Tag: postpartum

Survival Guide for Parents with a New Baby

Survival Guide for Parents with a New Baby

You just had a baby or adopted a newborn. Congratulations! This is a momentous occasion and a life-changing event. You may have anticipated the bonding experiences with your baby, those quiet moments of cuddling and cooing, singing and playing. The first time he or she smiles or laughs will warm your heart.

All babies are unique. Some are mellow little cherubs content to eat, sleep, and snuggle with very little fussing. Others may be more of a handful, perhaps due to a more sensitive nature or physical challenges like reflux. Still others can make the first month or so a nightmare, with unconsolable crying for hours on end, barely sleeping for longer than 45 minutes, or being awake for hours during the night.

The first two months, though filled with lovely and wonderful moments, can also be quite difficult for parents. Here is my practical guide for surviving these tough times. If you are new to motherhood or fatherhood, this survival guide will help! (Dads, there is a special note at the bottom just for you.)

1. Sleep!

I know, I know. Everyone tells you about the importance of sleep and to “sleep when baby sleeps”. You are probably thinking right now: “Sure, it is easy to say but I can’t sleep when baby sleeps or nothing would get done.”

Perhaps baby is nursing every hour or you have to pump on a rigid schedule. Maybe just when you close your eyes to rest, the baby starts fussing or your older children demand attention. Maybe baby has finally fallen asleep but it is almost time for dinner and all of your dishes are dirty in the sink. I know how you feel. I have been there. 

But let me also remind you of something you already know: sleep is vital to our physical and mental health. Two to three hours a night, broken up into ten minutes here and twenty minutes there, is not sufficient sleep. The days and weeks after childbirth are already challenging, but if you do not get enough rest, you may unintentionally contribute to postpartum depression.

I was there. I experienced this with my second child. We had an extremely fussy/needy newborn and an 18-month-old who was teething at the same time.

The sleep deprivation contributed to my own postpartum depression, which did not resolve itself until about five and a half weeks postpartum when baby was finally sleeping for two to four hours stretches so I could sleep, too. I was too prideful to admit that I had a sleep problem. I was determined to fix it on my own, but I needed to ask for help. My husband was a lifesaver. He would watch the kids while I napped or drop the toddler off at his parents for the afternoon.

To be able to function, you need to consistently get 5 or more hours of sleep within a twenty-four hour period of time. Have your spouse watch the baby while you take a nap. Ask family to come over to watch the baby. Do what you have to do to get some sleep.

2. Eat healthy and eat often.

With the craziness that a newborn brings, you might find yourself skipping a meal here and there or grabbing a less-than-nutritious snack instead. If it only happens on a rare occasion, you are probably fine, but this can cause problems if it becomes a common occurrence.

You just had a baby so your body is in recovery and you may be breastfeeding as well. Your body needs proper nutrition to fuel recovery and to make the milk your baby needs. If you skip too many meals, your daily caloric intake may drop too low too fast. This can negatively impact your milk production and might even contribute to health problems for you.

Make sure you eat well-balanced meals throughout the day.

You may find that you need to eat a little less but more frequently (like when you were pregnant). Even if you do not feel hungry, eat something healthy. (Oats are good for you and aid in milk production!) Or maybe you have discovered that you have a ravenous appetite and you are afraid you will either gain more weight or not lose the baby weight so you are trying to put yourself on a diet.

Firstly, it is too soon to go on a diet. Your body is already going through so many changes right now, don’t make it have to work even harder. Secondly, if you are breastfeeding, some women find that they have to have a little extra weight to maintain a healthy milk supply. (I am one of them.) Thirdly, it took nine months to gain the weight, allow yourself at least a year to lose it.

If you eat healthy, snack healthy, and do moderate exercise on a daily basis, you will gradually slim down.

3. Shower at least every other day, but everyday if possible.

You may find yourself hyper-focused on caring for the new baby’s needs that you neglect your own most basic needs. Showering not only keeps you clean, but it can help you relax and deal with stress. Find the time to take a shower.

Whether it is in the early morning before the baby wakes up, mid-morning when your mom or sister or best friend comes over to watch the baby, the middle of the afternoon when baby is napping, after your husband comes home from work in the evening, or late at night right before bed. The when does not matter. Just do it. You will be glad you did!

Perhaps you are alone. Maybe you are a single parent, your spouse works long hours or is away from home for days at a time, or you have no family nearby to help. Maybe baby is crying hysterically even though s/he has been fed, burped, and changed.

