When your baby is born, you’re filled with love, joy...and exhaustion. Childbirth is tiring. Afterwards you’re faced with the equally exhausting task of caring for your little one. The first month of your child’s life is full of amazing moments, but also challenges and new experiences.
So, welcome to the fourth trimester!
Unlike the babies of other mammals, like horses, who can walk hours after birth, human babies are completely helpless. Scientists believe that babies are born after just 9 months in the womb because if they were born any later, their head wouldn’t fit through the birth canal. Yet, babies need care and growth as if they were still in the womb for the first few months after birth. This is why many refer to the first months of baby’s life as the “fourth trimester.”
What can you expect?
The first few weeks of life with baby are magical, stressful and exhausting. Find out what you can expect in the first month so that you’re not surprised by the basics of caring for yourself and baby:
Caring for Baby
It’s time to take your delicate little baby home from the hospital. If you’re like first time mom Vivienne, you might say “Crap, I don't have a nurse to ask to make sure if baby is okay! Is that color poop normal? Is she getting enough to eat?”
Feeling worried or unsure is normal, especially if you’re a first time parent. Knowing some of the basics about what you can expect about caring for baby can help assuage your fears:
Waiting for your baby’s umbilical cord stump to fall off is a bit torturous. You struggle through diaper changes, trying not to bump it, and agonize over whether it’s the right color or not. The good news is, it should fall off within about 2 weeks tops. Some basic care tips include:
- Keep it dry. You can help keep it dry by only doing sponge baths.
- Keep it clean. Use newborn diapers that feature a little dip to keep from rubbing the stump. Or, fold diapers down so as not to bump the stump.
- Look out for any abnormal features such as puss, red, irritated skin, or swelling. It should start out sort of green or brown and get darker and more shriveled up until it falls right off. What a relief when it does!
For the first month, it may feel like your baby needs to eat all the time. This is because your baby’s tummy is very tiny. For breastfeeding, your baby will need to eat every 1.5-3 hours. Many parents choose to feed on demand, which is also fine. Formula fed babies usually take a bit longer between feedings, but during the first month, every 2-3 hours is normal.
Keep in mind that spit up is normal in newborns as their digestive systems develop. But, you can always take any concerns to your child’s pediatrician.
Your newborn doesn’t need to be bathed too often. So, once or twice a week is fine. Use a baby tub or bathing device to make this task easier for the first month.
You can expect to change a lot of diapers! Check your little on every 2-3 hours and try to change as soon as possible after a poop. Otherwise, baby’s skin can get irritated. During the first few weeks, your baby may poop multiple times per day, often right after eating.
Set up your baby’s crib or sleep safe with safe baby bedding. That usually means a sheet on a firm mattress. No blankets or stuffed animals should be in the infant’s sleep area. It’s helpful to have a nursery lamp to use during night feedings or for checking on baby.
If your baby struggles to sleep, setting up a bedtime routine can be very helpful, even during the first few weeks.
Your Postpartum Body
Giving birth is such a big event that many moms don’t give thought to what will happen afterward. It’s hard to know what to expect after birth because labor and delivery are so unpredictable. Here are some common issues to deal with:
If you have a c-section, planned or not, recovery changes. You need to be careful not to lift anything heavier than your baby. In addition, you’ll struggle with basic moving around for the first few days. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions, take your medications and look after your scar.
If you give birth vaginally, you may tear or your doctor may perform an episiotomy. This means you’ll probably have some stitches that can make sitting and using the bathroom uncomfortable. Get a peri bottle to rinse the area after using the bathroom. Your doctor may also offer you a cream or spray.
If you didn’t have hemorrhoids during pregnancy, they may show up after giving birth due to the strain. In any case, doing number two after giving birth can be rough. So, ask for stool softeners or get some over the counter fiber to help things flow smoothly during the first few weeks.
Just after birth, your uterus begins contracting. This can be quite painful! But, it’s usually over in a day or two. Also, no matter how you give birth, you’ll then bleed for up to six weeks. So, you’ll need plenty of pads since you can’t use tampons until six weeks after birth. Some women find it easier to use adult diapers like Depends for the first week or so after birth.
Whether you’re planning to breastfeed or not, your milk will come in within a day or two after birth. If you do breastfeed, get help from a lactation consultant to make sure you’re getting a good latch. This can help minimize pain and make your journey easier. If you’re not planning on breastfeeding, you might need ice packs and pads to soak up leaking milk.
Your fluctuating hormones may leave you in the blues for a few weeks after birth. However, if the feelings don’t subside, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor about postpartum mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. Don’t remain alone in your feelings, get help!
Now that you know what to expect after baby’s born, you can prepare yourself, both mentally and practically. Before you know it, the first month will be over and you’ll move on to a new stage for you and your baby.