There’s no doubt that having a newborn to care for around the clock is a life-changing experience filled with emotional ups and downs. Initially, you might feel overwhelmed and wonder when you’ll have a spare minute to shower or prepare any kind of meal for yourself, and that’s totally normal. But the good news is, you’ll soon settle into a comfortable rhythm and you’ll even find that your newborn has very specific and predictable needs that you can attend to. Here’s what to expect…
Your newborn will sleep a lot
It’s normal for your little one to appear drowsy and sleep for long periods in the first few days after birth. This is more than likely a pattern designed to give babies a chance to recover from the exhausting work of being born, and their mothers a chance to recover from giving birth, explains Heidi Murkoff, author of the What to Expect series.
At first your newborn will only be truly alert for about three to five minutes of every hour in the day, and hopefully even less at night. This only allows for a total of around an hour a day for socialising. Gradually your little one’s periods of wakefulness will get longer, but in the first few weeks, she’ll need around 18-20 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Day/night confusion can occur within the first three weeks. This is nothing to worry about, says Heidi. Your newborn has been used to sleeping in the darkness of your womb for nine months, and just needs some time to adjust to life outside. However, if you want to help her settle faster, limit her daytime naps to no more than three to four hours each. It’s important that you still allow her to sleep – as an overtired baby often won’t sleep well at night.
Your newborn will feed often
Although it may take a few days for a mother’s milk to come in, nursing straight after birth is always a good idea as the pre-milk colostrum is rich in nutrients and contains three times the amount of protein as mature milk. This means that from the minute your little one is born, you’ll be nursing often – at least every two to three hours. Frequent sucking in the first few days is especially important to stimulate milk production and establish a good milk flow that’ll meet your growing baby’s nutritional requirements. “Feeding on demand in the first few weeks – when your baby is hungry, not when a schedule dictates is generally best for breastfeeding success,” says Heidi. But in the early days, when your baby sleeps a lot, you may need to initiate most of the feedings. Strive for at least eight to 12 feedings a day, even if your demand isn’t quite there yet, she adds.
Your newborn will cry… and cry some more!
As this is her only way of communicating, your little one will cry often in the first few weeks. She may be hungry, thirsty, cold, wet (or generally uncomfortable), tired or in need of a cuddle. As you get to know your baby, you’ll learn how to distinguish between various cries and might even start to notice a pattern. For example, her hungry cry might be high-pitched and loud, whereas her tired cry might sound more like a moan or groan – and will more than likely occur around the same time in the morning or night.
If you know your baby is clean, comfortable and has been fed, try some soothing techniques such as gentle rocking, talking to her in a slow, calm voice, taking her for a gentle stroll in the pram or carrier, or holding her against your chest. This will help to make her feel more secure.
If your little one cries constantly for more than three hours at a time, for at least three days a week, is losing weight or appears to be in pain, take her for a check-up as soon as possible.
Your newborn will need to be held a lot
Well-meaning friends and family might have told you that you’ll spoil your baby if you hold her too much, but up until at least the four to six-month mark, your little one won’t be establishing any bad habits and will need you to meet all her emotional and physical needs. This includes lots of holding and cuddling to help her feel safe and secure. If you need free hands to run errands or cook, consider investing in a sling or sturdy carrier so you can ‘wear’ your baby throughout the day.
There’s a multitude of studies supporting as much skin-to-skin contact (also known as kangaroo care) as possible in the early days. Kangaroo care with mom or dad helps babies to feel calmer and happier, according to the International Breastfeeding Centre. It also helps to stabilise their heartbeat, breathing and body temperature. This, plus breastfeeding, are thought to be important in the prevention of allergic diseases.
With these benefits, enjoy napping with her, carrying her in the sling on walks and keeping her close.