LIFE AFTER BIRTH: THE FIRST 6 WEEKS
Life after birth can be chaotic, especially if this is your first baby. Taking care of your newborn is hard work and won't be much fun until he or she develops a personality. In case you didn't know, a newborn doesn't laugh or smile, it can't play or even hold its own head up without a supporting hand. All it can do is eat, sleep, dirty diapers, pass gas, throw up and cry. Despite all of this, you will - believe it or not - love your little tot more than anything else in the world. Moreover, you will learn a lot about yourself and your partner as you both navigate through these initial days of parenthood.
Sex (or lack thereof)
You should know that sex is off-limits for at least 6 weeks after your partner gives birth. Don't forget that she just delivered a fair-sized human through a very tiny birth canal and her body will need time to heal. Your gal's doctor will ask to see her about six weeks after delivery for a full physical and emotional post-baby follow-up. At this visit, the doctor will check to see how her wounds are healing. If everything is good, your partner will get the green light for sex. However, this doesn't mean that she will be as keen and eager to get back into the game. She'll likely be tired from the whole pregnancy ordeal and from the added responsibilities of caring for a newborn. Help out as much as possible and be patient. Her interest in sex will return...just don't push her too hard.
Sleep (or lack thereof)
The good news is that babies need a lot of sleep - about 15-16 hours a day. Unfortunately, newborns don't have regular sleep patterns and don't sleep for long hours at a time. This means that you won't have regular sleep patterns either. Get used to napping throughout the day. And if that doesn't work for you, then get used to sleep deprivation. You and your partner may feel like you are losing your minds as you quickly realize how cranky and dysfunctional you can be after several nights of disrupted sleep. Hang in there. After about 8 or 10 weeks, your baby will start to sleep through the night (approximately five consecutive hours) and your sleep-deprived, zombie-like state will be a thing of the past.
You may with to alternate night shifts to maximize the amount of uninterrupted sleep each partner gets. There really is no need for both of you to get up every time the baby needs to be fed, coddled or changed.
Caring for Your Tiny Tot
After your shopping spree for nursery items, layettes and strollers, you may have thought that you were fully ready for your baby. While these purchases were necessary, they are only a small part of what you need to survive postnatal care. There will be many new and strange things for you and your partner to learn. The ins-and-outs of feeding, bathing, diapering and umbilical cord care are in no way intuitive. Don't get scared or discouraged by your new-found incompetence. Chances are that your partner is also incompetent in this area. It's okay to make mistakes; every new parent does. The good news is that the parental learning curve is steep. You and your partner will quickly develop the skills needed to care for your tot. To give you a helping hand, here is are a few pointers on baby care basics:
The first step is to decide your method of feeding - breast milk or formula? There are many benefits of breastfeeding, including nutritional and emotional advantages. Breast milk is a complete food source that contains hormones and disease-fighting compounds that are absent in formula. Nursing also helps build a special bond between mother and baby. Studies show that babies thrive on the skin-to-skin contact, cuddling and holding that occurs during breastfeeding. However, there are a variety of reasons why many women do not nurse. They may not be able to produce enough milk or they may have to return to work soon after birth and are not available to nurse the baby throughout the day. Whatever the reason, your gal should not feel guilty or uncomfortable with deciding to bottle-feed. There are many excellent formulas available which are highly nutritious. Speak with your partner's physician or pediatrician about recommended formulas.
Regardless of your method of feeding, you should know that most newborns eat about 8 times a day (approximately every two to three hours). However, you shouldn't try to set scheduled eating times during the first few weeks after birth. Let your baby eat whenever he or she seems hungry.
Because your baby's umbilical cord will need to heal, it is very important that you keep it dry to prevent infection. After about two weeks, the gross looking stump (i.e., remnants of the umbilical cord) will fall off and your baby will be left with a cute little belly button. In the meantime, take extra care not to wet the umbilical cord during bathing. The best way to do this is to give your tot sponge baths until the cord heals.
