Tuesday, August 20, 2013

5 Tips for Surviving the Newborn Stage

When I was pregnant, I did tons of reading, trying to figure out what I would need to know for the rest of the pregnancy, for the birth and then--the biggie--for that time we'd need to figure out how to keep the two of us functional and a teeny person happy, healthy and thriving.

There's a lot of truth to the best advice being to ignore all the advice, but I did find a few things that really did help me as we survived life with a newborn. Don't get me wrong, it was an amazing time I adored but that sure doesn't mean it isn't a ton of work and an entirely new situation to navigate.

5 New-parent survival tips for surviving the newborn stage:


1. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

You know that little safety card in the seat pocket of an airplane? The one in the pocket your knees are jammed into for the entirety of the flight? It actually has a great little piece of advice to remember: you're going to be in way better condition to take care of a little person if you've taken care of yourself first.

This doesn't mean luxuriating in the bath while a newborn cries to eat. But it does mean to think about what you really need and squeeze in the time for it. Do you need to make a quick run to the bathroom before you sit down to nurse? I had times I would get pinned under a nursing then napping baby for a long time without a bathroom break and this advice eventually made me realize the value in stopping by the bathroom or grabbing a glass of water or a snack to take with me when I picked up the baby. If you have another pair of hands around to help, maybe send them in to get baby changed and ready for you. Leave bottled water, snacks, entertainment, lanolin, whatever you may need in the places you like to nurse so you'll be ready to go. Take that moment to put on that oxygen mask, take a deep breath and you'll be in the right frame of mind to focus on whatever baby needs.

2. Remember that, in the beginning, breastfeeding may be a full-time job.

I was getting frustrated with myself in the early days that I wasn't getting much done besides baby care and the occasional (heavenly!) shower. But I sat down one day and figured out that the time I was actively breastfeeding or pumping came out to about 40 hours per week. That doesn't count any other baby care time or anything else. That was my big aha! moment that helped me keep things in perspective and realize that soon enough things would change, the kid would get faster at nursing, and there would be more time to catch up on everything else. There's only so long you get that time together, so as much as you can, savor it and give yourself a big break (and maybe a handful of oatmeal chocolate chip lactation cookies, you know, FOR THE BABY).

3. Pretty much everything Dr. Harvey Karp told us about getting the Happiest Baby on the Block.

We didn't actually read the book, but the DVD was plenty to get us a great toolbox of skills for calming an upset baby. My husband was the master of the jiggle. He could get her so completely relaxed with that move. While I yielded the magic bullets that are boobs that solved about any random problem, Daddy got other mad skills for baby time including the jiggle power. We did very little of swaddling with blankets after the first few days, but we did love the sleep sacks with velcro flaps that provided the same sensation with a lot less struggle.

4. Don't quit breastfeeding on a bad day.

This came up a number of times for me. Because boy howdy, did I have some bad days in there. My hospital's lactation consultant did not show up at all the THREE DAYS I was check in. I got almost no help trying to figure out what I was doing. Luckily I'd taken a workshop and had done some reading and seen a video ahead of time, but still, some in-person reassurance would have been a ton of help. Finally I got some help from a nurse on how to use the pump the extra night we stayed near the nursery (little one had to stay in for an extra day) and I actually cried with gratitude. Even once we got home, we hit periodic hiccups once in a while. Just when I'd decide ok, tomorrow I'm calling for some help, the problem would be fixed by morning. So, when it gets tough, know that is totally normal, you're probably still doing exactly what you should be, and do reach out for help when you need it. I was lucky to find online communities of support as well as friends who were going through the same thing, plus knew where to contact professional help if needed. It felt good having a rescue number waiting in my back pocket.

And it got almost funny how many times I looked up what to do with a particular breastfeeding problem only to find that the answer was to just keep nursing, nurse extra, nurse, nurse, nurse. So when in doubt...there ya go.

5. Though you'll want to smack the easier-said-than-done folks who keep saying to just sleep when the baby sleeps, do sleep whenever, wherever you can. 

This goes for both parents if you have a partner. Find what works for you. One thing that worked great for us was for me to go to sleep very early, leaving a bottle of pumped milk for my husband to give the girl her last feeding of the night. Then I'd have some early rest in and could handle the middle of the night wake-ups while he got some rest. It worked well for us since he's a night owl anyway. Nap if you can, shift a schedule if you need. Get creative wherever you can to try to stay rested. It'll help you in so many ways. And sure, if you can actually sleep when the baby sleeps, go for it. :)
So what helped you get through those newborn days?

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