In my role as a maternity nurse I often will be in contact with a baby at 48 hours old. The mums that I work with are in a privileged position to be able to afford to get someone like me to help with the sleepless nights, often they have a cleaner also, nanny for older children, and in the UK, where much of my work has been, there are awesome healthy ready meals available, so that pretty much covers the basics of what is needed in the early days after having a baby….
However, these things are necessary for creating a bond with your baby. So, the question is what is around and in your area to help you get the support you need to feel on top of things?
In the days after birth, it is really important for a new mum to relax and allow the milk to come in, or if bottle feeding, just to recover from the experience – the body goes through a lot! For breastfeeding mothers, this might be painful for the breasts, and cold wet compresses, savoy cabbage leaves in the bra (the dark leaves work best) or even gel filled compress that you pre chill in the fridge can help to soothe them. Personally, I believe that if a baby was meant to be drinking considerable volumes of something other than colostrum before the milk comes in then we would be designed that way. Having said that, I am not suggesting that you don’t supplement if you feel that is right for your child, or you are advised to do so.
Make sure you are comfortable when feeding. It is not about being a contortionist. This goes for bottle or breastfeeding, do it comfortably with your body supported how it needs to be. If needed, go to the loo first so that you are fully relaxed and focused. Buy in some snack bars and easy to eat fruit to have to hand if you get hungry while feeding. Also, a sport bottle of water left where you feed is useful (sport lid means one handed access) The let down reflex usually causes the mum to get really thirsty. Either way, once you start feeding the baby, you are unlikely to want to get up, so having those things handy makes life easier.
The ways to assist breastfeeding are to feed as often as the baby likes in the first 10-14 days, or longer. Take time to really enjoy resting, lots of skin to skin, sit watching tv, or reading or lounging in bed with tops off as much as possible. Of course, if you have more than one child it is not so easy, but perhaps consider sling wearing around the house without a top on and baby just in a nappy. The Moby Wrap or equivalent is great for allowing skin to skin in the tummy to tummy position.
If you have any milk supply issues when your milk does come in, I can highly recommend the Homeopathic Naturopharm – Milk Flow, and the Weleda Nursing Tea also the Artemis Breastfeeding Tea. I have seen all of these used with effect, but it is all very individual, so it is about finding what works for you, sometimes that is a combination.
Taking care of baby means taking care of you first! Think oxygen masks on a plane here. Go to the toilet when you need to, brush your teeth to feel better, drink lots of water, sleep when you can, if not sleep, try to rest for at least an hour every day. I find that getting two hours of sleep in the morning sets me up for the day. Is there a way to implement this with the people/family/neighbours around you?
Eat! And drink, but the biggest thing I have to persuade new mothers to do is eat. If you are not eating properly, you will not have the energy you need to stay on top of things for a sustained period of time or be able to produce the best milk possible for your baby. See? Oxygen masks on a plane. Taking care of yourself is vital to your baby. When all else fails, I use a sling/wrap. It allows me to get all of the above done without any newborn angst.
Let people help you: if you get offers of help, say yes! Have a think in advance of the baby’s arrival of what would be useful and make a little list. Then, when people offer, you can say, “well, actually there is something, would you be able to….” People like to be helpful, but they really don’t know what you want, so often don’t do anything, but they are more than willing. In the Auckland area, there is Parent Port for helping families with small children and new babies, and growing throughout NZ is Bellyful who can provide a short-term solution to dinner not being made. Ask around in your area to see what support is available? Don’t struggle through alone when you don’t have to. For those in wanting a home cooked meal as a take away, have you heard about Jess’s Underground Kitchen? She is on Facebook and posts pictures of the most amazingly yummy looking food! Reasonably priced too, when I get back to Auckland I will be tucking in to some of those tasty treats! Is there anyone doing the same thing near you?
I try to encourage bathing the baby in only water for the first month, and not to apply any lotions. The skin is the biggest organ of the body and it allows the release of any extra hormones or toxins that the baby has to get rid of. If they have that peeling skin, like shedding around the wrists and ankles, a drop of almond, rosehip, or other light oil – even olive oil at a pinch, but I find it very heavy. Apply very gently – it usually just rubs right off.
Wipes: I am completely in LOVE with Waterwipes! I use them myself, and carry a packet with me where ever I go. I am not kidding! I use them to freshen up my own hands or face. I find them SO much easier than cotton wool and water, I still use that for their faces or a soft sponge, but for bottoms I use Waterwipes. I love them because they only have a minute percentage of preservative in them and even that is natural. I would not recommend regular wet wipes in the first month for the same reason as above, leaving their skin to breathe.
To help the baby to settle off to sleep, I always swaddle them. (Occasionally there is a baby that doesn’t like it, so I don’t). Swaddling stops the Moro reflex (startle reflex) from waking them up as often. I find it a really great tool to help with creating a gentle routine when the baby shows signs of being ready for one.
Talking about routine, I think for the first few weeks you should just enjoy your baby. Cuddle it in the evening, have it near you so that you can eat, relax and be sociable. I reckon you have around 8 weeks to enjoy this time before it becomes habit forming. What I would say though, is that within those 8 weeks, when your baby is willing to be put down to sleep in a bed it is good practice to do just that.
I would suggest starting to implement some form of structure between weeks 3-6 depending on your baby and where you are at yourself. I have always found that there is a real window of opportunity where it all just starts to fit together without too much effort. For most babies, trying to put them to bed at 7pm from day 21 for example is pretty much a complete waste of time as they are unsettled, hungry and the whole thing usually just runs into the next feed…
However, from week 4-6 this can all change, and they might just go down and stay settled until 11pm or later which gives you an evening to relax.
I take the cue from the baby and this cue would look something like a cranky baby who doesn’t want to keep feeding (probably because they are full from the cluster feeding) and wants to be in a darkened, quiet room swaddled and helped off to sleep…
In summary, taking care of yourself is the first step to taking care of your newborn. Ask for and accept offers of help. Eat, sleep when you can, relax and enjoy! Next month’s feature is about sleep, so tune in for more information on that.
A final thing…
If you’re finding that your baby is unsettled, you might like to consider your diet. Here are some foods consumed that have been known to affect baby’s digestion:
Strawberries, oranges, cabbage, onions, garlic, cauliflower, wheat, dairy/milk products, broccoli, chilli, curry, beans/lentils, spices (curry/chilli particularly), tomatoes, avocado, caffeine, coffee, wheat, Liquorice, chocolate, excessive sugar, all raw salads? Weird but true!
The good news is that after 8-12 weeks, their gut matures and they are often then totally ok with these foods, if you have had issues you can try to introduce one thing at a time and see if it is still having an impact.