Every mama wants a healthy, happy baby – but sometimes just making it to tomorrow (much less your baby's first birthday) seems incredibly overwhelming. Today I'm going to give you a proven road map – so you can give your baby a smooth, happy first year 🙂
Birth matters – a lot – and I talk about it tons here on NBBC. But today we're going to start just after birth… at the beginning of your baby's first journey around the sun 😉
There are massive benefits to your baby and to you when you spend time skin-to-skin. Nuzzle and cuddle with your baby from the very first moment. Keeping your baby on your chest is a great idea, but don't limit it to that – enjoy all your senses!
You realized right away that your baby's head seems made to fit right under your chin, or in the curve of your collarbone. Nuzzle your baby's head and smell that sweet baby smell! You're primed to fall in love with it – and pheromones are activating your limbic system while you're snuggling.
Being skin-to-skin and smelling your baby are really important parts of building a strong bond. Many mamas actually relish unwrapping a newborn that has been swaddled – I think it's because we fall in love with the sweet smell, soft skin, and light-as-a-feather yet solid warmth that is your baby.
Not feeling that loving feeling yet? Spending time skin-to-skin is a good way to get hormones flowing that help jump-start bonding, even if your baby's birth wasn't what you planned.
The benefits of “kangaroo care” aren't limited only to premature or small babies. Even babies born at term and full birth weights get a lot from time on your chest (and Daddy's chest).
Your body adjusts its temperature to regulate baby's… and it doesn't stop there. You help baby regulate his or her breathing, heart rate, blood glucose (sugar), and more. That organizes your baby's body systems and frees up his or her energy to grow 🙂
The politics of breastfeeding are complex and multifaceted and tinged, unfortunately, with mommy guilt (which we'll come back to later in this road map). I am not one for political correctness so I'll just say it plain: breastfeeding is just normal. It's what babies were designed to do and it's what helps them grow best.
Though many mamas find breastfeeding challenging at first (you can ask my midwife about her comforting me while I sobbed holding my 2-day old baby #7 because nursing was hurting so much… those first two days were TOUGH), nursing has big benefits for you and baby.
You already know that it's going to help your baby grow. It also helps you lose weight – which you probably knew (or hope for). And it gives you a nice rush of two fabulous hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. These both help you feel more relaxed so you enjoy baby and life.
So how do you get breastfeeding off to a good start? Start with the skin-to-skin we already covered. Breastfeed your baby when he or she wants to nurse. Ask for help and bring in a cheerleader (I'm happy to cheer you on!)
It also probably won't surprise you that I strongly suggest that you eat for your milk! In other words, good diet = good milk.
Ah. Another gaffe in the politically correct arena, I know. I'm not supposed to tell you that what you eat matters because that might discourage you from nursing. But the reality is, your meals make a difference for your milk, and you should know that.
Plus a well-nourished mama is going to feel better about life in general. Sometimes life is stressful (especially with 24/7 baby care in the mix), and good food nourishes your body – and soul – to make it through the challenging days.
Check out my pregnancy diet info for more on what quality food is during your pregnancy and while you're nursing (hint: it's different than what your government or baby magazines say). You don't need quite as many calories or the level of extra protein you needed during pregnancy – but the quality of your food and getting enough of it is important.
I do stress getting enough because a lot of us forget to eat, or don't make time to eat, when we're busy with baby. Some mamas also burn calories very fast while nursing – if that's you, you may need to eat more overall, and/or up carbohydrates to keep up with your baby's and body's energy needs 🙂
Nursing can be really tough. I'm nursing my seventh baby, and I have seen challenges from tongue ties, dwindling supply, mastitis, pain, etc. – it has been work it to push through every time.
Pull out all the stops to breastfeed your baby. Call in the lactation consultants, La Leche League leaders, seasoned friends. Read books, check out great breastfeeding sites, and ask for more resources. Eat well. Eat well. Eat well. Pump. Use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) if you need to supplement. Research laid-back breastfeeding (it may really help you).
