What to Expect When you Have Your First Baby
The hard truth that not everyone wants to talk about or tells you when you’re expecting your first baby. This post is going to be written from the heart about my experience 15 years ago. (Yes, my baby is 15 and I survived). But it comes in the wake of my experience as a newborn photographer and speaking with brand new mummies on a daily basis. Almost every single one who has just had their first baby say to me, “Why did no -one tell me how hard it was going to be?” And most are only 2 or 3 weeks into their new journey of mummahood. One said the me the other day, to be honest, “I’m not enjoying this experience.” And she burst into tears – which made me cry as my memories came flooding back. This is a looong story – buckle up.
So here it is Mummas. The cold hard truth.
It’s so frikking hard. For so many reasons. It’s not all a bed of roses. But there is a BUT. If I had know all this I wouldn’t have spent 3 months feeling depressed and resentful, if someone had just said to me straight up. Hunny – this is going to be so damned hard. It’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It’s going to be like bootcamp on steroids. You are going to love your baby so fiercely, but some days you will want it all to end, you will be so goddamned tired you will not know how to keep your eyes open. When this happens, and it will, please ask for help, pay for help or get some help in some way, shape or form. For your own sanity. And know this. I promise it does not last forever. It only gets harder – jokes.
I was so so excited about it all, but no-one really prepared me for what to expect, especially in the first few weeks. I got the usual, “oh sleep while you can” comment, but what did that really mean? And in hindsight – you could sleep for 20 years before the baby arrives – but trust me it won’t be enough to make up for the deficit once she does.
I had already been struggling with being comfortable and sleeping, I had the most terrible sciatic pain, I like sleeping on my belly which I obviously couldn’t do any longer. I was drinking nearly a bottle of Gaviscon a day for the heartburn that literally would not go away, so I was also trying to sleep in an upright position – especially in the last 2 weeks or so. And anyone who knows me, knows 2 things for sure – I am not a morning person and I NEED my sleep. My due date was the 11 September, and we lived about an hour from the hospital in a small country town. Sunday the 1 September I woke up and hopped into the shower and I had this weird feeling of water gushing, but somehow in my already sleep deprived state and being in a hot shower, I didn’t pay too much attention. You guessed it – my waters had broken. But I went about my day – attended a bbq and when we got home around 3pm I said to my husband, “I think my waters might have broken.” I know it was only 15 years ago – but we didn’t have access to Google, so I read a book, to see if I could find some information about what to do. Couldn’t find much so I rang my Gynecologist and she said to come through right away, ooops.
Luckily I did have an overnight bag already packed in case of emergencies so we grabbed that and headed into Cape Town. I was placed into the maternity ward and the thing strapped to my belly to monitor contractions which were pretty non existent. Sheena, my Gynea arrived to examine me. She was happy there was no infection but decided to keep me overnight to keep an eye on me and said if nothing occurred during the night, she would induce me in the morning. She prescribed a strong sleeping tab and told me to get some rest and dispatched my husband home. So around 9pm I took the tablet and went to sleep. By midnight my contractions had begun and were pretty intense. They called Chris to come back – poor guy had been home 2 hours. I don’t remember much between then and 5am because the sleeping tablet made me so groggy. Only the contractions woke. Around 4am I think – I was put in a huge hot water bath – I do remember a guttural scream – but it was so out of body, they kept trying to give me gas – which I hated. You also need to know I have a phobia of needles s0 I did not want the Pethidine they kept offering, somehow though in my already groggy state the pain was so intense I asked for the drugs, which made me more groggy.
Once I was around 9cm dilated the midwives called Sheena back to deliver the baby, I was moved from the bath to the bed – naked, dripping and screaming like a mad woman (yes Mummas – all your dignity goes out the window) Now I’m sure there are more dignified ways of doing this – but this was my experience. Still completely groggy I remember drifting into deep sleep states and waking to screams. At one point I remember Sheena yelling at me, “you need to listen to me! I need you to start pushing, but only when I tell you to.” I was half conscious for the last few minutes as she was born. Sheena told me I was beginning to tear and that she would need to cut – no time for anesthetic – I was pushing too fast. And then suddenly all the pain just stopped, with her cord still attached they placed her straight onto my chest to latch. That feeling is indescribable, I remember crying, happiness, love and this feeling of protectiveness. I couldn’t believe what we had created – it really is a miracle. I couldn’t stop staring at her. By now she was wrapped up, and given the all clear.