My advice is to put baby down in a safe place (crib, bassinet, rock ‘n play, etc.) and take a quick five or ten minute shower. Hard though it may be to listen to, it is okay for a baby to cry a little. It is better for baby to cry in a safe place for five to ten minutes while you take a much needed emotional break then for you to become overwhelmed and, perhaps, lose your temper.

4. Understand that some housework won’t get done for awhile.

Dishes may pile up in the sink, toilets may not get cleaned for a week or two, vacuuming may go undone, clothes might pile up in the basket. And it is okay!

If you gave birth, remember that you just gave birth to a human being! Not only do you now have this precious little bundle to care for, but you are also physically recovering from a very physically demanding and sometimes traumatizing event. In the immediate days and weeks after childbirth, your body will be flooded with various hormones as your body shifts from pregnancy-mode to post-pregnancy-mode.

You will be bonding with your newborn, experiencing your milk coming in, figuring out breastfeeding via nursing or pumping, possibly figuring out bottle-feeding, barely sleeping, and so much more. Your body is going through many changes (not all visible) and this can wreck havoc on your emotions.

If you have adopted a baby, you now have this precious little bundle to care for and many of the baby-related things I mention above also apply to you! Bonding with your newborn, figuring out feeding, barely sleeping, emotional rollercoasters, etc. It is okay if the house is not spotless.

5. Ask for help!

Bottom line, Mamas, you have a lot to cope with in the first two months. And if you have older children, it will be that much harder as you navigate caring for your baby and your old children, too. So give yourself grace. Focus on what is most important: your child(ren) are fed, clean, and loved and you also are fed, clean, and rested.

If the mess really bothers you and causes stress or anxiety or you cannot get enough sleep or you need a break, ask for help. From your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your neighbors. Do not allow your pride to cause you to suffer in silence. It is not good for you, not good for baby, and not good for your family.

Be specific in what you ask for: please watch the baby while I do dishes, can you make us a meal, would you be able to clean the bathrooms, can you babysit the older child(ren) for two hours, etc.

 

Remember, you are amazing! You gave birth or adopted this precious little one. The first two months can be heavenly if you have a more mellow child, very challenging if you have a fussy newborn, or anywhere in between.

Sometimes your newborn maybe quite contented and then, suddenly, s/he cries hysterically. Go through the checklist first: fed, burped, changed, held; and repeat if necessary. Most babies cry for a reason, but it might be hard to pinpoint the exact reason in the heat of the moment. It is okay to feel confused and overwhelmed.

You may or may not know that many babies become more fussy during growth spurts (physical and developmental). After all, baby’s main job during his or her first year is to grow, grow, grow! These growth spurts tend to happen between Weeks 1-3, Weeks 6-8, three months, six months, and nine months. (But all babies are different so yours might hit a growth spurt sooner or later.)

If you are still not sure what is going on with your baby or concerned about a symptom (perhaps excessive spit up, unconsolable crying for hours every day), ask your pediatrician.

As my mom always said, “Motherhood is hard enough on its own, don’t make it even harder on yourself.”

Some women experience a beautiful, storybook newborn stage, and that is wonderful. However, many of us will face challenges, often outside our control, and we have to navigate those challenges carefully.

Do not expect every newborn to be the same. Just because your first was an angel who slept through the night within a week and hardly ever cried, does not mean your second will be the same, and vice versa. Do not compare yourself with other moms or your baby with other babies. Take advice — from people, books, and the internet — with a grain of salt. Do what feels right to you, but always keep your baby’s health in mind.

And, above all, remember that God chose you to be this precious child’s mother. Trust your instincts. If something feels off with you or the baby, get help. You do not have to be superwoman. You do not have to do this alone.

And if you need help, do not think any less of yourself or think you are a failure if you cannot do things perfectly. The fact that you recognized your need and sought the right solution (whatever it may be) means that you are absolutely amazing.

Yes, you are AMAZING.

 

Side note to fathers:

Dads, your wife just had a baby. Were you present during her labor and delivery? If so then you realize just how physically demanding giving birth is, and the recovery time can be weeks or even months, depending on her unique situation. If not, just take my word for it.

If you are the kind of guy who normally helps out around the house, then you are already ahead of the game. I want to thank you on your wife’s behalf for being awesome. Keep doing what you are doing and know that you might have to do a little extra for awhile until your wife is feeling better.

