Caring for Yourself and Your Newborn Postpartum

Some of the most common questions new parents have about caring for a newborn are really the day-to-day, down and dirty questions. The basic answer to any parenting questions is to listen to your baby, your pediatrician, and your instincts. Don't hesitate to ask someone what worked for them, but be prepared to find your own way with your baby. Then, use what you need and throw away the rest.

Diapering

Baby having his diaper changed
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Whether you use cloth diapers, disposables, or a combination, your newborn will usually need at least 8–12 diapers per day. Some babies will use more diapers than others, some less. You will need to have a few newborn size diapers available, but know that your baby will quickly outgrow them.

Try buying two packages of newborn sized diapers. Cloth diapers can be more of a chore during the newborn phase and many of the multi-size cloth diaper products don't fit newborns well, so many cloth diapering families choose to either temporarily use disposables or invest in a cloth diaper service for the first few weeks until the baby fits in average size diapers. If people wish to give diapers as gifts, ask for a variety of small sizes—not just newborn.

Diapering a newborn is not difficult. Always have the clean ones handy and bring everything you need to one spot before removing the soiled diaper. Ensure baby is on a safe surface and don't leave the baby unattended—even small babies can roll. For beginners, we recommend stripping the baby entirely. This saves you some laundry in the end. Both boys and girls can spray you, so beware.

Umbilical Cord Care

Newborn diaper and cord clamp on belly button

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Hospital staff in labor and delivery and your baby's pediatrician should tell you exactly how to care for the cord, but it's always good to know the basics. The cord needs to be clean to prevent infection. Signs of infection include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Foul odor

The cord will fall off within a few weeks.

Bathing a Baby

Unrecognizable parents giving a newborn baby a bath at home.
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Bathing a baby can be very fun. The key is flexibility. Newborns don't actually get very dirty. And despite advice to the contrary, they do not need baths every day. If they enjoy them, however, you are more than welcome to bathe them daily.

As with every baby task, gathering your equipment prior to starting is essential. Once you're ready there are a couple of ways to do it:

  • Bathing baby with you in the tub
  • Using a baby tub for the counter/sink
  • Trying a washcloth and basin bath

While talking about bathing and keeping baby clean, it's important to mention that soaps can commonly dry out baby's skin. Some babies are very sensitive to chemicals found in even the most gentle cleanser. Keeping these to a minimum is a good idea, particularly the smaller the baby.

Soothing a Baby

A newborn and mother in a hospital
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Before you can look at how to soothe a crying baby, it's important that you know why babies cry. Here is a partial listing of what could make a baby cry—some of which might surprise you:

  • Bored
  • Dirty/Wet diaper
  • Frustrated
  • Hunger
  • Lonely
  • Overstimulated
  • Pain
  • Tired

Just like adults, our babies can experience emotional situations that leave them unable to cope. While there are cues for most problems prior to crying, crying is the one sure sign that your baby isn't happy or is in need of something.

Figuring out what that something is, however, isn't always easy. Trying the basics like feeding, changing, rocking, etc. might work the majority of the time, but other times it won't. Don't take your baby's crying personally and know that you can't always stop it or prevent it.

How to Cope With Crying

Here are some ideas to try when dealing with a crying baby:

  • Hold baby
  • Rock baby
  • Swaddle baby
  • Feed baby
  • Change baby
  • Sing to baby
  • Play white noise (running the vacuum, shower, or hairdryer can work)
  • Play music
  • Take a car ride with baby
  • Take a walk with baby

Learning your baby's cues and knowing your limits can be very helpful. There will be days where the crying might get to you. Don't be afraid to let someone else take care of the baby while you take a breather.

If you're feeling really frustrated and you're alone, try setting the baby in a safe place (such as their crib) while you take a moment to yourself in another room. Call a friend and ask for help. Don't be afraid. All parents have these days, and it does not mean that you're a bad parent. It means that you are human.

Physical Changes After Birth

Beautiful mother with baby girl in bed after breastfeeding
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It took your body nine months to build itself up for baby, and it will take time to return to your "normal" self, and some changes, like stretch marks, will stick around but fade with time.