Back in our room, I think I fell asleep again – some things are still so blurry.
And so it began. she immediately seemed to fall into a 3 hourly feeding routine. The one area I was fairly lucky was feeding, she had no problem latching, but after a day or so my nipples started to hurt like no-ones business. And I do mean excruciating pain. I remember wincing and crying as I waited for the latch to happen each time. After 4 or 5 days, it was sheer agony. By now my milk had also come in and when those boobies are full, it’s like the most incredible pressure you can imagine – and that makes the latch harder – it was vicious circle. No one told me it would get better, no-one told me feeding is like wearing-in a new pair of shoes, you get blisters, but once those shoes are comfy you will never want to get rid of them.
Here’s what I learned about Breasts and Breastfeeding
Sore and cracked nipples
This is one of the most common reasons mum’s give up feeding.
The most common cause of cracked nipples is incorrect latching of the baby’s mouth onto the nipple. Thrush can also cause very painful nipples.
Make sure that your baby is latched onto the breast correctly, with both top and bottom lip in a snug seal around your nipple. Again, sometimes easier said than done.
Your pain level will indicate to you if your baby is latched correctly or not! To release the suction, so that you can take your nipple out of his mouth, insert your finger into the corner of his mouth and gently withdraw your nipple from his mouth, and try to relatch him successfully. It honestly is a bit like wearing in a new pair of shoes. If you do decide not to continue – no judgement from me – FED IS BEST!!. But once it’s working well it’s the most rewarding thing in the world.
Using a nipple shield (available from your pharmacy or baby shop) during feeding gives cracked and bleeding nipples time to heal. Tiny tonics makes an all natural organic nipple balm. – highly recommended.
Exposing your nipples to some sunlight also helps to hasten healing (easier said than done!).
Expressing breast milk and offering it to your baby from a spoon or a bottle is also a way to let your nipples heal whilst continuing to breast feed.
And then there was the endless worry – had she had enough – how are you supposed to know if a baby has had enough?
Don’t listen to old wives tales about your milk being too strong or too weak. It is not the quality of the milk that makes the difference, it is the quantity. Some moms just do not have enough milk to satisfy their baby. This is why it is important to weigh your baby frequently to ensure that she is growing adequately. If your baby is gaining weight, having at least 6 wet nappies a day, and is relatively happy in between feeds which may be very frequent in the early days, lengthening to a few hours after a few weeks; then you can rest assured that you have enough milk.
One thing i realised was that my stress and anxiety, a poor diet and inadequate fluid intake all played a part in hampering breast milk production. Make sure you are eating enough protein, such as meat, eggs, chicken and fish (you need to increase your protein intake three fold whilst breast feeding),getting enough healthy fats such as olive oil, drinking at least a liter of fluid a day and that feeding times are relaxed and calm. The main hormone that ensures adequate milk production (oxytocin) is controlled by emotions, so if you are anxious and upset at feed time, this important hormone will be affected, and you will produce less milk. Again, easier said than done.I found staying clear of wheat, sugar and chocolate to be highly beneficial.
No-one told me these things, but it just seems so obvious now.
Managing sore and engorged boobies
This typically happens around day 4 after delivery (slightly longer after a C-section). Most new mums are usually at home by now and do not have the support and care of the nursing staff in the maternity units to help them through this difficult time. Your breasts will become full and heavy, and excruciatingly tender to the touch. In some instances, they become rock hard, hot and sore. This is what is commonly known as “milk coming in”. It usually settles after 72 hours. Feed your baby on demand, as normal, and don’t be tempted to express your breasts to make them emptier and softer – all you will do is encourage more milk to be produced! Place cold cabbage leaves in your bra, it’s an old fashioned thing but TRUST me they really do work. I told you – no more dignity.
If’s it severe – try asking your health nurse or doc to prescribe and anti inflammatory safe for breast feeding.
