The first week after you have had your baby is a total whirlwind of a time.
However much time you have had to prepare for this moment, it’s never quite enough to really feel like you’re totally in control of the situation.
But the important thing to remember is that during the first week there are actually just a handful of things for you to really focus on:
- Your own postnatal care
- Keeping your baby fed
- Keeping your baby warm
- Giving your baby somewhere safe to sleep
That’s it! It’s not an exhausting list, but of course it feels daunting when you’re actually in the thick of it and there are many other factors that come into play that make it hard to focus on these things.
You’ll have visitors coming in and out of the house, plus you may have a few follow-up health check appointments for you and your baby that you need to keep.
The good news is that as difficult and tiring as this first week will be, it will fly by at an alarming rate. Plus, you can totally handle this!
Prepare for your baby
Help yourself to make the first week as easy as possible by doing the following before your baby arrives:
- Keep on top of the laundry
- Stock up the house with essentials such as toilet roll
- Stock the kitchen, fridge and freezer with meals and snacks
- Make sure all baby gear and clothing is out of packaging and ready to use
- Practice using the buggy and car seat
Take a look around your house to see if there are any areas that could do with decluttering in order to make way for baby stuff.
Also think about visitors who might be popping round to the house. Make sure you have a supply of biscuits and drinks to keep people happy. Hopefully they will bring you some, but you never know!
How to care for your baby in the first week
Trying to enforce a strict care routine in the first week after birth is completely pointless.
Your baby will have no clue about the difference between day and night and it’s such early days that trying to force any kind of regularity to their feeding and sleeping is a pointless effort.
However, you can try to follow a few guidelines that make for a routine in the very loosest sense of the word.
In the first week your baby may be very sleepy following the birth. As a result, you will find they may nod off extremely easily everywhere and anywhere.
For many parents, the first week actually lulls them into a bit of a false sense of security. Your baby goes to sleep without help, and stays that way because they’re so tired.
This sleepy behaviour can be a problem if your little one is sleeping through feed after feed.
Because your baby’s tummy is so tiny at birth, they need to feed little and often to make sure they are gaining enough calories to grow.
Your baby will be weighed at birth and may lose up to 10 per cent of their birth weight within days of being born.
Most babies put this weight back on after the first two weeks.
Signs of a healthy newborn baby
|Wet nappies||3-5 per day|
|Dirty nappies||Up to 4 per day|
|Feeds||8-10 per day|
|Sleep||17-19 hours total per day|
|Awake time||45-60 minutes|
In order to help your baby stay healthy and continue gaining weight, you will need to make sure they are feeding well and frequently (we’ll talk in more depth about feeding shortly).
Many health professionals would say this means you should wake your baby up to feed them.
As a general rule, a newborn baby should be feeding every two to three hours throughout the day and the night.
But, if your baby is feeding well and regularly in the day, but sleeps for longer stints at night then let them continue to sleep. Only do this if they are producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies.
If your newborn is sleeping for four to six hours at night, you don’t need to wake them up. The only exception to this is if they have a medical condition or they were premature and/or a low birth weight.
If your baby is having trouble getting to sleep, you could try swaddling with either a blanket or a swaddling wrap.
So putting all of this together, a sample newborn baby schedule may look like this (this is not a schedule you should force your baby into, this is just to give you an idea of how a newborn may behave in the first week).
Your baby should be producing regular poos and wet nappies if they are feeding well.
Do change them regularly, as this will help to prevent nappy rash, where the bottom can get very sore.
Choose gentle wipes, or use water and cotton wool balls to wipe your baby’s bottom at each nappy change.
You could use Sudocrem as a barrier if you baby’s bottom is a little sore. This can help it to heal quicker.
Feeding your baby
Breastfeeding in the first week
The first week of breastfeeding a baby may very well leave you wanting to quit straight away.
Not only are you exhausted after giving birth, but now you have a tiny person demanding you wake up and let them chomp on your nipples every two hours. Not fun.
The first six weeks of breastfeeding are absolutely the hardest. If you can keep this in mind and just keep at it, you will find things vastly improve.
In the first week of breastfeeding, your baby will be feeding little and often.
Cluster feeding tends to come a few weeks after the birth, but some newborns may show this trait early on.
This is where babies feed and feed and feed pretty much constantly over a period of time. It’s usually in the evenings.
The general rule for breastfeeding in the first week is to put your baby to the breast every time you think they are hungry.
You may feel like you are feeding them all of the time. But this is a crucial time for stimulating your milk supply.
Your milk will “come in”, which means it switches from colostrum to regular production of breast milk, at around two to five days. It’s hard not to notice, as you may well wake up with swollen and painful boobs.
Continue to feed your baby frequently and the discomfort will ease off.
If you do want to introduce a bottle to give yourself a brief break, you can do so.
The guidelines from the World Health Organisation and to give only breast milk in the first six months and then add food along with breast milk from six to 12 months.
At the end of the day, happy mama, happy baby. If you want to supplement with a little formula to help you get the rest that you need, then do it. Your health and mental wellbeing is important at this time.
Remember that breastfeeding does get easier and the early weeks are the toughest. Stick with it, and you’ll get the hang of it.
