You’ve been discharged from the hospital after a quick twelve hours and are spending your first night at home with your new baby. It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time! But you’ve read all the books, figured out a plan for feeding and feel ready for the challenge.
Step 1: throw out those plans.
Baby is going to do what baby wants and that’s the way it should be. All that money spent on decorating the nursery and then baby spends the first six months in your room? All the time learning about breastfeeding only to find out you have an insufficient supply and are going the formula route? There are so many ways that reality with your newborn will be different from what you imagined, in both good and not so good ways, but you’ll get through it all. There are one or two—or ten—things that you might want to keep in mind, however.
Fact #1: Baby might look a little goofy
Nine months in sac of amniotic fluid. Hours approaching and going through the birth canal, only to be launched into the bright, loud world. The first few days, baby might not look like the pictures in your mind. The head can be slightly misshapen from the trip downstream (don’t worry: the bones will reconfigure and take a more normal shape). Their muscles aren’t toned up, having floated around for nine months and only needing them to wheel around and drive you crazy at 3 a.m. so it might look at first as if their face is a little puffed or slack. Your baby might be covered in a layer of downy fuzz, called lanugo. Or they might be a wrinkly looking tot, more old man that new baby, with dryness and sometimes peeling happening. All of that is normal and nothing to be concerned about!
Fact #2: Baby doesn’t need a bath day one
In fact, a good rub down with a towel to remove amniotic fluids and blood is all they need for a while. The vernix (waxy coating) that babies are covered with in the womb helps protect them and acts as a moisturizer for their skin. Removing it prematurely isn’t necessary. In addition, a bath is disruptive to the baby’s already upsetting day. In addition, babies don’t regulate their body temperatures very well and a sudden bath, even nice and warm, can be a shock. There’s just no need to do it right away, so stick to some light sponge bathing, being careful not to soak the umbilical cord stump until it falls off, and spend lots of time with them, skin to skin.
Fact #3: The soft spot isn’t scary
The soft spot—fontanel—is that little part at the top of the head that almost pulses. The pieces of the skull have not yet fused, which is how baby was able to get through the birth canal unscathed, but until they do (anywhere up to 20 months), you want to be mindful of it but it’s okay to comb baby’s hair in that spot: a light touch won’t hurt a thing.
Fact #4: Baby acne is normal
Somewhere after the first month, your baby might be getting some rashes, diaper rash or even baby acne on their skin. It’s nothing to worry about. Baby skin is sensitive and while nobody has a definitive answer as to why this happens, it’s best to avoid irritants like laundry soap that is scented, lotions or rough fabrics.
Fact #5: Bonding isn’t automatic
Many mothers in particular envision that moment when their baby will be born. They imagine that they will look upon baby and feel an overwhelming swell of love at first sight. What all parents should know is that this isn’t always the case. The hormones involved in pregnancy and birth can cause some mothers to be confused or depressed, which interferes with that automatic bonding process. Eventually, the bonds form, but if it’s not instant, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s completely normal and nothing to feel worried or guilty about.
Fact #6: Temperatures over 100F are a cause for concern
With babies under three months of age in particular, temperatures of 100 or more are worth a call to the doctor. There’s just so much going on with a newborn baby, so much growth happening in those early stages but their bodies and organs are still developing in some cases and are just so tiny. It’s best to have any concerns with temperature checked out as soon as possible.
Fact #7: Don’t change their formula!
If you’re formula feeding, you have to keep in mind that babies have sensitive digestive systems and changing their formula to a new brand, just because it’s on sale or someone gave you some at your shower, is a bad idea that can result in a myriad of bowel complaints, not the least of which is epic spit-up all the way to a diaper blow out. Find a brand and stick with it unless there is a medical reason to switch (like an allergy). If you do need to switch for some reason, try and do it slowly, mixing the old with the new in ever growing proportions for a few days.
Fact #8: Keep those nails trimmed
Fingernails grow very quickly on newborns and, despite your best efforts to keep those little mittens or a pair of socks on their hands, they’re going to flail their arms about at some point and if the nails are long, can draw blood without meaning to, either on you or themselves! So keep an eye on those nails and trim them as soon as you start seeing them get too long!
Fact #9: Crying is normal
Babies can’t speak. That might seem obvious but you have to keep that in mind when your newborn is crying for the eighth time in a few hours. This is their way of letting you know something is up. Eventually, you’ll be able to tell what a cry means: diaper, hunger, fatigue… but at first, it can be a little overwhelming so all you need to know at the outset is that it’s totally normal. Now, if your baby is crying nonstop for hours on end, check with your doctor or postpartum doula about the possibility of colic. For the most part, however, crying is just a reality of baby life.
Fact #10: Newborn stage is fleeting—try and enjoy it
Those early days with your baby swaddled and cuddling with you on the sofa are fleeting. Despite what seems like a constant whirl of activity: feeding, changing, washing, sleeping, feeding… it’s so important to take the time to really tune in to the moment. Your baby will only be this tiny wee thing for a short while. In no time, you’ll see all sorts of developmental changes and while all of that is good, it’s also nice to enjoy those early moments.
These and a dozen other realities will come to you in those first days after you bring your newborn baby home. It’s why having a postpartum doula on your team can be so helpful: someone you can ask about all the little things that are worrying you, someone who can show you what you need or want to know, someone you can trust. If you are interested in what a postpartum doula can do to help you through those early days, give us a call!