Between feeding, sleeping, schedules and visitors, adapting to life with a newborn
can be overwhelming, but help is at hand.
The first few weeks of your baby’s life are a truly magical time, but learning the ropes of being a mum can also be challenging. After all, there’s feeding your baby and sleep routines to come to grips with – all while functioning on little sleep after an exhausting labour from which you may still be recovering.
To help you navigate those first six weeks, here’s a guide to not only surviving, but also enjoying this precious time with your newest family member.
Sleep for you
This is the big one: all the experts agree that if you can get this right, everything else will seem much easier. M&B expert and midwife Megan Baker advises aiming to do as little as possible in the first few weeks of your newborn’s life, apart from resting, sleeping and making sure your baby is fed and comfortable. You’ll be far less vulnerable to postnatal depression if you can properly recover after giving birth. It’s a classic rule, but an important one – sleep whenever your baby does.
“For the first six weeks, I felt terribly guilty about catching up on my sleep instead of doing chores while Josh dozed. But, in hindsight, it was those daytime naps that kept me going.”
Tania, 31, mum to Josh, 18 months
Sleep for baby
Putting your baby to bed in her own cot is one of the ways to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She can be in your bedroom, but sleeping with you is not recommended. It’s vital your baby’s head and face are uncovered, so keep soft toys, pillows and doonas out of the cot.
Some mothers like to follow a bedtime routine from the start, while others are more flexible. If you want to establish a routine, aim for a 7pm bedtime. However, it’s not uncommon for babies to demand frequent feeds in the evening. A relaxing bath can help with settling.
In the early weeks, you’ll probably need to feed your baby again at around 10pm. Wake her up if need be – if she’s alert and feeding properly she will tend to sleep more soundly with a full tummy.
“Even when they were really tiny, a friend recommended putting Emily and Alex into their cots awake, so they’d learn to drift off themselves without me soothing or feeding them to sleep. It was the best piece of parenting advice I was given.”
Jane, 27, mum to Emily, three, and Alex, nine months
Food for you
Sure, camembert is back on the menu after a nine-month break, but it’s still just as important as it was during pregnancy that you eat a healthy and sensible diet
to maintain your energy levels so you can care for and feed your baby.
Exclusive breastfeeding uses around 2000 extra kilojoules a day, which can help shift the extra weight gained during your pregnancy. However, it also draws on your body’s stores of calcium. This is why it’s important to aim for three serves of dairy products a day (think milk, yoghurt and cheese), and include plenty of calcium-rich foods such as spinach, broccoli, tofu, almonds and canned sardines or salmon in your diet to replenish those calcium levels.
A new arrival is certainly cause for celebration, but bear in mind that alcohol passes into breast milk. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, not drinking alcohol at all is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers.
Food for baby
The World Health Organization advises breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years. Breast milk contains all
the nutrients your growing baby needs and it is easy for her to digest.
The immediate health benefits of breastfeeding for bub include a decreased risk of infections, diarrhoea, earaches and fever. In the long term, it sets your baby up for a healthy life, with a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes and asthma. It’s also a great way for you and your baby to bond and you might be surprised at just how many positive effects it has on your own wellbeing.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill so be patient with yourself as you get the hang of it and don’t be afraid to seek support from a midwife, lactation consultant or the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
“My sister warned me not to eat spicy food when breastfeeding, but plenty of women do it with no issue. Avoiding empty kilojoules makes sense, but I’m sure I’m not the only new mum who found the occasional chocolate bar powered her through a difficult day.”
Jenna, 35, mum to Mimi, 18 months
Bonding with bub
Touch is your baby’s first language and the skin-to-skin contact of massage is a lovely way to connect with her. A good time to massage is after her bath, when she is clean and dry and the room is warm. Wash your hands, remove jewellery, then rub your hands with sorbolene cream or ask your health care professional for advice on recommended oils. Use smooth, continuous and gentle but firm strokes. To find a baby massage instructor in your neighbourhood, get in touch with the International Association of Infant Massage.
Another way to bond is by using a baby carrier or sling when you go out or even just around the house. She’ll be comforted by your warmth, smell and heartbeat.
“Louis visibly relaxes when he lies on my chest. Snuggling up naked together in bed helped stimulate my milk, too, which made breastfeeding much easier in the early days.”
Melanie, 31, mum to Theo, three, and Louis, 12 months
An expert eye on delivery
Your baby will be checked for medical conditions at the hospital and during regular baby health checks in the first few months. Here’s what to expect.
At the birth
The midwife will do a physical examination of your baby, called an APGAR test, to check whether any medical help or treatment is needed.
The first week
After 48 to 72 hours of regular feeds once you have given birth, your midwife or hospital will do a heel-prick test on your baby to screen for congenital metabolic disorders, including PKU, hypothyroidism and cystic fibrosis. If you’ve had an early discharge, mums may be visited at home by a midwife to ensure there are no problems, especially with feeding, and also to check on her wellbeing. Your baby will also have an otoacoustic emissions test to check her hearing. Another test, called an AABR test (Automated Auditory Brainstem Response), may also be performed to see how well she responds to sound.
Six to eight weeks
You and your baby will have a routine review by your GP, during which you can raise any concerns. Your doctor will examine your baby to make sure no congenital problems, such as heart murmurs, have been missed. During this appointment you’ll be assessed for postnatal depression.
After eight weeks
You can regularly attend your local early childhood centre, where midwives and early childhood nurses will weigh your baby and discuss any problems or concerns you may have about her health and development.
***How do I know if she's really sick?
It’s easy to start panicking when your tiny baby seems ill. If she has any of the following symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately.
• Your baby has a temperature higher than 39°C.
• She is floppy, listless and seems generally unwell.
• She has a rash that doesn’t turn white when you press your finger to it.
• She’s having trouble breathing, has a chesty cough or seems hoarse.
• She refuses feeds for more than eight to 12 hours.
• She has fewer than five wet nappies over a 24-hour period.
Your partner, family and friends
It’s easy for dads to feel left out, so look for opportunities to involve your partner as much as possible. Nappy changes, massages and walks with the pram are all ways for him to connect with the baby.
Give your partner space to do things his own way. If he doesn’t change the nappy like you, put it into perspective. Being critical might put him off, at a time when you really need an extra pair of hands.
Your other half can also help field the inevitable onslaught of visitors. Everyone will want to see the baby and it can get overwhelming. It’s fine to ask people to wait a while before visiting, and to keep visits short and sweet. They’ll understand.
Your body after birth
The first six weeks after childbirth are tough on your body. Core muscles have been weakened, so lifting and cradling bub can cause aches and pains. Consult your GP before starting any exercise regime. Then, to ease the pain and regain muscle control, try these simple exercises at home.
• Every time you lift your baby, engage your pelvic floor muscles, then draw them up to your belly button.
• Don’t hunch during breastfeeding; keep your back straight and use pillows to support your baby, so that you’re not holding her weight for prolonged periods.
• Walking with a pram is a gentle cardio workout, but be conscious of standing up straight instead of stooping over.
• To help tone your tummy, sit on an exercise ball or stool and, with your feet flat on the floor, gently lean backwards, hold the position, then return to upright.
After giving birth, your body undergoes a massive hormonal shift, so you can expect a few tears. But if you’re still feeling blue after the first week, ask for help.