This is the fifth of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.
I had imagined some nice bonding time with the baby after birth. We’d read and heard about skin-to-skin contact being the Very Best Thing for the baby, even, incredibly, about how newborn babies can “crawl” to the breast to nurse when they’re placed on the mother’s tummy/chest.
In another incident of broken expectations, however, Steven was immediately whisked away to the warming table (Steve didn’t get to cut the umbilical cord, either, because they were in a rush) so that the respiratory therapist could look at him. Because he had pooped in utero, they were concerned that the meconium (the tarry sticky “first poop” that babies have for the first few times) might have gotten into his lungs and nasal passages. They suctioned him off, bundled him up tightly, and let me snuggle with him just briefly, but then whisked him immediately off to the nursery to observe his breathing, which they thought was a little bit weak.
Thankfully, Steven was there for just an hour or two (we went to visit him after I got stitched up) and was brought back, limp and sleeping. In the meantime, Steve went out to call family. His parents, who live half an hour away, immediately drove over. I guess they had a tearful moment in the parking lot as Steve broke down after 75 hours of dealing with a laboring wife and an intense birth moment!
All of us, including the baby, were exhausted. We had a four hour block of sleep the first night. Little did I know that this would be the longest block of sleep that I’d have for a long time!
We stayed in the hospital an extra night because the doctor was concerned that Steven hadn’t seemingly peed yet. (In all likelihood, he peed when he had his first meconium poop – a big tarry sticky black mess – but there was no way we could tell!) At one point, we had to walk him over to the special ultrasound room so that they could make sure his kidneys were okay. Finally, they inserted a catheter, although Steven just started peeing all around it as they were trying to insert it.
My milk hadn’t come in yet, either, so Steven was surviving on colostrum and a few half-ounces of formula for the next few days. The pediatrician was concerned about dehydration because Steven’s urine was very concentrated, so they rigged up a supplementary feeding system with a tiny tube, taped next to the nipple, connected with a syringe that contained a few ounces of formula. As Steven ate, I was supposed to gently suppress the syringe so that formula would get into him. This way he could get extra nutrition without having to be bottle-fed and run the risk of messing up breastfeeding. Great concept in theory… in reality, the syringe didn’t have the finest control, so either no formula would come out or I would practically choke Steven with too much formula. Thankfully my milk finally came in the day after we got home, and we were able to scrap all plastic tubing and formula.
Refreshing my memory by looking back at journal entries, the first week was a mass of uncertainty. Was I breastfeeding right? Was I breastfeeding enough, or not enough? Was I breastfeeding for too long? Or not long enough? Was the baby crying because he was hungry or tired? Should we try to sleep or get other important stuff done? Was it warm enough for the baby? Were we swaddling the baby correctly? Should we try to keep the baby awake while feeding? Should we wake up the baby to feed him or let him sleep? Should we have people bring us food or try to get back to eating homemade organic stuff? Should we let my mom swab the baby’s umbilical cord with alcohol or tell her that the pediatrician told us it was unnecessary? Should we try to borrow a co-sleeper from someone? Was it bad that we were letting the baby sleep in our bed? Was it bad that we took pictures of the baby with the cat?
I felt very thankful that Steve was able to essentially take two weeks off of work – the first week, including three days of labor, and the following week. My mom also came out for a few days, staying at our old place with our old housemates and driving over during the day. She essentially cooked until our fridge was full of food, then left. She helped give the baby baths, but generally focused on cooking. I found it a bit stressful initially because this was the first time she’d been to our new house, and she spent the first 24 hours telling us all the ways that we could improve our lives, including going through each light bulb in our house and asking us if they were CFLs or incandescents. I finally had to kindly confront her and ask her to keep from spouting out her advice, and suggested that she write them down instead so that we could process them after figuring out how to be new parents. (She didn’t write anything down, but the flow of advice did slow down to a trickle.) I love my mom, but she’s one of the few people who can stress me out, so I was thankful that she wasn’t staying in our 990 sq. ft. home with us (not that we had room for an extra bed!) but was able to stay at our old place so that we could get some alone time at night. It was wonderful, however, to have deliciously prepared foods for us at every meal and long after she’d left.
We had a several visitors in the hospital, but then we shut down for a few days when we got home so that we could nap as needed. In retrospect, we probably should have napped more in the hospital, too, and tried to consolidate “visiting hours.”
