If there's one thing that appears to be universally true about parenting, it's that even the very best, most capable looking parents have felt doubt. While researching for this article, we reached out to a community of parents on social media, asking the question: "How did you feel in the first few days and weeks as a new parent? Was it idyllic or harder than you expected? Did you feel prepared?" The responses rained down, and one pretty consistent thread was that new parents feel underprepared for the rigours of new parenthood. So here we go: consider this your crash course in the first week with your new baby.
Congratulations!! You've grown and birthed a baby! We're so proud of you. You're probably either still in the hospital or birth centre and taking it easy after your birth. It's a big, physical experience, no matter how you have your baby. So rest up and stay in bed as much as you can. Some moms feel an enormous outpouring of love and affection for their new baby. Others feel fiercely protective. Yet others feel scared, newly anxious over this tiny, vulnerable, needy little creature. These are all normal and natural feelings, so don't feel bad if you don't feel the way you expected to. Rest. Relax. Sleep as much as you can. You've got this.
Still in the hospital? Good, that means someone is probably bringing you food and letting you rest. Did you sleep last night? Oh, you stared in wonder at your new baby all night. We get it. It's amazing how perfect they are! Today, hand baby over to your partner or family member for a while and please try to sleep. You might be feeling a bit of pain, if you were medicated for the birth. Take your meds and listen to the instructions from your doctor or nurse to heal up as quickly as possible. We need you feeling whole and healthy!
Depending on your birth, you might be going home today! Whether you go home or stay in the hospital, be prepared for a lot of people around. There might be nurses trying to help you breastfeed, you might need a lactation consultant and your doctor might visit to see how you are feeling after the birth. Ask all the questions, and accept the help that actually makes you feel more confident. Ignore the rest. If you are not getting the hang of breastfeeding, or you're feeling a lot of pain, find a lactation consultant, a nurse or midwife who can help you. Consider getting your nipples lasered before leaving the hospital.
If it hasn't already, your milk will probably come in today. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, you will need to manage your milk supply. Engorgement and blocked ducts can happen as early as the first few days, so read up on warm and cold compresses, pumping to reduce pressure before a feed, and how to encourage a steady supply of milk (if that's what you want to do). Producing breast milk is hungry and thirsty work. Keep food handy and drink a lot of water. Many moms were also surprised at how breastfeeding didn't come as naturally they were expecting. Don't stress if it's feeling overwhelming! This is totally normal, it can be a lot to get used to all at once. If you choose to formula feed from the outset, ask your doctor for medication to dry up your milk as early as possible.
By now, you should be at home. In some cultures, new moms are encouraged to stay in bed for the first few weeks. We think that you should take it as easy as possible in the first week at least. Your body and mind still need a lot of rest, and you're probably already waking up a lot at night. If you're experiencing anxiety surrounding your baby, many women do. There is an enormous drop in hormone production after birth, which can leave many women teary and anxious. If this lasts longer than about two weeks, we encourage you to reach out to someone you trust and tell them. Right now, know that it's normal. We hope that you're feeling euphoric bliss with your new baby. But if you aren't, know that many parents don't in these early weeks. Spend as much time as you can skin-to-skin with your baby, and breathe in the that newborn smell. It will help with oxytocin production, helping you to feel calmer and bonding you with your baby.
You're probably falling into a rhythm of feed, change, soothe, sleep, repeat. Newborn babies sleep a lot, but it's in short bursts, feeding frequently (and needing changing) in between. This happens throughout the day and night. Young babies often mix up day and night signals, ending up more wakeful at night. If you're feeling exhausted and a bit strung out already, we understand. While there is always something to do with a baby in the house, we encourage you to rest as much as possible when your baby is sleeping. Yes, there's laundry, dishes, dinner, and a lot of other stuff to do, but if it can wait, let it. Resting your body and mind is crucial in these early days, to help you bond with your baby and feel more balanced.
You reached day 7! We hope that you're starting to feel more confident and happy in your new role as a mom. We hope that you and your baby have established a rhythm of feeding and sleeping. We hope that you're recovering and resting as much as possible. If, however, you're feeling weird, sad, lonely and overwhelmed, we hear you. Many, many women feel overwhelmed in the first few weeks and even months. You are not a failure. You are not the only woman who feels like this is much harder than it needs to be. You're normal. Babies are hard work (some more than others) and there are many, many factors at play here. If you can reach out for more support to help you through this, please do. It will help to have people to lean on. But you will be fine. Your baby needs you and loves you, and you are the very best possible mama for your baby.
And now, you rinse and repeat. In the first few months, you'll spend a lot of time feeding and changing, soothing and shushing, waking and resting. There might be a routine that emerges, but there might not be for a while yet. Don't stress about it, just follow your babies cues. Look after yourself, and let others look after you too. You are the most important person in your babies life, and they need you feeling good. You've got this, mama, we have faith in you.