How I Plan On Surviving My First Week With A Newborn – confessions of a baby sleep expert
Our second little girl is due in 1 week and although I’m beyond excited to meet her (after all it’s taken 4 years to make her) I still find myself remembering the first couple of months with our first baby and I’ll admit I feel a little nervous. Lets face it, I love sleep and we all know new babies and sleep don’t go hand in hand. On top of the sleepless nights I’m preparing for the emotional and physical changes that are about to take place within my body as I become a ‘new’ mother again, so I’ve found the best way to get through those early weeks with a newborn is to have a plan to guide you through the sleep deprivation and hormonal onslaught.
1) Feeding – When I had Sophia I had tremendous challenges breastfeeding, (you can read about that HERE), so this time, although I’m trying not to be attached to the perfect outcome I will be doing everything I can to optimise our new breastfeeding relationship. We will be starting with immediate skin-to-skin (we’re having a Gentle Caesarean and I have spoken to my OB’s about my wishes and they are both very supportive in helping me achieve better breastfeeding outcomes, as long as all goes well with the birth). I will give my little girl all the time she needs find her source of nutrition and comfort naturally and I will wait for her to show signs of readiness before I try to attach her onto my breast, signs of newborn breastfeeding readiness can be found HERE. I will be taking herbs to help with my milk supply, which I struggled with last time and I also have my IBCLC on speed dial to help with any challenges we might face. When my milk comes in, I plan on feeding en-demand. I want to be clear here that feeding en-demand to me is not feeding every time my baby cries, yes I can comfort her through breastfeeding but I would much prefer to mindfully meet her needs as they arise. To me this means listening to her cries and discerning a hungry cry from a tired cry and then feeding every time I hear a hungry cry and responding to a tired cry by helping her sleep. I will be trying to do this early on so she feels confident that I am listening to her. Now, this is one of the things that trips up a lot of new mothers because it can be really hard to discern between the different cries but I have a secret tool that helps my new mama’s and that’s The Dunstan Language book and app.
2) Sleep for me and baby – Even though my life revolves around sleep and helping families get more of it, I’m under no illusion that new babies sleep through the night. They are simply not meant to for several different reasons, including establishing your milk supply (if your baby doesn’t wake for milk through the day and night, your supply will reduce) but there are several things you can do to help your little one sleep soundly. Basically a warm, comfortable and well-fed baby will generally sleep for a few hours at a time, so as I mentioned above I will be focussing on trying to get my milk supply nice and strong, keeping by little girl snugly and warm for sleeps and making sure she is well burped so she is comfortable. I will also be mindful of helping her gently discern the difference between night and day by letting her nap in a light filled room during the day and waking her gently if she naps longer than 2-3 hours. Most babies take a longer stretch of sleep at least once during a 24-hour period and we want that longer sleep to be at night rather than during the day. So in order to get an extra hour or 2 at night, it can help to gently wake baby up from longer daytime naps. I will also gently start to help her get used to falling asleep without any major sleep dependencies, like feeding to sleep. This isn’t something that has to be done straight away, its not until around the 3 months mark that it will become an issue and affect night waking so you can wait but I’ve found its much easier to start out this way to avoid confusion and avoid ‘sleep training’ down the track. I will take the time to discern her tired cues and be very aware of what her tired cry sounds like, so I can respond quickly by swaddling her and placing her into her safe sleep space. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules around this with a newborn and I’m sure I will often be holding or carrying her while she sleeps but I will try to help her get used to falling asleep in her little bassinet as well. I will also be sleeping her next to me in a co-sleeper that fits in beside our bed, so she’s nice and close.
3) Love-in – the 3 months after birth are often called the 4th trimester, and for good reason, it is supposed to be a time for bonding with your new child, allowing them to slowly adjust to the pathogens around them as their little immune system develops and giving you both time to adapt to a new life as a mama and a little human in the world. In the Greek tradition (which is part of my background) we stay home with our new infants for at least 30 days and family and friends come to us for visits. I love this tradition because it takes the pressure off and gives you the time and space to just be and fall in love with your child in a nice big oxytocin bath (the love hormone).
4) Getting help – having the help of a close friend or relative, especially someone who you fully love and trust to stay at home with you can be a total lifesaver. My husband, Ash will have 2 weeks off work but we don’t have any family living nearby so I feel very blessed that my Mum is taking 6 weeks off work and travelling interstate to stay with us and help with everything I need, including taking care of Sophia (who will undoubtedly want to get out and about and be active). She will also help with cooking meals, cleaning and laundry. We have talked about exactly what I will need her to do and we’ve made a meal plan and list of things that will be most helpful to me. Now, I know this can be a lot to ask of someone and not everyone has this kind of support, so if that’s the case I have lots of mamas who ask friends to contribute frozen meals or pre-cook some frozen meals in advance, do the grocery shopping online and hire a cleaner for a couple of months, if not longer. For this one, it’s all about planning ahead, so you can relax, just be with your new baby and get as much rest as you can.
5) Letting go of perfection – one of the most consistent messages I find myself giving other mamas is that we are perfect exactly as we are and the most valuable gift we can give to ourselves as new mothers is to stop judging ourselves for all of our perceived shortcomings, imperfections and new mama ‘mistakes’ and instead just focus on taking this big new rollercoaster of a ride with our new babies. However, I wouldn’t be completely honest with you if I didn’t disclose that I’m quite the perfectionist myself and although I can be extremely flexible and accepting of other peoples shortcomings, I can be much less forgiving of myself and often have very high expectations of myself. This time around I’m learning to let go of that, it’s definitely a work in progress but I don’t need to be perfect at being imperfect, so that takes some of the pressure off! This time around, I plan on reminding myself that there is nothing to measure up to and I am the perfect mother for my little girl.
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