Before I had Maeve, I was scared. I was scared of not being prepared, of breastfeeding trouble, and of the whole sleep thing (or lack thereof for most). And most selfishly, I was scared of change in my life. I was scared of what my life, career, and body would be like after the baby.
I did everything I could to banish these feelings by going overboard on preparing. I did what I could before baby to stay in shape (therefore hoping it would help my post-baby recovery). I crammed and planned work and blog posts to have ready so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed during my self-imposed leave. I read every book about feeding schedules and sleep training. I talked endlessly to other moms about the pros and cons of breastfeeding vs bottle-feeding. I even made a freezer full of meals so that I would have something to eat on any given night. Preparedness was my strategy to banish feelings of fear. But, at the end of the day, you can’t be 100% prepared for something so unknown.
What I thought would happen (and what I prepared for) in some ways varied significantly from the actual reality of living with a newborn, and in other ways were right on point. At one month in, the thoughts and feelings I’ve had are still fresh in my mind. Some of these thoughts include a lot of personal information, so it may not be for everyone, but for those of you who are pregnant and going through the same fears, you might find some comfort in knowing what I went through. So much of the information online is either very extreme and fear mongering, or is so general that it doesn’t help whatsoever. So, here are the highlights (and lowlights!) of the first month.
The First Month with a Newborn
I was not prepared whatsoever for the emotional rollercoaster that the first month has been. I anticipated having feelings of love and feelings of frustration and feelings of overwhelm, but I didn’t anticipate just how voraciously these feelings can grab ahold. The first week was especially intense. These feelings didn’t come on right away, but by the 2nd or 3rd day home I was overcome with emotion. Each time I even held Maeve, I would cry about her growing up. I cried about how she’ll never be that little again and how I need to take in every single little moment. I cried about how out of control I felt, knowing that I couldn’t do one thing to prevent her from SIDS or Autism or growing up and being picked on or meeting a boy who breaks her heart. These all seem like such silly things to ruminate on, but the mind is a tricky place in those postpartum weeks. When she had her own crying spells I get so overwhelmed because there isn’t anything I can do, which makes me feel terrible for her.
The rollercoaster of feelings subsided a little bit week by week. Now at 4 weeks out, my mind still wanders through these feelings, but I feel a little more in control of the crying (mine, not hers).
I know it’s selfish and I know it’s not quite the right thing to focus on, but I was terrified of what my body would look like and feel like in the days and weeks following the birth. Although I lost a substantial amount of weight in the hospital (Maeve was a big baby), my stomach still looked 7 months pregnant. It was such a strange and somewhat disheartening feeling. I couldn’t wear the dress I’d planned to wear home and ended up in the dress I wore into the hospital. I couldn’t see my incision to care for it and I couldn’t use a nursing pillow, just a feather bed pillow which morphed around my protruding middle a bit more. The leftover stomach is a super strange thing that feels somewhat like a bunch of greased up water balloons sloshing around inside of you. The main thing that helped me feel much better was a pair of postpartum shapewear like these (these for c-sections) and then a wrap once my stomach got small enough to use it. Both of these things kind of held everything together and helped all of my innards to shrink back quickly. Now, four weeks out, I can fit back into my pre-pregnancy pants, which I think is due to the shape wear and the daily walks.
Aside from the weight, other physical changes were not as pleasant. I’ll go into a little detail just to help prepare other first time moms, but beware, this is totally TMI. I was not prepared for the physical toll that breastfeeding and bleeding consistently takes on a person. Between the leaky boobs, leaky nether regions, leaking pores (the intense postpartum sweating thing was a huge surprise) and leaky eyes (crying, mostly), as well as the super slow/nonexistent bowel movements, just living and existing was exhausting – now throw in a c-section recovery and also pile on taking care of a baby and you’ve got a whole other level of exhaustion. I always thought new mothers were exhausted because of the sleepless nights, I didn’t think about the physical toll those first few weeks take on your body.
So here is my advice. Start with a good pair of shape wear. Wear them over your undies (I loved these because they didn’t rub against my incision) so that you can get more than one day out of them. The shape wear also kept the pads in place and snug so that it didn’t feel as loosey goosey down there (sorry for that gross terminology). Also get some daytime and nighttime nursing pads and keep them wherever you nurse and also by your bed. You’ll inevitably wake up in the middle of the night leaking everywhere at least a few times. Get a couple pairs of really comfy cotton PJs. You’ll need to change these in the middle of the night too when you wake up soaked in sweat or milk or blood. Lastly, get out and go for a walk. It’s helps you heal and gets you out of the house.
It’s no surprise that you don’t just come home with all of the fun after effects listed above, but you also come home with a baby!
