Walking in your front door with your brand-new newborn is “a bigger transition than anyone can imagine,” says Tara Brooke, a postpartum doula, mother, and co-creator of Born Into This This and Doula Trainings International. The transition of which Brooke is referring isn’t only the transition of: There wasn’t a person here and now there is a person here. You’re going through a transition, too. Your body, your mood, your sore abdomen, your exhaustion—it’s all new. And it can all feel like a lot.
“Your hormones are shifting, your breasts may be leaking, you’re bleeding, you’re crying,” says Brooke. “So how do we set new mother’s up for the reality of this moment, and still give them a soft landing?” Consider this your featherdown full body cushion to your first day at home with your new 8-lb. roommate.
And we promise: You will make it through that first day. And the next day. And all the others after that. And somewhere along the way, the anxiety will give way to joy, confidence, and the feeling that you can leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Build your nest.
“The first thing I tell parents when they bring their baby home is to give themselves a break,” says Brooke. “What you need to do right now is care for yourself, stare at your baby, cuddle your baby, and feed your baby. If you do nothing else, you’ve succeeded.” Read that again. It bears repeating. Set yourself up in the most comfortable room in your home and have everything you need within arm’s reach: snacks, a pitcher of water, remote controls. Even diapers and a swaddling blanket to change the baby on the sofa or the bed next to you. “A lot of parents get stuck on this idea of using the changing table. But your body has been through a lot and is healing, so you don’t want to be constantly jumping up and down,” says Brooke. In other words, lie back, get comfortable, and stay there.
Understand what’s happening with your hormones.
Oxytocin, the hormone of love, trust, and orgasms, plays a big role in childbirth and the days immediately following. When you are going into labor, oxytocin stimulates the uterine muscles to contract (if you have a Cesarean, you receive an infusion of it). “After the baby is born, usually around day three, the surge of oxytocin that helped progress the birth is working itself out of your system,” explains Brooke. In Brooke’s opinion, understanding this hormone shift, understanding why you feel emotionally drained and fragile, and knowing that you may feel on the verge of a meltdown can be comforting—because it’s all incredibly normal. If you feel unhinged, scared, overwhelmed, or like laughing and crying at the same time, remind yourself that it’s all part of the process. “One of the old midwifery phrases for mothers who gave birth is, ‘You know that when the tears come the milk is not far behind,’” says Brooke. The drop in oxytocin levels is directly linked to your breast milk coming in. And that is a very good thing if you are breastfeeding because, as Brooke explains, your baby is about to enter its first growth spurt.
The hunger is real.
“There are basic survival instincts that begin kicking in: ‘I have to survive, and my baby has to survive,’” says Brooke. “How do we nurture that process?” For starters, make sure that you are both eating enough. If you are breastfeeding, put the baby to your breast as often as possible in the first 24 hours. As much as you might want to start a schedule, resist the impulse. There will be time for that later. Instead, jot feeding and sleeping notes in a journal. “A journal is less about creating a system or a schedule, and more about being able to answer questions that your doctor or lactation consultant may have,” says Brooke. And eat. Eat, snack, eat some more. Have plenty of healthy snacks and pitchers of water within arm’s reach. Brooke suggests organizing a meal train so that you don’t have to give it a second thought. “Have the person in your life who is really good at setting boundaries put together an email that says: They are trying to get rest, please leave the food at the door.”
There will be blood.
“Even if you had a Cesarean, you’re still bleeding vaginally,” says Brooke. It’s how your body gets rid of the extra blood and tissue in your uterus that helped your baby grow. It’s called lochia. It’s completely normal. The bleeding will be heaviest a few days after birth, so expect to change the pad every one to two hours. You’ll also notice that the blood loss is heavier after you breastfeed—that’s because the baby’s sucking causes your womb to tighten, which can cause cramping and will force out more lochia. It may be uncomfortable and unsettling but remind yourself that it’s just mother nature at work.
There will also be constipation.
“The first bowel movement can be really uncomfortable and sometimes isn’t coming as soon as we’d like, which causes a lot of anxiety,” says Brooke. In other words: Yes, it is totally normal to be nervous about your first poop. Brooke recommends keeping a small towel next to the toilet for applying counterpressure. “You are actually pushing your vagina up and bearing down at the same time,” she says. Similarly, if you had a Cesarean, use the towel to press up against your incision when you are bearing down to go to the bathroom. A peri bottle is the only toilet paper you need. As much as you can, be patient and relax. And then remind yourself it’s entirely normal.
Any activity is too much activity.
In that first day, “fatigue is a real factor in our health. Ignoring that doesn’t set you or your baby up for success,” says Brooke. That means that you sleep when the baby sleeps. And if you try to sleep and you can’t? Just close your eyes and rest. Sleep will come when your body is ready for it. Just don’t let yourself do the dishes or the laundry or scan your phone for… whatever. And try not to move around unnecessarily. “It’s such a simple thing to point out,” says Brooke. “But I still think that as women, we still need a lot of reminders about that.” She suggests preparing your partner with a conversation about household tasks, hiring someone to do them, or enlisting a friend. “For your own health and your baby’s health, take the rest when you can get it.”
Hang in there.
“Give yourself permission to just take it day by day,” says Brooke. Remember that no matter how exhausting, confusing or stressful this time is, it will pass. To be even more specific: It will pass in 30 days. Brooke suggests marking your calendar or putting up a Post-it with the date when your baby will turn one month old written on it. “You’ll see that when that day comes you are going to be much better off, a lot happier, and feel more capable, too,” she says. To speak on behalf of the armies of mothers who came before you: You got this.