The first day home with your newborn may be full of joy, or full of surprising challenges. In addition to mastering the baby care basics, it is especially important for new mothers to recover from childbirth, which involves self-care of the mother's body as well as emotional adjustment. It's a big adjustment for new parents. So what can we prepare for on the baby's first day home? What can we expect?
Baby Care Basics
Newborns typically need to eat (either from the bottle or breast) every few hours and only eat small quantities at a time. Paying attention to your baby's hunger cues can help you know to feed them. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), these signs of hunger include turning their head side to side, smacking their lips, making a sucking motion, sticking out their tongue, opening their mouth, rooting, putting their hand to their mouth, and fussiness.
Also, note that newborns are sleepy creatures and often require encouragement to eat. "You may need to undress your baby down to the diaper and gently flick their feet to keep them awake during a feed—that is normal," says Dr. Hasson. "However, if your baby does not wake up on their own to feed at least every three hours, is too sleepy to feed with the above tricks, and is having fewer than three wet diapers in a 24 hour period, seek evaluation from your pediatrician.
Newborns produce a surprising number of dirty and wet diapers, often 10 or more per day. Their poop can be quite explosive and even if you're diapering "correctly," sometimes that poop doesn't stay contained in the diaper.
If this is your first baby, you may not expect all these changes in their poop, occasionally getting peed on, or feel comfortable with the diapering process in general. If possible, practice beforehand, even on a doll, so that you get the hang of it.
While the diaper area needs to be cleaned regularly using wipes and/or water and a soft cloth, newborns don't typically need a daily bath. Usually, babies are bathed soon after birth and likely won't need a bath again for a few days.
"It can take up to two weeks for the umbilical cord to fall off and it can smell terrible as it's happening. This is normal. The only time to be concerned about the umbilical stump is if you see obvious pus or if the skin around the cord appears red, warm, hard, or seems to hurt the baby when touched," explains Dr. Hasson.
Bonding and Caretaking
Babies like to be held—a lot. It can be a big adjustment to go from carrying your baby in your belly to suddenly having one in your arms. Especially on your first day home, you may have some things you want to accomplish, like laundry, getting your baby's room or supplies ready, making food, or cleaning up. Baby carriers or slings are a great solution that allows you to both hold your baby and have your arms free.
Most babies have flipped night and day cycles. Expect that your baby will sleep most of the daytime hours and want to be awake and feeding frequently in the evening. It will take several weeks for them to fully adjust to daytime being wake time.
It's important to note that in order to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), your newborn should always be put to sleep on their back in their own safe sleep space like a crib or playpen with a firm mattress that is free of any blankets, pillows, or other items. Room sharing is recommended by the AAP but not bed-sharing.
In order for your first day to go smoothly, you'll want to have a number of supplies at home before arriving with your baby, such as: infant-sized diapers, wipes, a car seat, baby clothing, a stroller, a baby carrier, a nursing pillow (if breastfeeding), bottles and formula (if bottle feeding), a crib, playpen, or co-sleeper, changing table, changing pad, and a diaper bag.
Healing From Pregnancy and Childbirth
Some new parents feel great soon after giving birth, but most will be dealing with a variety of pains and discomforts. These may include constipation, pelvic area swelling and discomfort, heavy vaginal bleeding, perineum tearing, taking care of C-Section sutures, and general soreness and exhaustion from labor and delivery.
Your body will likely be recovering physically for several weeks. A birthing parent needs to honor the time it takes to heal, taking care of themselves, not just physically but emotionally, as well.
Emotional ups and downs are common due to the huge adjustment to your body and the change in hormones after giving birth. While some sadness or feelings of being overwhelmed are normal, some new parents experience baby blues, a moodiness or unhappiness that often occurs during the first two weeks postpartum, or postpartum depression (PPD), a more pervasive form of depression that impacts new parents.
Alternatively, give yourself permission to take a shower, walk around the block, or simply take a few minutes alone as needed to recharge.
"Caring for a baby seems to be easier than caring for self. If you need to pass the baby off to their dad or another relative while you take a nap or a shower, the guilt can be overwhelming, but we have to remember it's necessary for the baby's well-being.
Ask For Help
Don't wait until you are overwhelmed to ask for help. Instead, seek out support from the get-go. "Having a newborn can feel very isolating, so having a community of friends or family who have been through a similar experience and can give perspective is critical," advises Dr. Hasson. "Do not feel guilty about asking for the help that you need."
People may ask things of you that you don't want to do. Feel free to say "no" whenever it suits you. "Do not feel obligated to have visitors who are not helpful to you," says Dr. Hasson. Likewise, you never need to let someone touch or hold your baby if you are not comfortable with that.
*Resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics related column.