The first few days after birth, you may notice that you are very warm all the time, perhaps even sweating profusely. This is generally due to hormonal changes and it's helping your body to rid itself of the fluids that have built up to sustain the baby and the placenta. This is generally not painful, just annoying.

After pains are the contractions that help your uterus return to its normal size. They begin after the birth of the baby (and the placenta), and they are normal and natural. For nursing moms, the oxytocin released while nursing may cause some cramping right after the birth and during the first few days of nursing.

Postpartum Bleeding

Woman holding sanitary towel
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Postpartum bleeding probably comes as the biggest surprise for most women. The bloodshed after the vaginal or cesarean birth of your baby is called lochia. The lochia will start out bright red and contain clots for the first few days.

Lochia comes from the healing of the placental site as your uterus shrinks back (involutes) to its pre-pregnancy size, which takes about six weeks. The bleeding will generally become light in flow and lighter in color until it stops completely, which signals that the location where the placenta was located has healed over.

Let your lochia be your guide. If you're doing too much you will generally notice a heavier or darker flow than from the day before. The lochia should smell much like a menstrual period. Any other odors or problems should be reported to your doctor or midwife.

Because your body is healing and at higher risk of infection, you should use pads to catch the flow rather than tampons or menstrual cups. Since the first few days are the heaviest, wear older underwear (or the famous mesh panties provided by the hospital or birth center) to avoid ruining your good clothes.

You can also consider using incontinence pads or adult diapers for the first few days. After that, any type of menstrual pad will generally work.

Perineal Care After Birth

Post partum mother body breastfeed
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Whether you had an episiotomy or not, and regardless of whether you had stitches or not, your perineum will likely be sore following vaginal birth. As your perineum begins to heal, you can help it along by doing the kegel exercises. These will help encourage blood flow to the area, helping it heal more quickly.

If you did need to have stitches, your doctor or midwife will discuss how to care for them and what your recovery will be like. They may even prescribe some medications to assist in pain relief. The stitches are generally going to dissolve on their own, though you may see bits of the threads come off on the toilet paper.

Ask your provider to show you the sutures and explain what concerns to look out for. Be sure to discuss signs of infection such as odor, extreme redness, and persistent swelling.

The following measures will feel good and promote healing:

  • Kegel exercises: These exercises can promote healing in addition to strengthening.
  • Sitz bath: A warm hip bath or sitz bath with or without medications/herbs, can promote healing and ease discomfort.
  • Air: Try sitting on a pad without underwear at least once a day.
  • Warmth: Some providers recommend a heat lamp or a hairdryer on a warm but slow setting for pain relief.
  • Cold: You can use ice packs or special pads with cold packs built-in. These are especially great the first few days when you may be swollen.
  • Medications: You can use prescription medications (if prescribed), but many doctors and midwives will recommend over-the-counter pain medications like Mortin (ibuprofen) and witch hazel pads (like Tucks) to help with itching and soreness.

Postpartum Emotions

Young mother holding her baby’s legs and looking worried
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Just like pregnancy, the postpartum period is a time of great change, both physically and emotionally. The changes in your body and its chemistry are great in number and your life has had a major upheaval. It is as normal to feel depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed as is it to feel completely elated and joyful.

Baby Blues

The "postpartum blues" are generally hormonal in nature and strike between 48 and 72 hours after you give birth lasting up to two weeks postpartum. The blues are characterized by crying, irritability, anger, exhaustion, tension, restlessness, anxiety, and possibly insomnia. The feelings are temporary and can strike anyone.

Postpartum Depression

Some women will also experience postpartum depression (PPD), which is generally characterized by worsening and persistent depressive symptoms and can also be accompanied by postpartum panic or mania and even obsessive-compulsive disorders. Some women will even experience post-traumatic stress disorders, particularly after a traumatic birth (individually defined).

Postpartum Psychosis

Though relatively rare, some women will experience postpartum psychosis. This condition is generally seen with many of the same mood symptoms as PPD, plus hallucinations, confusion, or delusions. This condition is very serious and requires immediate attention both for the safety of the mother and the baby.

