After all the excitement and build up of pregnancy, and the physical and emotional strains of birth, finally getting to take your newborn home can be a bit of a shock. It might be harder than you expected, or just different. You and your baby need to get to know each other and you need to settle into your new life as a family, or a bigger family! Here are a few of our top tips to help you enjoy those first few days, and emerge from your newborn cocoon ready to tackle everything life with a newborn can throw at you.
Make the most of your midwife
Depending on how the birth went, you will probably have a visit from your midwife the day after you come home (if you had a home birth they should let you know when you can expect to hear from them again). She will come back around day 5-8 to carry out newborn screening tests and around day 10 as well, or more often if you have any problems. After that, all being well, you’ll be discharged to the local health visitor team and can expect a visit from them at about day 14. That can feel like a lot of visits! Remember that they are coming to help you, to make sure you and baby are well and give you any information or support you need. They are not coming to check up on you, assess your parenting skills, judge your housekeeping or inspect your home. They are on your side! If you’re struggling with something, anything at all, tell them. They can either help or point you in the direction of someone who can, and sometimes just talking about it is all you need. They also don’t expect the house to be pristine, so don’t wear yourself out cleaning and tidying for them!
You might find that you have an endless stream of visitors popping round to meet the baby when you just want peace and quiet, or you might find that everyone leaves you alone to bond with your baby when you feel isolated and crave company. Either way, let people know what you want. You could put a general post on social media inviting people to call to arrange a time to visit, or let them know your plans when you announce the birth. It’s OK to change your mind too, if you thought you would want peace but feel lonely, reach out and ask a friend to visit. They will probably feel honoured and delighted to be invited over.
When you have a new baby it’s important to eat, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Food isn’t just fuel, and you’ll probably feel better if you can sit down and eat an actual meal rather than meal replacement shakes and grabbed snacks. The question is, how do you do that? You might do some freezer cooking or make slowcooker “dump bags” before the baby is born, or maybe you have friends or family who could bring you meals for the first week or two. If not, ready meals with salad or pre-prepared veg could be a good option, and of course the odd take away. If your baby is unsettled in the evening you might need to make a special effort to eat a proper meal. You could take turns to hold the baby while the other parent eats, eat your main meal at lunchtime or in the very early evening when baby is calmer or have dad cut mum’s meal up so she can eat one handed while cluster-feeding. Find a strategy that works for you but make it a priority to eat at least one real meal each day, and make the most of those shakes and snack bars the rest of the time!
Surviving without sleep
Lack of sleep is the biggest shock to most new parents, and since some babies sleep a lot for the first few days you might find that it doesn’t hit until towards the end of the first week. There are strategies you can use to encourage your baby to sleep more at night, but newborns do need to wake so in the meantime you’ll need to find ways to cope. Firstly, if you hadn’t planned to co-sleep but are now finding it a useful strategy then make sure that your bed is prepared for that. Then you’ll know that even if you fall asleep without meaning to, everyone is safe. Second, do have naps (or at least sit down and put your feet up) when the baby sleeps during the day. Worry about laundry and hoovering some other time, maybe pop your baby in a sling to do housework when she’s awake, and take advantage of sleep times to rest. It’s not laziness or a waste of time, it’s important.
The other strategy that helps many families is to “front load” your day. That means that you do the essential things first thing in the morning, when you hopefully have more energy than you will later on. You’ll feel better if you know that dinner is in the slow cooker, or the veg has been chopped and just needs to be boiled, or that the laundry has been put on, or even that you’ve sent that important email. Then if things fall apart later in the day it doesn’t matter, the important things have been taken care of. A word of warning though, don’t try to achieve too much. Taking care of the baby and the very basics of keeping everyone fed, clothed and the kitchen and bathrooms clean is enough for now.
There are no awards for doing everything yourself, and no need to. If you have the resources why not hire a cleaner for a month or two? We’ve known families to hire a catering student or local mum to pop in each day with meals, or come once a week to batch cook. You could even ask friends and family to gift money towards a cleaner or cook instead of the usual baby gifts.
An alternative, if you have lots of friends and family nearby, is to ask them for help. If you ask six people to bring dinner when they come to meet the baby, and space the visits two or three days apart, then including leftovers that could be most of your meals for two weeks. If you’re really struggling then nobody will mind, just give them some notice and pay them in baby cuddles. You can always do them some kind of favour in a few month’s time if you want to, but they probably won’t expect it – that’s what friends are for.
We wish you all the luck and love in the world as you embark on your journey as a family!