During your first pregnancy, no doubt you had or will have numerous individuals tell you that once your little one arrives, “your life will never be the same” or “your life will change forever” or “everything will be different” or some variation of this sentiment. After awhile, it can even get a little tiring hearing it over and over again. My advice? Smile and nod, because they are right!
Put aside everything you think you know about babies. Unless you have experienced firsthand spending twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with a newborn who is relying on you for all of their needs while you are experiencing extreme sleep deprivation and possibly even recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth, then you have no idea just how different your life will become after your first child arrives.
And that is okay! I’m not here to scare you, just help you prepare yourself. To do that, I’m going to share my summary of what each week after giving birth was like in my experience.
I felt like I was living in a permanent state of adrenaline during the first week. Giving birth naturally without pain medicines allowed me the opportunity to be clear-minded moments after the birth of my little Peanut. I experienced some pain and discomfort, but it was overshadowed by the rush of oxytocin (the love/bonding hormone) every time I held or looked at my newborn. My mind was filled with awe and wonder as well as a deep love and little bit of worry. I was now this little one’s mother and he would be relying on my husband and I for years to come!
Week One was also very emotional for me. Within the first twenty-four hours, we discovered that Peanut could not latch due to a number of reasons and as a result, could not breastfeed. We were concerned for many hours as we tried, with the help of nurses and a lactation consultant, to breastfeed him — even going so far as to use a small syringe to get some colostrum into his mouth. Since he was born very small, the hospital would not discharge us until they had monitored him for an extra twenty-four hours to ensure his blood sugars were stable and he had successfully eaten. The anxiety grew the longer he went without eating, either from me or the bottle. I was praying so hard that Peanut would eat something, anything! Finally, the lactation consultant was able to bottle feed him a ounce of formula and later that day my mom was able to get him to eat as well. We were able to go home the next day, and I was exhausted.
There was also some pain. About Day 4, my milk was starting to come in but it was not being expressed even though I was pumping on a regular schedule (every 2-3 hours). The only thing the pumping accomplished was to make my poor nipples extremely sore, and I watched as my breasts became engorged… swollen, hard, and extremely painful. I tried everything I could think of to get the swelling down and the milk to be expressed, but nothing seemed to be working. Finally, I found a tip on a website. On Day 5, while at my parent’s house, I used frozen water bottles and rolled them gently over my breasts for twenty minutes before pumping. It hurt but it worked, and I finally was able to pump milk. A few pumping sessions later, and the engorgement and its accompanying pain was finally gone.
Week Two was when the sleep deprivation was beginning to take its toll, but there was still the new baby high. Fortunately, my husband was in the middle of his three weeks of family leave so we took shifts during the night. I would take one feeding session and he would do another while I pumped, and that way I was able to get back to sleep faster at night.
A lot of Week Two was spent watching Peanut sleep and feeding and changing him when he was awake. I gave him a little sponge bath with a super-soft washcloth every other day, and we would sit outside in filtered sunlight while we did it. I took tons of photos of him while he slept, and just marveled that this tiny, precious little fellow was my son, my little boy, and I was his mother. I eagerly looked forward to his first smile and began thinking of little routines I could start with him: singing, counting, letter-sounds, reading Bible stories to him, etc. Anything to help him learn my voice.
Though very tired, Week Two was like a little bit of heaven on earth.
Our little Peanut hit his first major growth spurt during his third week, as many babies do, but it came upon us suddenly and unexpectedly. We were not prepared for his ravenous appetite! In fact, for a couple of nights, we did not realize that the reason he was waking up and crying hysterically during the night was because he was still hungry.
Severely sleep-deprived and not knowing what to do, I was at my wit’s end. We tried a tiny bit of Gripe Water thinking he had gas or a tummy ache, but that was not it. Once I even had to set him down in his bassinet and leave the room to calm myself, because I was crying myself and frustrated that I could not figure out what was wrong with him.
Then I found out that most babies have a growth spurt during this time, and when I offered him more milk, he returned to being his usual, happy self and stopped the hysterical crying.