If you are not used to helping and have always relied on your wife to maintain the house, then we need to have a little chat. Your wife just had a baby. (I know I already said that, but it needs to be said again.) Her body is recovering. She will be uncomfortable, exhausted, and might even experience pain. She might have difficulty doing things she normally can do. Her emotions might be on a rollercoaster of highs and lows, she is also severely sleep deprived, and if you have older children, she will probably be even more exhausted.

Now is the time for you to step up and be her hero.

Make a meal (it does not have to be fancy), tidy up the kitchen, throw in a load of laundry, watch the crying baby for an hour or two while your wife naps, anything that you can do, now is the time to do it. Sure, you may have no clue what you are doing but you are smart, you can figure it out. And don’t do it for the recognition, do it because you love your wife and you want to help her recovery.

 

To recap: sleep, eat healthy, shower, don’t fret over housework, and ask for help when you need it. This is my survival guide for parents with a new baby. If you are a mom or dad, what tips helped you survive the first two months? Share your experiences in the comments below!

3 Things I Did Not Expect Postpartum

3 Things I Did Not Expect Postpartum

When you are eagerly awaiting the arrival of your first child, there are many things that you anticipate and mentally prepare yourself for: sleepless nights, dirty diapers, cries and giggles, spit up and smiles, and so much more.

In the first six months after our little one’s birth, I discovered a few very interesting things that I did not expect postpartum. I can honestly say that these three things blindsided me.

Excessive Hair Loss

This first one you may have read about in pregnancy books or on mommy blogs, but I did not fully grasp what it would mean to me until it happened. Every lady is different, but for me, I had excessive hair loss between about Week 3 postpartum until Month 5. I am not talking about a few strands here or there; after all, everyone sheds on average 75-100 strands of hair a day.

No, I was loosing hair daily in the hundreds! My shower walls would be covered in hair, hair would stick to my shirts and sweaters, and I would have to carefully examine little Peanut’s fingers and toes to make sure none of my hair had gotten tangled around his little digits. My once thick, luscious hair was suddenly thin, scraggly, and pathetic looking.

So why do some women lose large amounts of hair after childbirth?

Hair has three stages: active growth, resting, and loss (shedding). During pregnancy, the raise in certain hormones slows down the natural life cycle of our hair so more hair stays in the growth or resting stages and less strands shed. This gives pregnant ladies that thick mane many people notice and comment on. Unfortunately, after childbirth when the pregnancy hormones decrease, all those strands start entering into the shedding stage – often at the same time. This can lead to excessive shedding and what seems like hair loss.

Be comforted that this phase is not permanent. It may take a few months, but your hair will get back into a normal cycle and the excessive shedding will stop. While I waited for my hair to stop shedding, I cut it to shoulder length. Previously my hair was layered so the thinning made it look scraggly and awful. Cutting it helped to give my hair a little bit of shape again.

Fortunately, by six months postpartum, my hair stopped the excessive shedding and began to regrow.

Severe Gas Pain

The first episode struck about 10pm on the sixth day after little Peanut was born. It was the first day I ventured out of the house – Bradley took us to visit my parents (twenty-minutes away). It was a day that was full of success and achievement, as I had finally been able to pump milk successfully and relieve my poor, engorged breasts.

Around 10pm, though, I began to experience a strange pain in the center of my chest, located directly beneath/behind my sternum. As the minutes passed, the pain intensified. I tried lying down but the pain radiated around my ribcage. It felt like I was being stabbed in the chest while, at the same time, all of the muscles of my core (abs, sides, lower back, shoulders) were completely frozen or locked in place.

A few hours later, the pain had worsened to excruciating, beyond even the pain of childbirth, and it was terrifying because I did not know what was causing it. I leaned against the bed, praying for relief and groaning, wavering in my mind on whether I should ask Bradley to take me to the emergency room or not. What if we did go – call my parents, pack up our six-day-old infant, drove to the ER – and the mysterious pain vanishes as we are in the waiting room?

Bradley was very concerned. Our little one was fussy that night. It was the first time he scream-cried inconsolably for hours, and I was in too much pain to move, let alone help with the baby. Just when Bradley was about to call my parents and take me to the ER, the excruciating pain suddenly – Yes, it was very sudden! – vanished. One moment I was frozen in searing pain and the next: Poof! It was gone. All that was left was a little ache in my muscles.

This debilitating pain in my sternum seemed to happen once or twice a week for the first month postpartum. By the third episode, I was terrified that something serious was wrong with me. I tried gas relief tablets, but they had a marginal affect on the severe pain. It was about a month postpartum that I discovered that the unbearable pain was gas getting stuck in the upper part of my large intestines and putting pressure on a nerve.

