Sometime after the cord is clipped, you will likely come to a startling realization. This bun that you have been baking for the better part of a year is here. You are now a parent and there is no turning back.
No matter how much a woman prepares for birth, babies tend to remain rather hypothetical in nature until they make their first cry or wet their first diaper. Birth, for most, is a rather surreal experience. Despite all that time getting ready, the change really does not seem to hit until your sweet newborn slides out of your womb and into your arms.
For many mothers the first few days are a little sheltered. A flurry of attention tends to keep very new moms preoccupied from what really lies ahead. Nurses, midwives, doulas, and family surround the new mother and baby dyad, leaving them feeling supported and comfortable.
Then the day comes when it is just mom and baby. The gentle little sprite that once fluttered around in your belly, is now screaming bloody murder on your lap, feeling very real and very heavy. It is unquestionable that the early postpartum period is full of gentle, almost romantic moments, basking in the glow of new life. However, it also unfair to gloss over those midnight feedings when mom has not slept in a week, baby vomit on your new cardigan, and the multiple other, very real ways that life changes when a baby enters the picture.
The Baby Blues
Nearly every mother experiences a down phase during the first few weeks after having the baby. The feelings of loneliness and sadness tend to commence around the fifth day and come and go for a few weeks. This is surprising, but normal and it is often referred to as the baby blues.
This period of hormonal adjustment may leave you weepy at unexpected moments, a bit down, maybe even irritable. Exhaustion from lack of sleep plays a definite role during this time. It seems to be particularly potent in new parents, as the adjustment to first-time parenthood is one of the most intense changes a person ever goes through. It is often the first moment that life transitions from being very personal and self-centered to totally dependent on another. As if that were not enough, the person in control is tiny, irrational, and poops on themselves.
It is important that new mothers realize the difference between normal baby blues. Understanding the signs of postpartum depression is important for the health and safety of both mother and child. Constant crying, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, panic attacks, and intense feelings of hopelessness are not a part of the standard baby blues. Nor are depressed feelings that persist for more than two weeks. These are signs that it is time to seek help.
Little or No Sleep
The first few weeks with a new baby have a particularly intense effect on sleep. New babies tend to be nocturnal, if they present any schedule at all. Both breast and formula fed babies often wake up at regular intervals every one or two hours, though they may sleep the bulk of the day it is not the kind of sleep that adults enjoy. It is restless, spurts of sleep, and they generally require comfort and food to settle back down. Adding cereal to a bottle or discontinuing breastfeeding is not the answer. The only answer to this problem is time.
Rest assured, this is totally normal. The girl down the street who swears her baby slept through the night starting on day two is either exaggerating or the rare exception to the rule. It is biologically imperative that growing infants wake up frequently. It prevents them from going into too deep of sleep, which can be dangerous, and they need the nutrients from a near-constant stream of nourishment. Babies have tiny tummies, literally at birth, they hold about the liquid content of a marble. Throughout the day your baby repeatedly fills that marble up, empties their bladder and bowels, and then begins to look for more nourishment. Remember, your little one just spent around 40ish weeks floating in a warm bath, with a constant infusion of food from the placenta. Living on the outside is a hard adjustment for a tiny baby.
Even in the best situation, mom and probably dad are going to lose massive amounts of sleep during the first year of their child’s life, if not longer. However, the first one or two months tend to be the worst, and then it starts to improve. During this time take breaks, sleep when the baby sleeps, stay hydrated, and ask for help when you need it. You will be tired, everything will take longer, but eventually you are going to look back and miss these days (crazy as it sounds).
Enlisting help from friends, family, and professionals like postpartum doulas is extremely helpful. Do not be afraid to ask for help, getting as much rest as possible will ensure a better experience for everyone.
One thing is for certain, parenthood is the hardest, but most rewarding job you will ever love.