People are fond of saying that babies are easy, because if
they cry, they only want one of three things: to eat, to sleep, or to have
their diaper changed.
I now spend more time coaching and preparing clients for
their first 2 weeks home than I had in previous years, because so many said
they felt prepared to give birth, but were completely blind-sided by bringing
home a baby. It's a fast transition. One day you are going about your life,
when life stops because you go into labor. A few days after that's all done, if
you have your baby in a hospital, you go home to a totally different world.
I've heard many clients speak about their maternity/parental leave as if it's
time off. In prepartion for the new baby, perhaps they have moved or undergone
some renovation in their home, and while they are home with the new baby, they
will finish unpacking boxes. Or they'll put together the scrap book of mementos
they've been collecting during the pregnancy. What they know is that they are
on leave from their office, but what they do not know is that they will be
working harder than ever.
In a way, the people who say babies only need three things
are right - but here are some caveats:
1. Babies eat. Many times a day. When I get a call from a new mom who is
breastfeeding, she may be worried that she doesn't have enough milk because her baby wants to eat every 90 minutes. But this is not at all uncommon, and it
does not suggest a low milk supply. Particularly in those early weeks,
breastfeeding can be a project that involves more hands than just the mama's
and the baby's, and just setting up to nurse can take 15 minutes on its own.
The baby's latch may need some doing and redoing, and that's another 15
minutes. And then the baby wants to nurse, sometimes for 30 minutes. And after
a good stretch and diaper change, the baby could nurse for another 30 minutes
on the other side. If you add up all those numbers, you've got a baby who is
nursing just about all day. It is no wonder more breastfeeding mothers don't
leave the house in those early days; getting dressed, especially from the waist
up, just isn't an efficient use of time.
2. Babies do sleep, and I would shout this from the rooftops of the row houses
in my neighborhood if I could...but baby sleep is not at all under anyone's
control. They may be so cozy while nursing that they fall asleep mid-suckle.
They may continue to suckle while sleeping. They may have a day where they do
nothing but sleep, and rouse every 3 hours to nurse. And then the next day,
they will begin the every-ninety minute cluster feeding described above, and it
lasts for 3 days. The baby just wants to eat, regardless of time, and sleep,
regardless of daylight.
3. Babies digest food quickly, whether breastfeeding or formula feeding. So
if you are feeding your baby 8-12 times a day or more, that's how often you are
changing diapers. And in the interval of time that you may have between
feedings, changing a diaper is sometimes all you can squeeze in.
To help them survive, there are two things I like to impress upon new parents:
Let Go of whatever image you had in your heads of what your
days-old baby would be like and what this time would be like. That sweet baby
that is on the cover the latest parenting magazine or the cover of the baby
guide book? Or the slumbering baby in the diaper commercial? And the baby model in the adorable baby clothes store? That baby isn't a newborn. That baby is
probably 5-6 months old. Five to six months older than the sweet and delicate
newborn in your arms who is 5-6 days old. Many moms tell me that
when they observe their new baby, they recognize movements as the patterns of
movement the baby did while in utero. A 5-6 day old baby is more of a fetus
outside your body than he or she is the baby that you expected. (Case in point, to find a stock photo for this blog post, I couldn't find one with a baby that I could guess confidently was less than 3 months old.)
And, this will not last forever. Ask anyone. Even the mother of a 7 week old will attest to that (and remember that a 7 week old is a good 40 or so days older than the baby you just brought home from the hospital). Babies in those early days are on an EatSleepPoop continuum. The days are coming when getting set up to feed your baby will not take nearly as long as actually feeding your baby, and your baby will also not eat for as long as he or she may be eating now. Until those days come, hang in there. There are days where you will only survive, and there, too, will be days when you sail. Let dishes pile up in the sink, let wet clothes sit in your washing machine, or accept friends' and family's offers to help - and take them to task. New parenting is a multi-layered experience of being
overcome with love and overwhelmed with responsibility while a tidal wave of
exhaustion is crashing over your head. The days of parenting a newborn are
long, but the time still goes quickly. Your baby's alert time, the eye contact, the
play time, the smiles and the raspberries they make with their beautiful full
lips are coming. Sooner than you know, they will be here.
Maria owns A Mom Is Born, providing support services for new and expectant mothers. She is running Mothers Groups at Baby Cakes of Charlestown starting this September.