Ten years ago a friend asked for new baby advice. I wrote it, and have updated it many times, to many thanks and an occasional “where was this when I was having a baby?” Now I am posting it as a series. Today’s topic is newborns.
This timeline aims for a healthy baby and marriage by the time the Terrible Twos hit, which is a misnomer because the first signs show around 12 months and are usually roaring by 18 months.
Note: I use female pronouns because the girlfriend for whom I originally wrote this advice had a girl with the in utero nickname “Peanut.” Also, I give nursing info because that’s what I know. If you plan on bottle feeding, just ignore the nursing bits and find a friend who did bottles to get practical advice.
Here’s what you need to know about the first two weeks:
Let’s start with nursing:
Let Peanut run the show. Aim for having her meet her birth weight at her two week checkup.
When she is born, try to nurse her as soon as circumstances allow, but don’t worry if you can’t nurse right away. Look up “brown fat” if you’re worried.
As for nursing, it is a practical skill. It requires a little hands-on (literally) training from someone with experience. The lactation classes taken while pregnant are nursing theory, or as a friend’s husband called the class, “Boobies for Dummies.”
They are often counterproductive for you because they set up some idea of perfect feeding while encouraging teamwork. I am not PC so I have no qualms about declaring that some things are women’s work. Birthing and nursing unequivocally fall into that category. Even if you are inclined to want to share everything with your husband, making him go to Boobies for Dummies might not work out the way you planned. When you are tired and hungry—pregnancy hunger has nothing on let-down hunger—with sore nipples and your chipper, well-intentioned husband critiques your latch … after you throw him a look that could freeze fire, you might regret this doing everything together bit. There is plenty for him to do (see below). Nursing isn’t one of them.
Otherwise, nursing often fails because Mom doesn’t know enough, or thinks she knows better (a la those classes) about a baby’s feeding pattern. Moms read that a baby eats every three hours on average. They think that means they can feed the baby and then, as long as they had enough milk, she won’t be hungry for three hours. Nope.
“On average” is true as math goes but not in practice. Newborns cluster feed. So she might wake, eat for 10 minutes, sleep for 30, eat for another 5, sleep for 20, eat for 15, sleep for an hour, eat for 10, and then sleep for 3 hours. A pattern won’t present yet. If she seems sated, if you have milk, and if she’s pink and peeing, then let her eat and sleep whenever and wherever she wants. She probably won’t, but don’t let her go for more than 4 hours yet.
Next page: When do you sleep?
Let’s talk about sleep:
You sleep whenever you can. You’re going to be tired for a long time, but here’s the 411 on sleep deprivation: For about 2-3 weeks you’re just tired. You’ve got the endurance to be sleep deprived for three-ish weeks. Around 3 weeks if you aren’t getting at least one 3-hour stretch, then you start to get really moody and angry. True sanity requires about two 3-hour stretches. When you get at least one 4-hour stretch, you are still moody, but rallying. When you get your first 6-hour stretch, you’ll think you’ve won the lottery. (Yes, six hours. It’s called sleep deprivation for a reason.) You’ll try to clean the whole house or go for a 3-mile sprint. You’ll still be tired, but your husband won’t need to consider having you committed.
In the early days, if you’re waking every time she stirs—or breathes, since babies have stuffy noses for about 6 weeks and therefore sleep shockingly loudly—then move her bassinet into another room so you’ll only wake when she actually cries out.
Unless you are bottle feeding, do not be tempted to have someone do a night feed so you can sleep. If you want to nurse, it isn’t an option for you. Boobies work on supply meeting demand. This is critical the first few weeks. You can have somebody give the baby a bottle, but you have to pump around the same time to mimic the demand. As babies tend to have a cluster feed around 2 a.m., that’s a big demand curve to try to pump over and you still have to get up. Worse, if you try to skip night feeds a few weeks later when your milk supply is rolling, then you might need to look up “mastitis.” (Most of my friends who got mastitis tried going for longer no-nursing stretches too early.)
I have seen many otherwise successful nursing moms give up because they can’t get in front of their babies’ demands by 6 weeks or so. Often this is because some helpful person is feeding the baby at night. They trade nursing for the sleep and efficiency of bottle feeding, not taking into account that nursing is a marathon and the convenience doesn’t come until after about six weeks.
Next page: What should Dad be doing?
Here’s how Dad can help:
As you might have surmised from above, the first few weeks are all about sleeping and eating, and you and the baby are still one unit. Your husband might feel left out and detached. No worries. There are great and important jobs for him.
- Diplomacy. Before the baby comes, decide how much outside social contact you want. He deals with that by doing everything from fielding phone calls, to answering doors and politely pushing people out the door, to airport pickups. This is more complicated than it sounds. You might think you want everyone around only to change your mind by day five. It is his job to gauge your mood and adjust all of that accordingly. When his sister and your mom get into a little snit about the diaper cream you use, he runs defense. Not a job I covet.
- Life Administration. Grocery shopping, bills, dog walks, calling the plumber all fall into this category. Then there are store runs for extra baby things when you find that the Gerber blankets are a better size for swaddling Peanut than the Carter’s ones and you discover that Peanut likes the silicon pacifiers. Or you could be like me, not knowing to pull the nappy extra tight on a little boy, causing everything to soak through each time he peed, which required an emergency supplement of blankets and t-shirts. Hubby to the rescue.
- Feed and Care of Mom. This is a big job. The appetite of a lactating woman resembles that of a 14-year-old boy in a growth spurt. He’s got to keep the food coming and the kitchen well-stocked.
Let him do these jobs. Professional women tend to treat maternity leave as a time to get our domestic diva going. Smart, educated, resourceful—we can so handle baby and household. Piece of cake. So we refuse domestic assistance. And thus we often learn that just because our feminist elders told us housewifery was domestic drudgery, does not mean that it is easy to master.
Next week: 2 to 8 weeks.