Caring for your newborn baby
For nine months you have been getting to know your baby in the womb. Now that he’s here (or almost here) you will be able to see, hold, and talk to him – sounds obvious, right? But for many mums the idea of actually having a happy and healthy baby in their arms, is something that’s almost too big to contemplate before the birth has actually occurred.
Your baby is remarkable, what you have done in giving birth is remarkable, and now is the time when you can start to form your special and very intimate relationship.
Bonding with your newborn baby
The process of ‘bonding’ begins as soon as you hold your baby in your arms, make eye contact and communicate with them. Your baby will want to be with you for comfort, to smell you and to feed.
Some mums will feel an instant connection and love for their babies whilst some may take a little longer to develop these feelings. However, your baby will always show preference for you. A mother’s smell and voice is instantly recognisable to a newborn.
If you have a partner who is able, it’s important that they also spend time holding the baby. This helps them to form their own bond with thebaby.
On the ward
However long your stay in hospital lasts after birth, it is likely that your baby will be with you constantly. This means that you will have time to bond, feed, and care for your baby.
The midwives and hospital staff will be able to give you advice and guidance as you and your baby get to know each other and learn all you need to know about caring for your newborn.
Being discharged from hospital
After giving birth you may find that you go home within days, sometimes hours, of your baby being born. The postnatal ward will advise you when you will be able to be discharged.
Make sure that you have gathered up all your belongings and have any medications with you that you or your baby might need. If you are being collected in a car, ensure that you have a suitable car seat to transport your baby home.
By now you will probably be looking forward to being at home in a familiar environment, but possibly a little daunted too.
Understanding your baby’s needs
As a new mum you will be learning fast and the first few days after birth will be busy as you begin to understand your baby’s individual needs and behaviour. Mostly though, babies’ needs are simple: food, sleep, being kept clean (yes that means changing dirty nappies), warmth and comfort.
Your midwife will be visiting you at home to check you and your baby. They will also monitor for jaundice. If you have any concerns or questions make sure you ask when your midwife visits. They are always happy to help.
Feeding your baby
Most mothers are advised to breastfeed as the benefits for babies are well known. Some new mums may not wish to feed in this way or find it too difficult to establish. You can discuss your options to find out what will suit you and your baby’s routine. Midwives will do all they can to help you keep up breastfeeding, especially in those first important days, but it’s important that you don’t feel under pressure.
Choosing to breastfeed
If you are struggling, speak to your midwife, she will have resources available to advise and assist you.
It is good to have as much skin-to-skin contact as you can when you hold your baby and breastfeeding offers a good time for you to do this.
If your baby senses that it is time to feed they will begin to ‘root’ for your milk. They will move their head and hands to find your breast; when they encounter your nipple, they should open their mouth to ‘latch on’ .
The first milk you produce in the days after birth is known as colostrum. This is golden yellow in colour and thick in texture. It is highly concentrated so your baby will not need much to get the nutrients required. At first your baby may want to feed as much as every hour but as your milk comes in, the intervals between feeds will increase and feeds will be longer.
Breastfeeding can be difficult to establish for some mums; latching on effectively can take time to get right and, in some cases, is uncomfortable. Help and advice will be available. Many hospitals have a dedicated breastfeeding advisor who will be happy to take time to help you and your baby get started. There are also dedicated advisors you can contact when you get home.
You will soon begin to adjust to the patterns and behaviour of your newborn and his feeding demands.
In some cases, you may start to feel a tingling sensations in your breasts when a feed is due or if your baby cries for milk. This is called the let-down reflex. Once your baby latches on the milk starts to flow and your baby will take long, steady swallows.
Choosing to bottle feed
If you choose to bottle feed, you will need to buy formula milk, sterilising equipment and suitable bottles and teats. Your midwife will be able to advise you on what to do, milk quantities, and hygiene.
An effective sterilisation routine is vital when feeding from bottles to prevent your baby from becoming ill. Follow directions for your particular equipment carefully and remember to have enough equipment and formula powder with you at all times, so you can make up bottles as and when necessary.
Your baby may sleep a lot. You will also be feeling tired and will need to get plenty of rest yourself. Many new mums find it helpful to take time to sleep when the baby sleeps to ensure that they don’t get over-tired. Try not to put yourself under pressure to sleep, but at the very least you should try to put your feet up when your baby sleeps during the day.
When babies are very young there is a small risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as ‘cot death’. Here is some advice that can reduce the chances of SIDS:
- Place your baby on his back to sleep
- Keep your baby in a smoke free environment
- If you’ve been drinking alcohol, you take drugs or are a smoker, don’t sleep with your baby
- Do not fall to sleep on the sofa or in an armchair with your baby
- Keep your baby at a comfortable temperature, neither too hot or too cold
- Use the “feet to foot” position (feet at the very end of the cot or Moses basket) and keep your baby’s head uncovered with blankets reaching no higher than their shoulders
Caring for your baby
Many aspects of a baby’s care can be shared, such as changing nappies, dressing and undressing, managing bath times, and providing comfort. If you have a partner, it is good to get them involved in helping out when they can. It allows them to bond with the baby and also gives you a chance to relax.
Try to make sure you have enough nappies and changes of clothes for when you get home from hospital. There’s a multitude of equipment on offer for babies, but unless you want to be washing vests and babygros constantly, make sure you gear up with enough basic items.
Some babies may develop nappy rash. Newborn babies have very delicate skin and irritation can occur easily. Your midwife can advise you on recommended creams and salves to reduce the symptoms.
Looking after yourself
Much of your time will be given to looking after and caring for your baby, but it’s important that you take a little time to look after your own wellbeing.
A little bit of gentle exercise can be helpful. Short walks or doing a few postnatal exercises can be a good idea but you don’t want to overdo it immediately. The first time you take your baby out in its pram is often a major milestone, and getting fresh air will be good for both of you.
Lastly, make sure you eat a varied and healthy diet to keep your energy levels up. This is particularly important if you are breastfeeding as your milk passes on nutrients to your baby to help growth and development.
While many mums relish the early days with their newborn, sometimes negative feelings can be overwhelming. If you are feeling depressed or unable to cope, speak to your midwife and they will be able to offer advice regarding getting help.