To give a sponge bath, you will need a stable surface, a soft washcloth and lukewarm water. Make sure that you test the water temperature before applying the cloth to your baby to prevent scalding him or her. Your elbow or the inner part of your wrist is a good place to test water temperature. Your hand is not a good guide since it is not very sensitive enough to tell how hot or cold the water really is. Now you can begin wiping your baby gently with the moistened washcloth. Begin by wiping your baby's eyes (from inside to outside), ears and under arms. Then you can move onto legs and genitalia. When washing the bottom, make sure you wipe from front to back to avoid bringing any feces near the genitals. If you have had your baby boy circumcised, then you will want to speak with your pediatrician about caring for the penis while it heals.
The most important thing to remember when bathing your baby is to NEVER leave him or her along - not even for a second. Babies squirm around a lot, so you should always keep your eyes and one hand on your little one during bath time. The same rule applies when you are changing your baby's diaper.
Don't avoid this responsibility because it you have never changed a diaper before. Because babies pee and poop so often, you will spend a lot of time changing diapers. Take advantage of this precious time with junior. You may also have to develop silly and immature techniques to comfort your baby if he/she does not enjoy the diapering process. As ridiculous as you may feel, this is actually an important part of establishing a parent-tot bond.
While it may be dirty work, diapering is not rocket science. For easy to follow instructions, make sure to read our article on How to Change a Diaper at http://www.thefunkystork.com.
Caring for Yourself and Your Partner
As flighty and silly as it might sound, self-care is important. Neither you nor your partner is doing your tot any good by neglecting yourselves. Try a shift-work system where you schedule an hour or two during the day where one parent will care for the baby alone. This way, the other parent can practice self-care - taking a long, warm bath, going for a run, doing yoga, reading or just going for coffee with a friend.
You will find that self-care will also help maintain civility in your relationship with your partner. By making time to do something for yourself, you will find that you won't feel as overwhelmed by your initiation to parenthood. And don't forget that this rule also applies to your partner. In fact, she will likely need more time for self-care than you since she will also be recovering from both 40 weeks of pregnancy and hours of childbirth. Also be aware that your partner is particularly vulnerable to postpartum depression during the first weeks after birth.
Postpartum depression, which is a more serious case of the baby blues, can begin as early as a few days after delivery. Experts don't know the real cause of postpartum depression, but they suspect that it has something to do with changes hormonal levels. Stress, disturbed sleeping patterns and changes in daily routine can all contribute to postpartum depression. Signs and symptoms include restlessness, irritability, changes in appetite, sadness and anxiety. If your partner is experiencing any of these symptoms or if you sense that something isn't right with the way your partner is behaving, you should consult your physician immediately. Untreated, postpartum depression can develop into postpartum psychosis, which is a serious mental illness that requires medical intervention. Both you and your partner should take her postnatal psychological state very seriously.
On a lighter note, you and your partner make an extra effort to keep the romance in your relationship. While your baby will require a lot of your time and attention, he or she will also be taking a lot of naps. Nap-time may be the perfect (and only) time for your and your partner to romance each other. Snuggle, watch a movie, make dinner or enjoy a glass of wine together. Whatever you decide to do, take a minute to set the mood with candles and relaxing music.
Another important factor to consider is how involved you want your parents or partner's parents to be. Parental intervention can add some seriously unneeded stress to the situation and unnecessary strain on your relationship. That said, you shouldn't reject offers to help. Being a new parent is not going to be easy and you will need all the help that you can get. Just remember to set limits and don't be afraid to tell your relatives what you need (and don't need). The last thing you want is to have one overbearing relatives overstepping their boundaries and overstaying their welcome.
Things change after about 6 weeks of caring for your newborn. You and your partner will be different people, your relationship will be redefined and your tot will begin to act more like a baby than a squirmy alien. Life will get easier from here on out. Your tot will become a toddler and will begin roaming around the house. Make sure you are prepared for junior's curiosity by baby-proofing your home early.