There is an overwhelming amount of change and information to take in during that first week with a baby.
Yes you will be absolutely over the moon with your new arrival, but your body has also been through a serious challenge and you’ll no doubt be worrying about how you’re going to cope.
I’m going to be completely honest with you from the word go. It’s impossible to put into words what having a baby feels like until you’ve done it.
But my best advice to you is to expect a very steep learning curve, to feel as if you have no clue what you’re doing and to feel tired. Very, very tired!
This post is not intended to frighten you! It’s really just what I would love to have been able to tell my pregnant self so I would have been more mentally prepared for the first week with my baby.
Remember, I survived that first week, and so will you!
So pregnant mummies, put your feet up and get comfy (if you can). I’m going to share with you what you really need to know about the first week with your baby.
Your body after birth
How you will feel physically does depend massively on how your delivery went and what type of delivery you had.
Regardless of how long and how much surgical intervention you had to have, you are going to feel tired all over. Your body has been through a marathon effort, and you will feel like you have run a marathon or three!
Your lady parts will be tender, swollen and sore.
If you’ve had stitches due to a tear or episiotomy then you will probably be feeling this even more. That first trip to the loo is scary, and your midwife will want to see your wee to make sure your kidneys are working.
If you’re staying in hospital after the birth, it will be difficult to catch up on all the sleep that you need. There’s a lot going on on maternity wards.
Take in the information given to you about caring for your stitches to avoid infection. As long as they’re kept dry, clean and not irritated too much by your sitting down then you will heal quickly.
Read more: Staying in hospital after giving birth
What to pack in your hospital bag
How to heal “down there” fast after birth
The first poo is even scarier. My only advice is to get a warm flannel, hold it over your stitches very gently and just try to relax. You won’t tear again, even though it feels like you will.
In the days after giving birth you are likely to experience the night sweats. This is a weird hormonal side effect and doesn’t last but expect to wake up in a drenched bed and PJs. Stock up on changes of night clothes.
Your tummy will still be there, but don’t worry it will shrink. Breastfeeding really helps to do this job quicker. You will even feel period-type cramps when breastfeeding which is your womb contracting back.
While in hospital or during one of your post-birth check-ups someone will examine you to see if you have suffered abdominal separation during your pregnancy. This is where the muscles of the abdomen separate due to the strain put on them. It leaves a gap running down the centre of your tummy.
This can cause back issues and other problems in later life, so it’s important to address it. But don’t panic. A physiotherapist will give you a series of abdominal exercises that will have it healed up as long as you do them daily, at least twice a day.
I had this with my second pregnancy and it healed within two months.
If you do decide to give breastfeeding a try, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s fine too! Don’t feel guilty whatever your decision.
The first week of breastfeeding is all about building up supply. Your first milk is thick and creamy, called colostrum, and it helps your baby not only recover from the birth but it’s also packed with amazing nutrients.
If your baby struggles to get enough of this milk, hand expressing into a cup which you then tip into their mouth can help. Alternatively you can suck it up from the cup with a syringe and use that. Make sure everything you use is sterilised.
Your baby will be demanding to latch on all of the time. Just let them. Just go with it. They won’t always be feeding all day.
At some point in the two or three weeks after birth your milk will come in. Try to get into the habit of wearing a bra with nursing pads now. Otherwise you will wake up one morning covered in sticky milk.
Read more: How to survive the first 8 weeks of breastfeeding
The crucial early weeks of breastfeeding
At some point after having your baby, you will cry over something trivial, like putting your top on inside out.
The baby blues are normal and they do go away. Keep in mind though that it isn’t normal to feel down, sad, in despair and very anxious a few more weeks down the line.
Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of post-natal depression now. It’s treatable, no one will question whether you’re a good mother just because you ask for help and it is common. You’re not alone.
For me the first week was scary because I just didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with this baby. There seemed an awful lot to take in and she just cried all of the time anyway.
Please try to remind yourself of the key things your baby needs. Food, sleep, warmth and comfort. When you think you’re totally clueless, work through this checklist of things. If none of them work, start again.
It is mentally exhausting. But all newborns are a bit difficult, some more so than others. Crying is hard to cope with. But normal.
Your GP and midwife will be keeping a close eye on you and your baby at this time.
But do remember that no one knows your baby better than you. You’re the one who is spending the most time with them. If you think something is wrong, ask a medical professional. There is loads of support out there for you, use it. Have numbers for your midwife, local health visitor line and GP on the fridge just in case.
In the first week your baby will be really sleepy. But somewhere towards the end of the week they will start to wake up.
You are likely to find they’re way fussier in the evenings, probably because they’re overtired from a busy day. The only way to ride this out is to comfort, feed and comfort them again. Try to rock them to sleep and talk to them gently.
Your baby’s umbilical cord stump will still be there. You don’t need to do anything for this, just keep it dry and try not to let the nappy catch on it. You can do this by folding the front of nappies down.
Babies are on a purely liquid diet so they will be pooping very running stools and the nappies won’t always contain them. As long as you have lots of spare vests and baby grows you will be fine.
As for bathing your baby, during the first week keep it simple by just top and tailing them with cotton wool soaked in warm water. That first bath can wait until next week.
Everyone wants a look-in when the baby is tiny. It’s great to surround yourself with loved ones at this special time but don’t overdo it on the visitor numbers.
It’s tiring having people over, you’ve got a lot running through your head and you need to sleep at every opportunity.
Limit visitors to small groups, gently remind them to not stay too long in as polite a way as possible and if you can’t cope with visitors right now, then don’t have them.
This is about your health and your baby. You have every right to be selfish.
Between the dirty clothes, the boxes of stuff you’ve had to rush out a buy last-minute to help you cope and the presents from well-wishers, your house is going to be a tip.
Don’t worry about housework now. If it’s really bugging you, issue a list of chores to your other half. That’s what they’re there for after all!
You and your other half are both adjusting to this huge change in your lives. Tiredness makes everyone a bit grouchy and on edge.
As the mum you’re also likely to prefer things being done a particular way with the baby. If you’re finding yourself getting stressed over this, try to have a calm and sensible conversation with your other half rather than snapping at them.
You’re the one having to physically and mentally recover from the enormity of pregnancy and giving birth, but your other half is probably pretty freaked out by this huge change too. Be kind to each other.
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