After getting through pregnancy and labor, the real work of parenthood begins when mom and dad bring baby home from the hospital. For nine months, mom has been taking care of the baby in her belly, but now she has to do even more to make sure that the baby is healthy, happy and growing.
There's the feeding to figure out — and as much as a parent prepares for the moment, there is still a learning curve once baby arrives. There is the cord and the car seat to consider, as well as the sleeping space, and SIDS to worry about. There are concerns about gaining weight and having guests over, and that doesn't even mention the many postpartum needs of mom.
And with so much to think about, mistakes are bound to happen. The majority of parents make a mistake with the car seat before they even get baby home, so it's likely that every mom and dad will make at least one mistake during that first week at home.
That first week will be tough, no doubt, but it can also be rewarding. These tips can help avoid the worst of the missteps and help moms and dads get started on a positive parenting experience.
Here are 15 things most parents do wrong during the first week home with baby.
15 Best To Be On Demand
A newborn's biggest job is to eat and grow. While the baby may lose weight in the first week, parents need to work to keep that drop low and then turn things around and help baby to start a positive weight trajectory.
That means lots of feedings, and while many moms may be tempted to feed a baby on a schedule, the first few months may be better to feed on demand. That means feeding when the baby is hungry, no matter what time that is.
One note here is that it's important that you don't let it go too long between a newborn's feedings. In general, you shouldn't have to wake up your baby to feed them, but try not to let her go more than four or five hours between sessions.
14 No Open Door Policy
In that first week home from the hospital, many family and friends want to meet the baby. That's great, but it doesn't mean that the parents should have an open door policy. In fact, they should consider limiting visitors.
First of all, baby's little immune system is in its infancy, and while he has received a boost from his mother, both in the womb and through breastfeeding, babies are susceptible to germs. Vaccinations won't begin until the baby is six months old, so parents need to be careful about exposing him to germs until that time.
On top of that, the mother is recovering and both parents are getting used to the routine of caring for a newborn. Adding visitors on to that can be overwhelming. Of course, it's important to allow for some interaction, but baby should be kept away from crowds and anyone with a hint of illness should stay away for a time. Feel free to limit the guest list.
13 Avoid Becoming A Shut In
While parents should limit their little one's interactions in the first week at home, that does not mean they have to be shut-ins. In fact, it's good for the baby to get some time in the daylight.
While parents should be careful to keep baby from getting a sunburn, a little bit of time in the sunlight can help, especially if the baby is still suffering a bit from jaundice. In the hospital, blue lights help babies get rid of the bilirubin that can block up the blood, but those lights simply mimic the effects of the sun.
One of the most effective and safe ways to get the sunlight is to keep the baby inside but near a shaft of light left by a window. But still keep the exposure short and watch the baby's skin for signs of a burn. And be sure that the baby doesn't get too hot or cold.
Going outdoors for short periods can be beneficial for mom as well. It can help stave off postpartum depression and allow the mother to feel more a part of the world and like her old self. So don't make the mistake of becoming a recluse.
12 Double Check How You Buckle Up
One of the most dangerous rookie mistakes involves buckling the baby up. In fact, according to recent studies up to 93% of parents have made at least one error in the car seat positioning or use when they drive home from the hospital.
Many times that involves how the car seat is installed. It has to be tight and meet a certain angle, which is tricky. Parents should consider going to their local fire station or police station to see if they can get some installation help. They can also get tips on how to buckle in. The straps need to be tight with very little wiggle room, and the chest buckle needs to be in line with the nipples.
Babies can die in car seats, and not just in the event of an accident, so it's worth a little help to make sure that things are OK.
11 Leave The Cord Alone
Whether parents have chosen a lotus birth or they cut the umbilical cord, parents have to take care of the cord or cord stump during the first week at home with a newborn.
For the most part, that means to do nothing, and many parents make a mistake by trying too hard to take care of the stump. It will fall off on its own, and it's a bad idea for parents to try to get it off early.
