When your new bundle of joy arrives, everyone from your mother-in-law to your neighbour will be eager to give you advice on how to take care of your baby and look after yourself. While they mean well, they’re not parenting experts, but midwives are. To have a positive postnatal experience you deserve, here are 5 things new parents need to know after having a baby – given by midwives.
1) You don’t have to see family and friends straight away!
We know there’s a lot of pressure to introduce your newborn to family and friends – they have been waiting nine months to meet them too – but here’s the thing: taking your time is not selfish, it’s essential. You deserve time alone, with uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact to work out your baby’s cues at your own pace. Do they want food? Do they just want to cuddle? This knowledge won’t come instantly.
This past year has been tough for everybody and, as things return to normal, people may be keener than ever to visit, but do you want to a whole host of guests on your first night at home, cooing over baby whilst you sit exhausted in a blood-soaked adult nappy?
Politely asking for the understanding of your parents or in-laws and offering reassurance of plenty of amazing times to come will better help you adjust to your new lives as parents, head off any awkwardness and give everyone a great first impression of your little one.
2) Dealing with stitches down there
Around 85% of women sustain some form of perineal trauma during vaginal delivery and this may mean you need stitches. And whilst this is incredibly common, it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable during the first week or so. One of the best purchases you can make at this time is a donut cushion. They’re relatively inexpensive and allow you to sit down comfortably without interfering with the stiches.
Over-the-counter pain relief can be really helpful with swelling – which is often the main culprit of pain – and there is a wide range available. Some of these can be taken together and some cannot. To cover you for more of the day, we recommend spreading a combination that works for you a few hours apart, rather than all together. For example, if you take paracetamol at 8 am and then ibuprofen at 11 am, this will kick in before you are able to take the paracetamol again, and will avoid the pain relief wearing off too quickly.
Remember: always be sure to read the guidance on the pack for how many times a day you can take each one and how they interact with any medication you already take.
Peeing can also be tricky, but there are a couple of steps you can take to make the process a little easier. Keep a small cup of water on your basin in the bathroom that can be filled with lukewarm water, and pour this over your intimate areas before and after you pee. This will stop any stinging or burning. Next, carefully pat (never rub) the area with tissue or a flannel and sit for a few moments to let the stiches air dry. Moisture can harbour bacteria, and this isn’t good news.
3) Dealing with breast engorgement
Your milk usually ‘comes in’ around 3 days postpartum. This can sometimes lead to ‘full’ or painful breasts. Don’t dismiss this as just something you have to live with; below are some small tips that can have a significant impact.
As we mentioned above, over-the-counter pain relief can really help. Some may worry about doing so whilst breastfeeding, but rest assured the amount that could be passed to baby in your milk is very low. But, if you are still concerned, take it at the same time you are feeding, as this is when the amount in the milk will be lowest – this goes for having a glass of wine too!
Another way to help relieve pain is to apply warm compresses (a flannel works great) to the breasts. or stand under a warm shower.
One thing not part of any official guidance that has nevertheless become a favourite for a lot of women is cabbage leaves! Send someone straight to the supermarket to buy a cabbage for you and, as strange as it may initially seem, the trick is to pop it in the fridge and then put the cooled leaves into your bra.
The final thing you can do is to get your baby feeding. Once your breasts have softened slightly, it will be easier to latch the baby onto the breast – if they’re still really hard, try hand expressing a small amount of milk first. This will get the baby to drain all of the milk that has accumulated so far. Just as important as a big feed for baby, this will give you some much-welcomed relief.
If you are still having a tough time speak with your midwife and request a home visit for some 1-to-1 support.
4) You don’t have to take everyone else’s advice
Everybody and their mother will have advice they can’t wait to share with you. It can be overwhelming, but it’s empowering when realise you do not have to follow it all. Guidance changes over time, as does people’s memories of their time as a new parent, and we have come a very long way from making up bottles with hot water from the tap or having your baby sleep on pillows.
It can sometimes be easier to just let people share what they want to, whilst smiling politely or nodding, but you should always do what works for you and for your baby, and trust yourself and your body. Milestones aren’t a hard and fast rule, and not every baby will be sleeping through the night at 8 weeks old. Always remember: this doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong; every baby is different. Once we all understand that, we can just get on doing what’s feels right without any judgment.
5) Talk to other mums/ join a mum and baby group
If you are the first of your friendship group to have a baby, they will never truly relate to how dramatically life has changed. As your priorities change, don’t be afraid to make new friends. They’re not replacing your old friends but they can bolster your support network, particularly when others may not understand the stress of sleepless nights or a screaming baby.
We really feel for all you mums who haven’t been able to access antenatal group classes during lockdowns. As COVID-19 restrictions have eased and if you’re comfortable with it, try to look for your nearest mum and baby group. It can be a little daunting if this is your first baby, but trust us, it will be so refreshing for you to hear that other parents have faced the same challenges!