Depending on how the birth goes, how your baby is, and where you live, you could be taking your baby home from the hospital or birth facility within a few hours, or it may be a few days. If you’ve had a complication-free home birth, you’ll be tucked up in bed right away. But no matter how many antenatal classes you’ve attended or parenting books you’ve read, the reality of having a newborn in your arms can leave new parents asking: “What do we do now?”. This is normal – there’s a lot to take in. Take things slowly, be kind to yourself, and don’t be afraid to seek help.
Will we get support at home?
Your baby’s latch should have been assessed by a healthcare professional, lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist after the birth to help ensure a smooth start to breastfeeding. Even if you’ve been told there are no latch problems, it’s recommended to have things re-checked if you have concerns.
Make sure you have an appointment with your baby’s healthcare provider for a weight check within a couple of days after the birth. Depending where you live, you might still be in hospital, or a health visitor may come to your home. Newborns can lose up to 10% of their weight in the first few days but should start regaining it by day five or six, and be back up to birth weight by day 10 to 14. If your baby doesn’t follow this pattern, seek medical advice.
“I discovered my firstborn had a tongue-tie after a few days. I’d been told in hospital that his latch was good, and breastfeeding wasn’t painful, so it was only diagnosed because he wasn’t putting on weight. We had it cut and he was fine after that,” remembers Emma, mum of one, Australia.
How can I prepare for breastfeeding at home?
Ideally you’ll have everything ready for your first day at home with your newborn – from nappies and muslins for your baby, to comfortable pillows, nipple cream, nursing pads, and healthy snacks and drinks for you. Find a comfy, convenient spot for breastfeeding at home. You’re probably going to spend a lot of time there!
“My sofa was too low to sit on after my c-section, so we ordered some emergency cushions online,” remembers Alex, mum of one, UK. “I also made two ‘feeding stations’ – one by the sofa and one by my bed – with essentials like healthy snacks, water, phone chargers, lip balm, muslins and the TV remote. No one was allowed to move anything!”
What care will my newborn need?
New babies are fairly simple creatures. Providing they’re well fed, comfortable and comforted, they should get plenty of that precious commodity – sleep!
In fact, your newborn may be very sleepy during her first 24 hours. It is usual for her to start waking up and feeding more frequently the following day and as your breast milk comes in (usually two to four days after the birth). Use this time to rest and adjust, keeping your baby close day and night for reassurance, whether that be in a Moses basket, bedside cot, or sling if you’re up and about.
It is very natural for your baby to want to be in your arms – all she’s known for the past nine months is you, and coming out into the world can be overwhelming. Being held and gently rocked by you, your partner, or another warm, safe person will help calm and soothe her. Try to go with the flow as much as possible – this stage is short, and will pass as she grows and learns to be on her own for longer periods.
This skin-to-skin contact also releases a powerful hormone called oxytocin in both of you. It’s also released when you’re near your baby, looking at her, hearing her cry or even just thinking about her. This amazing hormone helps you form a strong mother-child bond that will last a lifetime. It also helps your breast milk flow during feeding or expressing, so the closer you are to your baby, the easier it should be to initiate your milk supply and get breastfeeding off to a good start.
You can’t ‘spoil’ a newborn baby or create ‘bad habits’ at this early stage – so if well-meaning relatives suggest you might be, try to ignore them. Don’t attempt to get your baby on to a feeding schedule, either – she is too young, and in any case, many babies never conform to a set routine. Instead breastfeed on demand every time she shows hunger cues, such as mouthing movements, rooting or sucking, which will help establish your milk supply. And use an app like MyMedela if you want to track breastfeeds and nappies.
Look out for signs that your baby is getting enough milk: the amount she is pooing and weeing is key. On day one she should have one or more black and sticky meconium poo, plus one wet nappy. On day two you can expect two or more dark greenish-brown poos, which gradually become less sticky, and two wees. If your baby doesn’t do this, contact your healthcare professional.
What care will I need?
