New Parents Guide: The First Weeks Of Parenting
Your baby may have been the only one born recently, but their addition to your family is a huge adjustment for all involved. Fortunately, in the first few weeks of life, your baby will need very little: a safe place to sleep and a consistent method of eating are really the most important things! Even so, managing your new role as a parent in the first few weeks with all the continued responsibilities of being an adult can be daunting and overwhelming for even the most experienced parent.
Let’s break down what’s most important, to get your parenting journey off on solid footing…
Caring For Your Baby
Where will your baby rest?
Newborns sleep a lot and nap often, usually spending up to 20 hours a day asleep and no more than 60-90 minutes awake at a time for the first few months of life. As long as your baby is placed on their back and on a firm surface, there are many places that can be safe for your baby to sleep like a crib, bassinet, Snoo, moses basket, or any other product that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Their sleep environment should be free from pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the best place for a baby to sleep is in their guardian’s or parents’ bedroom until they are at least 6 months old. This reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although bedsharing and co-sleeping is not advised by the AAP, most academies recognize that many parents do sleep this way around the world, especially those that are bodyfeeding/breastfeeding and more efforts are being made to research and provide updated guidance to ensure that parents who choose to do so, do so safely.
All parents will need to research, learn about and ultimately decide what is best for their family from sleeping to feeding to carrying and ultimately raising their children. If you want to learn more about infant sleep, we’ve got a class for you.
How will you diaper your little one?
On your baby’s first day of life you can expect 1 or 2 wet diapers. This will gradually increase each day until day five. From then on you can expect your baby to have about 6 (or more) wet diapers each day. You will want to pay attention to the number of wet diapers your baby has because their output is a good indication of whether or not they are getting enough milk or formula.
The options for keeping your baby’s bum clean include using disposable diapers, cloth diapers, disposable wipes, cloth wipes or any combination. All options have pros and cons for each family and for the environment. Disposable diapering options are convenient but do constitute an ongoing expense, and add to landfills. Cloth diapering options require a little more maintenance and are less expensive (because you buy them once, wash and reuse and can reuse them for multiple siblings). Although they don’t add to landfills they do require lots of water and detergent which impacts the environment as well. You may want to consider how accessible washing and drying machines are for your family when deciding which method will work best for you. There are some cloth diapering pick-up and drop-off services, which make cleaning diapers easier, but add an additional expense. Another way to take care of your baby’s diapering needs is to skip the diaper altogether with EC or Elimination Communication. EC is when a caregiver uses timing, signals and cues to potty train their infant, from as early as birth!
How and what will your baby eat?
In the first few days and weeks of your baby’s life you can expect them to feed every 2-3 hours, around the clock. It could be even more frequent if your baby is cluster feeding. Cluster feeding makes some new parents nervous because they think it means their baby isn’t getting enough to eat, but it is actually normal newborn behavior and helpful in stabilizing your milk supply, if you are nursing. Newborns shouldn’t go more than 4-5 hours without feeding as this can decrease their weight gain and development.
There are many ways to safely feed your baby to ensure their development and growth. What you feed your baby might be breastmilk (your own or from a donor or milk bank) or formula. Some parents choose to feed their baby a combination of both. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for about 6 months due to the health benefits for lactating parents and babies, including the reduction of SIDS. But each family, baby and circumstance is different. Think about how you would like to involve your partner to feed your baby, as that might dictate your approach as well. Methods of eating for a newborn baby could be directly from your body, bottle, cup, spoon or tube.
If you are feeling unsure or overwhelmed about bodyfeeding, chestfeeding or feeding options in general, it’s a great idea to enlist the help of a lactation consultant or a postpartum doula who can guide you as you make feeding decisions and assist you as you implement your plan.
Caring For Yourself
After having your baby, while you are still recovering (this can take up to a year by the way so give yourself some grace here!) be sure to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, leafy greens, foods high in protein such as yogurt, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, and beans. Continue to take your prenatal vitamins or try an omega 3 fatty acid supplement which is known to improve the brain development of nursing babies, and can improve your memory as well. Eating well can help boost your energy and help in recovery, which is so important in the first weeks after your baby arrives. Lots of new parents forget to eat and feel depleted (especially when combined with the lack of sleep), so this small step is really important for your overall well-being. If you need expert advice, reach out to a nutritionist for a tailored diet. A meal train can be a lifesaver as well – put it on your registry while pregnant. Your basic needs should also be met, this is by no means an indulgence.
One of the best ways for you to incorporate good self-care after having your baby is through exercise and movement. Exercise is known to reduce the stress hormones in your body, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also creates endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and mood elevators. Taking walks alone, with your partner, or as a family is one simple way to support your mind and body. Moving around in your house is also an option and lots of gentle exercises are available online. But do give yourself time to heal and make sure to check with your midwife or doctor before doing anything as it could delay your recovery if your body isn’t ready. Bouncing back is a myth, think of your recovery as easing into something new and possibly different. You just carried a baby and gave birth, which is a massive health event in one’s lifetime. You need time for recovery, not worrying about fitting in your old jeans, as much as our society pressures us to feel this way
The postpartum period is an excellent time to practice being as kind and gentle to yourself as you are with your baby. Family dynamics are either new or in transition. Change is hard. Take some time to create and tell yourself (or your partner) positive affirmations. The words you use can impact your mindset and your overall sense of satisfaction in this new chapter of your life. Even if you aren’t feeling especially confident, try this exercise to boost your spirits. Some examples may include “I am the best parent for my baby”, “My body is capable of wonderful things and deserving of rest,” “I’ve never done any of this before and I will be patient with myself.”
Parenting can bring up feelings and memories that are beautiful but also sometimes triggering. If you find that you are having an especially hard time managing any anxiety, lack of confidence, persistent sadness or feelings of depression, there is no better time to seek help. This is one of those self-care tips that may not be fun but is incredibly necessary, so that you can show up as your best self, for yourself, and for all the other people in your life.
You, like many new parents, can likely benefit from the additional support of a lactation consultant, physical therapist, pelvic floor therapist, nutritionist, sleep consultant or perhaps another area of need. As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states, postpartum care should be an ongoing process, rather than a single encounter, with services and support tailored to each person’s individual needs. Your midwife or doctor may not have all the answers necessary to guide you through your postpartum journey but if you bring your concerns to their attention, they should be able to point you in the right direction. Boober can match you to many of these providers if you need help finding one.
Caring For The Whole Family
Whether this is your first baby or you are bringing a sibling into the equation, the first weeks post birth can be grueling for new families on their own. If you are looking for help that will support the whole family, consider hiring a postpartum doula, night nanny or a newborn care specialist. They are perfect for when you are feeling overwhelmed with your new responsibilities and are looking for guidance from a trusted professional with tons of experience. Doulas, when hired for postpartum support, are also shown to decrease the likelihood of postpartum depression and increase body feeding success. Postpartum doulas also ease the mental load of taking care of your baby, yourself, and your home by offering physical assistance such as overnight care, help around the house, meal prep, and oftentimes offering an ear to hear about your birth or any challenges you are facing as you navigate your new life and role.
Parenting in the first few weeks of life looks differently for each family and can be many things, including hard, confusing and triggering, just as much as it is beautiful and breathtaking. Do your best to support your own needs as well as your baby’s needs and do not be afraid to reach out for help. There are many options for postpartum support to aid in your healing and to help you be the best parent to your baby.
Laura is a doula, a writer, and the mother of two incredible kids. When not supporting new families or her own, you can find her trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Laura is available on the boober platform for matches.