By Lisa Pecos
For first-time parents, the first week with a new baby is one of the most exciting, nerve-wracking, and thrilling times in your life. After months of planning and preparing for this moment, not to mention imagining and desiring for it to come, the simple act of walking through your front door with your baby for the first time can seem downright surreal. It is a magical time for many parents, but it also comes with a set of challenges that must be quickly overcome. And while the initial excitement is worth savoring, after a few days you will have to settle into the long-term, routine-driven life of parenting.
The mother’s physical state depends on her age and health, the duration and difficulty of labor, whether she had a C-section, and numerous other factors. After a typical childbirth, the mother can expect to feel sore for a few days to a few weeks, and there are other common side effects such as light bleeding, breast soreness, and hot and cold flashes. If you experience any effects that are out of the ordinary, contact your doctor.
The basics: Eating and sleeping
By now you have probably decided whether you will breastfeed or formula-feed the baby and have discussed it with your doctor. Whichever option you decide to use, during this week you will begin to set a routine that will be maintained for months. Some babies take to feeding almost right away and rarely struggle, while others need a little coaxing. You will soon learn your baby’s temperament, and his or her habitual signs of hunger will become apparent.
As for sleep, it is quite simple: Your baby will sleep a lot this week-16 hours or more per day-but the sleep will be irregular. She may sleep no more than a couple of hours at a time at first, but you should begin to see a shift as early as the end of this week. She will begin to sleep for longer stretches, and the longest stretches will naturally begin occurring at night. For now, expect to be tired. That 16 hours of sleep will give you plenty of quiet time, but it is likely to be broken up.
Dealing with visitors
In the first week with your child, you will likely have an army of friends and relatives banging down your door to get to meet the baby. While their intentions are good, many people do not realize that the first week is not the best time for you to have many visitors. For one thing, the mother is still recovering and may not have the energy to entertain people. The father is probably fatigued as well. Plus, both parents and baby are simply trying to establish a routine, and visitors can disrupt this process.
Family and friends should of course be welcome to visit, but kindly ask them to have some patience. For now, you need to focus on your baby, and you cannot be worried about other people. If anyone in your life is particularly understanding of these issues and can pop in without disrupting you, then it is probably okay to have them over. But you might want to ask any needy in-laws or childless friends to give you a couple of weeks.
Your emotional state and relationship
Thankfully, the issue of postpartum depression has received much attention over the last few years, and this has gone a long way toward equipping mothers (and fathers, in some cases) for this strange and unexpected effect. The baby blues are likely connected to poor sleep, hormonal fluctuations, and post-birth fatigue, and in severe cases the condition can be serious and long-lasting. If you experience symptoms of depression that do not go away after a few days, seek help.
Meanwhile, this period in your relationship with your spouse may be wonderful, rocky, or more or less indifferent. Whatever the case, the most important thing is for both parents to support each other through this week. The dad in particular needs to make a great effort to help the mother, who is likely to be sore and tired. Do not give in to any tensions or bad feelings. For now, focus on establishing a happy, healthy home life, and revel in the new dynamics of your family.
As for the baby, not much will happen this week outside of lots of sleeping, crying, and eating. At first, your child is likely to be red and swollen, and she may have an oddly shaped head. This is natural. After a few days, her head will go back to its normal shape, and her features will become clearer. By the end of the week, it should be clear which parent, if any, the baby most resembles. Do not be surprised if she seems to take a curled up, clenched-fist position in the early days, as this is simply how she is most comfortable after those tightly packed last few weeks in the womb.
At birth, your baby may already be able to recognize his mother’s and father’s voices, and he will likely already be most comfortable around his parents. For the most part, however, the baby will seem somewhat removed from his surroundings, and he will not begin to develop a recognizable personality until a little later. Now your baby is at his most helpless, so hold him close and make his transition from the womb to the outside world as comfortable as possible. Your child can feel your love, so start working right away to build that bond.