Children reinvent your world for you.
– Susan Sarandon
After that first night in the hospital I thought we’d hit a home run. I had given birth to the first ever baby that sleeps all night and never cries! Thank God because I needed that 24 hours of rest after 22 hours of labor. Unfortunately the second night was not as dreamy. In fact, there would be no dreaming for some time thereafter. The days following our return home were a blur. Our first full day home was Christmas, which we didn’t even realize or acknowledge until well after noon. Not only were the days a blur, but they were a struggle. I felt like I needed to do it all, be the perfect mom, but my baby had a tongue tie which screwed up my milk supply. As a result he cried about 18 hours a day until a few weeks later he was able to figure out how to latch and we started supplementing with a formula that agreed with him. My point is, things won’t go perfectly. Those days won’t be like the movies or the videos they showed you in the hospital. Yes, they will be filled with joyful moments, but you may not feel joyful because crazy hormones are pulsing through your body or you may have had a traumatic birth experience. There may well be some really not joyful moments, moments of sad, disappointed tears, but help is out there for you, your baby, your family. So be easy on yourself from here on out because taking care of yourself and another precious person is not easy!
The following are some tips on those first days home…
You’ve made it home going well below the speed limit, and now you’re left in a sleep-deprived daze (because Lord knows that second night was a doozy) wondering what to do with baby now.
Work at keeping the baby fed. If you’ve chosen to breast feed, this may be a hard yet worthy pursuit, but don’t give up if you can manage to keep trying. Before I gave birth someone told me the best investment you can make in your baby and yourself is lactation consulting. If it were not for my lactation consultant we would have never discovered that for 10 days my son was not getting enough milk due to a tongue-tie, and that was the reason he was crying for, seriously, 18 hours a day!!! That’s a huge discovery that not a single doctor told us about. Once it was corrected his latch quickly improved, I stopped getting engorged breasts, and we all three got to rest more. Not only did she discover the tongue-tie, she also taught me how to properly breastfeed my son. Due to our rough start and my small nipples, there were certain postures and nursing positions that helped us both. Weekly or bi-weekly appointments for about a month helped tremendously. Remember, it may feel like there’s a million things to do and a million reasons your little one could be crying, but feeding him or her is your number one priority.
Also, it’s normal if your emotions, body temperature, and hair to be all over the place. You will lose a lot of hair, but, believe me, it’s not all falling out…it just feels like it. You will have night sweats and normal body temperature and maybe even chills, but it will even out over time. You may have crazy nightmares, crying spells, surges of joy and happiness. This is all probably normal. Have your partner or other close loved one keep an eye on your emotions for you, and let you know if they see something out of what your doctor described as ordinary. Medical professionals are getting much better at screening women for postpartum depression and anxiety, so be sure to answer their questions honestly and accept the help of others. Taking small burdens off yourself will help relieve your nerves, and relieving your nerves might just help your milk supply.
Items you will find useful when breastfeeding:
- Nursing bra – buy some cheap ones at approximately the size you think you will be, and at least three weeks postpartum get fitted for one you can wear daily. I suggest buying at least two once you’re fitted, but keep in mind your size may change after six months. Ill-fitting or underwire bras may cause painful breast problems for nursing moms, so be sure to go with a bra that is appropriate for nursing in the early months. I like the Bravado brand. Many women like nursing camis too, but I never felt comfortable in them.
- Nursing pads – disposable or reusable, they both do the trick, but I found the disposable ones were much more helpful with the amount of milk I spilled the first few months. Now that we’re both better at the whole breastfeeding thing I use the reusable pads. In a pinch a maxi pad or panty liner cut in half does the trick too.
- Nursing pillow – try a variety if possible. The comfort of your nursing pillow will depend on your height and weight as well as your baby’s preference and the nursing positions you find most useful. I tried the My Brest Friend for a couple weeks, and then resorted to the original Boppy as my best option. If you have twins, there are also twin options.
- Nursing stool – any stool will do the trick, but stools designed for nursing will be slightly angled to help with posture even more than your everyday stool. Many glider rockers now come with nursing stool options.
- Nipple balm/ointment – choose a version that is safe for your little one so you aren’t constantly washing it off between feedings. I used the traditional lanolin kind, but switched to the Boob Ease organic nipple balm and coconut oil (good for a variety of uses, including postpartum vaginal dryness after your first 6 weeks).
- Nipple gel pads – these little guys are reusable/washable and they provide so much relief for sore nipples. I used Medela Hydrogel pads
- Nipple shields – thin silicone cone/nipple-shaped circles that fit over your nipple help to protect your nipple if your baby has injured you trying to latch like mine did. It will also help those who have inverted or flat nipples. There are a variety of other reasons they could be found useful. I used Medela nipple shields, but I think they all are very similar. Keep in mind that the size correlates with the size of your child’s mouth and not your nipple size, so consult with a lactation consultant or try a variety of sizes until you and baby are comfortable. I started with a 20 mm and worked my way up because Baby J had a lot of problems latching due to his tongue-tie at birth.
- Breast hand pump – even if you’re not planning to pump to feed your baby, pump for comfort or you may feel the pains of engorgement between feedings, especially as your baby finds a rhythm of sleeping and waking. A woman from one of my amazing New Parent Support Groups advised me against the Medela brand because one of it’s pieces is quite fragile and not sold as a replacement part by the manufacturer, so I went with the Lansinoh manual pump. It’s easy to clean, easy to use, and easy to pack in a purse or diaper bag when you’re on the run. The advice I got is to keep it at bedside in those early months, so when you wake with that aching in your breasts you can just pump to comfort and go back to sleep. Another great thing about the hand pump is that it really isn’t a lot of work, and though the electric pumps have different settings, the hand pump pressure is literally controlled by your hand, so it’s totally customizable pressure.
- Silicone breast pump – you may already have the electric breast pump, and I just advised you to get the hand pump, so why would I suggest yet another pump? The silicone version suctions onto the breast opposite the one your child is nursing at, catching all the milk that spills out as your little one eats on the other side. If not caught by a silicone breast pump or the shell-shaped nipple covers it simply spills into your nursing pad, so why not save it for a late-night feeding by your partner or a date night feeding? You might even want to save it to use on diaper rash or baby’s tiny scratches from their razor sharp nails. Breast milk makes a great “ointment” for all kinds of baby skin conditions. The best known silicone breast pump is the Haakaa, but I used another brand and it worked just as good.
- Bibs – if you’re going to register for something, register for a million bibs. I never liked using burp cloths because they just end up sliding down your back along with the spit up, so opt for some bibs that you can flip onto your shoulder while you burp baby. I’d skip the burp cloths altogether or use cloth diaper inserts as burp cloths as they are much bigger and more absorbent than what they market as burp cloths.
- GIANT water cup – you will be very thirsty breastfeeding, so have a few huge cups handy to keep near your “nursing station.” It’s important to stay hydrated for your health and milk production.
- Baby Tracker App – track feedings, diapering, pumping, weight, height, etc. Use it to report back to your pediatrician trends in each area. Monitor temperature and manage medications here as well. This is a huge help when you are sleep-deprived and can’t remember when you last fed or changed baby.
If you’re planning to bottle feed, I would highly recommend having a variety of nipple types on hand so that you find the right “fit” for your child. Try getting free samples, so you’re not investing in bottles you don’t end up using. You may also want to try a variety of formulas to find the right one for you and your child. I tried many, and ended up going with Gerber Soothe containing probiotics because Baby J was colicky with other formulas.
Lastly, no matter how you end up feeding your child it can be challenging, so seek the support of your doctor, partner, and a breastfeeding or new parent support group. You don’t have to do it alone.