This picture for today’s post is meant to be ironic. This picture depicts what society says our newborn is supposed to be like. We prepare a fancy nursery and bring our perfect baby home and we wear white clothing and the baby never messes up those clothes or our clothes with spit up or poop…baby sleeps so soundly while we snuggle in a lovely rocking chair while our spouse dusts, vacuums, and keeps the rest of our lovely everything-white house pristine.
This isn’t reality.
I’m going to tell you a little story, not to scare you at all, but to hopefully provide an example that your first night home won’t be like. I hope this post will help you prepare better than we did and have expectations in place before bringing baby home (or if you deliver at home you still have a first night at home). I also highly encourage you to take a quality breastfeeding class, especially one that talks about expectations and realities because preparing in this way has been proven to support breastfeeding and increase the initiation and duration of breastfeeding. If you’re in the Oklahoma City area be sure to check out my class details and register here.
This adorable baby is my second son. I can’t find my first son’s going home from the hospital picture to help illustrate my story but we can pretend that this is my first son anyways for sake of the picture (they used the same car seat at least!).
My first son was born on a Friday. He was never able to latch on in the hospital so he was given formula (we didn’t know any alternates at the time and no one told me that there was an alternate to pumping that is more efficient with colostrum-hand expressing). I was sent home with no pump, nothing. I did have instructions when we were released Sunday morning to call a doctor the next day to have his tongue tie clipped and hopefully he’d start being able to nurse. We sent my parents to pick me up a manual pump so I could try to get my mature milk to come-at the time the term “milk come in” was really descriptive of the situation because I never got even a drop of colostrum out with the hospital pump even though I leaked on my nursing pads and had drips on my breasts. Things got real when they headed home. All of a sudden my milk started increasing in volume enough that I was getting a little bit in the bottle. My son got his first tastes of breast milk and I was changing out bottles so my husband could feed my baby and I could keep pumping milk. This went on forever because he didn’t want to take formula anymore after having my breast milk. Finally we tried to settle and go to bed and my son woke up from a nap and wouldn’t go back to sleep. He kept screaming and nothing would calm him. We tried walking around, bouncing him, giving him more milk. He just wouldn’t calm down. By 2 AM I called my mom frantically asking if it was ok to put my son in his carseat and let him sleep. At the hospital they drilled so much that it wasn’t safe to let baby sleep ANYWHERE but laying flat on their back and we were scared new parents. We ended up putting him in his carseat and taking a 40 minute round trip in the car where we both were so exhausted. I don’t know when we ever got to sleep that night or for how long. Things got better after that night but I will always remember feeling so helpless and awful that I couldn’t calm my son at all.
If you have a hospital birth you’ll be coming home between your baby’s 2nd and 5th day (depending on if you had a vaginal or surgical birth). If you had your baby at home your first night will be after your baby is born and you’re all tucked in. In this case your baby may be a couple of hours old or almost a day old by your first real night depending on when your baby was born. Regardless, at some point you will have your first night home on your own at some point without a call button for a nurse to help with latching or to help you calm your baby. Reality sets in when you are in this position.
Your baby will nurse frequently day and night. Your baby will nurse about every 2-3 hours day and night with maybe a 4 hour stretch at some point between the beginning of one feeding and the beginning of another. Many babies take 20-30 minutes to nurse, some take an hour. All of this is within the range of normal. Every 2-3 hours is just a guideline dividing up the average 8-12 times per day that baby needs to nurse and some babies will nurse every hour.
Your milk may be increasing in volume as soon as you get home. This paired with your baby’s stomach increasing in size, your baby wanting that extra milk, and everything that comes with these things means that you may be experiencing some engorgement and discomfort. It’s normal for engorgement to happen and it’s normal for it not to happen. If you experience engorgement it’s important to remember that this is more than just milk. Other fluids are in your breasts including blood and lymph and if you had IV fluids you may have other fluids resting in your breasts and feet as well. This can be very sore. Frequent feeding, ice after feeding, and heat before feeding to encourage milk to flow are usually the best remedies at this time.
Your uterus may be sore from contracting down to its normal size. When you are nursing oxytocin is released which helps contract the muscles to release your milk and your uterus. You may also be tender from delivery, especially if you had a tear or a c-section. Nursing frequently helps your uterus to contract down to normal size quickly though and you can talk to your doctor or midwife about pain relief options if you’re interested.
It’s normal for your baby to wake up frequently. It’s also normal due to hormones for you to sleep more lightly. Nursing mothers often start feeling an intense need for a lot of water which means you may be getting up as frequently to go to the bathroom as you were in the late days of pregnancy. All of this does get better over time and there are some things that you can do to help prepare for all of these things. Knowing is half the battle though, right?
Dishes may pile up, laundry may pile up, try to put those things out of your mind.
Here are some tips for making the first night home easier on yourself:
- Have everything at hand: snacks, water, your cell phone, a remote for the TV if you wish, a book, etc.
- Have a lot of pillows handy to help you position yourself and your baby during the night while you’re nursing.
- Babies often spit up when they’re burping-keep extra burp cloths at hand.
- Keep diapers nearby. When your milk is increasing in volume your baby will also start having higher output…pee AND poop. You may consider keeping an extra sleeper or two close by as well in case of a blowout. They seem to like to happen during the night.
- Prepare for baby to sleep in proximity to you. Babies are more comfortable sleeping near mom because they’re biologically wired to be near mom. For more information on normal sleep behaviors for newborns, infants, toddlers, and children the book Sweet Sleep is great to read. The book starts off with quick information for how to prepare your bed for a safe night of sleep in your bed with your baby before you can read more information in the book to do a full set up.
- Get the bathroom ready. Have pads on the counter so you don’t have to fumble around. Consider having a nightlight so you don’t have to turn on a bright light when you’re tired, waking yourself up more. Keep your peri bottle handy and any other comfort measures as well.
Some other ideas to help during the day and night:
- Babywear! Skin-to-skin contact especially helps regulate and stabilize your baby’s body temperature, organize sucking, regulate breathing, comfort baby especially if your baby has gas or is in pain from medical procedures (always check with your doctor to be sure babywearing is safe after a medical procedure-it usually is but not always), allow you to be hands free to sit back and take a nap during the day, reduce stress in your baby because baby doesn’t have to cry (crying is stressful for babies, it isn’t a way to “exercise their lungs”), and also helps you recognize and react to early hunger cues which builds trust with your baby.
- Call on your network! People usually offer to help-call them! Our society, at least in the states, is so against asking for help but they offered so take them up on it! Let them run to the store or let them hold the baby while you take a shower or take a nap, just make sure they give you baby at early feeding cues.
- If you are having breastfeeding issues go back to the basics. Work on getting a deep latch or go back and read my post about what to expect in the first two hours, especially watch the breast crawl video. Babies in the first couple of weeks especially have very active reflexes to help them breastfeed. Take advantage of these if you’re having any breastfeeding issues.
- Call on lactation support if you are having breastfeeding issues. Call a LLL leader, Lactation Educator, CLC, IBCLC, or other breastfeeding support. If your situation is beyond their scope of practice they can refer you to someone else to get you help right away. Many areas have a 24 hour breastfeeding hotline. Take advantage of it! In Oklahoma you can call: 1-877-271-MILK (6455). For urgent calls you will get called back quickly by an IBCLC.
- To prepare in advance, take a good breastfeeding class.
What was your first night home like? Tell me in the comments!