One moment really stuck out for me when it came to taking home my first baby. On day three, the midwives told us we were ready, and it was time to take him home. My husband and I looked at each other as if to say “so we are now solely responsible for taking care of this tiny human… are you sure?”
I’m told it’s totally normal; the reality of being completely ‘in charge’ of a baby can be panic inducing for many a first-time parent. But fear not, as much as the panic is normal, so too is acing (ok, managing), the first six weeks.
Here’s some of the common ‘new’ things that’ll you’ll experience in the first month and half of being home with bubs:
Bonding and finding your rhythm
The first six weeks are all about getting to know your baby, and your baby adjusting to life on the outside.
“Bonding and attachment are their major area of development. Building this bond produces hormones and chemicals in their brains that help them grow emotionally and physically,” says Hayley Briggs, Child and Family Health Nurse with Sydney Paediatrics.
Fear not if you don’t feel the movie-style rush of love we’re all built up to expect, much like any relationship, it will develop at its own pace, and with everything going on (and all the new and sometimes scary experiences), it can take time to get there – though of course for some, it’ll be instantaneous!
If you are worried, talk to your midwife, GP or child health nurse about your feelings – they can talk it through with you and provide support.
Sleeping and the daily routine
In terms of sleep, Hayley says bubs will need help and support to settle to sleep – this means lots of cuddles.
“It won’t be until three to six months that babies may develop a more predictable sleep pattern,” says Hayley.
So how can you help them? Babies enjoy being wrapped or swaddled to sleep as it reduces their startle reflex and may help them sleep longer periods.
Safety wise, Hayley says it's important their sleep environment is safe and that parents follow the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) guidelines – which recommend they have their own accessory free cot or bassinet in same room as you for the first 6-12 months. This has the added bonus of making night feeding easier for you, and giving you a much sleep as possible.
The first six weeks, as with sleep, is unlikely to hit a routine.
If you are breastfeeding, you may experience hiccups – some struggle to develop a good attachment (which can mean very sore nipples), others wonder if they are feeding too often, and still more worry they are not making enough milk (this is rare – around 5% of mums genuinely don’t.)
The one rule for feeding your baby is to do what works for you and your baby. If you want to breastfeed, seek help as issues arise, but if breastfeeding isn’t working for you, formula provides a beneficial alternative.
For breastfeeding mummas, the first six weeks of breastfeeding can be plagued by the question “is my baby getting enough milk?”. Because you can’t see how much milk they are getting, if bubs is fussy at the breast or feeding more frequently, one assumption is they aren’t satisfied in the quantity department.
However, there are lots of reasons they may be fussy or feeding more, and your child health nurse, lactation specialist or GP can help. You’ll know they are getting enough if they have six to eight wet nappies per day, and continued growth at their weekly check-up.
Keeping yourself fed and watered
Whether you’re mum to just the one new baby, or you have a bigger family to care for, making sure you get adequate food, water and rest is key to keeping up. However, it’s very common for new mums to neglect themselves while focusing on bubs.
Here are some simple tricks to help you eat well:
- Set up a re-orderable food delivery for once a week, packed with easy to grab and go nutrient rich snacks. Think wholemeal crackers or bread rolls and hummus, eggs for boiling up and keeping in the fridge, easy-steam frozen vegetables, pre-prepared salads and vegetables, low sodium chicken and veggie or minestrone soup - avoid canned varieties that are high in salt- baked beans, yoghurt and tinned tuna
- Keep water bottles by your bed and next to the places you sit to feed bubs
- Cook bulk lots at meal times and freeze the leftovers. Even if they’re not suitable for freezing, doubling up can make for an easy lunch option the next day (even steak can be sliced and served cold with a salad or sandwich!)
- A quality pregnancy & breastfeeding supplement may help to fill nutrient gaps in the short term
- When people offer help, take them up on it and let them know freezer meals would be gratefully accepted!
What not to sweat with a newborn
Easy nourishment for new mums
Final words of wisdom?
“The most important piece of advice is that parents should try to relax and enjoy getting to know their baby in the first precious weeks, and if things are not going to plan it's important to seek help early from a qualified professional and not to struggle alone," Hayley says.
As well as your maternity hospital and child health numbers (they are usually found in the front of your child’s health book – if not, write them in), keeping the following numbers and websites handy will help with many of the common ‘firsts’ you’ll encounter when you first get home.
Oh – and if you don’t have any yet, making mummy mates is invaluable when it comes to normalising and enjoying the wild and wacky experiences that come with your brave new world.
Where to find help
- Blackmores Nutrition Advisory Service 1800 808 669 8:30am-5:30pm (AEST) Monday to Friday
- Healthdirect (not available in Victoria or Queensland): 1800 022 222, 24 hours 7 days
- Lifeline: 131 114, 24 hours 7 days
- Mensline Australia (support and referral to specialist men’s services): 1300 789 978, 24 hours 7 days
- Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) Helpline: 1300 726 306, 10 am-5 pm (AEST), Monday to Friday
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby: 1800 882 436, 24 hours 7 days
- Raising Children Network online breastfeeding videos, featuring mums addressing many common breastfeeding concerns, and step by step “how to” videos
- The Australian Breastfeeding Association National Breastfeeding Helpline: 1800 686 268, 24 hours, 7 days