The nights were most difficult in the first few weeks. Perhaps because the baby had day-night confusion, he was fussier during the night than during the day, so he cried more in the middle of the night, inconsolably. We’d try swaddling him, try holding him, try rocking him, try shushing him. Looking back, I don’t know if there’s anything that we were doing “wrong;” Steven was probably just trying to figure out this big new world just as much as we were trying to figure him out. We just had to all hang in there and do the best we could. At the time, though, I remember wondering what we were doing wrong and trying to change different variables to see what worked: adding white noise, turning up the heat a little bit, having him sleep in our bed. I remember consulting The Happiest Baby on the Block and trying the “5 S’s” (swaddling, side, shushing, swinging, suckling) which surprisingly worked most of the time. But there were times that it didn’t work, and I wouldn’t know how to soothe Steven other than to try to nurse him – which also only worked part of the time. I can remember giving up on the 5 S’s after what seemed like hours of crying, putting Steven to the breast, and dripping tears onto the back of his head because I felt so sad for him and frustrated with my inability to soothe him.
It took just about two weeks, and then Steven fell into his own 2.5 – 3 hour “routine” (which means that he woke up every 2.5 or 3 hours to be fed, ate for half an hour or more while I tried to keep him awake, then went back to sleep). We also went through many “sleep training” discussions, books, and plans. Right around two weeks is also when we transitioned Steven from sleeping in our bed to sleeping in his crib. It’s also when Steven went back to work and I was on my own during the days. Although Steven was what many people would call an “easy baby,” falling into his own routine, there were still many “routine exceptions” some days or some nights so that we never quite felt like we “got it.” (And we still don’t.) Interestingly (to me), after about two weeks, Steven’s night sleep got very consistent and regular, while his day sleep was unpredictable and sometimes not routine.
I feel pretty fortunate that I had an “easy” baby, that breastfeeding went well (more on that later), and that I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression (although I definitely had emotional ups-and-downs). A lot of my friends had very tough starts as mothers – but we’ve all survived.
Some practical-type thoughts about the first two weeks:
- Read The Happiest Baby on the Block. The 5 S’s have worked pretty well for most of the people that we know who’ve tried it. (And for the ones who haven’t been as lucky, Your Fussy Baby by Marc Weissbluth of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child fame comes highly recommended.)
- Our baby slept much better when swaddled. This is sort-of empirical fact, as we tried it both ways. (But maybe your baby won’t care.)
- Skin-to-skin contact comes highly recommended by recent research, not only for bonding (Steve did some skin-to-skin cuddling with Steven, too) but also for breastfeeding. The contact helps to stimulate hormones that increase milk production, and for some babies, makes nursing go a lot more easily. I had a relatively easy time getting breastfeeding going, compared to other friends who have had a lot more challenges. I don’t know how much of the “easiness” was attributed to skin-to-skin contact, but I don’t think it hurt. I’d do it again, despite the unsupportive question someone asked me at one point of when I was going to start breastfeeding “normally.”
- A lifesaver for me was figuring out “side-lying nursing,” or nursing the baby while lying down. The mother and baby are facing each other, tummy to tummy, and the baby nurses while the mother snoozes. I found it easiest with my bottom arm extended out or curled under my pillow and my other arm cuddling the baby close. I also needed a pillow between my legs and another pillow behind my back for support. On those days when I was really, really tired, it was really nice to be able to nurse and sleep at the same time. Usually the baby would fall asleep while nursing, too, and we’d just have a nice nap together.
- Everyone says it so it seems old, but I’ll repeat it: Sleep as much as you need to… and even more than you think you need to. Have a friend arrange meals to be brought. Be environmentally unfriendly and use disposable plates if you need to, or have friends come and help you do dishes and clean up. Do everything you can to maximize your naps: Turning off phones, putting a sign on your front door that tells people you’re sleeping, having a trusted friend come over to take the baby for a walk so you can sleep, having a messy house, not putting on makeup. The more sleep you get, your milk may come in sooner, and you’ll have the emotional and mental energy to deal with a crying baby.
- I found the family and friends who were willing to do “little stuff” such as cleaning our house and running out to get us food, without needing us to entertain them to be the most helpful.
Anyone else want to chime in?