Bringing a new baby home is an exciting time. But it can also feel overwhelming, stressful, and exhausting. “You’re healing from childbirth while getting to know your newborn,” says Hilary Baxendale, a childbirth educator and doula in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
To help you get through those first few weeks, parents share their hard-earned lessons and favorite tips.
Have a support network. Know who can give you the support you need in those first few weeks. Do some research now so you won’t have to scramble after the baby’s born, Baxendale says. This group may include:
- Family or friends: Ask loved ones in advance how much they can help. They may need to get vaccines, such as the Tdap and flu shots, to protect the baby. “My mom stayed with us for 2 months, and she was a true lifesaver,” says Ji Sterling of Rolling Hills, CA. “She did the cooking and cleaning while I took care of the new baby and my husband worked and watched our older two.”
- Lactation consultant: They help new moms learn to breastfeed. For example, they can guide you on how to position the baby. “Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally,” Sterling says. “It’s so hard getting baby to latch those first few days and knowing how much milk they’re getting.”
- Postpartum doula: They help families transition to a new baby. They may teach you soothing techniques for the baby, listen to your worries, and help out with chores.
Have a visitor policy. Everyone wants to meet the baby. But during COVID-19, that’s not always possible. “You should have frank discussions about who can enter your home, and if you want them to quarantine or get tested before joining your bubble,” Baxendale says.
For Rachel Huryn of Edgewater Park, NJ, that meant only her parents saw her new daughter regularly. Other friends and family met her outside in socially distanced visits.
Stock up on essentials. Have these items on hand, so you won’t have to run to the store in the middle of the night. Baxendale suggests prepping three caddies full of:
- Postpartum supplies: Peri bottles, sitz baths, ice packs, pain relievers, and witch hazel pads provide relief as you heal. Disposable underwear and pads are also handy.
- Feeding staples: These include burp cloths and nipple cream. You’ll also want a water bottle, phone charger, and snack for you, Baxendale says. Also have some formula and sterilized bottles on hand, even if you’re planning to nurse. “Breastfeeding has a steep learning curve, and these were a lifesaver when I was struggling,” says Liz Winer of Cresskill, NJ.
- Diaper station: Fill a separate container with diapers, wipes, and diaper rash cream. “Even going upstairs to the nursery can be too much work, so you’ll wind up changing baby on the couch,” Baxendale says.
Also buy your favorite healthy snacks, such as granola bars, in bulk. You’re always hungry while you nurse, Huryn says.
Accept help (safely). Your friends and family want to lend a hand, so let them. “There are ways people can help out without entering your home,” Baxendale says. She suggests sharing a list of tasks, such as picking up groceries, taking the dog for a walk, and delivering food. “Family members dropped of meals at our doorstep,” Winer says. “It was such a help because we didn’t have to think about shopping or cooking.”
Connect with others. Caring for a newborn day and night is often isolating, and COVID can make things worse. For Aleeah Alexander, meeting other new moms virtually helped her feel less alone. “I used the Peanut and What to Expect apps, and Facebook mom groups,” the Atlanta mom says. “I was amazed how many other moms were just as lost as I was.” You can also find an online or in-person new mom support group.
Try these staples. New moms say they couldn’t live without these items:
- Nightlight: A gentle light makes nighttime feedings easier.
- Velcro swaddles: That way, you don’t have to mess with folding in the middle of the night.
- Baby wrap or carrier: It frees up your hand, so you can get more done.
- Milk saver: If you’re nursing, this gadget collects extra milk so you can build up a supply.
Carve out personal time. Set a window of time for yourself each day. It may be a quick shower in the morning, a Zoom call with your friends, or a long walk. “Make your needs known,” Baxendale says. This time helps you recharge, so you can be a better mom.
Be flexible. In the first few weeks, you’re just getting to know your newborn. “Trying to follow a rigid schedule is going to set you up for disappointment,” Baxendale says. Babies’ sleeping and eating needs change as they move from one stage to the next, so try to learn their cues and go with the flow. Also build in extra time throughout your day. “With a baby, I’ve learned nothing goes as planned,” Winer says.
Get some fresh air. If you’re feeling stir-crazy, get outside. You may want to wear your baby in a carrier or put a cover on the stroller if you’re around others. “I’ve had strangers pull down their masks to play peek-a-boo,” Winer says. “It’s sweet but not COVID-safe. I move the stroller away so they get the hint.”
Spend quality time with others. As a new mom, you’re often stretched thin. But make time for others, such as your partner and older kids. “During pregnancy, I tried to read a book or do a puzzle with my older two at bedtime,” Huryn says. “I continued this once the baby was born, so things didn’t feel so different.”
Be kind to yourself. Those first few weeks as a new mom are an emotional and physical challenge. “After three pregnancies, I’ve finally learned that the newborn period is a time to be extra forgiving and nice to myself,” Huryn says. Don’t expect your house to stay spotless or the dishes to get done right away. “When I was on maternity leave, there was tons of laundry and a lot more screen time,” she says. “But that’s normal and temporary.”
Talk to others. Parenthood is a huge change. But if you’re struggling or if you’ve been feeling depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor.
Keep things in perspective. Babies change quickly, Alexander says. If you’re feeling frustrated or exhausted, take a step back and remember that you’ll only have to deal with this phase for a short period, she says. That can help you appreciate and enjoy time with your little one. “It does go by so quickly,” Winer says. “I miss that tiny newborn stage already.”