Your body needs rest and time to heal, even after a complication-free birth. Leave nappy changes, cooking and caring for any older children to your partner or relatives as much as possible – or get paid help if you can afford it. Save your energy for the busy weeks ahead and concentrate on bonding with your baby and building your milk supply. Everything else can wait.
“Shop online, allow others to make you drinks, and eat plenty and often to keep your strength up,” advises Gillian, mum of one, UK. “I found the first week blissful, but the intensity after that was unexpected. You need to be rested.”
Don’t feel obliged to have a house full of visitors either – only invite guests who will bring something useful or support you. “Save this special time for just you, your partner and baby, if you can,” suggests Kerry-Lynne, mum of two, UK. “I felt self-conscious feeding in front of visitors to start with, which wasn’t conducive to a successful latch.”
How can my partner help in the first days of breastfeeding?
While mums obviously have the most important role in breastfeeding, there are plenty of things your partner and other family members can do to support you and bond with the baby, such as helping to settle and calm her with skin-to-skin contact or by carrying her in a sling.
They can also be a ‘gatekeeper’, keeping visitors to a minimum so you get the chance to rest. Lots of new mums say they can’t sleep in the day, but with some practice and a little help from your partner, you can learn to take a short ‘power nap’. Make the bedroom dark and quiet and remove any digital screens or mobile phones. Even if you only lie down for 20 minutes of quiet time with no distractions while your partner takes care of your baby, this can rest your body. After a few practices you should relax and eventually sleep.
“I couldn’t have got through those early days without my husband,” says Kate, mum of two, UK. “With both of our children, he got up to pass me the baby for every feed, did nappy changes and often popped them back to bed after. If either of the girls was restless in the early hours, he would take her downstairs and sit cuddling her.”
This type of support has been shown to help with breastfeeding – a study found that first-time mums who identified as having breastfeeding support from their partners during the early post-partum period were more likely to initiate breastfeeding, and had longer breastfeeding durations.1
Why am I feeling down?
It’s not unusual to feel alone and helpless once you’re home. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you know or to a healthcare professional. During the first week after childbirth, many mums feel emotional, tearful or irritable and experience the ‘baby blues’ due to the surge of hormones as their milk comes in.2 These symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days. However, if these feelings don’t pass within two weeks or if you feel increasingly low and hopeless, talk to a healthcare professional.
“It was a very emotional time and I was thankful for the heads-up from a friend, who told me I may find day three extra difficult,” says Mariah, mum of one, Canada. “It’s normal for this time to feel really hard.”
Why hasn’t breastfeeding come naturally?
You might imagine something as natural and vital as breastfeeding will come easily – but in reality it takes time to master. Just like learning to drive a car, or any new skill, breastfeeding takes practice, and it’s normal to have good days and bad days. This comes as a shock to many new mums: “I thought it’d be as easy as sticking my baby on the breast, but I was so wrong,” says Joanne, mum of one, UK. “Talking to friends I realise a lot of people think the same, but no one mentions it.”
A survey of American mums found 92% experienced concerns with breastfeeding by day three,3 so if that’s the case, don’t worry – take a deep breath and seek advice. Have a list of numbers of lactation consultants or breastfeeding specialists, and useful support groups or websites, ready before your baby arrives in case you need them.
“If you can, attend a local La Leche League meeting for some great advice and camaraderie,” suggests Jane, mum of two, US.
Michelle, mum of one, Australia, advises: “Get as much assistance and advice from qualified people as you can, but try to avoid unqualified people who might confuse you in the first 48 hours.”
Finally, don’t be tempted to give your baby a bottle of formula because a ‘helpful’ relative suggests it might settle her or let you get some rest – or because you’re worried you don’t have enough milk. The best way to initiate breastfeeding is to give every feed yourself. It’s natural for babies to want to feed very frequently at this stage and she could be showing hunger signs as soon as 45 minutes after the last feed, but this helps to build your milk supply.
“The first 48 hours are tough – you’re both learning,” says Ruth, mum of one, UK. “Ask for all the help you can, eat biscuits, relax and be kind to yourself.”