Pregnancy is a race to the finish, but there is a gap for many mothers between the time in the hospital and full-fledged motherhood. What happens when you first come home following birth? Who needs the most care and what should you expect form yourself and the baby? It’s perfectly natural to wonder this and many mothers find they simply don’t think about this until after their little one has arrived.
The End of the Road
Pregnancy ends at some point, hopefully in a rather uneventful (medically speaking) birth of your precious baby. In the hospital you learn to feed your baby and change a diaper. You hold her and practice supporting her tiny head. You wrap her tightly in blankets and question the nurse about any concerns you might have. As your time in the hospital draws to a close, you practice fitting your tiny baby into the carseat dressed in her adorable new outfit and gather up your flowers and balloons. An attendant wheels you out, baby and partner in tow to start your journey to motherhood.
The Car Ride Home
It’s unlikely you’ll be walking home or taking your precious newborn on public transportation, so that first car ride is often something for the baby books. Your nerves are shot from days of interrupted sleep and the pressure to get that little baby home safe and sound. Suddenly you realize every driver in the town is completely out of control and you must slow down and follow every driving rule since you’re a parent now.
Actually, unless you are the father of the baby, you aren’t driving. Your job is to sit in the backseat beside your baby and worry about her neck angle, her socks, the straps on the carseat, the other drivers and the squishy belly you’re just now really noticing since you’re sitting. Unless you are one of the 2&percent; of parents who make it home uneventfully, one of the following will occur:
- Your baby will start crying
- Your baby will spit up.
Most parents get to enjoy both with a thrill of terror and responsibility. Your baby cries at this stage to express anything and everything. So waking to find herself in a new setting in a new carseat, facing backwards on a bumpy ride might make her a bit irritable, especially if she’s ready for a meal.
The crying will likely cause you great distraction and anxiety. It’s supposed to – that’s how parents are programmed to react. If you find you can’t carry on the drive safely with your little one in tears, simply pull over into a safe parking lot, feed and comfort your baby, put her back in the seat and continue on your way. Never take a baby out of the carseat in a moving vehicle.
If your baby spits up, this is due to the jostling she’s receiving sitting in the backseat – all that bumping around simply forced a bit of breakfast out. In another week or two, a bit of spit-up won’t even phase you. But on the way home, that spit-up can disrupt your universe. You probably want to again, stop the car and clean up your little one. Unless you are driving far, you probably don’t want to bother changing her outfit at this point, just wipe off the excess with a burp cloth and continue on your way.
Baby Sleep, Mommy Sleep
After you arrive at home, you’ll make the obligatory pet introductions and then stare at your partner in wonder about what you do next. Unless you have a major commitment of some kind, you should immediately go to sleep. For the next week or two, when your baby is sleeping, you should be sleeping or at least resting. Your body needs all of that sleep to heal from delivery, to return to normal following nine months of pregnancy, and you’ll be plenty tired from being up all night with feedings.
Meanwhile your baby will be very accommodating for the first week or two. Bundle her up in a swaddle and put her to bed in a co-sleeper or cot. Then stretch out beside her and sleep – no matter what time of day it is. If you’re tired, sleep. This might be your last opportunity to indulge in so much rest – especially when you have additional children down the road or head back to work in the short-term.
Help your baby learn good sleep habits right away by putting her to bed slightly awake each time. Rock, nurse, cuddle and swaddle to your heart’s content, but holding your baby while she sleeps will make such things a habit. This isn’t so bad on day 5 of motherhood when you’re still dealing with stitches and soreness, but it’s a much bigger problem on day 245 when naptime is the only time you have in the day to get things done.
Like most new parents you’ll likely be surprised by how much time you have in the first few weeks. You have likely prepared to give up all leisure time in exchange for parenthood, and you do have to make the exchange at some point, but not right away it seems. You will catch up on sleep long before your baby stops napping so much during the day. This means you’ll have time to rest and recover physically with some good books, a few parenting manuals and the movies you’ve been meaning to watch.
Don’t Push It
Unless you’re a leisurely sort of person, the temptation will be strong to start right back into your normal routine. Avoid the temptation. Your body has been through nine months of training for a twenty-four hour marathon. It takes close to six weeks just to return your body’s fluids back to normal. Leave off with exercise, house cleaning, vacuuming and floor scrubbing for now. There will be much time for that later – use this time to rest and recover. Only when you are bored silly can you pick up the dish cloth.
While you should be resting and recovering, you should also be staying active, especially if you’ve had a cesarean delivery. The more you force yourself to walk normally, albeit slowly, the faster your incision and pain will heal. Laying or sitting around in the hospital and then at home will actually prolong your recovery from surgery and make it harder to get your strength back. You don’t need to start lugging groceries, but you can certainly stand up and walk to the kitchen for a snack. If your partner is dying to get you something, send him out for groceries and you can put them away when he gets back.