The first six weeks are all about rest and recovery for both you and your baby. Your job is to feed yourself and your newborn and to allow both of you to get to know each other’s rhythms. The key words are “rest” and “more rest.” Enjoy this special time when you can shut out the world and get to know your new family member.
1. Visitors. If you thought you couldn’t sleep in the hospital, wait until you get home. The doorbell and phone may never stop ringing. Just when you think you’ve settled your newborn down and you have time to take a nap, Aunt Millie knocks on the door. Even if you have a cute sign on the door such as “Shh, Baby Sleeping,” Aunt Millie is sure that you don’t mean her. Appoint a sentry—someone to turn away visitors who show up unannounced. Don’t even let them in the door. Or post a sign saying, “We’re so sorry; we’re all unavailable at the moment. We’ll be receiving visitors tomorrow between one and two. Hope you’ll stop by then.”
You get to decide when you are ready to have people come by. Limit the time you are willing to be disturbed. Pick an afternoon or an evening when you feel up to having one or two visitors. This is your time to take care of yourself, not to make everyone in the neighborhood happy. If they truly care about you, they will realize that having a new baby at home is hard work, and you’re not being rude, just protective.
A friend of mine turned off the ringer on her phone and had the following message on her machine: “Thank you for calling about the new baby. Mother and baby are doing well and are either resting or feeding. Please leave a message, and we’ll call you back when we can. We appreciate all of your good wishes. We’re having a ball.” This simple message left her long stretches of quiet time. Her husband would check the messages at the end of the day and return phone calls at a convenient time.
2. A bedside cooler. Your main job is to stay in bed and nourish yourself and your baby. Imagine making a nest where you can be comfortable and have easy access to everything you need. Place a cooler full of water, juice, fruit, and other nourishing foods beside your bed or sofa. If you are breastfeeding, it is important that you remain well hydrated and take in healthy calories. A cooler makes it easy for you to reach down and grab something to drink when you are thirsty. It is much harder to stay well hydrated if you have to ask someone to bring you something.
3. Diapers close at hand. You have a lovely nursery for your baby, with adorable curtains and bedding. The only trouble is that you have to leave your room to get there. The baby monitor is fine for when the baby is sleeping, but it doesn’t help when you need to change a diaper. And early on, you are changing diapers every hour or so. So make it easy on yourself; have a supply of diapers, sleepers, and a diaper pail in the same room where you have set yourself up to rest. Don’t make recovery harder than it already is. Who cares if you use the brand-new diaper pail in the beautiful nursery or temporarily use a trash bag in the corner of your room? Not as pretty, but so much more convenient.
4. Sleeping arrangements. For the first six weeks, it is easier to have the baby beside your bed in a bassinet than down the hall in the nursery. How much easier it is to reach beside you to pick up the baby to nurse than to go down the hall every hour. It’s also easier to check on all those gurgles and whimpers that you’re learning to understand. At three in the morning, it’s a long walk to the nursery, and sounds on a baby monitor may be a lot more frightening than when they are happening right beside you.
There is an exception to this advice. If you are unable to sleep through the little noises a newborn makes, you may need to put the bassinet on the other side of the room or next to your partner’s side of the bed. If that doesn’t work, it may help for you to sleep in another room and let your husband bring you the baby when it’s time to nurse. Adequate sleep for Mom is crucial during this early stage, and you may have to get creative to make sure you get enough.
Many couples work out a schedule where both get sleep and both help with feedings. If you are breastfeeding, have your partner bring the baby to you, then change her diaper and put her back to sleep when you are finished nursing. This will make it easier for you to fall back asleep after nursing.
If you are bottle-feeding, you can alternate feedings. Or you can take the two o’clock shift while he takes the five or six o’clock shift before he goes to work. It’s possible to work out an arrangement where both of you are getting at least four hours of uninterrupted sleep. It’s not just Mom who’s tired when a new baby is brought home, and Dad is not the only one working. Both of you need to participate in the care of your newborn, and both of you need rest.
5. Forget fashion. Wear comfortable clothes during the first six weeks at home. Don’t even try to fit into your old clothes; it will only make you feel bad. You’re not supposed to fit into them; you just had a baby! It’s okay to wear your husband’s sweatpants, but why not have some of your own that don’t make you feel so ungainly? Remember, you are not dressing for work or to go out to lunch with your friends. You are dressing for comfort and ease.
6. Sibling survival. It’s difficult to bring a new baby home to other children. No matter how old they are, they will have to adjust to the intruder. An older child will naturally fear that Mommy and Daddy will no longer have time for him or that the baby is now his parents’ favorite. And it’s not just other children who may be jealous; mothers and fathers also may miss that special time they shared with an older child. Everyone will eventually get adjusted, but there are ways to make sure these normal jealous feelings are resolved quickly and easily.
In the first few days and weeks at home, when there is more help in the house, set aside some special time for each child. Grandparents can be wonderful at entertaining other children. Perhaps Grandma can take each child out for an hour or two so that no one else is competing for her attention. Most important, use other adults to watch the baby for at least half an hour each day so that you can give each older sibling your undivided attention. (This doesn’t mean reading the older child a story while you are breastfeeding. This means reading a story and cuddling in your bed while the baby is in another room.) Tell the child that this is his time to spend just with you. Dads should have some special time with other children, too. Although this won’t resolve jealous feelings, it will help calm unspoken fears of being cast aside.
Many families have told me during the first several weeks that they are amazed at how well their other children are adjusting to the new baby. The older children are covering the newborn with kisses, wanting to hold her, and even trying to help feed her and change her diaper. This is great, but in my experience, sibling rivalry starts in earnest around six weeks. This is when parents may notice more temper tantrums and regressed behavior in older children. The novelty of the newborn wears off, and older siblings realize that she is there to stay. Don’t worry; this behavior won’t last, and giving siblings special time will go a long way toward settling things down.
The above is an excerpt from the book Understanding Your Moods When You’re Expecting by Lucy J. Puryear, M.D. Copyright © 2008 Lucy J. Puryear, M.D.