You made a tiny human – congratulations! Now what? Lauren Williams, our Director of Midwifery Services, shares her knowledge to help you through those special, yet crazy first weeks with your newborn.
Making the transition from being parented to being someone’s parent is a time of discovery, trial and error, and learning. Many new parents underestimate their own instincts and ability to care for and understand a newborn, but you will find yourself understanding your baby’s cues and cries very quickly. Relax and take this time to cuddle, sleep, feed and respond to your baby’s needs as best you can.
Getting to know your baby
In the early days, before you become accustomed to baby language, it’s important that you never ignore a crying baby. Newborns cry for a reason, be it hunger, discomfort, wet/dirty nappy, overstimulation or separation. Babies need lots of attention, and you cannot cuddle or spoil your baby too much. It is a myth that holding your crying baby a lot develops bad habits later – newborns are instinctive, and do not have the thinking capacity to understand the cause and effect of crying in order to be held.
It’s important to have realistic expectations about normal baby behaviour. It helps to imagine their experience of life so far: until birth, a newborn’s world has been a dark, cosy and warm experience, with constant reassurance from the sound of their mother’s heartbeat, digestive noises, voice, and constant rocking. Being born catapults a baby into a bright, loud and cold world filled with many different stimuli (wind, perfume, dog barking, cars, colours, faces). This is the reason why you might find yourself constantly rocking your baby in the first few weeks, or baby only settling on his/her parents chest listening to the familiar sound of your beating heart.
Your baby is learning rapidly as her brain is seeing, hearing and touching the world around her. All babies have a period of feeling overstimulated from these new experiences, resulting in what is commonly known as a “witchy hour”, or a period of fussiness or crankiness (that unfortunately lasts more than an hour). During this time, baby may cry a lot, feed a lot or just not want to be put down. You may be able to relate to this feeling if you have ever been to an all-day concert or spent hours in sideshow ally with rides, lights and sounds! Overstimulation continues as your baby grows, knowing your own child’s tolerance and responding to their cues begins as newborns. You may find giving a relaxation bath or swaddling to be helpful during this time, as the sensation of being in warm water and being tight is comforting to a newborn as it is familiar. If you have been inside all day, go for a walk, or pass baby to someone else to change the vibe.
Babies are also programmed to sleep differently to adults – whilst in-utero baby’s circadian rhythm is linked to your hormones, so after the birth, baby has to develop her own biological clock which typically takes 3-4 months to fully develop. Newborns do not produce enough melatonin (hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle) or produce it consistently throughout the night causing them to sleep in short burst of between 2-4 hours. Therefore, it is very common and healthy for newborn babies to wake 2-3 times throughout the night as they cycle from deep sleep to light sleep, often needing assistance to settle or to feed. You may hear of babies sleeping through the night from 8 weeks, this would be the exception to the rule and not normal newborn expectation. You will first notice your baby extend the first sleep-wake cycle from 3hrs to 4-5hours as her circadian rhythm develops, so if your baby is feeding well and putting on weight, don’t be tempted to continue to wake your bub for feeds every three hours unless medically instructed.
Training your baby to recognise night from day and having a consistent bedtime ritual helps develop a healthy sleep pattern and ability to self-settle. Some simple things to assist with baby becoming aware of day and night is to have the baby out with you during the day, having the TV on, vacuuming, and lots of interaction during wake times. At night however, keep it to low lit, low noise and no talking to baby, just kiss and put them back to bed. As adults, we all have a general night time ritual or routine… we eat dinner at the same time, watch the same TV programs and often tend to go to sleep at the same time each night. Having a baby bedtime ritual is therefore comforting to everyone in the household.
Some suggestions for a sleep ritual include:
- a relaxing bath.
- dressing bub in the same sleep sack/swaddle or blanket each night, something completely separate to their daywear.
- feed and put bub down in their own bed even if drowsy.
- saying the same thing as you place baby in the bassinette or cot, and a lullaby or noise from a white noise App or CD often provides baby with comfort to self-settle.
- consistently and lovingly responding to your baby. This builds secure and confident attachments.
You will soon find your baby becomes aware of day and night and begins to have longer lengths of sleep overnight from 8 weeks of age. This of course is a guide and there are no guarantees as each baby is an individual and, just like adults, have different temperaments. You will become the expert for your baby if you allow yourself to be instinctive.
Remember not to forget to look after yourself as well! Babies rely completely on us to grow and develop, having a good support network or “village” in the first few weeks to help with the household duties and give you time to sleep during the day is invaluable. New mums stay in a state of arousal overnight, in order to respond to their newborn babies, so napping during the day will assist with making up for these missing hours of replenishing sleep. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet, especially if breastfeeding.
So go on, cuddle your babies, trust your instincts and ask for help if you need it. Days may seem long in the beginning, but in hindsight the years seem short. Remember babies survive first time parents!
Below are links to a few good resources for building realistic expectations and understanding life with a newborn.
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