Applying ice packs also helps with the pain and inflammation.
Persevere, it will get better – just give it some time, and don’t expect your breasts to settle down for at least a few days.
If it doesn’t settle – you may have mastitis – go and see your doctor!
I think it helps to know to expect all this – not trying to google information when our tired brains have shut down after the fact.
We were sent home after 3 days in hospital. Proud new parents with our new bundle of joy sent into the big wide world – how hard could it really be? Was I in for a shock. We had just built a new home and it wasn’t quite complete – so the first 10 days were spent at my in-laws. All I wanted was my own bed and to be able to bond with my baby. Going to toilet was somewhat of a challenge which resulted in more than a few private tears and not wanting to leave my room – remember the slice and stitches I received. This eventually led to constipation as I was too afraid to go.
She was quite an easy baby those first few days. I was like – this is a breeze. She had settled nicely into 4 hourly feeding, changing and going back to sleep. My nipples had settled and I felt like I had this. But on day 14 that all changed. We moved into the new house. Her room wasn’t ready so she had a small bassinet in our room. We couldn’t afford curtains yet – luckily it was upstairs. But the sun came beaming in bright and early. Chris went back to work, and I was suddenly home alone with the baby. No support, no help. This mumma had a bit of a meltdown to say the least. I was used to being busy and organised and working and having lots of social interaction. Now I had this little person, depending on me all the time. Was I doing it right? What if I do it wrong? Her routine went out of kilter and she began using me as a dummy. I literally could not put her down for 5 minutes. Having a shower or going to the toilet was a challenge, let alone, getting simple things like the dishes done. Maybe I was luckier than some, Chris came home at lunchtimes and I would literally dump the baby in his arms so I could shower. And then I started to feel bad because there were times I didn’t want to be with her. I wanted some me time. I wanted to sleep, oh how I wanted to sleep. She refused day sleeps no matter what I tried, so there was no sleeping while she slept for me!! I was getting worn out – quickly!! Night times, I took all the responsibility so Chris could sleep – he had to go to work. But at 5am when she woke up it was his turn. I would feed, and hand her over and fall into a deep sleep. He then took her for a walk or watched some tv whilst he held her. He had to leave for work at 8. He would wake me and then it was me again. For a whole day. I didn’t know how to entertain a baby all day. It was starting to drain me. The guilt crept in, I wanted to go back to work, but I was expected to be a good stay home mum. All I wanted was a night’s un- interrupted sleep. and so the cycle went on – for what seemed like eternity. All you can think about is, “When will this baby sleep through the night?”
I do want you to know that through all of this, through all of those feelings of guilt and sometimes resentment, I loved her and still do more than life itself. I still wanted the best for her always and I was determined to do right by her.
And then suddenly she was 3 months old. We had survived a quarter of the year. It was at around this time that I joined a mum and bub group and I had other mum’s to talk to and I also discovered an incredible book which quite literally saved our lives and made baby no2 so much easier to deal with. Baby Sense If you can get your hands on this and read it before your baby arrives. Life will be so much easier.
There are so many experts out there and a gazillion opinions on how to do things. Here’s what I learned – albeit a few months too late from the lovely ladies at Baby Sense: They are an incredible resource for new mummas.
“What to expect
“In the early days, most babies wake two to four hourly for feeds at night, especially breastfed babies. This gradually reduces and within a few weeks (usually at around 6 weeks of age) your newborn should start to stretch for one long stretch of five or more hours at night. This is usually the late evening feed (around 10 pm). Don’t be tempted to wake your baby up to feed at this time in the hope that it will do away with the 2 am feed, it won’t work! By the time your baby is around 3 months of age, she should be able to go for up to 8 hours at night without needing a feed. In time your baby will drop most night feeds but many babies only start sleeping through the night when they are on a full solids diet. So for three to six months one night feed may well be the reality – this feed is usually at around 2 or 3 am.
