Updated: May 2, 2019
Nobody can tell you how tough the first week with a new baby is, especially if it's your first. You probably wouldn't believe them anyway. In someways it is like a rite of passage. And it is true that your baby is exactly that, your baby, a unique being, and you need to discover for yourselves what works for you and your baby. However, as a mum of five, I have noticed some similarities in what babies are doing each day. So I'm sharing this with you so you can be prepared and have some realistic expectations.
In the first week your baby is not going to be like your image of a baby: feeding easily, sleeping stretched out. For starters, after the initial wide-awake hour, your baby will keep their eyes closed for the first two or three days. And they try and stay squished up, like they were in the womb, so good luck trying to get a baby grow on for the first time. Your baby is going to be just as shocked as you at the turn of events, and it will take them all week to figure it out. Here’s a little guide of what’s going on each day.
Day one: getting over the birth. Baby will sleep a lot. You won’t. You can’t. Too overwhelmed with looking at this amazing little bundle of soft and scrumminess you grew in your tum. Just as you feel you would quite like to get some sleep after 48 hours of labour, no sleep, little food, your baby will wake up and want feeding every 2 hours, or less. This is normal.
Night one: Baby doesn’t know it is night. Shock of birth over; the shock of being ‘in the world’ starts. Cue lots of feeds; pacing; cuddles. Baby doesn’t know what to do with themselves, and you don’t either. It will pass. This is a good mantra for parenthood.
Day two: Digestion. Baby is getting used to the feeling of taking food into its tummy and doing something with it. Cue lots of scrunched up abdomen. Feeding/not feeding. Your baby is programmed to suckle, lots.
Night two (and three and four and …): Wakeful. In the womb, baby was used to getting feed constantly. Small tummy = frequent feeds. Baby’s tummy is the size of a cherry so it needs frequent feeds, and yes, it can take them 40 mins of feeding for 6ml of colostrum. It’s liquid gold: tiny, thick droplets of the stuff. A baby’s sleep cycle is about 40 minutes. Three sleep cycles is two hours. Expect your baby to wake every two hours. Or every 40 minutes. This is normal.
Day three: Wind. Both ends. You will never get it all up. Don’t try. Some is enough. Well, it’s not, but it will do. This is now your second mantra. Some well meaning soul will tell you that some cultures don’t ever wind their babies. Resist the urge to throw a milk soaked muslin at them.
Day four: Poop day. Be prepared, is all I can say.
Day five: Feeding. Milk’s in. Time to get serious about feeding. All the fussy feeding goes away as they start guzzling on the copious flow - if only you can get them onto your Dolly Parton size bazongas!
So that might sound a little overwhelming. It can be. So what tips to help you cope?
Do nothing else. Don’t do any housework, shopping, visiting people. Stay in bed. Have a babymoon. A bit like a honeymoon: call room service (aka Domino's); have snacks and drinks in your room; and be naked. Well, top half anyway. Skin-to-skin time with mum or dad helps the baby to feel soothed, as it regulates the baby’s heart rate and temperature. It also triggers newborn feeding responses and is a magic spell for helping breastfeeding off to a good start.
Your baby will feed lots. It doesn't necessarily mean your baby is hungry. It is a biological urge. It helps the skull plates go together after the moulding of the birth. It helps to 'bring in the milk', i.e. the change from colostrum to 'full fat milk'. It helps babies feel save. It does not mean you don't have enough milk. Putting your baby to the breast helps babies in lots of ways. If you are worried, or sore, then ask for help. Call your midwife, breastfeeding helplines, breastfeeding support groups. You might like to consider hiring a postnatal doula (www.doula.org.uk)
And be prepared to spend most of each day just staring in wonder at your little baby. After nine months of getting fatter, getting your bladder kicked, and 367 hours of labour, you will still think ‘how did that happen’. Likelihood is your baby is thinking the same thing.