The first week of your baby’s life will be one of enormous change. Instead of having his/her every need catered for, your baby now needs to function in a semi independent state. Your baby’s breathing, digestion, elimination and communication will all be very different from the way they were through the long months of gestation. But your baby will still rely on you for all of physical and emotional care for a long time to come.
At one week of age your baby may still look like and behave like a foetus. He/She will curl him/herself up most of the time, sleep for long periods, have short bursts of activity and then need to recuperate. You will probably find yourself spending endless hours just gazing at this miracle you have created. If you feel as if you’re still in a state of shock, don’t be alarmed. It can take weeks for new mothers to feel as if they are back to reality after giving birth, and to feel utterly preoccupied with the baby is completely normal.
If your baby is breastfeeding, don’t expect all of your feeding issues to be straightforward. Although breastfeeding is completely natural, it also requires a series of learned skills and it takes time, practice and patience for it to become easy. Your baby will still be learning as well and there will be times when you feel you’ve mastered it and others where you’re full of doubt. Your baby will let you know when they are hungry by crying, searching for the nipple with their mouth, not calming when you are holding them or if there has been more than a couple of hours since they last fed. It is important to offer your baby a breastfeed when they want it as this will help your breasts to make sufficient milk for your baby to grow.
If you are bottle feeding, you will need to be very careful about following the manufacturer’s instructions on correct formula preparation. The general recommended feeding volume guide for this age is 150ml per kilogram of weight per day. You will need to divide this total amount over 6-7 feeds every 24 hours. For example: if your baby weighed 3.5kg at birth, then multiply 3.5 × 150 and divide this number by 6 or 7, (approximately 75ml – 90mls every 3-4 hours). This would give you an idea of what your baby’s feeding quota for their age and weight is.
Your baby will spend the majority of his/her time in the first week sleeping. He/She will still be recovering from labour and birth as well and if you have had drugs during labour, this could make your baby sleepy. Remember to always follow the safe sleeping guidelines and place your baby to sleep on their back, ensure your baby is in their own safe sleeping environment, avoid overheating, and ensure your baby is in a smoke free environment.
It is common for one week old babies to go to sleep when they are feeding and be difficult to wake when they do. Feeding uses a lot of energy and it is very tiring work. When your baby is sleeping they are conserving energy, and releasing growth hormones. Much of your baby’s sleep will be spent in the phase of Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep, which is important for their early brain growth.
Your baby may be very quiet this week, with only the occasional cry or whimper to remind you they are in the house. They may wake for feeds, stay alert for a while and then need to doze off again. They may have periods of alert wakefulness when they gaze and stare at you. They could respond to yours or your partner’s voices, familiar music or the voices of your older children.
Try not to form an opinion or assessment of your baby’s temperament at this very early stage of their life. Most newborns are passive and calm if they are fed when they want to be. If they feel generally comfortable and have lots of cuddles they are mostly content. It is often not until they get a little older and have more maturity that they cry and become a bit more demanding.
Nappies will be a daily reality from now until your baby is a toddler. Most parents use disposables and it is important to use the right size nappy for your baby’s age and weight.
Your baby’s output will give you an idea of the amount of milk they are having. It is important that they have at least 6 heavy, wet nappies/24 hours. Breast fed babies may poo frequently and formula fed babies tend not to poo as frequently.
You will need to change your baby’s nappy every time they feed and in-between feeds when they are wet or dirty. You will be able to feel by the weight and texture of your baby’s nappy if they need changing. Cleanse their skin with plain, warm water and cotton wool or with low-allergenic wipes. It is unlikely you will need to use nappy rash cream at this age, so unless your baby’s skin is red don’t worry about applying cream.
Your baby’s cord clamp will have been removed by now, leaving just the remnants of the cord stump to dry and drop off. Although it may not look very attractive, it will soon separate from the navel. If there is a small amount of blood on your baby’s nappy or jumpsuit from the cord stump or it is moist, just be more careful about cleaning it and keeping the stump dry with a clean cotton wool and methylated spirit. The best time to do this will be after your baby’s bath and after every diaper change.
You may have had a bathing demonstration at the maternity hospital or perhaps you have bathed a newborn before. If you haven’t, then bathing can be a little scary; but like many other aspects of baby care, it is just a matter of time and practice which builds confidence. Your mum or mother-in-law can help bathe your baby while you watch and learn, till you can do it on your own.
If you are worried about your baby slipping or going underwater, ask someone else to be with you through bath times. Don’t overfill the bath with water, and pick a time when you and the baby are calm and not rushing. Bath time is a special, interactive time but it can takes weeks before it may feel like this.
What about mum?
You could be feeling all the attention is on the baby and you are missing out. Alternately, you could feel as if you are being swamped with attention and have little room to breath. Ask your partner to monitor visitors and give subtle hints if they are overstaying their welcome. Other parents are usually very aware of what a sensitive, emotional time this is and are careful to respect boundaries of what needs to be family and new mother time.
You will still be recovering from your labour and birth and it won’t be until around 6 weeks time that your body returns to its normal state. If you had a caesarian section delivery, an episiotomy, a forceps delivery or any other intervention, you are likely to take longer to recover. Sleep, rest, nutritious meals, time and sound hygiene will all help your body to heal. This is a time when you just need to do the basics and focus on what is truly important. Accept all reasonable offers of care and support and be kind to yourself.
Don’t expect yourself to immediately be an expert in caring for your baby. Although you may have read a lot, gathered heaps of information and listened intently to every bit of advice offered, this does not guarantee that looking after your baby will be easier. The first week after birth is exhausting, both physically and emotionally and it is unfair to place unrealistic expectations on yourself to know it all.
This is a week where you will need to find some space and time to learn all you can about your new little one. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve been overrun with visitors and well wishers. It is also important to think about the changes to your own sense of who you are and the big shifts already made within your relationship with your partner. Your own relationship with your parents, your family and extended family will also be transformed.
What about dad?
This can be a challenging time for new fathers. The shock of the birth, transition to fatherhood and the busyness of post-natal time can take its toll. If you have managed to arrange time off work, then make the most of it. Get to know your baby and try not to see your partner as the “expert” when it comes to decisions about their care. You have an equally important role to play in your baby’s life, even at this very early stage.