Your New Baby: What to expect

We all know of the storybook baby who sleeps for a long stretch at a time, and only wakes up to eat and coo at his parents. Most new parents believe this fantasy and, unfortunately, it is not what usually happens. It takes time to adjust – for everyone – Mom, Dad and baby. Since most parents expect their baby to be entirely different, they are often surprised and bewildered.
Baby crying

Because babies don’t behave the way parents expect them to, all new parents wonder if their baby is all right. Why is she sleeping so little? Should he sleep so much? Is he getting enough milk? Will she be too warm in her sleeper – or too cold? What am I doing wrong? There are thousands of questions that new parents can ask themselves, and usually do.

Almost all first-time parents go through this self-doubt. While it’s important that you bring your questions to your pediatrician, it may also be helpful to hear about some of the most common worries that parents have.

Parental burnout

One of the biggest surprises for parents is how exhausted they feel. Yet the fact is that most new mothers feel completely exhausted. That feeling of being drained and having no time for yourself is inevitable during the first months of your infant’s life. Also, there is a tendency for new mothers to try to do way too much.

Don’t underestimate the changes you’re going through right now. Your body is still recovering from pregnancy and the delivery, and there are many hormonal changes. You’re not even getting a full night’s sleep. Just taking care of a new baby is exhausting — so, for a few months your usual routine will be disrupted. If making dinner and doing the laundry used to be easy, now they take energy that you just don’t have.

You should definitely try to find a way to get some rest during the day. Also, have some time for pleasure away from the baby — even if it’s just reading a book for awhile or talking to a friend.

You might think of getting someone to help you for awhile — even just a small amount can feel like a lot. Maybe you can call on relatives or friends, or maybe plan some relief time with your partner. You may need to do this at least for two or three months.

We know it seems endless, but it will only last for a couple of months. Soon your baby will begin to sleep for longer stretches at night so your sleep won’t be so disrupted. But, right now you are recovering physically and emotionally. It’s just very difficult to try to hold to your usual standards for cooking and cleaning. So try to let some of the cleaning go. It helps to make a list of the things you could let slide for awhile. Writing it down is a good way to get started.

Many new parents underestimate how tiring this period is — both physically and emotionally. They feel they should be able to do everything for themselves and their baby without depending on outside help. But to have enough energy to care for an infant, parents do need to be cared for as well. A grandparent, friend, or hired help can take over some of the household responsibilities. A few hours of help in a week can make a great difference.

One way to think about the early period of a baby’s life — the first 3 months — is to think of it as the fourth trimester of pregnancy. It’s a time when your infant needs to adjust to new situations of all kinds. Before the baby was born, his needs were met automatically. He received nourishment as he needed it, and everything came naturally. But now, his body has to get used to the outside world–to asking for food, swallowing it, reacting to temperature changes and to various physical tensions. Even breathing is a new experience. A newborn is mastering many changes and this is not always a smooth process.

Crying baby

The way your infant lets you know about his discomfort is by crying. Right now, it’s the only way he has of communicating. It can take a long time for a mother and father to learn just what each episode of crying means for their baby.

This can be especially difficult for new parents who so much want to help their baby but don’t know how. Often, parents begin to feel that they are doing something wrong – when this is not necessarily so. In fact, rather than asking themselves, “What am I doing wrong?” we encourage parents to ask instead, “What is my baby trying to tell me?’ When you think about all the changes your baby must go through, you can understand that a baby who doesn’t fuss is an exception.

We suggest that during fussy times, you stick to his regular feeding schedule, rather than nursing constantly. Overfeeding can aggravate an already irritable baby. Sucking is one of the best ways a baby has of calming himself. Sometimes it’s the closeness to you and the sucking that help him, not the milk. We suggest that you try a pacifier. Buy several pacifiers in different sizes and shapes. If he doesn’t like one, you can try another. Dip it in breast milk or formula–something that tastes good — and give it to him when he’s in a good mood. He’s more likely to take it then. Hanging in there with the pacifier is really important because it satisfies the sucking need. When he gets fussy, he may spit it out, but keep trying.

Another way to calm a baby is motion. Try different kinds of motion. Any kind is good–a stroller, wind-up swing or a rocking chair. A snuggly is very helpful. It’s a pack like a papoose that you strap on yourself so that you can move around while carrying your baby.

Fussiness is very common. Some people think it happens because babies build up tension during the day and need to release it. Things are happening all around us that we may not notice–a truck goes by, a siren outside, a noise in the house. Babies are stimulated by all those noises and new experiences and by the end of the day, they are over-loaded and cranky. The only way a baby can express feeling out-of-sorts is to cry.

A baby who cries a lot during the day, and with regularity, is often called “colicky.” No one knows exactly what colic is, but we think it is a combination of three factors –a high-strung temperament, an immature digestive system in the baby, and an environment that the baby experiences as over-stimulating. The typical way a baby reacts to all of that is by crying. Sometimes that kind of crying can feel overwhelming to parents.

Sometimes a fussy, crying baby can make a mother feel inadequate and angry. We know it’s hard, but it helps a great deal if you can step back from this and not blame yourself so much for her crying. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

Get some Relief

Mostly, you just need to get some distance from the situation and get a little replenishment for yourself. One very good way is to get some relief. If you can get out of the house and do something that makes you feel good, you’ll be able to go home and have enough energy to deal with your baby without feeling so overwhelmed.

In fact, everybody needs time, whether his or her baby is fussy or not. Let somebody else take over for a while everyday. We suggest you do it on a regular schedule. You’ll feel much better about being with your baby when you get back.

Sharing your feelings with others is very helpful. Talking with husbands and friends is one way to do this. It is sometimes even better to share feelings, particularly of inadequacy, with other mothers who are also experiencing similar situations. They are not so likely to make judgments since they’re in the same boat, and they’ll understand. A local mother-infant group with a professional leader is very good because parents need to discuss their worries and questions with each other.

Sometimes fathers feel left out and neglected in the early months of a baby’s life. It is necessary for husband and wife to have a chance to have some time alone together so they don’t forget what it feels like to be a couple. You do need time alone. The best thing you can do for your baby in the long run is to have a good relationship. Going out for a cup of coffee or a walk together can make a big difference. It doesn’t have to be an entire evening each time.

A new baby brings a very big change in a family, whether it is the first or the fourth. With the first baby, however, the stress is often the greatest because the two people who were a couple now need to get used to being a threesome – Mom, Dad and baby. This requires compromise and change. In many ways the marriage is altered. There are stresses from this, but also deep gratification as each new phase unfolds.

We hope that these suggestions have helped to ease some of your worries.