the first six weeks.
Here are some of the common 'new' things you'll experience in the first month and half of being home with your bub.
Bonding and finding your rhythm
For you, the first six weeks are all about getting to know your baby, and for your baby, it's about adjusting to life on the outside.
"Bonding and attachment are their major areas of development [at this time]," says Hayley Briggs, a child and family health nurse with Sydney Paediatrics. "Building this bond produces hormones and chemicals in their brains that help them grow emotionally and physically."
Don't worry if you don't feel the movie-style rush of love for your bub we're all built up to expect. Much like any relationship, it will develop at its own pace, and with everything going on (and all the new and sometimes scary experiences), it can take time to get there – though for some, of course, it'll be instantaneous.
If you are worried, talk to your midwife, GP or child health nurse about your feelings – they can talk it through with you and provide support.
Sleeping and the daily routine
In terms of sleep, Hayley says your bub will need help and support to settle to sleep – and this means lots of cuddles.
"It won't be until three to six months that babies may develop a more predictable sleep pattern," she says.
So how can you help them? Babies enjoy being wrapped or swaddled to sleep, as it reduces their startle reflex and may help them sleep longer periods.
Safety wise, Hayley says it's important their sleep environment is safe and that parents follow the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) guidelines, which recommend they have their own accessory-free cot or bassinet in same room as you for the first 6-12 months. This has the added bonus of making night feeding easier for you, and giving you as much sleep as possible.
As with sleep, you're unlikely to hit a routine with feeding in the first six weeks.
If you are breastfeeding, you may experience hiccups. Some struggle to develop a good latch or attachment (which can mean very sore nipples), while others wonder if they are feeding too often. Still more worry they are not making enough milk (this is rare – only around 5 per cent of mums genuinely don't. You'll know they are getting enough if they have six to eight wet nappies per day, and continued growth at their weekly check-up).
Remember that your child health nurse, lactation specialist or GP can help with any breastfeeding issues.
The one rule for feeding your baby is to do what works for you and your baby. If you want to breastfeed, seek help as issues arise, but if breastfeeding isn't working for you, formula provides an alternative.
Keeping yourself fed and watered
Whether you're mum to just the one new baby, or you have a bigger family to care for, making sure you get adequate food, water and rest is key to keeping up. However, it's very common for new mums to neglect themselves while focusing on others.
Here are some simple tricks to help you eat well:
- Set up a re-orderable food delivery for once a week, packed with easy to grab nutrient-rich snacks. Think wholemeal crackers or bread rolls and hummus, eggs for boiling up and keeping in the fridge, easy-steam frozen vegetables, pre-prepared salads and vegetables, low sodium chicken and veggie soup or minestrone (avoid canned soups that are high in salt), baked beans, yoghurt and tinned tuna.
- Keep water bottles by your bed and next to the places you sit to feed your baby.
- Cook bulk lots at meal times and freeze the leftovers. Even if they're not suitable for freezing, doubling up can make for an easy lunch option the next day (even steak can be sliced and served cold with a salad or sandwich!).
- A quality pregnancy and breastfeeding supplement may help fill nutrient gaps in the short term.
- When people offer help, take them up on it and let them know freezer meals would be gratefully accepted!
Final words of wisdom?
"The most important piece of advice is that parents should try to relax and enjoy getting to know their baby in the first precious weeks, and if things are not going to plan it's important to seek help early from a qualified professional and not to struggle alone," Hayley says.
As well as your maternity hospital and child health numbers (they are usually found in the front of your child's health book – if not, write them in), keeping the following numbers and websites handy will help with many of the common 'firsts' you'll encounter when you first get home.
Oh – and if you don't have any yet, making mummy mates is invaluable when it comes to normalising and enjoying the wild and wacky experiences that come with your brave new world.
Where to find help
- Blackmores Nutrition Advisory Service 1800 808 669 8:30am-5:30pm (AEST) Monday to Friday
- Lifeline: 131 114, 24 hours 7 days
- Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) Helpline: 1300 726 306, 10 am-5 pm (AEST), Monday to Friday
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby: 1800 882 436, 24 hours 7 days
- Australian Breastfeeding Association National Breastfeeding Helpline: 1800 686 268, 24 hours, 7 days
This article was originally published on Blackmores.com.au.