Mothering in the Newborn Period
Having a baby is an amazing and overwhelming experience. After my first birth the newborn period went from exhilarating to terrifying and back again, as my daughter needed emergency intestinal surgery to correct a detached digestive tract, and we established our nursing and mother-daughter relationship during a stay in the NICU. Other mothers report a transcendent experience, birthing joyfully and even pleasurably, breezing through the postpartum period. Some newborn babies are adopted into loving families. Becoming a mother takes all different forms, but one thing is for certain: all mom of newborns want the best for their families.
Whatever your birth experience . . . vaginal, cesarean, medicated, natural, timely, early, hospital, birthing-center, or home . . . calm, joyous, or crazy, or stressful . . . the next few weeks, mothering a newborn child, are overwhelming: full of joy, love, and wonder.
During this time of wonder and recovery come many questions. The following are a few tips for moms of newborns that I hope can smooth over the newborn time and allow for more baby-mooning and less worry.
1. Your birth is important. You are amazing. You are a mother!
Whether this is your first baby or your sixth, and no matter how your baby came earth side, he or she is here because of you – what an amazing accomplishment! Remember that you are amazing, and allow yourself to take time to recover and welcome your baby gently into the world. Talk to your baby about his birth, and keep him close as he adjusts to the world around him. Nursing and resting together is pretty much all that you will do for a lot of the newborn period.
2. Share and accept visitors when you are ready.
Everyone is anxious to meet a newborn. I mean, how couldn’t you be – newborns are so sweet and wonderful and . . . well, new! Don’t feel like you are disappointing friends or family if you want to wait to open up your home to visitors to see the baby. Visit and share your newborn when you are ready to do so. She will be just as cute at four weeks as she is at four days.
In our increasingly transparent and fast-paced world, the physical needs and developments of postpartum recovery and newborn acclimation are not always fully respected or understood. You may feel compelled to share photos and information about yourself and your baby online, through social networks, forums, and on mobile messaging. Know that it’s OK to be private about your newborn period – share when you’re ready, not when you feel compelled to by others.
3. Embrace the 4th Trimester, just as you did the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
During your first trimester, you probably spent time reading about pregnancy. Your second, wondering about baby’s gender, picking out names, and enjoying fetal movement. Your third trimester was spent anticipating baby’s arrival and preparing a loving space for him or her. But after birth, there is a fourth trimester that is equally as important and equally as fun.
“Baby has spent months having her every need attended to. She never knew hunger, was always rocked, and could always hear mama’s heartbeat.”1 Your fourth trimester — your first three months with your newborn — are an extension of your baby’s growth in the womb; both baby and mom require a gentle transition into the infant period.
Newborn babies are used to “jiggling motion, constant sound . . . and constant touch” like they had in mama’s womb – “It’s bizarre to take a new baby and stick them in a room by themselves on a flat bed in a totally quiet space.”2 Babies need to be held, spoken to, fed on demand, and cuddled and worn in order to simulate the experience of the womb, and lead them gently into life outside the womb. Mamas, you’re so used to having baby inside your body – keeping him close feels right, so keep him close!
Embrace your fourth trimester. Research and invest in a comfortable baby carrier (or borrow one from a friend), and spend plenty of time cuddling, resting with, feeding, carrying, and enjoying your baby. This gentle transition into infancy helps your body recover from birth and regulate to feeding, while baby’s body starts to appropriately experience the world outside your womb.
4. Accept help, and let others know what they can do for you.
One of the best pieces of advice that I have heard for the postpartum period is to make and post a short list of things that friends and family can do for you that will help you during your Fourth Trimester (see number 3). Gloria Lemay has written a fantastic list of what a family needs after the birth of a new baby.
Buying household goods (toilet paper, milk, bread), cleaning out old food from the fridge, making breakfast for the new mom and family, vacuuming, dusting, and folding laundry are all on the list. But you totally have to read it for yourself. It’s amazing, and so helpful!
It’s striking how simple some of the suggestions are, but they are really helpful to a family with a newborn. Mom needs to be cuddling and nursing the new baby, and mom’s partner needs to be protecting the breastfeeding dyad and parenting (while keeping their sanity too), not running around on a million errands and picking up all the household slack. But grandma, sister-in-law, and friends and neighbors sometimes don’t know what’s needed and what’s not!
So, let your friends and family know what they can do for you. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for and accept help in the newborn period. There is a pervasive thought that the birthing couple should be strong, healthy, and coping on their own. But it truly takes a community effort of practical tasks from loving friends and family to help a family navigate the newborn period and lead their new baby into infancy gently and successfully.
5. Be in the know about your boobs.
When you have a baby, your body receives hormonal signals to produce milk for the new child. In the first few days, milk supply is hormonally driven. Frequent suckling with a comfortable and functional latch and skin to skin contact with mom facilitate your milk production by supply and demand. Milk production slows when milk accumulates in the breast, and speeds up when the breast is emptier 3 The following are natural ways to stimulate your milk supply:
- Frequent suckling (breastfeeding on demand)
- Efficient nursing (making sure baby is transferring – swallowing milk)
- Sleep sharing (having baby sleep in close proximity to mother)
- Baby wearing and skin-to-skin contact
You may run into a hiccup or two while nursing your newborn baby, but don’t stress. There are people who can help you navigate the hiccups. And solutions, even to the biggest hiccups, are simpler and more easily navigable when you have the confidence to seek assistance and someone to help you through.
If possible, visit with other nursing moms before you give birth. Keep the numbers of a lactation consultant (from your hospital, birthing center, or one suggested to you), a local La Leche League Leader, and a mom that you know who has nursed her baby nearby your bedside, on the fridge, and by the phone. Save them in your cell phone, too.
That way if you ever have a question, you can reach someone who can give you an answer. And when you feel overwhelmed, you can reach someone who will understand and empathize. Stress can inhibit milk letdown, which in turn reduces milk supply – so relax and let others help you when you need support.
6. You Can’t Spoil a Baby.
It’s just a simple truth. Babies cannot spoil. Hold your baby. Bring your baby to your breast on demand. Don’t worry about getting her “ready” or “used to” sleeping away from you, or “teaching” her to self soothe, or tricking her into suckling on something other than your breast.
If she spits out a pacifier, let her. If he sleeps on your chest for a nap, let him listen to your heart while he rests. I promise, your beautiful newborn will not be breastfeeding, sleep sharing, and needing you to soothe every issue for her when she is in high school. It’s a long way from infancy to adolescence. You have a newborn. She’s beautiful. She’s new. She needs you, and that’s a good thing.
It won’t be like this for long, so breathe in deep, and mother on.
Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their healthcare provider. If you are pregnant, are nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis, or courses of treatment.
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