The 10 things you really need to know to survive your baby's first 6 weeks home.
Ever since you traded your birth control for baby-name books, you've probably been daydreaming about life with your mini-me. And while there will be peaceful afternoon strolls and cuddles with a book, recovering from childbirth and learning to read your baby's cues don't happen overnight. "It's a huge gift to yourself to accept that this early period is going to be total chaos," says Vivian Glyck, author of The Tao of Poop: Keeping Your Sanity (and Your Soul) While Raising a Baby (Trumpeter, 2006). "Let go of expectations such as where the baby will sleep or how much you'll get done--and know that eventually order will emerge."
And even if you've never held a newborn before, don't discount your instincts, says Cincinnati pediatrician Amy Guiot, M.D.: "If you think something just doesn't seem right with your baby, call your pediatrician's office--and don't be afraid to call again." But because mother's intuition sometimes needs a boost, we've compiled the 10 most important things you'll need to do to care for your newborn (and yourself!) during this exhilarating, exhausting time.
1. Calm a crying baby Mothers of difficult-to-console babies are more likely to be depressed, according to a study from Brown University Medical School and the Rhode Island Department of Health, and it's no wonder--those piercing cries can drive even the coolest mom to tears. To calm your baby, first make sure she's not hot or cold (she should be dressed like you), hungry (try nursing or offering a bottle), sick (take her temperature rectally; call the pediatrician if it's above 100.4* F) or wearing a dirty diaper.
Next, wash your pinkie and give it to your baby to suck; it's also OK to offer a pacifier if breastfeeding is going well. Still hear her wailing? Put her in a sling or carrier (visit fitpregnancy.com/buyersguide/carriers for some we like). "When you 'wear' a baby, the closeness and motion make her feel one with mom again," says Vicky York, a lactation consultant and certified postpartum doula in Portland, Ore. Finally, many parents attest to the swaddling, shushing and other soothing techniques illustrated in The Happiest Baby on the Block book or DVD ($14 for the paperback, $26 for the DVD; thehappiestbaby.com).
2. Involve your partner If you think you're having a rough time figuring out your new role, your mate is probably even more baffled. "Dads want to help, but they don't always know what's most needed," says York. True, much of the early caregiving falls on you, especially if he's back at work and/or you're nursing, but try adopting the "help him help you" motto: Tell your partner how much you'd appreciate it if he took care of grocery shopping or other household chores--and be specific. Encourage him to change or bathe the baby, reserving criticisms for safety issues only. After a month, pump your breast milk so he can do a nighttime feeding. (Nothing grates on a new mom's nerves more than having her mate ask how the night went!)
3. Get your frustrations out She may be your friend, mother or neighbor, but all new moms need a sounding board--someone who vows not to pass judgment on anything you say or do in the first six weeks. "You want someone you can be topless around," says Glyck, "or can joke with about where the 'return' counter is for your baby!"
On a serious note, your confidant should also know the difference between baby blues and full-fledged depression. While many new moms feel overwhelmed and tired, symptoms that last longer than two weeks and also include sadness, excessive anxiety, trouble concentrating, discomfort around the baby and/or lack of appetite need medical attention. Contact your OB-GYN or primary-care physician or visit fitpregnancy.com/PPD for more information and resources.
4. Perfect the breastfeeding latch Having your baby latch on correctly can help mitigate many potential breastfeeding difficulties. Here's how to do it:
Before putting the baby on your breast, position her on her side so she is facing you, with her belly touching yours.
Prop up the baby with a pillow, if necessary, and hold her up to your breast; don't lean over toward her.
Tickle your baby's lips with your nipple until her mouth opens wide, as if in a yawn. When she does this, quickly draw her to your breast.
Make sure she takes the entire nipple and much of the areola (the dark area around it) in her mouth.
Once your milk comes in (about three days after giving birth), you should be able to hear your baby swallowing. If your nipple hurts for more than about seven seconds or your baby is frequently slipping off, check with the lactation consultant at the hospital where you delivered.
5. Accept help Whether volunteered or paid, help with everything from making meals to burping your baby to mailing your thank-you notes is essential. Cleaning and cooking will likely prompt you to crash and burn by your third or fourth week, so lean on your friends or relatives or hire a housekeeper or postpartum doula. "Many moms think they can muscle through it, but allowing others to run errands, cook meals or give you some time alone is important," Glyck says.
And remember that guests are there to see the baby and bestow gifts, not judge your hostessing skills. "With my first baby, I was baking something every day for all the visitors," says Kim Duk-Soon Olivieri, 35, a Bellaire, Texas-based mother of two. "For the second baby, I bought cookies and that was it."
6. Sleep whenever you can Rest isn't a luxury-- it's necessary for your physical and emotional recovery. Try whatever works: napping when the baby sleeps, using a bedside bassinet or sharing your bed with the baby. "We had the nursery and crib all ready to go, but my baby ended up sleeping with us the first six weeks," says Glyck. As long as your bed is safe (for co-sleeping guidelines, visit the University of Notre Dame's mother-baby behavioral sleep lab at www.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/index.html), it's too early to worry that your baby will never sleep alone. She'll adjust if and when you decide it's time for another arrangement.
7. Get your car seat inspected While car crashes are a leading cause of infant death, babies in child-safety seats have an 80 percent lower risk of fatality, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Unfortunately, it's easy to incorrectly install and use the seat. Read both your car-seat's and your vehicle's owner manuals carefully, and take the time to have your handiwork inspected. Visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov or safekids.org for an online ZIP-code directory of police stations, car dealers and individuals qualified to provide free child-passenger safety checkups.
8. Bathe your baby like a pro The kitchen sink is the ideal spot to scrub your sprout, says doula Vicky York. "You have to get on your knees and bend over a tub," she points out, "and in a tub the top half of her body gets cold fast." First, make sure you have all the necessities assembled: two towels, baby soap (this doubles as shampoo), cotton swabs, a diaper and a clean outfit.
Lay your baby on one of the towels spread out on the kitchen counter, soap her, then rinse her under the tap with warm--not hot--water, holding her by the ankles and around the shoulders, suggests York. Quickly wrap her in that towel and shampoo her head, rinse, then wash her face with the corner of the towel. Dry her head and face with the second towel, and inside her ears and between her toes with the cotton swabs, then dress her. For tips on other care basics, keep a favorite baby book close by; we like The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two (Little, Brown, 2003) by William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N.
9. Go from breast to bottle (and back!)
At four weeks, experts agree that giving a breastfed baby a bottle won't cause "nipple confusion." Start pumping between feeding sessions to store milk, which can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days and in the freezer for three to four months. Your baby may reject the bottle at first, but trying different nipples and staying out of the room while someone else gives the bottle should help. If the idea of pumping several times a day when you return to work is overwhelming, consider pumping once a day and supplementing with formula.
However, if you don't continue breastfeeding--or never got the hang of it--toss your guilt out right along with the nursing pads, says pediatrician Guiot. "I tell moms it's OK if the breastfeeding just isn't working, and the relief is evident," she says. "The moms are happier and that means the babies are happier."
10. Make lots of memories Sooner than you think, it will be hard to imagine your baby was ever that small. For a fun way to chart her growth, have someone take a weekly photo of you and your newborn in a favorite chair. As the months go by, you'll see less of the chair and more of her. Thanks to digital cameras, some now as low as $100, and free online photo-sharing sites (such as shutterfly.com or kodak gallery.com.), relatives can order (and pay for!) photos of your little one themselves. Also, hang a calendar in the nursery for jotting down developmental notes, such as "reached for rattle."