There are many other issues that may concern us with our newborn’s sleep. One common concern with newborns is whether they have their day and night muddled up. In the dark world of the womb, little differentiates day from night, with the exception of how much mom is moving. And since movement is lulling, babies may in fact sleep more during the day and be more wakeful when mom goes to bed. Once they are born it is important that babies begin to differentiate day and night. Since newborns sleep almost constantly between feeds they will not be wakeful either day or night in the early days, however we want to encourage our babies to feed more frequently during the day and begin to stretch feeds at night. The way to do this is to feed on demand in the early days, but if she is tending to sleep her days away, and wakes frequently in the night for feeds, wake her to feed three to four hourly during the day. If your baby is gaining weight and is a healthy baby without concerns for her growth, leave her to wake you at night. By doing this, within a few weeks your baby should be waking frequently for feeds during the day and sleeping for at least one longer stretch at night.
Too sleepy to feed well
Another cause for concern in the early days is the baby who is too sleepy to feed well. If your baby is not waking himself for feeds at all during the day or night and sleeps through feeds, you may want to have your clinic sister check him for jaundice or lethargy due to low sugar levels (especially in the first few weeks). It is however very common for a normal, healthy baby to be sleepy for feeds in the early days. To deal with this, wake your baby fully from sleep by changing his nappy before the feed. Then don’t swaddle your baby for the feed, leave him uncovered and even leave his feet out of the babygro to keep him slightly cool and less comfortable. Another trick is to wet a piece of cotton wool and stroke his cheek or feet intermittently to remind him to keep sucking well.
Difficulty falling asleep
Your baby may develop a problem falling asleep between week two and three. Your previously sleepy baby is now more wakeful and getting him to sleep becomes an issue. This results in an overtired baby, which is one of the most common causes of crying in the first twelve weeks and can contribute to bad sleep habits later on. To help your baby fall asleep, watch how long he is awake. An overtired baby will fight sleep. The young baby under 6 weeks can only cope with an hour of awake time. So watch your clock and get your baby back to bed within an hour of waking. This generally only gives time for a feed and nappy change before your baby goes back down.
Preventing habits from developing
If your baby starts crying after being put down and you have fed him and know he is comfortable, do not assume winds are the cause of this disruption. It is more likely that he is fighting sleep. In this case picking him up will probably lead to more crying in the end. By fiddling with your baby and burping him, carrying him and fussing over him you could well end up with ‘colic’-like irritability. Instead, when your baby cries, listen to him for 2 – 5 minutes to see if he can settle himself. If he continues to cry, then sit next to your baby’s cot and hold his hands still and ‘shsh’ him with firm, deep pressure on his back. Your baby’s little hands are often flying around and irritating or scratching him. Swaddle him, offer him his hands or a dummy to suck and sit still, holding your baby’s hands until he is settled and falls asleep. In this way without over stimulating your baby, you will calm him and help him fall asleep without setting up habits that will be hard to break, such as rocking your baby to sleep.
Night feeds for good sleep habits
Finally, to set the stage for good sleep habits and improve your baby’s sleep from one week to the next, keep night feeds strictly business affairs. This means not interacting with your baby at night other than feeding.
- Don’t wake your baby for feeds – take his lead for waking at night. This allows your baby to establish natural sleep cycles. (your clinic sister will tell you whether this is OK depending on his weight)
- Don’t smile or talk to your baby at night – keep these happy interactions for day light hours
- Feed in semi-darkness – use a dimmer or a passage light instead of the bright bedroom light
- Don’t change your baby’s nappy – buy the best nappy you can afford for night time and leave it on all night unless it is clearly dirty with poo or leaking. The new generation gel nappies are fine to leave on all night as they soak up all the urine and the bottom remains dry
- In the very early days (the first 6 weeks), do not ‘dummy’ your baby in an attempt to decrease night feeds. Rather feed him when he wakes for feeds at night, if more than two and a half hours have passed since the last feed. Once he is over 6 weeks old, and is healthy and thriving, you can try stretching him with a dummy or some cooled, boiled water should he be requiring frequent night feeding (less than 2 ½ hourly).
Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of exhaustion and desperation as sleep deprivation sets in; just know these early nights of frequent wakings are short lived. Enjoy and rejoice in your little one during his awake hours, and cherish every little bit of sleep you can grab!”
By Ann Richardson.
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