Surviving Week One With a Newborn
Before I start this post, I want to acknowledge that we have been incredibly fortunate in our labour and early days with George. I recognise that some families go through much tougher moments every step of the way of having a baby, and looking back I am very grateful for our journey so far. With that said, the first week with our little man was easily the toughest week of my life, with a few more lows than highs. For this reason I wanted to share my experience in the hope that it might be of some help for future parents to be. Or at the very least, sharing a degree of empathy and honesty that others might be able to relate to. These are three big learnings I want to share from what we experienced.
Learning #1: The sleep deprivation will make you a zombie.
In the countdown to George's birth I, like most women I know, was entirely fixated on the unknowns of labour. I took part in multiple antenatal classes, tried my hand at hypno-birthing and stocked my hospital bag with plenty of remedies to soothe my postpartum body. I studied for it like an exam. Sam and I both approached the birth with the attitude that the more we knew about what could happen, the more it would calm our nerves. During my classes, I recall hearing statements like ‘labour is the relatively easy part - it’s the sleep deprivation that hits all parents the hardest’. I’ve managed to have productive, full days at work following broken sleep before. How hard could it really be?
Turns out it is very, very hard. Especially as the broken nights are continuous and cumulative. Our labour was an overnight affair [you can read about it here], meaning day one with a newborn started with no sleep. Having just gone through quite a gruelling physical task, I could have slept for a week. But as I wanted to breastfeed, and newborns need to be fed at least every four hours, I was unable to get a sufficient rest from day one. In fact, the longest run of sleep I have had since George’s arrival has been about four hours, and we’re now in week five. Ugh.
Although nothing can quite prepare you for the lack of sleep, below are a few tips I found helped me:
- Have help on hand from day one, even if they are just on call for the first few days while you bond as a new family.
- Stock up on meals in the freezer and plenty of high energy snacks. And maybe cookies, plenty of cookies.
- If you plan to breastfeed, research options for expressing equipment and know where to get it from when you need it. We gave George a couple of expressed feeds in week two just to give me more sleep.
- Get sleep when you can - don’t try be a hero staying awake during the day, and take it in shifts, there is no point in both of you being up at the same time.
- The only thing that matters in those first weeks are you, baby and your partner. Don’t have a ‘to-do’ list that needs tackling, or jobs around the house that need doing.
Learning #2: Get a lactation consultant in, stat.
After George’s birth we spent two days in hospital, during which we received sound advice about breastfeeding. I was observed nursing George, and we were reminded not to let him run longer than four hours between feeds. We left feeling pretty confident, and were thrilled when George started sleeping for four hour naps. We felt like Class-A parents straight away.
It turns out things were not going as smoothly as we thought. It is not uncommon for a newborn to drop roughly 10% of their birth weight in the first two weeks. This is due to the fact that they are transitioning from being fed through the umbilical cord at their own leisure vs. the real world with all its complicated intricacies - figuring out how to suck, swallow and digest milk. George dropped to 12% below his birth weight. Looking back, we were letting him run a little longer than four hours (you’ll do anything for a longer sleep!), and when he was nursing, he was drowsy, sucking very slowly and intermittently. He was not getting enough milk despite being at the breast for well over an hour.
Hitting a bit of a wall, I spoke to our amazing antenatal teacher who recommended a lactation consultant come over. It was the best decision we made all week. During the visit we discovered George had dropped a little more weight than usual and visited hospital as a precaution to get his blood and vitals checked out. All was well in the end and we were sent home with a regimented feeding plan, along with a new arsenal of tips to keep him from falling asleep during a feed.
With the benefit of hindsight I would encourage any mother to have a lactation consultant visit you at home at least once or twice early on. It was the best £100 we spent. Despite all the classes, videos and books, I found breastfeeding difficult to master once there was an actual live baby involved.
Lastly - while on the subject of nursing - be sure to have a tube of Lansinoh on hand for your nipples. Tackling sore nipples ASAP is so important as I found those first few painful times made me resent George a little bit, which was heartbreaking.
Learning #3. The baby blues suck. And I mean really, really suck.
I found the first two days following labour were filled with adrenaline and some miraculous reserve of energy. I felt good, and so did Sam. With our spirits held high, we both left hospital on a wave of confidence feeling armed for whatever the following days had in-store. We had been told about the baby blues several times - it is a period of crazy hormones, manic moods and rollercoaster emotion as your milk comes in. They hit me on our first night back home and hit hard. I was in tears all night, torn between wanting Sam to comfort me but mindful of giving him a good nap. We were taking George in shifts, one staying up while the other slept. I curled up on the stairs sobbing, doubting all of my abilities and wondering how we were going to survive the coming days. The following night, on cue, I watched in amazement as my boobs literally tripled in size, going hard as rocks and looking like a pair that belonged on a fembot.
The fact that Sam and I were alone in those first few days with George was overwhelming. It very quickly dawned on me how much his ‘survival’ depended on us. Much like labour, there was no option to tag out. Unlike a run, you cannot simply stop when you’re tired or when you have had enough. This realisation made things worse.
The blues will most likely come, and there is little you can do to avoid them. I found just knowing that they were coming at least helped me to recognise what they were. Have people to talk to, especially those that have been through it. And lastly, realise that this too shall pass.
Looking back on that week now, I realise how fortunate we are. Despite being a bit drowsy to begin with, George is hale and hearty and is now a little chubster. Despite my labour being quite the shock, I recovered well and was able to walk an hour or so afterwards. When we stopped to actually look at George and enjoy him, our love was overwhelming. This tiny creature was our child, and that blew our minds.
Week one with George was such a ride, full of highs and plenty of lows. A fellow mama told me that each day gets a teeny tiny bit better, and it really does. It’s all about baby steps, deep breaths, and plenty of cuddles.
With love, Kate