Formula feeding in the first week
Bottle feeding your baby is not the easy option. It involves a lot of washing up and sterilising, plus making up the bottles can be time-consuming.
Your baby will eat only small amounts of milk during the first week. Their tummy is only the size of a walnut at this stage.
Make sure you have at least five bottles and teats ready, as this will mean you don’t have to wash up quite so frequently.
Be sure to get a bottle brush so that you can wash bottles before sterilising them.
You can get a steriliser that works in the microwave or a cold water steriliser. There are also standalone electric sterilisers, but these are more expensive and take up a lot of space in your kitchen.
To make up bottles quicker, you can get a prep machine that makes a bottle at the perfect temperature within minutes.
Even if you are bottle feeding, your milk will still “come in” due to your post-birth hormones. Try to hand express in a warm shower in order to prevent engorgement and infection.
Only express enough to take off the discomfort, as any more will stimulate your breasts to make more milk.
Read more formula feeding hacks.
Looking after your baby’s skin and hair
Newborn baby skin is extremely delicate.
They don’t need bathing frequently (two to three times a week) and in the first week it’s better just to sponge bathe them while their umbilical stump is healing.
Wash your baby with warm water and cotton wool balls, or a wash cloth.
If their skin is particularly dry, you could add an emollient to the water just to soften it. Don’t worry about shampooing their hair at this stage, they really do not need it.
Moisturise their skin with a newborn moisturiser while the skin is still damp.
If your baby has cradle cap, which many do in the first few weeks, you can massage a little baby oil into the scalp and leave it overnight to soften the flakes.
You can buy special cradle cap brushes to gently massage away the flakes. Do not pick at the flakes as you may cause infection.
Really stubborn cradle cap can be treated with Dentinox shampoo. Leave this as a last resort, as you’ll find most cradle cap will clear up on its own within a few weeks.
How to care for your body postpartum
In the immediate aftermath of giving birth you probably feel like you’ve been hit by a bus.
It’s your body’s biggest challenge it will have ever faced, and so most of your limbs may ache. You’ll also be feeling pretty wiped out.
Depending on what type of birth you had, you may have stitches to a C-section wound to deal with.
Your midwife or doctor will give you thorough instructions on how to care for wounds and you should follow them to the letter to give your body the best chance of healing fast.
Remember to keep wounds clean and dry.
Stitches from a tear or episiotomy and general discomfort around your vagina may be helped by a sitz bath.
This is where you dip this area of your body into a warm, not hot, bowl or low bath of water. You can add things such as epsom salts to the water to help with the pain.
Your boobs may be engorged and sore. Wear maternity or nursing bras so that they are not constricted and use nipple cream if you are sore from feeding.
Read more on how to heal fast after birth.
The first poo
After having your baby, the first poo may be scary, especially if you have stitches.
Do not put it off. If you feel the need to go, then go right away.
Some mamas may be put on iron supplements to help with blood loss after giving birth. But the side effect of these is that they can cause constipation.
Help your bowels to move naturally by eating lots of vegetables and fruit. Foods such as prunes and orange juice can help to get things moving quicker.
If you feel uncomfortable when trying to do a poo, hold a damp cloth over your stitches, as it may make you feel like you’re “holding yourself together” and you’ll feel more comfortable pushing.
Haemorrhoids are a fairly common issue after giving birth and pregnancy. They will generally heal themselves after just a few weeks but you can use a cream such as Anusol to help soothe any discomfort.
What to eat postpartum
If you take away one thing from this discussion of your post-baby body, it should be this: Do not worry about weight loss right now. Seriously.
For the first few days after giving birth your uterus will have yet to contract back to normal. Muscles will still be a little loose around the belly area and due to hormones you will generally feel exhausted and tearful.
Why add a heap of pressure to yourself about losing weight on top of everything else you have to deal with right now?
So, stop worrying about losing any weight right now.
What you should be focused on is eating well-balanced meals with plenty of veg and protein that will help keep your energy levels up.
If you are breastfeeding, then your body will be burning a couple of hundred more calories than normal, so you definitely need to be sure you’re getting three meals a day.
Following birth, your body may be low on iron due to blood loss, so be sure to pack in lots of green, leafy vegetables and the odd serving of red meat to boost your iron levels.
Try these meal ideas for your breakfast, lunch and dinner to nourish your postpartum body:
Two slices of toast with jam and a banana
Porridge with berries and honey
Vegetable soup with crusty bread, plus yoghurt and fruit for dessert
Herby chicken sandwich with side salad
Chicken breast with sweet potato mash and spinach
For snacks try fruits such as prunes and grapes to help prevent constipation. There are some lovely meal ideas here.
Extra top tips for coping in the first week after birth
Make yourself comfortable. Find a good chair and give your back lots of support with cushions.
Drink plenty of fluids. This will help you to heal.
Wear comfortable clothing. Loose, stretchy clothes are your friends right now. Even if you are not nursing, wear a maternity bra as your milk will “come in” naturally and may cause some discomfort.
Limit the visitors. You’re tired, so are probably not feeling like the perfect hostess right now. Don’t overdo it on the visitors and try to keep visits short so that you can rest and bond with your baby.
Do not expect too much. You may not feel like you have a clue what you are doing. That is totally normal! Just go with it and remember, as long as your baby is fed, warm and loved, they will be fine.