Congratulations! You’ve just made it through pregnancy and birth and your baby has officially made it to your arms! This is a moment of celebration! However your baby made it to you, you have now been gifted with a sweet little one to cuddle and cherish. As you begin your new role as a parent of a baby outside of the womb, life might look quite different from what you are used to. Fear not! We’ve compiled some tips/ideas and will cover some areas of your life that will be the biggest adjustment as you deal with your own changed body, a brand new human, and the adjustment of your entire family to this bundle of joy.
Know that this journey is going to have ups and downs. Know that you are going to have mixed and sometimes conflicting emotions. This is all very normal, and it is good to be honest with where you are at. Parenthood is a totally new role, and it will take time to adjust and adapt to these new demands and responsibilities. You can do this! Humans, with the right support, can do very hard things, and welcoming a new baby into your home is no exception. Whether you are busily nesting before the arrival of your little one, or are currently knee-deep in caring for a tiny human that just entered your world, these tips and tricks will be just the right companion for your early days as a new parent!
Feeding Your Baby
Once your baby is born and you’ve made it through labor and delivery, your biggest job switches to feeding your baby. Infants need to eat often, usually at least every 2 hours, to grow well in the first days and months of their lives. If you are nursing, be prepared to be nursing most of your day! Set up a ‘nest’ in your living room and bedroom with all of your most-needed items within easy reach (water, snacks, reading materials, phone & charger, remote, a basket of books, and new toys for older children, etc). You will want to offer the breast early and often to establish a good milk supply and to ensure your baby is getting enough nourishment to grow well in the early days. I knew I would be nursing a lot going into having my first child, but I did not realize that it literally became my new life. If you feel like all you ever do is breastfeed, then you are doing it right! Don’t worry! Your baby’s tummy will grow and the feedings will space out someday. For now, keep calm and nurse on. If you are struggling in any way, reach out to a lactation consultant! Their wisdom is like gold.
Cluster Feeding: Many babies will cluster feed at various times of the day and night in the first months. This typically happens right before their longest stretch of sleep (usually evenings) but really can happen at any time. This is completely normal and great for your milk supply! Don’t panic; just try to get comfy and nurse away while watching your favorite show in a comfortable chair. Also, as baby gets older don’t be afraid to try out new nursing positions. Just keep experimenting with what works. For me, learning the art of nursing while laying down is always a HUGE game changer. This nursing relationship takes time and learning for both you and baby.
Adjustment for Siblings & Pets
Bringing home a new family is an exciting time for everyone in the family! Your other children will need time to adapt, just as you will. For us, having a small and simple gift to give each child from the new baby upon returning home was a big win. Also, allow your children to have times of the day where they can hold the baby with your supervision. Involve older children in baby care as much as possible! Older siblings love to help with bringing diapers, water or snacks for mommy, a pacifier, or a baby-safe toy when needed. Your bigger kids will be a great source of entertainment for your baby! Just make sure baby is in a safe place, especially if you step out of the room for a minute.
Pets also need time to adjust to a new family member. Some families have a blanket brought home ahead of them from the hospital, one that smells like the new baby, for your pet’s ability to acclimate. Don’t forget to pamper your pet as much as you usually do or can during this transition. Treats, walks, and playtime are still important. Consider using baby gates even now to designate safe, pet-free spaces for baby to dwell until your pet is better adjusted or you have supervised enough safe interactions between the two. Babies also LOVE to watch pets!
Healing and Rest for Mom
You’ve just been through one of the most amazing and labor-some, yes, pun intended, journeys of your life! Pregnancy and delivery, whether vaginally or by c-section, are all MAJOR events for your body! You are going to need LOTS of rest, as often as you can spare it around the care of your new baby. Your primary goal post-delivery is to focus on your baby’s care and your healing. Sleep when you can and rest when you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be very specific about what is helpful (usually moms only need help with holding baby briefly while they shower, etc, but what they really need is someone to do a load of laundry). It’s ideal to line up help with other children if needed, help with house chores, and meal assistance ahead of time when possible. People love to help a new mom! It’s hard to accept help. With my third baby, I decided anytime someone offered to help, I would say ‘yes’. It was humbling and hard, but my family, my baby, and I all fared so much better by saying ‘yes’ to the blessings of those in the community around us! You can always return the favor when you and your baby are further along on the journey of life, too.
Babies eat, all day and night. It is just reality. Don’t be afraid! You were made for this job. You can do this, even if it is hard at night. Work hard to find a routine and sleep style that fits your family. Don’t be afraid to explore all of the safe options. Sleep is a major factor in your ability to cope and adjust to a new baby in your home! Form a team with any other adults involved in your life so that everyone can have a chance at sleep. And know that it does get better! It does seem like forever at first, but this too shall pass. If you are really struggling, reach out to your doctor or midwife for assistance. There is no shame! We all need as much support as possible to survive the postpartum days.
Postpartum Mental Health
The postpartum period is a huge adjustment, physically, hormonally, mentally, etc. Be aware of the signs of postpartum anxiety or depression and reach out to your care team if you or your close family members and friends are concerned. It’s okay to struggle! This is a HUGE adjustment, and your feelings and fears are valid. You are sleep deprived and recovering from a major life change—these alone can affect us at the core. It can also be very normal to have large changes in emotions and big feels in the days and weeks after giving birth as your hormones adjust.
If you are concerned about a postpartum parent (it can affect men, too!) check out our article here for more information on deciphering when to seek help.
