How to Survive the First Week with your Newborn Baby
Bringing home your newborn baby is an overwhelming experience. You’ve just been through the intense physical experience of giving birth, you’re sleep deprived, and before you’ve even had a chance to catch your breath, you’re handed your beautiful, fragile newborn and sent on your way.
I have three kids, the oldest of whom is 6 years old, and I still remember with absolute clarity that life-changing first week with my first newborn. We were discharged from the hospital – with very little notice – just over 24 hours after giving birth. To say we were terrified would be an understatement!
If you’re about to have your first baby, or you’ve just brought your newborn home and you’re up in the middle of the night Googling “How to Survive the First Week with a Newborn Baby”, this post is for you. First off, congratulations! The first week with a newborn is an incredible, magical time. But there’s no denying that your life has just changed completely overnight, and it can feel like you’ve been thrown into the deep end without first being taught to swim. Think of this post as swimming lessons. I’ve been in your shoes before, and I’ve learned some simple tips to make the first week easier. Read on for 17 tips to survive the first week with a newborn baby.
Looking for a list of baby essentials? Here is my list of must-have baby items for 0-6 months.
1. The drive home from the hospital is the most terrifying drive you will ever make
Ok, this isn’t a tip so must as an assurance that you’re not alone! That drive home is terrifying. First you have to get them safely secured in the car seat (read this post for car seat safety tips), then you have to navigate the dangerous streets between the hospital and your house. Yes, it’s ok if you sit in the back, and no, it will not always be this scary!
2. Be patient with yourself – and baby – as you learn to breastfeed
Let me preface this by saying fed is best. Choosing to breastfeed – or not – is completely up to you.
Women have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time, so I assumed it would feel completely natural. For me, that was not the case!
In the beginning, breastfeeding can be hard. You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, and quite frankly, it can feel like your newborn’s instincts are stronger than yours are. Ask for help. Ask the nurses at the hospital, lactation consultants, public health nurses, your doctor – they are all wonderful resources to help ensure that you’ve got the proper technique and baby has a good latch.
Remember that newborn babies need only a very small amount. In the beginning their tummies are tiny, and small amounts of nutrient-rich colostrum are exactly what they need. Although they don’t eat a large volume at each feeding session, newborn babies eat frequently. You want to feed baby at least every 2-3 hours.
Your milk will likely come in sometime between days 2 and 5. When it does, there’s a good chance it will come in with a vengeance. Your breasts will likely feel engorged, and may leak – especially when you’re feeding on the other side. Make sure you have breast pads on hand.
All modesty goes out the window when you’re learning to breastfeed. Don’t mess around with nursing covers or complicated clothes. You may find it easier to be naked from the waist up. This will give you some very important skin-to-skin time too.
Finally, check out this post for the nursing essentials you’ll need. In short, I recommend the following:
- Breast pads (my favourite were these (Canadian link)
- Nursing bra. I suggest buying 1-2 to start, and waiting until your size has stabilized and you know if you like it to order more. This one (Canadian link) is far and away my favourite.
- Lanolin (Canadian link)
- Burp cloths (I liked using flat cloth diapers (Canadian link))
- My Brest Friend nursing pillow (Canadian link). I didn’t use this much with my second or third, but it was a lifesaver when I was trying to figure out breastfeeding with my first.
3. Set up feeding stations around your house
Whether you’re nursing or bottle feeding, I can almost guarantee that at some point you will sit down to feed baby, and then end up trapped under a baby who has finally fallen asleep. Inevitably your water/food/phone/remote/book will be just out of reach.
Avoid this by setting up feeding stations around the house. Include your nursing pillow (if you’re using one), a burp cloth, lanolin, snacks, drinks, and some kind of entertainment like your phone, a book, or the remote, in case baby falls asleep.
4. Hydration is key
Every time baby latched I was instantly thirsty, so keeping water bottle close at hand was a must. Stash one by your bed, and one at each of your feeding stations.
5. One-handed food is your friend
When you have a newborn, you will very quickly become adept at doing things with only one hand. Eating is no different. Stock up on snacks that can be eaten one-handed. Fruit, energy bars, trail mix, nuts, pre-cut vegetables and fruit, muffins, smoothies – you get the idea.
6. Set up diaper changing stations around the house
You may have a beautiful, fully-stocked change station set up in baby’s nursery, but if that’s not where you’re spending most of your time, it’s not going to get a lot of use right now. Set up changing stations around the house, stocked with diapers, wipes, a change pad, and at least one change of clothes. We use a simple contoured change pad (Canadian link) upstairs (with a cover), and a basic foldable change pad (Canadian link) downstairs.
I recommend using vaseline on baby’s bum for the first few days. Meconium is a very sticky, tar-like substance, which is very hard to wipe off baby’s bottom. Using vaseline is a little trick that we learned in our childbirth classes, which makes cleaning up those meconium diapers much easier.
7. Write it down
You might think that remembering things like which side you fed on last, when the baby last pooped or peed, and when you last took pain medication would be easy. Spoiler alert – it’s not. Write down feeds, diapers, and when you took pain medication. Sleep deprivation is no joke, and having a record to refer to makes everything easier. Obviously, you don’t have to do this forever (although I used a baby-tracking app for a LONG time, because I could never remember which side I fed on), but it is helpful those first few days.
