Postpartum Survival Guide
Your first weeks home with a newborn can be awkward and scary. Here's what to expect and how you can stay sane.
Plenty has been written on just how to make it through the first few disorienting weeks at home with a newborn. The problem is, at the center of that maelstrom, who has the time to read all of it? This pull-out postpartum survival guide culls from our favorite experts tried-and-true tips on how to make the best of this challenging rite of passage.
At the hospital, your baby is examined by the pediatrician, who will explain to you any obvious curiosities (for example, birthmarks or a pointy head shape). After you get home, your baby may produce some unexpected sights and sounds; most are normal.
The umbilical cord The stump of the cord may seem very black and unwieldy for such a tiny infant. This is OK; it will disengage within three weeks. Until then, keep it clean (fold diapers down clear of it), dry (give only sponge baths until it falls off), and dab the base with alcohol twice a day.
The spit up Not to worry, just keep lots of cloth diapers at the ready. Two effective ways to diminish returns, offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Caring for Your Baby and Young Child (Bantam Books), are to burp your baby every three to five minutes during feedings, and to place the baby in an upright position in an infant seat or stroller right after feeding her. Or just do what comes naturally: Hold her.
The color poopoo In the very beginning, it’s blackish green, and then it approximates certain shades of green, yellow or brown—and it can be runny, pasty, seedy or curdy. An early breastfeeding bonus: Baby’s poop usually doesn’t smell at all.
Baby’s breath You won’t believe how you’ll crane to hear your baby respire. Any fewer than 60 breaths per minute is normal, as are pauses of about six seconds, according to Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., in Your Child’s Health (Bantam Books). Take note of any wheezing or rapid breathing, since this could indicate a respiratory problem. New research shows that sleeping with your baby will help her regulate her own breathing, possibly reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Getting through the night
Since their tiny tummies cannot hold much milk, newborns must be fed often, which is one reason they wake so frequently. Still, you can begin the process of getting the whole household on the same schedule.
- Establish a routine early on: Bathe, dress, play and stroll around the block at about the same time every day.
- Place your baby in his crib while he’s drowsy. This way he learns to fall asleep on his own and associates the crib with bedtime.
- Swaddle him. An unswaddled baby’s own movements may startle and awaken him. In Your Baby & Child (Knopf), Penelope Leach writes: “At night you want him so securely wrapped that he will not wake even during the normal periods of light sleep.” Keep him faceup to reduce risk of SIDS.
- “Keep night feedings as sleepy and brief as possible,” Leach also suggests. “When he cries, go to him immediately so he has no time to get into a wakeful misery. Don’t play or talk while you feed him.” Bring him to bed with you if you want to fall back to sleep quickly.
- Newborns often sleep for four hours at a stretch and a total of 16 hours or more a day. As for how quiet the house should be while baby sleeps, Leach says the following: “A sleeping baby need not mean a hushed household. Ordinary sounds and activities will not disturb him at this early age. However, if everybody creeps about and talks in whispers while he is asleep, there may come a time when he cannot sleep unless they do. It is therefore important to let him sleep through whatever sound level is normal for your household so that he does not come to expect a quietness that will make all your lives misery.”