Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Surviving the First Month with a Newborn

Wow! Sometimes it's hard to believe a month has passed since our little man was born, but other times (particularly the times when I think about my recovery and our struggles) it seems about right.

As a first time mom, I think my biggest challenge was absolutely not being prepared enough for the weeks post-birth. I was ready for the delivery and what labor would entail, but I just wasn't well versed in what to expect afterwards. I definitely should have done more reading...but you don't know what your questions and struggles will be until they I am not even sure if it would have helped.

I don't think anything can prepare you for the sleepless nights, the quickening of your heart when your baby cries his all-out cry, the mental and emotional struggle that is breastfeeding, the absolute lack of schedule, and the sense of loss when you realize that it's an accomplishment if you can even get a load of laundry into the washer - never mind the dryer.

So here are a few tips for getting through that first month. Some are things I had to learn the hard way, and some are things that other bloggers and moms helped me come to grips with.

1) Do what's right for you and your baby. You can read a million online posts and blogs and each baby is different. What works for some babies may not work for yours, or it might be spot on. Other moms or relatives may tell you to do things one way or another, but the bottom line is that it's YOU doing this day to day, not them, so you need to do what works for you and your baby. If you decide you need to supplement formula, or you want to give them a pacifier before they are 6 weeks old, or whatever - as long as you know the risks and benefits you shouldn't feel bad about making any decision you feel is right for you. After too many frustrated night feedings and screaming fits, I decided that my breasts needed a suckling break through the night hours and so did my mental stability, and so I pump and bottle feed through my night feedings. It lets me get back to sleep faster, I know how much he is eating, and he has no nipple confusion so why not?

2) Learn to make concessions and try new things.  We have a pretty picture in our minds of how life with a baby will be. Well scratch that out with a big marker because you're going to be making some changes and adjustments to suit you and your baby. Just think - you don't know their personality before they come out of the womb. You have no idea who they will be and how they will act. So you make lots of plans for their existence without knowing them. That's why when they come along you will have to make changes. After too many nights of having him fall asleep on us after an hour of soothing, then putting him in his bassinet only to have him wake up less than 10 minutes later, we realized he just wanted to be near us. So we bought a snuggle nest for the bed and now he sleeps much easier just being close to us, and I sleep better because I'm not always wondering if that snuffle he just made means I'm going to have to spring over to the bassinet for soothing in 5 minutes. Did I ever expect to share my bed with the baby? No. But getting some sleep, easier feedings, and the comfort of my little fox is worth it.

3) It's OK to cry. You just spent 9 months on a hormonal high, carrying and growing this much-anticipated baby, and now he's here, and you're just awash in mixed emotions. On one hand it's amazing what you've grown, and each day you see development as their limbs become more coordinated, their facial expressions more diverse, and their features becoming more defined. On the other hand there is a sense of loss for your own individuality, and the overwhelming pressure of this little life being absolutely dependent on you for survival (especially if you are breastfeeding). And sometimes you just need to cry. I cried almost every day in the shower for at least the first week, in the middle of the night when he was inconsolable, and sometimes even when things were going well and I was just enjoying the moment. You don't need to be strong - you already are just by pushing through each day. There's no need to hold it in.

4) It's OK to walk away. Sometimes you've done everything you can. You've fed them, burped them, they pooped, you changed them, you put them in fresh clothes, you walked around with them and bounced and soothed, and sometimes they just need to cry. It's OK to put them down in a safe spot and walk away. Close the bedroom door and go make some tea and sit on the other side of the house. Take 5 and don't feel guilty. You'll be a better, more patient soother when you come back and pick them up, or maybe they'll sooth themselves and stop crying. Babies can go from full tilt to dead asleep in seconds.

5) Remember...nothing they do is to hurt or manipulate you. This was one of the most important reminders and pieces of advice that I read while I struggled. Until 6 weeks to 2 months, and maybe longer, there's nothing you can do to spoil your little one. No amount of picking up, bouncing, feeding, etc is going to spoil them. They don't have the mental capacity to understand that crying means someone will come take care of them. When they aggressively suckle your super-sore nipple while your whole body tenses up they don't know they are hurting you. They don't understand night time and day time. They have no internal clock or circadian rhythm. So many times I had to remind myself "he's just a baby, he doesn't know."

6) Take a shower every day. Maybe you wake up covered in milk from leaking. Maybe your little one spits up on you. Maybe you get overheated through the night and wake up sweaty. Take a shower every day. Even if you also take a bath that day. The relaxation of a hot shower works wonders on the nerves, and makes you feel fresh again which will help give you a boost to get through the day. Don't skip it. If you have to skip something, skip sweeping the floors or loading the dishwasher. Take your shower and enjoy your me-time. It's limited.

7) Baby hair is the softest and best for a mother's nerves. The softness of my baby's hair and head is what keeps me sitting on the couch snuggling him. It's what I bury my face in when I come back from one of my "walk away" moments. It's what I smell when I pick him up and what I miss when he naps. It's helped me get through my toughest moments. Maybe it will help you too.

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