What to expect after you give birth

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For first time mothers, the days after giving birth are both wonderous and scary. It’s perfectly natural to worry that you’re not going to know what to do. The good news is that there’s a lot of information available to help you out, and your natural instincts will also kick in and guide you.

To help you prepare for the first few weeks after baby is born, we’ve put together a list of 7 things that all first-time moms should know.

1. New-born babies are alert

Most first-time parents are surprised by just how alert their new-borns are. Yes, they sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, but during their six wakeful hours they are using all of their senses, including touch and smell.
Your baby’s eyes will open almost immediately after birth, and she or he will spend a lot of time studying faces – especially your faces. New-borns also turn or react to the sound of your voices and even mirror you as much as they can.
Because your little one is using all of their senses, they will identify you almost immediately, differentiating you from other people that they may meet.

Top tips:

  • Even though baby sleeps a lot, your body is recovering from pregnancy and birth. If you’re breastfeeding you will be even more exhausted. Hormones will also affect your emotions, so get as much sleep as possible. Remember the old rule: when baby is sleeping, mom should be sleeping.
  • Keep visitors to a minimum during baby’s first few weeks to allow you and your partner to connect as a new family and to let your baby get used to being with you.

2. Skin to skin contact helps you bond with baby

Skin to skin contact involves placing your unclothed baby onto your bare chest immediately after birth. Smell and touch are both incredibly important to mom and baby, and your baby will be able to you’re your heartbeat, a sound they recognise and that makes them feel warm and safe. After skin to skin contact, baby should latch as soon as possible. Allow your little one to find your breast, latch on to the nipple and breastfeed himself or herself. Your baby will be alert after birth, and he or she is likely to feed well and then fall into a nice long sleep.
Top tips:

  • Skin to skin contact should happen as quickly as possible
  • Make sure you’re in a warm room and that baby can lie on you comfortably. Because baby will latch following skin to skin contact, it’s a good idea to prop yourself up and ensure you’re comfortable.

3. Moms and babies learn breastfeeding together

Every baby is different. Some new-borns are sleepy and may only want a few feeds in the first 24 hours. Others are more awake and want to feed more frequently. Whether your baby is sleepy or awake, it’s a good idea to offer your breast every two hours to get your milk flowing and so that baby gets used to breastfeeding. If you aren’t always sure what baby wants don’t worry – you’ll grow together and soon be able to tell what they need.

Top tips:

  • Correct positioning, attachment and latching are very important.
  • Prop yourself up before each feed and get comfortable. You don’t want to rush baby or hurt your back. Placing a breastfeeding cushion under your baby also helps to support them.
  • A good way to check if baby is latching correctly is to check your nipples after each feed. They should look round and not squashed, pinched, flattened, ridged or distorted in shape. If they aren’t round, ask a nurse in the maternity ward for assistance with your next feed or reach out to a lactation consultant. You can find a lactation consultant in your area on www.expectantmothersguide.co.za.
  • Breastfeeding should not be painful. If your nipples hurt when baby latches, something is wrong. Take your baby off the breast and re-latch him or her.
  • Remember, breastfeeding is a natural process, but it’s also a learned skill that you and your baby will learn together.

4. It’s important to hold your new-born correctly

There are a number of different ways to hold your baby correctly, from the snuggle hold to the face-to-face hold, but they all have certain things in common. First, always ensure that baby’s head is supported when you pick him or her up and while you hold them. Second, always be calm and confident when you pick up your new-born. This will help them to relax so that you can form a strong bond.

Top tips:

  • How you hold baby depends on how you want to interact with him or her. Do you want them to sleep or interact with you, for example?
  • Your baby is not a fragile china doll that will break into a million pieces. Hold him or her confidently and firmly so that they feel safe in your arms.

5. Don’t bath your new-born too often

Babies are born with lots of good bacteria on their skin. This keeps their skin healthy, which is why it’s important not to bath them too soon. Most maternity wards will help you bath baby for the first time on the day you are discharged, but you can also choose to bath baby for the first time at home a day or two later.

Top tips:

  • Use natural baby products that look after your baby’s microbiome.
  • Don’t bath your little one every day. Too many baths (and too much soap) could result in dry skin and even rashes. New-borns only need to bath once or twice a week. This can be increased to daily after a few months.
  • It’s important to use a natural baby moisturiser after bathing.
  • Support baby’s head while they are in the bath and make sure the water is tepid and not too hot.

6. Regular nappy changes are important

Baby’s first poo is meconium, a dark sticky substance that is made from substances he or she ingested while in your uterus. Once your new-born starts breastfeeding, they will poo several times a day and wee every one to three hours. You should check baby’s nappy regularly because wetness doesn’t bother most babies and so they won’t always cry to alert you that they need a nappy change.
Top tips:

  • Although constipation can be uncomfortable for babies, it is far more important that they wee regularly than poo regularly. A breastfed baby can go up to a week without pooing but must have a number of wees daily. If your baby’s nappy is dry, consult your paediatrician.
  • Make sure you use the correct nappy size – they should be a snug fit, but they shouldn’t leak. Most disposable nappies have a indicator strip that shows you when baby is wet as well.

7. Umbilical cord care is essential

Umbilical cord care is always a concern for new moms. You want to ensure that it remains sterile while it heals and eventually falls off.

Top tips:

  • Choose a new-born nappy that has a cut out around the belly button so that the umbilical cord isn’t covered, or fold the top of the nappy over before you stick down the nappy’s tabs.
  • Clean the base of the umbilical cord daily with surgical spirits and a cue tip.
  • Keep the base of the umbilical cord dry – particularly after a bath.

You’ve got this

Babies need a lot of attention and it may feel like there is so much to remember that you’ll never be ready. It’s okay to feel a bit overwhelmed. Write a lost of questions and don’t be shy to ask the maternity ward sisters anything that’s on your mind. And most importantly, remember that you’ve got this.