HealthAgenda

PREGNANCY & BIRTH

The first weeks with your newborn

Bringing home your baby is an exciting time but can also come with a dose of apprehension and plenty of challenges. Here are some tips on what to expect. 

Karen Burge
August 2018

The early days at home with a newborn can be filled with plenty of ups and downs. Perhaps a sense of joy at finally meeting this beautiful little person, yet you can’t help but feel tired, worn out and overwhelmed.

Like any new role, being a parent takes time to learn. And every baby is different; if this isn’t your first or even your second, you’re likely to still feel as though you’ve been thrown in the deep end, at least for a little while.

But rest assured, looking after a baby, and yourself, usually gets easier and before you know it you’ll be in tune with your new family dynamic. 

Leaving hospital

By the time you’re ready to come home from hospital you’ll have learnt how to safely hold and bathe your baby, change nappies, the breastfeeding basics and how to look after yourself post-delivery.

You’ll have also found out about support services like your nearest baby health clinic and when to expect your first home visit from a local nurse. Ask as many questions as you need and soak up all the knowledge from the experts around you.

Your baby will need to travel home in a car fitted with a suitable child restraint. Enjoy the ride; it’s a special journey.

New-parent nerves                          

Fran Chavasse is a child and family health nurse at Australia’s largest parent support group, Tresillian. She says most new parents need to feel reassured that what they’re going through is all very normal.

“We find that most of our parents are having feeding issues, they’re tired, they’re feeling very anxious and there’s pressure to be perfect right from the start,” she explains.

“You can’t be perfect with a new baby; it’s about getting to know each other and understanding that everything takes time.”

Chavasse says her advice to new mums is, “focus on being with your baby and doing the best you can.”

Sleep

Sleep (or lack of it!) is the number one reason new parents reach out to Tresillian for help. It’s the subject of Chavasse’s book, the Tresillian Sleep Book, which offers gentle, expert advice for tired parents.

“Most parents turn up [to Tresillian] because their baby doesn’t sleep the way that they think babies should sleep. But that’s mostly a misunderstanding about how a baby’s sleep develops,” she says.

Just like walking, talking or any other skill, Chavasse explains, your baby’s sleep will develop over the first 12 months, and they’ll wake frequently as they learn.

It’s not unusual in the early weeks for babies to want to be physically close to you to settle. You’ll soon become an expert at patting, rocking, stroking and gently singing your little one to sleep.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides babies with the best start but it can be a big challenge for many new mums. Finding the right position, helping your baby latch on correctly, coping with discomfort, making the right amount of milk and understanding how and when to feed can take weeks to fine-tune.

If this is your first baby, there’s a lot of adjusting to do, Chavasse explains. “It’s very much a process of you and your baby learning how to feed together. Your breasts haven’t fed before and your baby hasn’t fed before either. They’ve got an instinct but you both just need a bit of a help along.”

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, it’s common for breastfed babies to feed 8-12 times in a 24-hour period. That means a feed every 2-3 hours on average around the clock, with possibly one long stretch (for example, up to 5 hours).

This will vary greatly though from baby to baby. Australia’s infant feeding guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced, and continued breastfeeding until the age of 12 months and beyond, if mum and bub wish.

If physical and emotional issues become overwhelming, ask for help. Speak to other mums, your midwife, baby health clinic, the Australian Breastfeeding Association or your GP.

If you’re unable to breastfeed don’t be too hard on yourself. Your options include expressing milk, formula and even donor milk from an organisation like Mothers Milk Bank.

Emotional health

Make sure you stay connected with friends and family, your mother’s group or just locals you come across when you’re out with bub. 

While there are the usual stresses and worries being a new parent can bring, 1 in 7 women and 5% of new dads will experience postnatal depression, which develops between one month and up to a year after birth.

How can you tell if it’s the ‘baby blues’ or something more serious? beyondblue explains that many women experience the baby blues between the third and tenth day after giving birth, due to changes in hormone levels.

“You might feel tearful or overwhelmed, but this usually passes within a few days and without any specific care, apart from support and understanding,” the group explains.

“All parents go through a period of adjustment as they try to handle the huge changes a new baby brings… But if you’re feeling distressed, down, sad or overwhelmed most of the time for 2 weeks or more, you may be experiencing depression.”

If you’re concerned about the way you or your partner is feeling, visit your GP or baby health nurse. You can also find good resources for both mums and dads online at sites including beyondblue and PANDA.

Breastfeeding support

HCF members on selected extras cover can access breastfeeding consultations from a lactation specialist.

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