It's possible to focus the entire nine months of pregnancy on growing the baby and getting him into the world. What is sometimes harder to imagine is what will happen when the baby arrives. How can mom help the baby make a smooth transition? What will those early days be like?
The first three months after the baby is born is often referred to as the fourth trimester, and that offers insight into what it will be like. The baby will go from a warm womb where all needs were provided for before he had to ask... into the wide open world where everything is different. A great way to make that transition easier is to imagine how disconcerting that is and create an environment that helps the baby feel comfortable.
Luckily, we know a lot about what helps babies stay calm and what can cause them distress in those early months. Designing the postpartum experience with the baby's needs in mind will make it easier for everyone involved.
Those early days are difficult, and it can feel like the baby never stops needing something, but it's important to keep in mind that this is a huge change from life in the womb. Everything that can be done to make it better should be done.
If it seems like the baby wants to be close to mom and dad's skin, that's because he does. Skin to skin contact helps a baby who has just left the warm embrace of the womb transition to the outside world by providing body heat and a reassuring presence.
Skin to skin contact can help with a baby's blood sugar, body function, and the breastfeeding relationship. It also helps the baby bond with mom and dad and gives a feeling of safety that may even reduce how much the baby cries in those early days. It's a great way to welcome the little one into the big world.
Everyone knows that a baby gets hungry and wants to eat after entering the world. What mom and dad may not know is how important it is to feed on demand so the baby gets what he needs when he needs it.
Putting babies on strict feeding schedules is a bad idea because it doesn't allow them to demand more when growth spurts hit. Growth are peppered throughout the first year, and they are major in those very early transition days after birth. Feed the baby, by breast or bottle, when he's hungry. This will make life so much easier and help the baby thrive.
Forget the stress of putting together an ideal nursery for the little one. New recommendations say babies should room in with parents for at least the first six months. This means the baby sleeps in the same room with parents, just not in the same bed.
This helps with the breastfeeding relationship and with the baby feeling more secure. Mom and dad are right there when the baby has a need, and there is no way the baby will be left crying it out too long in another part of the house. Keeping them close early on helps them feel secure as they grow.
Strollers are nice and can be convenient at times, but one of the best ways to help the baby make the transition from womb to world is by keeping them close. Baby wearing is a wonderful way to practice this.
Slings, carriers, and wraps allow a baby to stay close to mom or dad while still giving the adults the option of being somewhat hands-free and mobile. Many babies like to sleep while being worn, and mom can even breastfeed the baby in many carriers or wraps. Baby wearing beats simply having to carry the baby all the time without any support, and some babies cry less when close to mom or dad.
Feeding a baby is about more than just offering nourishment, though that is obviously important. Feeding on demand allows a baby to have some control over this area of life and should be practiced to help him grow and thrive.
There will be times that it seems a baby wants to nurse for comfort, and that's okay. As demanding as it can be, letting the baby feed on demand for whatever reason helps him understand that he can have his needs met and is safe. Feedings tend to taper off and become a little more predictable as the months pass, but always respond when a baby wants to eat.
In the womb, the baby was wrapped tight in mom's uterus with limited space to explore towards the end of the last trimester. Recreating some semblance of that feeling may help a baby stay calm and sleep better in those early days. That's why many hospitals teach mom and dad how to swaddle the baby using blankets, and companies even make swaddlers to simplify the process.
It's important to make sure a child is not too warm or constricted when they are swaddled, but keeping the little one somewhat confined is the point. It lessens the risk of the baby waking up by startling, and it gives many babies a feeling of security that allows sleep.
Mom and dad won't be able to take their eyes off the baby, but what they might not know is that the baby will have a hard time seeing them. Babies don't see colors well early on, and they also can't see long distances. That's why they like to be close to whoever is holding them. It's how they can see and study a face.
Hold the baby close, and don't be surprised if crying starts when mom and dad walk out of sight. Even if mom can still see the baby, the baby will only see a fuzzy blur as mom moves away, and that can cause panic.
Babies love to hear kind voices. Talk to the baby, sing to the baby, and let the baby know what is going on around him at any given time. This will help the baby develop language skills, and it also comforts them. With eyesight not being super strong early on, hearing someone is near can offer comfort.
Reading to babies is always a good idea and gives mom a way to verbally communicate when she's run out of things to say. Babies just want to hear voices, and they can be calmed when they recognize a voice that's familiar from time in the womb.
Planning for the birth is a proactive way to make sure the baby's welcome to the world is as smooth as it can be. Of course, plans don't always work out, but writing out a birth plan and going over it with the OB or midwife before delivery is a great way to figure out how to handle the baby's earliest hours in the world.
Mom can ask that the baby be allowed immediate skin-to-skin time, breastfeeding, or that he not be taken from the room after birth. She can specify who is supposed to stay with him if he does need to be taken out of the room, and these requests offer an early map that can make the birthing experience easier for everyone.
