what to do with a newborn babyPregnancy is pretty overwhelming. And from conception to birth there is a slow but steady build up to get you on the road to parenthood.

Getting through labour and birth is a whole other story. And then you do it – you give birth, and in a matter of hours you are hurtled into the path of parenting.

Every parent you meet during pregnancy will look at you with a kind of smug condescension as they nod to themselves and think: “poor sods, they have NO IDEA what they are getting themselves into,” and outwardly grin and say being a parent is amazing.

But how many people get back home from hospital with their bundle of joy, sit down, put the kettle on and say to themselves: “SHIT! What on earth do we do now?”

Well, it is true you can never be told what to expect with a newborn baby but, you know, there is a starting point for everything and if you are ready to hear it, I am ready to tell…

1. Eat

The first instinct a baby has after birth is to head for it’s mother’s breast. Studies have shown that most babies left on the mother’s chest or abdomen will find their nipple and latch on within around 60 minutes of birth.[1] Whether you go on a breastfeeding or bottle feeding journey with your baby (or both), one of their main activities when awake will be feeding.

How easy it is to breastfeed will be unique to each mum and baby and there are many places to find support for this. [2] But each baby will feed for different lengths of time and different frequencies. There are generally two ways to approach feeding. Feed on demand, [3] ie., feed them when they give you hunger cues, or feed to a schedule [4] based on generally accepted views about how often babies should feed. Many people believe that which option you take will have a knock effect to other areas of the baby’s routine, such as sleeping.

Whichever you choose, you need to remember that babies are not machines, they just respond to what their body is telling them, they haven’t read any books or listening to any experts, they don’t care what other babies are doing/have done.

What is sometime surprising is the sheer amount of time they spend feeding. Whilst some babies will guzzle a bottle or breast in minutes (Babyzang 1 could empty my breast in 13 minutes!), some take a lot longer and is is very common and normal for babies to spend many hours suckling for one feed, called “Cluster-feeding” (Babyzang 2 used to feed from 5.30-9.30pm every night without stopping.

This doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong, or you are not providing enough milk, or too much. It just means you are meeting the demands of your baby and this could take time. Lots of time.

2. Sleep

The other very surprising things about newborn babies is how much they sleep. It can be a lot. Yes it could be erratic with frequent waking (babies’ sleep cycles are only 50-60 mins, about half of an adult [5]), but babies can sleep for up to 20 hours a day! [6]  But sleeping through the night is really not something that they are physically capable of doing. There will always be babies who sleep right through the night from very young, but it is also quite normal for them to wake once, twice, thrice or more a night for, well, years.

There are a lot of different philosophies on sleep “training” for babies and I leave it to you to research and find one that suits you, but babies haven’t read books and in my experience the success or not of any “strategy” will depend on the personality and preferences of the baby.

Many people choose to co-sleep with their babies, particularly if they are breastfeeding, as it makes it much easier to get up in the night to feed, but if you decide to do this, just make sure you have read up on safe ways to co-sleep. [7]

It is a real sticking point and unfortunately one of the universal truths about early parenting is that it involves varying degrees of sleep-deprivation. Try not to fight it. Accept it and try to get by as best you can. Don’t beat yourself up – you are not doing anything wrong. It can take years for their circadian rhythms (understanding the day/night cycle) to fully mature, and understanding that this is NORMAL and RIGHT for a baby will go a long way in coping with it. There is a really good article about the science of newborn sleep here. [8]

3. Poo/wee

The very first few poos are black and like tar – this is what amniotic fluid does once it has gone through the digestive system, it is called Meconium [9]. After the baby starts consuming milk, the poos and wees turn more yellow/green/lightbrown and are squishy and sometime explosive (literally). It is normal for a baby to poo many times a day, or to not poo for days at a time. The only cause for concern is if they are not weeing a number of times a day – this is when you should seek advice from your GP or Health Visitor. [10]

There is the option to use cloth nappies, of which there are a huge number and variety of types to try. [11] Some people swear by them, but others don’t like the idea, but there are people who can come and explain how it all works and lend you samples to try so definitely something for the more environmentally conscious to consider.

You basically aren’t a parent until you have survived a “poo-splosion” whereby the entire contents of the nappy somehow get everywhere so that you end up having to change every stitch of baby’s clothing and give them a basin-bath in the toilets at Mothercare. And all over you as well. Accept it is just a right of passage and you’ll be fine!