Parents should be cautious and look out for signs of infection such as puffiness, inflammation or pus, but otherwise, their job is to do no harm. They don't need to bother with cleaning it, although they can clean around it with a baby wipe. Keep the diaper folded down so it doesn't irritate the stump, and make sure that clothes don't rub against it as well. Otherwise, everything should be OK.
10 Avoid Awkward Angles
One of the biggest mistakes in the first week at home with a newborn is that a parent thinks he or she has to suffer for the little one to be happy. That is not at all the case. In fact, while a mom is establishing breastfeeding, it's important that she's comfortable or she may not be able to power through the first several months.
The different breastfeeding holds are meant to help a mom and baby find a comfortable position to get into for baby to eat, so if it feels awkward, then you should adjust and make it your own. Find a comfortable chair — it's OK if that is not the rocking chair in the nursery — and get a breastfeeding pillow or other pillows to help prop the baby up.
There may be a time when the baby is sick and teething, then mom will have to rock and rock in a painful position to keep baby happy, but she doesn't want to start things off that way. If she does, she will have to keep up the painful positions and that means she will be more likely to quit nursing before she had intended.
9 Don't Try Going It Alone
Speaking of breastfeeding, the first week at home is integral to establishing a good breastfeeding relationship. At the end of the week, parents are going to take their little one to the doctor, and if the baby has lost too much weight, the doctor will likely talk about supplementing, so it's important to get a good start if you want to breastfeed exclusively.
While many mothers will not have a large milk supply in the first week, this is the time that it's coming in, and the body will produce more milk the more that the mom nurses. She should nurse often — probably every two hours — and work hard to get a good latch every time.
One of the biggest mistakes is trying to go it alone. Many friends and family have experience with nursing and may be able to help, and some lactation consultants are willing to do home visits. So if you're struggling, now is the time to get help.
8 Mom, Pay Attention To Diet
Inevitably, the first week home from the hospital is all about baby, but parents need to remember that if mom is nursing, her diet is very important for keeping baby healthy. (Of course, it's also important that mom and dad get enough to eat to keep up their energy as well.)
A nursing mom needs even more calories than she did in the last few months of her pregnancy. She also needs to stay well hydrated. There aren't very many restrictions on the mother's diet at this point, although alcohol should not be consumed and caffeine should be kept at a minimum.
Otherwise, a mom may be able to notice which foods bother the baby. She might have to avoid gassy foods such as broccoli and beans, and eventually she may learn that the baby has a milk intolerance, although that isn't likely to happen in the first week.
7 Don't Forget Other Important People
As we mentioned before, the first week at home can become all about baby. But parents, family, and friends need to remember that mom just went through an ordeal herself. Her body took on a lot over the nine or so months of pregnancy, and whether the delivery was vaginal or a C-section, it gave further trauma to the body.
For the first week after the birth, there is blood, maybe stitching, milk coming in and hormones going out. She is sore and exhausted, and she needs a little TLC.
Don't make the mistake of neglecting to take care of the mother during the first week home. She is doing her best to be there for the baby, but she deserves some rest and time for recovery. She needs support and help so that she can be at her best for the baby.
Dad is important too, so be sure to support each other during this stressful but amazing time.
6 Establish Sleeping Space
A mistake in setting aside a sleeping space for the baby's first week home can have tragic results. In fact, SIDS is at its greatest risk in that first week, so parents should be vigilant about making sure that the baby has a secure and safe environment all around.
The American Academy of Pediatrics frowns at co-sleeping, but in 2016, it issued a new policy that stressed room-sharing is the safest option in the baby's early weeks and months. That allows mom and dad to be close enough to monitor the baby without risking rolling over, or another sleeping disaster.
Remember that a baby's crib should be free of loose blankets and pillows, and a newborn won't need a comfort object like a teddy bear for a while. It's better to keep the baby's bassinet or crib empty other than a fitted sheet.