For a baby that, before the growth spurt, drank maybe 3 ounces in one sitting, he suddenly began guzzling the milk: 7, 9, and even 12 ounces at a time! Despite all of my valiant efforts, I was not producing enough milk to keep up with him. We ended up having to supplement, but I did not like the milk-based formula options so with my mom’s help we actually made our own formula using goat’s milk.
Milk-based formula, even though he did not show an reactions to it during his first week, made me very nervous for two reasons: 1.) I am severely allergic to milk proteins, and I do not want to introduce dairy to my Peanut too earlier just in case he inherited my allergy, and 2.) I am severely allergic to milk proteins, and my skin began to react when the formula powder got onto my hands while mixing the bottles. I was afraid I would end up breathing in the powder and not be able to breathe.
So I researched non-milk-based formula options but the soy-based formulas were not only expensive, but also were over 50% corn syrup. I remembered that my dad could not have milk-based products as an infant either; his mother gave him straight goat’s milk and he is one of the healthiest people I know. After doing a lot of research and experiments, my mom and I were able to make our own goat’s milk supplement that we only had to used maybe once a day or once every other day for about two weeks until my own milk production caught up with his appetite.
The growth spurt was beginning to subside, he went down to about 4-5 ounces of milk at a time, and he began to sleep for slightly longer stretches at night. Unfortunately, my milk supply was still barely enough for the entire day: it fluctuated through the day, sometimes as little as 3 ounces and other times barely 6 ounces. However, the day we no longer had to supplement with the goat’s milk formula, I celebrated!
To increase my supply, I tried pumping every two hours, doing a marathon pumping session (where you pump for ten minutes, take a break for ten minutes, pump for ten, etc. for an hour), and put the pump suction higher, but the only thing this did was damage my nipples, especially the left one. They were blistered and raw even though I was slathering them in nipple cream, and the left one even had a blocked milk duct (resulting in a bleb or white milk blister). Overall, it became very, very painful to pump.
Towards the end of the week, I also finally gave up all attempts to breastfeed directly. I’ll write another post on our breastfeeding journey, but let’s just say, after a month of “failure”, I had to let go of the “dream” for my own sanity and the happiness of our little family. I had to come to terms with the idea that Peanut might never be able to nurse, and I would have to pump exclusively so I needed to figure out how to heal my poor nipples and increase my milk production.
While shopping at a local Target, my husband found a box of Earth Mama Angel Baby Organic Milkmaid Tea that helps with increasing milk production. I began drinking two cups of the tea a day, and after three or four days, I began to produce more. I was making about 10 ounces every 3-4 hrs, and more in the early mornings because I was now finally able to skip one pumping session at night. Peanut was also consistently drinking 5 ounces every 3-4 hrs, so the extra milk went into the freezer to save for his next growth spurt.
Easing back on the pumping schedule also helped heal my nipples. I pumped every 3-4 hours, lowered the suction power, and put cream on before and after pumping. Though it took many more weeks to see the results, the process of healing began.
This time, we were well-prepared for Peanut’s Week Six growth spurt. I had pumped extra milk and stored it in the freezer so even when Peanut’s appetite was astounding, far beyond anything you’d think a tiny baby’s tummy could hold, we had enough milk that there was no need to supplement. (Praise the Lord!) I continued drinking the Milkmaid Tea to keep pace with him, but after the growth spurt ended, I stopped drinking the tea and my production leveled out to about 10 ounces each session. It was enough for him to eat and to re-build the supply of frozen milk to prepare for when I would return to work full-time.
By the end of week six, I was also getting a decent amount of sleep at night. Peanut would drink a little extra in the evenings and began to sleep longer at night. We were able to feed him at 11pm, and then again at 3-4am, and then again at 7-8am. Also, I was able to skip changing his diaper at 3-4am so he would go back to sleep faster, and I was able to skip pumping at that session as well.
Ah, the little things we celebrate!
So that is a general overview of how the first six weeks went for us. Your experience(s) may vary, as every woman and baby are different, but hopefully this will at the very least prepare you for the growth spurts around weeks Three and Six and encourage you that it does get easier! Your little one will figure out his/her days vs nights and start to sleep longer at night. The soreness, pain, and muscle aches eventually go away. You will also gain confidence in your abilities as mother and learn to trust your instincts.