4. Cry

This is tricky. On the whole babies cry because it is their only method of communication. They generally cry because they are hungry, tired, cold/warm, need a ppo/have had a poo, need to burp (winding) or to fart. Figuring out which f these applies is the real trick to parenting. An amazing woman called Priscilla Dunstan has come up with a method of interpreting babies cries. I was a bit sceptical when I first saw it, but I did find much of what she said revelatory and really helped me to tune in to what my baby was trying to tell me. Watch this video on You Tube to find out more. [12]

If you can figure out your baby’s needs and meet them, then they should stop crying. Simple! Right? Wrong! Some babies do cry more than others and particularly after 3-4 weeks the dreaded “colic” can rear its ugly head. While this is just a term for “crying lots and lots with no apparent reason” there MUST be a reason but perhaps we can’t help. Perhaps they have a tummy ache, or a headache, or some other pain.

A good rule of thumb is that if baby is pulling its legs to its chest then it indicates a stuck burp, but if their legs are going out straight and they arch their back, that indicates a stuck fart.  Learning techniques for winding a baby [13] can be very beneficial, as can a variety of over-the-counter medicines help with apparent digestive problems. I have also written a very popular blog post, Birthzang’s Amazing Fart Expulsion technique for Babies to help your little one with their bottom burps.

The process of birth can also cause head and neck pain and stiffness which can also affect sleep and feeding. Craniosacral Therapy (like gentle manipulation of the scalp by an osteopath) for babies can be very helpful and I have heard more success stories than I can count on this front. [14]

But sometimes you can never find the solution and this is really hard. Really. Hard. Especially at 3am when your partner has gone to sleep on the sofa with earplugs. It can be lonely and frightening and you can feel paralysed with helplessness. Take some comfort in the fact that crying doesn’t physically hurt babies, no matter how emotionally draining it can seem.

Take a break. Keep calm and carry on.

5. Bond

The most lovely part of newborn babies is the sheer feeling of joy of holding them in your arms, gazing into their eyes and revelling in the miracle of their existence. Babies love being held, being rocked, patted, sung to, talked to, kissed, cuddled, massaged, – they just like being with you. After al, the first 9 months of their life was INSIDE you!

Take some time to get to know your baby and get to know who you are as a parent. It can be tough and challenging and scary and frustrating and isolating and can make you cry. But it is also fulfilling and loving and intuitive and spiritual and quite the most amazing thing you have ever done.

And then…

…just as you think you have nailed it, everything changes. They have a growth spurt [15] which interrupts their feeding, sleeping and crying. They get a cold. They learn how to do something knew. Or sometimes they just change. And you just have to go with the flow.

Birthzang found an amazing book and app called The Wonder Weeks [16] that gives you an idea of the developmental milestones your baby is going through (as opposed to the physical growth spurts). It is eerily accurate and sometimes when everything is in the dark place, it can be reassuring to know that your baby is just unsettled because of their age and development.

But the most powerful thing you can do as a parent is TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS and ignore everything everyone tells you. You have the power within you. And babies don’t really do much in the first few weeks. Once you have worked that bit out, the next bit will come along and you’ll handle it fine. Because you are a parent now and every parent just muddles along as best they can.

And then you meet a friend who is expecting their first baby and you catch yourself thinking: “poor sods, they have NO IDEA what they are getting themselves into,” and you’ll grin to yourself and realize that being a parent is amazing!

References

1. http://www.breastcrawl.org/science.shtml

2. http://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/breastfeeding-help/breastfeeding-support/

3. http://www.babycenter.com/404_what-is-feeding-on-demand_8822.bc

4. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/features/establish-a-breastfeeding-schedule

5. http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/sleep-problems/8-infant-sleep-facts-every-parent-should-know

6. http://www.babycenter.com/0_5-things-you-didnt-know-about-newborn-sleep_10357900.bc

7. http://www.mumsnet.com/babies/cosleeping

8. http://www.parentingscience.com/newborn-sleep.html

9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meconium

10. http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a551926/your-babys-poo-whats-normal-and-whats-not

11. http://www.thenappylady.co.uk/reusable-nappies.html

12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgkZf6jVdVg&index=3&list=PLImvzsMOY35C3j0vZzCK05Cv7bk9vdk_Q

13. http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a567409/wind

14. http://www.craniosacral-therapy-information.org.uk/craniosacral-therapy-for-babies.htm

15. http://kellymom.com/bf/normal/growth-spurts/

16. http://www.thewonderweeks.com/about-the-wonder-week-app/