8. Ask for help
Everybody has their own comfort-level here, so this is very individual. Some people have friends or family members move in for weeks to help, while others put a moratorium on visitors for the first few weeks (personally, I tended towards the latter).
If there is ever a time in your life to ask for help, this is it. While the focus tends to be on the baby, you went through a demanding physical experience and need time to rest and recover. Whether it’s another set of hands to hold baby while you nap or shower, homemade food, or just somebody to stop at the store for you, ask for help if you need it, and accept the help that’s offered.
9. Appoint a gatekeeper
That said, it’s wise to appoint a gatekeeper who can manage visitors and make sure you’re not getting overwhelmed. People are always eager to meet a new baby, but you don’t have to welcome visitors at the hospital or your home until you’re ready for them. Let me emphasize that, because it is often ignored by well-meaning friends and family members. These first few weeks are about you, baby, and figuring things out as a family – it’s ok to say no to visitors.
My husband handled communication with family and friends, and set the limits that we both needed. This may sound ridiculous, but I took the extra step of turning off read receipts on my phone. I wanted to be able to read and respond to messages on my own timeline.
10. Know your limits
Along the same lines, know your limits and stick to them. This is particularly important with subsequent babies, when you have older children at home, and feel pressured to get back to your normal routine.
Even if you had an “easy” birth, your body needs time to recover. Go easy on yourself, and don’t push yourself to do more than you’re ready for. I remember walking to the neighbourhood park a few days after my second was born, and then quickly regretting it. Your body will tell you if you’ve done too much – listen to it.
11. Rest, rest, rest
Whether you had a vaginal birth or a c-section, you just went through an incredibly grueling physical experience. To top it off, there’s a good chance you missed at least some sleep while you were in labour. Rest whenever you can.
I know how hard this is. I was very anxious – particularly with my first – and it was very hard for me to leave him in the care of somebody else. If I could go back in time, I would reassure myself that he would be just fine in the care of my husband or my mom, and take those hours of sleep that were offered.
12. Split up the night for an (almost) guaranteed stretch of sleep
Well-intentioned people will tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps”. That’s easier said than done. Newborns sleep a lot, but in very short stretches. If you’re like me, it probably takes you a while to turn off your brain and relax enough to fall asleep. By the time you’ve done so, there’s a good chance that baby’s awake again, or you’ve convinced yourself that baby’s going to wake up soon so there’s no point in trying to fall asleep. Not to mention the multitude of other things that you’d like to do when you finally get two free hands.
At some point my husband and I worked out a routine that actually got me a solid stretch of sleep. I would feed the baby between 8:00 and 9:00 PM, then immediately go to bed. He would stay up watching TV (which he would be doing anyway), and would keep the baby with him until it was time for the next feeding – usually between 11:00 and midnight. Psychologically this was huge for me, because I knew that barring a complete disaster I would get a good chunk of sleep, and – more importantly – I knew I was off-duty and my husband was able to handle any issues. I like to think the snuggles were good for their relationship too 🙂
If you’re bottle feeding, you can use this strategy to get yourself an even longer stretch of sleep. Split up the night feedings so that each of you can get a few solid hours of sleep.
13. Avoid complicated clothing
Unless your baby is born in the heat of summer or a very hot climate, footed sleepers are going to be your best friend. This is not the time for complicated, multi-piece outfits. Sleepers can be worn day and night, and make things easy – which is what you need when you’re in newborn survival-mode! Buy a couple with zippers and a couple with snaps to see what you prefer.
One of our babies was a summer baby, and ran hot. For him, we loved kimono-style onesies and rompers that snap up the front. We avoided onesies that went over the head until we were more comfortable dealing with a newborn with no neck control.
14. Trust your gut
If you’re worried that something’s wrong, trust your instincts. Phone your doctor or the nurse line. Don’t worry about being perceived as a paranoid first-time mom. You may be new to this, but you know your baby better than anyone else.
15. Let it go
In the words of Elsa, let it go (if that reference makes no sense, it will in a couple of years! 🙂 ). Relax your standards and accept the fact that your house is going to be a mess. If you have burp cloths stashed everywhere, blankets on the floor from your last tummy time session, dishes on the counter, laundry overflowing the hamper, and balled up diapers at your diaper changing station, that’s normal. It’s
hard impossible to keep things perfect when you have very little time with two free hands, and keeping a perfect house is not what you should be focusing on right now.
16. Enjoy the snuggles
This is a fleeting, precious time. Enjoy the feeling of your little one snuggled up on your chest. Breathe in that sweet newborn scent, and savour the overpowering love for this beautiful little person you’ve created. Everything else can wait – there is nothing more that you should be doing right now.
17. Take photos and videos
Finally, not that any new parent needs to be told this, but take photos and videos. Capture their perfect little features, their reflex-driven newborn movements, and their adorable grunts, groans and coos. Make sure you get in the photo, and if you have a spouse, make sure they do too. This time passes so quickly, and you’ll cherish these photos in the years to come.