Getting Help

Getting help for any form of depression is very important. Calling on your friends, family, and your birth team for support is essential. Some women simply need time and support, while others will require counseling and/or medications. Know the signs to look out for and never hesitate to call for help.

Feeding a Baby

Mixed race mother nursing newborn baby
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When it comes to feeding your baby, you have the choice whether to breast, bottle, or combination feed—all of which are acceptable (and personal) choices.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding ideally begins with a first feed within one hour after birth during skin-to-skin time. To begin, you'll simply put the baby belly to your belly, help them open their mouth wide, and place the nipple in their mouth. (That's the short, oversimplified version.) You should have the support of your labor nurse, midwife, doula, or lactation consultant for this first feed.

In addition to asking for (and accepting) help, consider learning as much as you can about breastfeeding prior to birth to prepare yourself. While natural, breastfeeding is a skill that both you and your baby will need to learn together.

Bottle Feeding

Some parents opt to bottle feed their babies with expressed breast milk, infant formula, or a combination of the two. If you decide to bottle feed with formula, ask your baby's pediatrician for formula recommendations.

Making your own formula can be very dangerous to the health of your baby.

The equipment you need to bottle feed will depend on what type of bottles you choose and, in the case of formula feeding, whether you are using bottled water, well water, or tap water. Discuss this with your baby's doctor and consider getting a report from your local water company if in doubt about your water supply.

How soon you feed your baby after birth will usually depend on the hospital schedule. If you have a preference for formula or bottles, it's best to incorporate that into your birth plans. Classes are also offered by most hospitals.

After the birth, you will not be given medication to dry up your milk. Usually, you will be counseled to wear a tight-fitting bra, avoid breast stimulation, and to take medications to deal with the discomfort. This can last up to 2 weeks.

Sex After Baby

Lovely family enjoying day at home
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Yes, there is a sex life after baby. Due to hormonal and familial changes—as well as the necessary time for recovery from delivery—your sex life will seemingly be on hold. Wait until your practitioner has given the go-ahead for sex. They are looking for the healing of the uterus and the perineum, which can be up to six weeks after the birth.

Once that has occurred, keep an open mind and go slowly. Talk about how you are each feeling physically and emotionally. Rushing back into sex when one or the other partner isn't ready can only make things worse. Remember that sex doesn't have to mean penetrative intercourse, but it can involve a variety of sexual and intimate activities.

Fear of hurting your partner can be a hindrance to romance and so can a baby screaming just as you're finally ready to act. Keep a sense of humor handy.

If you find that penetrative sex is painful, remember to go slowly and use a personal lubricant, like KY Jelly or Replens. If going slowly and a bit of time doesn't seem to help, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor or midwife.

You may also notice that your breasts may leak during sex. This is not a problem and will not waste breast milk for your baby. It is not harmful to you or your partner.

If it bothers you, you can wear a bra with nursing pads to stop the leaking. Most moms who experience this only notice this the first two months after a new baby. There are further considerations for sex after a c-section.

Your Six Week Check Up

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Your six-week appointment with your provider marks the official end of your typical prenatal/postpartum care. Unless you've had surgery, you've probably not seen your doctor or midwife since 24–48 hours after the birth. Be sure to bring all of your questions with you about the birth, future pregnancies, birth control, and your health to the appointment.

Birth control is an important topic for heterosexual couples to discuss because it is possible to get pregnant—even if your period hasn't yet returned. There are many methods of reliable birth control (hormonal and otherwise) that are safe and effective for new parents (including options for breastfeeding moms). Don't hesitate to ask.

In addition to discussing birth control and the birth, you will probably have your annual exam, including a breast exam and pap smear. This means that after this appointment, you likely won't have to see your provider for another year unless you have questions.

When Will It Be Normal?

One of the most common topics couples want to discuss the postpartum period is when will life return to normal? It will likely take you about nine months to a year to redefine normal. Slowly but surely your relationship will grow and your new baby will be incorporated into your family.

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Article Sources
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