5 No Need To Cry It Out Early
In the first week home from the hospital, a parent shouldn't feel bad about holding their baby. While some people in the older generation will warn that constantly holding a newborn will spoil him, the research has proven that this is not true. A baby can't be spoiled in the first months of life. Instead, it's more important that the baby feel secure at this point.
A parent may be tempted to let the baby cry it out, but doing this in the first week is a big mistake. A newborn should fall asleep pretty well on his own, and if he cries a lot, that means there is probably something wrong. Check the diaper, try to feed him or burp him and make sure he isn't too hot or cold. Once all of these needs are met, the baby will likely settle down and go to sleep.
4 Don't Be Afraid To Partner Up
Many new parents make a mistake the first week at home by taking it all on themselves. This is especially true for breastfeeding moms, who know that they are responsible for feeding baby every morsel.
For nine months, mom was responsible for every part of keeping the baby alive when it was inside her, and for some, it's hard to let go of that all-encompassing role. But while a nursing mother may have to take care of the feedings, there is plenty more that dad can do these days. He can take care of the diaper changes and keep baby clean. He can rock and snuggle and swaddle and help burp. He can do just about everything but nurse (and if the baby is bottle-fed, he can play a role in that, too).
It's important for couples to partner up in the first week. It helps to divide the work and it also helps the father to feel wanted and needed, and less neglected during the first days home with baby.
3 No Need To Feel Helpless
While having a partner in parenthood does a lot to reduce the strain on an individual, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. There is nothing wrong with starting that first week off with a team to help you get through it.
Many family and friends are all too willing to lend a hand. From dropping off a casserole or a pizza to folding a load of laundry or taking a turn at rocking baby to sleep, the extra help can mean the parents get a break or maybe even some sleep.
Remember, like we discussed before, parents should limit the interactions with their little ones to help avoid germs, but a few visitors like grandma and grandpa can mean the world to helping a family adjust.
2 Avoid Overstimulation
Newborns are experiencing a new level of stimulation at a time when they are just getting used to the world they live in. They're getting used to breathing their own air and getting a good latch and staying warm all on their own. And while babies can smell in the womb and can get a sense of shadows and light, there is more going on outside than they ever imagined. Sometimes, it can be too much.
During his first week, a newborn can easily get overstimulated, especially if there are a lot of things going on. A lot of conversation and new people can be tough, especially if the baby is passed around. The ability to flail his little arms and legs everywhere can be exciting but it is also much bigger than what can be done while swaddled.
If a baby gets overstimulated, she might not be able to slow down and nurse, or she can get too anxious to sleep. Sometimes babies shut down in big new situations and sleep right through, but if they cry, the best way to calm them is by taking them into a quiet room away from the situation. Swaddle her and keep the lights low. Some comfort from mom and dad may be enough to help.
1 Keep To A Schedule
By the end of the first week at home, many parents start to feel like they have the hang of this newborn thing. Some are still struggling, and that's OK. One of the things that could help is starting to coax the baby into a schedule.
To be clear, we're still on board with feeding on demand, especially as mom's milk supply is getting established. Even the parents who most strictly adhere to a schedule will need to adjust it when the baby starts cluster feedings before going through a growth spurt. But for some, it's easiest to cope with change when there is a routine. For example, when baby wakes up, change the diaper, then feed, then burp. Finally rock to sleep again.
Once the baby's cord stump falls off, you need to try to work in a few sessions of tummy time. Many babies don't like to be on their bellies, but it's important for their development to spend time there working their back and neck muscles. Five to ten minutes at a time will be good at the beginning. Be sure to watch to see if baby falls asleep so you can move him onto his back, which is a safer position for avoiding SIDS.
Once the routine is established, the new little family will be able to figure out how to get sleep and take turns. Things should settle out soon, and before long the baby will be sleeping through the night.