Infants poop and pee a lot, and this is very good! Be prepared for lots of diaper changes and blow outs. This is just life with a tiny human. Keep a stash of diapers and wipes at your ‘nest’ and definitely at your bedside with a pad and a flashlight for nighttime changes that don’t require walking all over the house. A change of outfit or two at your bedside, by your couch, and in your diaper bag are essential as well. Try to get other family members involved in diapering when you can to take a bit of the load off of yourself. Babies are usually very alert and playful during a diaper change, so it can be a great time for Dad, Grandma, or a much older sibling to bond between sleeping and feeding times.
Babies come in all sorts of temperaments, and this will show itself very early on! It can be extremely frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking to have a fussy baby that is not feeding well, when you see very content babies that sleep and eat well around you. Don’t lose hope! You were given this baby, and you can do this, with the right help. Sometimes it takes a fair amount of experimentation to figure out what your particular baby likes. My first child wanted to nurse for LONG stretch day and night, my second needed to be walked in the baby sling in the evenings, and my third was content to lay in my arms or a bassinet nearby. Try all of the things! Swaddles, pacifiers, babywearing, rocking, bouncing on a ball, swings, tummy rubs, gas drops, bath, change of scenery (going outside can be magical), etc to see what helps! If you find yourself at a loss, reach out to your team and get yourself a good lactation consultant to help from the feeding angle. Babies have very immature digestive systems so a lot can go on there, too.
Be prepared to venture out to your baby’s doctor frequently, especially in the first days and weeks to check on your baby’s weight gain. If your child is struggling with weight gain or you are struggling with feedings, find yourself a lactation consultant ASAP! These women have been life-changing in my experiences with young babies. With my oldest, I went in for bi-weekly weight checks and moral boosts with a lactation consultant. These wonderful women can also asses whether your baby could benefit from lip and tongue tie revisions or other feeding-related therapies to assist in the feeding process.
Car Seats—some babies LOVE them and some babies hate them. I’ve had some of both. Try all the things if you need to. Music, pacifiers, sitting near baby, etc can all help. An extra bottle, a nursing session, and a fresh diaper before leaving can go a long way, too. A screaming infant in the car seat can be a very upsetting experience. Most babies start to come around in time, especially as they are able to play with toys, watch other siblings, look out the window, etc. Be gentle with yourself and your baby. If you can’t handle a stressful car ride with baby, it’s okay to skip the drive back home for Christmas to see family this year. You deserve grace to get through this challenging stage, and there will be another chance to make that long car ride in the future.
Adjustment in Home, Childcare, and Work Responsibilities
This is going to be a huge adjustment time for your entire family, so hang on tight! Your family is used to you being there for them in specific ways and that is going to shift, especially in the first days and weeks of baby’s life. Try to keep communication open as much as possible. Ask your family members how they are feeling and share your feelings as well. It’s okay to struggle, and it’s okay to seek help when you can’t figure out the struggle alone anymore.
One great way to get house chores and childcare tasks done is to learn the art of baby-wearing! There are so many amazing slings and structured carriers out there. Take some time to experiment with different types and do a bit of research before baby comes. I have always had the most success with structured carriers that you can easily take on and off for nursing. Some moms swear by their wraps in the early days with tiny babies to keep baby close and supervised while going about their day. Most babies love to be worn, although it can be an adjustment period, and there are babies that don’t like it. Keep trying! You can do so many things (stove-top cooking not advised!) with a baby snuggled in at your chest. Dads are also wonderful baby-wearers, and this can be a great way for dad to get more involved.
If your baby hates the stroller, consider baby-wearing! Your infant is programmed to want to be held. Baby-wearing is a great way to meet your baby’s needs while addressing your needs and the needs of others in your family.
Reach out for Help Early & Often
As much as possible, farm out household chores and responsibilities in your earliest days of recovery. Try to accomplish what you can ahead of baby’s arrival or talk yourself through being okay with messes and unfinished projects until baby is older and napping/sleeping better. It’s okay to throw away or donate an unfinished project that is causing you a lot of grief and guilt when you look at it. Life is short, and believe it or not, this season of life passes too. You will have another season where you can accomplish so much more beyond the immediate needs of your family members.
If you have older children, don’t be afraid to make use of babysitters when you can! Everyone can use a little break from the household at times.
Advice & Opinions
Once you become a parent, you’ll quickly learn that everyone has their own opinion on how baby should (insert verb). How your baby eats, sleeps, gets held, doesn’t get held, uses a pacifier, etc may all come under scrutiny. While most opinion-givers are meant to be well-intentioned, they can definitely bring you down and make you question yourself. Be open to changing your ways, but ultimately do what is best for you and your baby and what is sustainable for you. Babies need your love and affection and that comes along with frequent waking, holding, feeding, etc. You will sacrifice yourself for this little one, but it is so worth it. Seek out help and breaks from those around you. It truly takes a village to raise a child, even an infant. If you feel overwhelmed at the moment, it’s never a problem to leave baby in a safe place, like a crib, and take a moment away to breathe. Smell the top of your baby’s head or latch baby on for a nursing session while you both calm down. Babies are resilient and can feel your love and care for them. You can do this!
We hope these tips can help you begin your journey as a new parent with some confidence and self-compassion. You were given this baby for a reason! Feel free to love away and seek help when that feels hard. Are you a parent to a new baby or do you have other advice to share from your experience raising young humans? Please, share with us in the comments!