The sucking reflex kicks in early, and babies are comforted by something in their mouths. Offer the breast, a pacifier, or a bottle and watch the baby calm down. Besides receiving food from the bottle or the breast, just the sensation of sucking can calm a baby, which is why a pacifier can work when the baby isn't hungry.
There are also other benefits to this approach. Breastfeeding and use of a pacifier lower the risk of SIDS, so it's worth it to start early. This can make the transition to the world easier for mom and the baby.
Babies cry for a reason, and parents are supposed to respond. The reason may simply be that the baby wants to be held, but that's enough. Leaving a baby to cry, especially in those very early days, is not the way to welcome him into the world. In fact, it can cause more stress for everyone involved.
A baby is not trying to manipulate a parent by crying often, and it's not possible to spoil a baby by responding to his cries. Responding when a child is upset helps them build trust and attachment, so it's important to let the little one know mom and dad will be there every time.
It's not possible to see inside of a baby's mind, and they lack the words to tell us what they are going through. That's why the practice of empathizing, where we try to put ourselves in someone else' place, is so important as parents. It keeps mom and dad from simply reacting with anger because it helps them try to see what the baby needs instead of just noticing the crying.
Empathy is an important skill to have because it will help us raise our kids and teach them how to offer empathy. This skill is lacking now more than it was decades ago, and it's essential for healthy relationships.
It's not true for every baby, but many love the water from day one. It makes sense because a child spends months in amniotic fluid inside the womb, essentially swimming around. When a child is upset and having problems calming down, offering a calm bath can help with relaxation.
It's important to always supervise a baby in the bathtub and to read cues to make sure the water is what he wants. For many children, being back in water is soothing and can stop a fit that otherwise would continue. There are even bathtubs built just for a baby's tiny frame.
Creating a routine for a baby doesn't mean being a slave to a clock. It's not as important exactly what time things happen as it is for the baby to be able to pick up a pattern and feel secure in some semblance of structure.
Bath time routines, bed time routines, and napping routines can help a baby notice cues that a transition is about to take place. It's less startling when something comes before something else consistently because it helps babies predict what is next. This is much less jarring for a child who is already trying to figure out all the differences between life in the womb and life outside the womb.
Every mom's recovery plan will look a little different due to many factors. Does mom have family around to help? Is she going back to work or staying home with the baby full-time? Did she have a V delivery or a C-section? Whatever the case, mom needs to have a recovery plan that gives her time to bond with the baby and heal from birth.
This may mean asking friends to bring over food or committing to staying in the house to rest and bond the first couple of weeks. Consider the baby and what will make him the most comfortable as well as factoring in mom's needs to make the best plan.
Giving birth at a baby friendly hospital makes the baby's transition into the world easier by default. Baby-friendly hospitals prioritize the baby's needs and encourage early breastfeeding and rooming in with the baby so she won't be away from mom. Baby-friendly hospitals may offer birthing centers within the facilities so mom can choose that option as long as birth progresses properly. They may also offer gentle C-sections, a less jarring surgical procedure for mom and the baby.
Baby-friendly hospitals take the stress out of birth by designing the experience to accommodate the baby. Choosing to deliver at one is a great first step.
When a baby cries, it is very difficult to stay calm. The cries of a baby are meant to jar the adults in the room so they will jump into action and meet the child's need. It's the only tool a baby has in the beginning.
It's best if mom and dad can stay calm when a baby is crying, even if the cries seem frequent or excessive. This may mean taking breaks and handing the baby off to the other parent before frustration sets in. It may mean prioritizing radical self-care in those early days so mom and dad can handle the crying phases. Whatever it takes, try to stay calm and don't yell or reprimand the baby for perfectly normal behavior.
To be totally honest, many babies do not love tummy time in the beginning. The inability to hold up the head for a long period of time means tummy time can simply feel like face planting to infants. However, with practice it will help the baby develop skills that make life easier outside of the womb.
Tummy time helps strengthen a child's muscles and helps with coordination. It's the first step to a child learning to roll over and crawl. Getting on the floor with the baby while he practices can make tummy time easier for him. Offering praise also encourages the baby to keep trying.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what we are doing, the opposite of mindlessness. This is key in helping a baby feel safe in his new world. Mom can take her time, take a few deep breaths, and make the best decision at the moment that will help her and her child feel connected and safe.
Practicing mindfulness takes, well, practice, and it's best to start before the baby arrives. Don't get used to rushing or acting without thinking. By taking the time to stop and consider the next best step, mom has time to imagine how her choice will affect her little one and choose wisely.
Mom does not need to shy away from asking for and accepting help. A key way to help a child make his way into this world is to offer him parents who are calm and rested. That's not always possible, but accepting help and practicing self-care may increase the chances of mom and dad feeling up to the demands of parenting.
It's also great for babies to interact with close family and friends who love them and to have a strong community early in life. These relationships will grow and offer support throughout a child's life, and they also offer mom and dad other people to lend help when it's needed.
Sources: Babycenter.com, TheBump.com, Parentmap.com