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Surviving the first few weeks of a newborn

Welcome to the Mummy Club. You are now a member of the world’s biggest, longest-enduring, least exclusive, yet most sought-after group in the world. Your cronies include incredibly organized, creative, talented, athletic, and socially gifted women. They also include incredibly confused, stressed-out, tired, cranky, and nervous-about-keeping-the-baby-breathing women. Almost every mummy has characteristics from both categories.

That said, when you meet another member of the club who seems to have it all together (or even just seems to be freshly showered) you might start to wonder if you are fit to wear the burp cloth. Not only is that spit-encrusted shield of honour yours to keep, but your moment or day or week of feeling inadequate is only temporary. In about six to eight weeks, you will emerge and realize that you are quite capable of keeping your squirming, whining, tiny infant alive. In fact, you might even be good at it.

Before you and your baby can begin your new life together, you must actually leave the hospital; a scary scenario for any new mummy. After all, for the last 48 hours or so, you have been in the protective custody of nurses and doctors who know exactly what they’re doing. Now, for some bizarre reason, they seem to have the impression that you do too!

While you may not feel confident in your maternal skills yet, you can still be prepared to make the trip home. You need only four essentials: an infant car seat, a change of clothes for the baby, some nappies, and another pair of hands (whether they’re attached to the baby’s father, your mum, or a good friend). Going solo with your newborn is possible, but not ideal, particularly for the first week or so, when you’re losing sleep and gaining work.

When you get home, your baby will need to eat and sleep often. You will feel not just exhausted, but also physically uncomfortable as you heal, depending on the type of birth you experienced, for approximately one to three weeks. You will no doubt also experience difficulty and discomfort for roughly two weeks as you learn to breastfeed, if that’s the feeding method you’ve chosen.

It’s a sacred truth that parenthood requires love and sacrifice. It’s a secret truth that what parents sacrifice is almost all of their sleep; for a long, long time. Sure, you probably heard that you’d be sleep-deprived., but the degree to which you will suffer has certainly been whitewashed. While some mummies enjoy a chunk of four or five hours by the second month, others can scrape together only two or three at a time far into their new-parent gig. No matter which category you fall into, though (and you will fall, because you’re so tired you can’t stand) sleep will be as elusive.

You are guaranteed to miss your sleep. In fact, after months and months of interrupted REM cycles, you may find yourself tendering Faustian bargains in your head, just in case a higher power might be listening. (I swear I’ll never eat another piece of chocolate, if I could just…have…a…full…night’s…sleep!). Unfortunately, this type of desperation often begets resentment. And no one is immune from it. Not your husband, not your mother, and not even your baby.

Whilst your baby is getting all the rest she needs (what with napping all day) you’ve long ago used up your energy reserves and are running on empty. You need your rest and, like every mummy from the beginning of time, you sometimes feel a tad out of sorts that this helpless creature holds your sanity in her tiny, vice-like fist. In this exhausted, uncertain, yet extremely vigilant state, you will be trying to make sense of those cues everyone told you your baby would send your way. You know, the ones that signal that she’s tired or wet or curious or hungry. The funny thing is that no matter how hard you look or listen, you definitely will not be able to decode every gurgle, wince, whimper, or cry. Not to worry: Your baby barely knows what she wants and needs during these first weeks, let alone how to communicate it to you. So instead of driving yourself crazy trying to read her mind, relax and concentrate on the basics: feeding, burping, changing, and snuggling.

Somewhere toward the end of this early phase, you’ll probably be both surprised and delighted to discover that your baby will be sleeping for slightly longer stretches (like three whole hours instead of a measly two), and thank heaven for small blessings. Feedings will be less stressful and may space out a bit as well, timing-wise. Your GP will probably pronounce you healed somewhere around six weeks, maybe eight weeks if you had a c-section or otherwise complicated delivery. Your partner will make the mistake of thinking that you actually want to have sex again just because your body is capable (not!). In between, you will call and run to the GP or Health Visitor often for checkups and emotional support. And someday you will look back on all this and remember the emotional peaks, forget the frustration, and actually feel like doing it all again!

Yes, having a baby truly is the end of life as you know it, and if we may invoke another cliché, your new life may feel like a crazy roller-coaster ride, complete with exhilarating highs and nauseating lows. But be assured, taken as a whole, the entire experience will be as wonderful as it is wild. 🙂

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