When the gas started to built up, I would feel a strange pressure in my sternum and middle back. I remembered what the nurses told me in the hospital about walking, re-enforced by advice from my mom. To my relief, I found that when I took some gas relief tablets and went on a long walk, the walking helped to move the gas along and prevent it was getting stuck in that spot.

Also, I had to overcome decades of training on appropriate and inappropriate lady-like behavior and allow myself the freedom to pass gas. My poor husband! And what an embarrassing issue to discuss in public, but I am bearing my soul in the hopes of helping some other new mother who might be experiencing a similar situation. It is better to “toot” then to feel like you are being torn apart from the inside out.

With the walking and passing gas, the excruciating, feel-like-I’m-dying, pain was avoided. By the end of the second month postpartum, I no long experienced the gas pains.

Difficulties breastfeeding

If you have read Our Breastfeeding Journey, then you know some of the challenges we faced breastfeeding. I will not repeat the entire story here but just the main points.

I was not expecting our little Peanut to be born small, with a severe tongue-tie, and be unable to nurse. For the first month, we tried unsuccessfully to nurse at least once a day and each time he could not latch, I felt like a failure as a mother. The whole time, I was pumping every 2-3 hours and there were a few times when he had to be supplemented with formula because I just was not making enough milk. Finally, at the end of the month, I had to give up trying to nurse for my own sanity’s sake and for the happiness of our little family. I had to realize that him might never be able to nurse and that it was ok, as long as he was getting food and growing healthy.

During month three, he latched very weakly. With some help from a pacifier to strengthen his sucking muscles, he was able to nurse a few ounces by month four. I began nursing him through the night. At seven months, he is now a nursing pro. I still pump every 3-4 hours, as I work outside the home and need to keep my supply up, but he is also eating baby food twice a day now and he gets a bottle of formula when needed.

I was not expecting challenges with breastfeeding and, I will be brutally honest, it was an extremely difficult hurdle to jump emotionally during a time when my emotions were already all-over-the-place (postpartum hormones fluctuations!). I made it through due to the love and support of my amazing husband and my parents, especially my mom. If I could go back and do those first month over again, I would. Because of my stress and self-deprecation, I did not have the energy to leave the house more, see friends and family more, and do those precious “memories” things with Peanut… like take infant photos and stamp his little hands and feet. I have no footprints of when he was 4 lbs 7 ounces except for the one foot stamped on the certificate the hospital gave us.

My advice to other moms who might be facing difficulties with breastfeeding is something my older sister shared with me when I was very low: Fed is best. A fed, happy, and healthy baby is best, no matter how you end up providing that nourishment: through breastfeeding, pumping and bottle feeding, or formula feeding.

While the first few days may seem to drag on, they really go by so fast. Do not waste that time with anxiety and needless stress over things beyond your control. You are amazing! You birthed or adopted this adorable precious little one so cherish every moment you have together.

Bonus: Just how much I love my little Peanut!

Okay, okay. When expecting a little one, most women are likely to be excited and eagerly anticipate the bonding that will happen between mother and newborn. However, what really surprised me was just how quickly this bonding occurred and how much I love my little Peanut. Even when he is crying and fussy, even after the fifth time he has woken me up in the middle of the night and I rolled out of bed, stumble to his room, and pick him up like a zombie, even when I find myself momentarily frustrated or overwhelmed, I just love him so much!

Baby cuddles, toothless smiles, little giggles, and the first time he said “Mom-ma” (even though he was crying and I’m pretty sure he did not do it on purpose) get me through the sleepless nights, the fits of crying, the explosive diapers that only the shower can wash away, the spit up all over my work clothes and the couch minutes before I was supposed to be walking out the door.

After all, who could not love this adorable little face?

Jacquelyn's baby on his third trip to the zoo!
Little Peanut and his daddy on his third trip to the zoo at six and a half months old.

I just love being a mom — especially his mom — and I would not trade this experience for anything.

So, in summary, when it comes to childbirth and its immediate affects, perhaps the old adage says it best: Expect the unexpected. In addition to these three things that blinded me, I also had some great experiences.

So remember this: no matter if you are losing your hair in clumps, experiencing severe gas pains, having trouble breastfeeding or whatever it might be — you just gave birth to a beautiful and precious little one. Cherish this gift that has been given to you. The other things will sort themselves out.