The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Rare is the woman who wants her child to be average or unremarkable, but when it comes to birth weight, average and unremarkable earn an A-plus.
If you’ve just had your baby or are nearing your due date, you’ve probably already done the hard work of choosing a pediatrician. Now it’s time to think about how you will forge a working relationship with her.
Used to be, a new mom spent several days in the hospital after giving birth learning how to take care of her baby. But today, many mothers go home exhausted 48 hours after delivery.
“The teaching that used to take place during those longer hospital stays isn’t getting done, and mothers are too tired to read the discharge instructions the hospital gives them,” says Suzanne Corrigan, M.D., clinical associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “If it’s just you, your husband and the baby at home, you need all the help you can get.”
It’s an exhilarating and frightening time: your first week at home with your first baby. Although you might be amazed that your doctor has discharged you with the authority to care for this tiny bundle, you’re actually equipped with better instincts than you might think. After all, with even a few days under your belt, who knows your baby better than you? But caring for a newborn must include caring for yourself as well, since a healthy and happy mother is better able to tend to — and bond with — her baby.
Teensy, miniature, fragile. The pure smallness of my first baby is what I remember being most unprepared for. I was shocked by how tiny he was, even at 8 pounds, 11 ounces. (The “-3 month” baby garments I’d brought to the hospital were useless.) For most first-time parents, that tiny new baby is a fascinating mystery, from the way he stares into your face to the softness of his skin. And while each infant is different, there are some universals, which can help you unravel why your baby does the things he does.
They lose and gain weight.
As the old saying goes, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Nor does childbirth automatically give a mom insight into what’s happening to her own body. But that doesn’t mean new parents have to be totally on their own.
From Web sites to books, there’s more information available than ever before; you just have to know where to look. To help you get through the first six weeks after giving birth, here’s some expert obstetric and pediatric advice, as well as a guide to the best information and support sources out there.
It isn’t easy to listen to a baby — especially your baby — cry. But understanding that crying is something every healthy newborn does (sometimes for as many as four or five hours a day) makes it more bearable. And learning what her cries mean can help more than anything.
“Crying is sometimes the end result of a series of miscues,” explains Tracy Hogg, a registered nurse, newborn consultant and author of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (Ballantine Books, 2001). Babies often try to “speak” using body language first and resort to crying when that doesn’t work, she says.
“It was much harder than I expected.” This is a common refrain among new mothers, whose lives are often a blur of feedings, diaper changes, dirty dishes, smelly laundry and crying. (The crying baby and the crying mommy, that is.) But you will get through it.
You may think you’re all set with everything you’ll need when you arrive home with your new baby, from perfectly coordinated tiny togs to crates of diapers. But take it from me, there’s always something you’ll need, and it might not be on the shelves of your corner convenience store.
In order to save you at least some of those late-night trips (try wandering the aisles of a 24-hour grocery store in search of nipple cream), here’s a list of items — for you and the baby — to buy in the weeks before your due date.
Your body is recovering from childbirth and needs a steady supply of vitamins and minerals to heal. What’s more, with a new baby in the house, you’re undoubtedly fatigued, and you need healthful foods to refuel your body. And if you’re breastfeeding, your baby is relying on you for crucial nutrients.
The eating patterns you set in the first six months after having a baby can help you lay a foundation of healthful eating for the rest of your life, says Eileen Behan, R.D., a dietitian in Portsmouth, N.H., who specializes in weight management for individuals and families.
For many women, pregnancy and delivery are small potatoes compared with the sheer panic that sets in once their baby enters the world. While it’s natural to be anxious about mastering your new responsibility, the hospital is not making a mistake by sending you home with your newborn, says New York pediatrician Michel Cohen, M.D., author of The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent (ReganBooks, 2004).
Your son has a blocked tear duct. The first line of therapy is to massage the duct five to 10 times each day (use your little finger to gently stroke the inside corner of the eye, right next to the nose, using a circular motion). You'll also need to flush the eye several times a day. If possible, use expressed breast milk, as it contains antibodies to ward off infection. You also can use saline solution (make sure it has no thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative). If infection does set in--usually characterized by a red or swollen lower eyelid--call your pediatrician.
If you deliver vaginally at 38 weeks-plus and your baby looks great and is nursing well--assuming you're breastfeeding--both of you can leave the hospital within six to 12 hours of delivery (depending on your hospital's policy and your own health, of course). One caveat: Since you probably won't have the benefit of a visit by the hospital's lactation consultant, I believe an early discharge mandates a follow-up house call by a consultant on the second or third day to make sure you and your baby are doing well.