Do everything you possibly can to give your baby as much milk as you can.
Then be at peace. You may need to supplement a little – nobody expects you to be attached to a baby for 20 hours and a pump for the remaining 4 every day. Do everything you can, and rest knowing you have. Give it your all, and know that your baby appreciates that. I won't talk about homemade formulas here, but those are an option to explore.
Keep reading this road map, because there are other strategies that smart mamas use to keep everything running smoothy – those will help you stay well-nourished and peaceful so you can enjoy nursing your babe and make as much milk is a possible.
Baby care is intense (I've said it before and I'll say it again!). Sadie, my 7th baby, is 1 month old as I type this (with her in my arms, check out the pic!) Having 7 kids had made me realize how fleeting these early weeks are, and I truly enjoy caring for Sadie. I cherish newborn care, actually, because it goes so fast.
But that doesn't mean it's easy. I feel exhausted much of the time. I'm the one that meets most of Sadie's needs. I'm her food source and her primary comfort. She wants to be with me.
24/7 care is a huge job, and as mamas put in almost all of those hours. Even when Dad is super helpful, babies tend to want Mama!
You need to take care of yourself. This advice may sound trite and worn. But it works. In the early weeks:
You get the picture!
I'm guilty of not doing this enough (I should be snoozing now) – but it really makes a difference. In the first couple of weeks, really do sleep when your baby does. After that, at least try to settle in for an afternoon nap with your baby. I can usually pull this off, even with 6 older kids (the oldest 4 are out front reading, or quietly playing and my youngest 3 nap in the bedroom with me). Try to find something that works for your family 🙂
Exhaustion can really undermine your ability to handle life, so be good to yourself and rest. It might just make you feel like a new woman!
I know. You already heard this. But I'm saying it again. As mamas we often do not eat enough. Or we eat junky food that doesn't do anything to actually nourish us.
I'm trying to keep this road map real – Scott has been buying me a bar of dark chocolate just about every week since Sadie was born 😉 A splurge here and there is okay. But try to make it a once-in-awhile thing.
Keep your regular meals nourishing. It's okay if they're not fancy. Basic works. Eat good food, and eat enough of it. Don't keep skipping meals! Save worry about losing the baby weight for closer to your baby's first birthday (stick with this road map, we're going there too)…
It's okay to get help. It's okay to get help with your baby, and it's okay to get help with other household management tasks.
You may want to be everything to your baby – you've got these beautiful pictures of sweet moments with your baby stored up in your mind and can't wait to see them become reality. Sometimes you get an easy baby and those pictures do become a nice reality.
But again, baby care is often a 24/7 thing, and it's normal to need a break now and then (it's good to get a shower or have a bite to eat!). Don't be afraid to ask for another set of hands to hold your baby.
And if you have a fussy baby, it's okay to have someone else bounce, sway, shush, and sing to baby for a little while. Even the best of mamas need a break (even if it's just long enough to take that shower).
You decide what you're comfortable with – I'm fine with someone else holding my newborn for a little while so I can rinse off the dried milk, but I won't even run to the store without my baby until he or she is close to a year old and well-established on solid foods.
That's my comfort level – yours may be different – but don't feel guilty if you want a little time without baby in your arms. Babies can enjoy the company of other family members 😉
What about handling the housework? I highly recommend you ask for help – even with your very first baby! Let somebody else do the cooking and cleaning for the first couple of weeks.
Pregnancy is also a good time to put meals up in the freezer, stock up on disposable plates and utensils (your sanity is important), and declutter the house as much as possible. Your nesting instinct was designed for just such tasks – and they'll help you a lot after baby, even if you don't have a lot of outside help.
Keep things simple even after the newborn stage – the next portion of the road map is driving into proven wisdom that smart mamas use to keep baby (and themselves) happy while keeping up with life.
Want more tips on life with baby? Click Here for Part 2