I was super on the fence about breastfeeding. I intended to try, but wasn’t very committed to the cause. I went into the hospital with the attitude of, “if it works it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t”. I’ve had friends and family who have had horrendous experiences and while I was just not going kill myself trying to make breastfeeding happen, I also know that some things take time. I committed to 6 weeks of breastfeeding as a first goal. So far, I’ve been very surprised and shocked by how wonderfully it is going. In the hospital, she latched on right away, nursed for decent amounts of time and at regular 3-4 hour intervals. After the first day when I got a handle on how much she wanted to eat, I started trying to ease her onto a schedule based on her needs. If she was eating at such regular stretches, I could easily engineer those times to be on board with the schedule that I intended to start once I got home. Page 118 of the book Secrets of The Baby Whisperer as a great guide for the first 4 days of nursing. Also, the hospital staff was supportive of my intended timeline and helped me to maintain it. I think that maintaining a regular schedule in the early days really helped my milk come in well and helped me to feel at ease.
Of course, I had some of the early breastfeeding issues that everyone struggles with – sore, cracked, bleeding nipples, engorgement, a blocked duct. But I expected all of these things, so when they occurred, I wasn’t surprised and I was prepared.
Here is what I would recommend: First, have a plan before going into the hospital. Whatever your choice is, just discuss it ahead of time with your partner and stick to your guns. There were nurses who weren’t thrilled about my attempt to schedule so early. But there were other nurses who wholeheartedly believed in scheduling from the get-go. I know myself and knew that if I didn’t get us on a schedule early, I’d get overwhelmed and quit the entire endeavor. Now, one month in, it’s going fairly easily. We’re still working on that schedule, but more on that next. For the nipple discomfort, I really like the Medela brand lanolin (I tried the Earth Mama as well, but didn’t love it). For the one blocked duct I’ve had so far, I actually used the backside of my clairsonic to massage the duct in a warm shower. That, combined with nursing from that side every 2-ish hours, cleared it right up.
Of all the fears I had about having a baby, the sleep thing had to be right at the top. There were two big facets of fear. One was that I was absolutely terrified of having a crying-all-night, up-every-hour, wailing situation. The second was that I was afraid of having a baby in our room, getting used to a bassinet and staying in there indefinitely. An acquaintance of ours has a son who has never (never) slept in his room. He is 5. That, my friends, scared me to no end. I was deathly afraid of creating a situation where I had a toddler sleeping in my bed and my own bedroom life (ah-hem) goes straight in the toilet. No ma’am. Plus, I’ve heard so many horror stories about moving the baby to their crib after 3, 6, or more months spent in a rock-n-play.
So, I decided before I had Maeve that I’d start her out in her crib. Everyone who I told of this goal basically laughed at me and said, “we’ll see about that”. I am here to tell you that it’s possible and that it works well (for us at least). Yes, the first night I cried seeing her teeny tiny body all alone in that giant crib. But, guess what? She slept… well. She learned early on to sleep flat and not inclined (which may not be possible if your child has reflux, but that’s another situation). She didn’t hear our every move and we didn’t hear hers. I could get up seventeen times to go to the bathroom and didn’t disturb her.
The schedule that we had at the hospital seemed to hold once we got home and I was able to transition into my Babywise schedule. I’d feed her every 3 hours during the day and 4-5 hours at night. I think being in her own quiet room and being comfortably swaddled helped her to sleep longer. Plus the scheduling led her into a predictable pattern where she’d wake up around the same time each night, which is helpful for my milk and my body. Now, at 2am my body just wakes up. I know it’s time, she knows it’s time, my boobs know it’s time.
The biggest surprise I had was how much and how easily newborns sleep in the first 1-2 weeks. I remember thinking, wow! This is totally simple! Then, around 3 weeks, they wake up more and that’s when the intention of the schedule starts being valuable.
Here is what I recommend: If you are trying to go straight to crib like I did, there are a few suggestions I have. First, get a good swaddle. I use the miracle blanket and she sleeps so well in it. I think it makes her feel nice and secure. Plus, we have a little Houdini who broke out of everything else. Second, get a white noise machine. Not only does it emulate the womb for them, but it muffles sounds from the rest of the house. Lastly, pause for a spell before going into their room. She gets a little noisy in between sleep cycles, but will fall right back asleep if I don’t intervene. Believe me, when they’re actually awake and need something, you’ll know. I just stare at the monitor for 1-5 minutes to gauge if she’s actually awake. I’m a pretty big fan of our monitor too. It’s got good video resolution, all of the necessary features, and didn’t break the bank.
Overall, it’s been so much smoother than I anticipated. I was completely expecting there to be hours upon hours of crying and a baby who wouldn’t latch. And I also anticipated more feelings of frustration. I anticipated that when I heard that cry at 2am I’d be irritated. But it’s almost like Christmas morning to see her little face. Going into her room and snuggling her is such a treat that there is no way I can be mad. Of course there are tough days (like yesterday, which his why this post is a day late). There are days when she’s fussy and won’t sleep and I’ve tried all three of our pacifiers and all two of my boobs for hours on end. But, the good outweighs the bad. It’s hard to be mad at that little bundle who loves and needs you so much. That, I wasn’t expecting.
I hope it’s been helpful. If you have any specific questions about those first few weeks, pop them in the comments below!