How to Prepare for Your First Day Home With Your New Baby

New mom holding newborn baby

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The first day home with your newborn may be everything you expect or nothing at all like you'd imagined. It might be a relaxing day of easing into parenthood or one filled with surprising challenges, emotionally and in terms of getting the hang of baby care, breastfeeding, and/or self-care as you recover from childbirth. The commonality is that you don't really know what that day will be like until it arrives. It's likely to include immense joy, but other emotions or practical concerns may creep in, too.

"My first day home with Nova was pretty rough," shares Bella Morrelli, who had gone through 40 hours of labor before having a C-section to deliver her now 1-year-old daughter. "When I was released from the hospital, it was late at night so all the pharmacies were closed and I had to go through the night without any pain medication." It was a rude awakening for her but also a day of tremendous love and happiness, says Morrelli.

This rush of conflicting emotions, frustrations, concerns, and unexpected challenges is very common. "There is no 'normal' way to feel about your newborn. Some parents are head over heels in love with their newborn and some don’t feel immediately bonded to their baby," explains Wendy Hasson, MD, a pediatrician in Portland, Oregon, who has a toddler and another baby on the way.

Here, we share what your first day home with your baby might look like, including exploring the practical issues you're likely to encounter as well as the physical and emotional journey of adjusting to life as a parent.

The First Day Home With Your New Baby

It was definitely a lot harder than she expected, says Morrelli, but her sweet baby made it so worth it. "I had to give myself time to heal to be able to move properly so I relied on [my partner] Darrion a lot for those early diaper changes and making food and helping me shower and walk." However, with time and help from her partner, Morrelli got through the challenges of that first day.

"Overall, besides the pain, those first couple of days were amazing. I feel so lucky it went so smoothly," explains Morrelli. She notes that her daughter happened to sleep and breastfeed well from the start, which was a relief as she healed from her C-section delivery.

Let's dive more into what taking home a baby may look like from a baby care standpoint.

Baby Care Basics

Of course, everyone's first day with their baby will be unique. Knowing the variety and full range of possible experiences beforehand can help you have a better idea of what to expect and may help you feel more confident, in control, and open to whatever comes your way.

Feeding

It's easy to assume that feeding your new baby will be a snap—and for some new parents it is, However, whether you decide to breastfeed or bottle-feed, it can sometimes be a challenge to get the hang of feeding your baby, says Dr. Hasson. "Many women will tell you breastfeeding is one of the most challenging experiences of their lives in the very beginning. Breastfeeding is a new skill for you and your baby, and like all skills, it’s learned over time with practice and guidance."

It's also easy to worry if you're feeding your baby enough or too much or if you are even doing it right. Some babies also have trouble latching on or sucking from the breast or bottle.

Initiating and getting used to breastfeeding often goes hand-in-hand with breast engorgement, sore nipples, and worries about whether or not your baby is getting adequate nutrition. It's very common to have concerns about your breast milk supply as well. Note that if your baby is producing dirty diapers and your breasts are filling with milk, then they are most likely getting plenty to drink.

"If you are breastfeeding, cluster feeding is expected and normal. Particularly in the evening hours, your baby will want to be put to breast frequently, sometimes every few minutes as a natural way to stimulate breast milk supply to come in," explains Dr. Hasson.

Newborns typically need to eat (either from the bottle or breast) every few hours and only eat small quantities at a time, says Dr. Hasson. Paying attention to your baby's hunger cues can help you know to feed them. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), these signs of hunger include turning their head side to side, smacking their lips, making a sucking motion, sticking out their tongue, opening their mouth, rooting, putting their hand to their mouth, and fussiness.

Also, note that newborns are sleepy creatures and often require encouragement to eat. "You may need to undress your baby down to the diaper and gently flick their feet to keep them awake during a feed—that is normal," says Dr. Hasson. "However, if your baby does not wake up on their own to feed at least every three hours, is too sleepy to feed with the above tricks, and is having fewer than three wet diapers in a 24 hour period, seek evaluation from your pediatrician."

Diapering

Newborns produce a surprising number of dirty and wet diapers, often 10 or more per day. Their poop can be quite explosive and even if you're diapering "correctly," sometimes that poop doesn't stay contained in the diaper.

"Poop color can change a lot in the first few days, from black, to brown, to yellow. Sometimes, it’s even green and that’s OK," says Dr. Hasson. "Colors of concern would be bright red, a return to black after transitioning to yellow, or white, grey, or colorless."

If this is your first baby, you may not expect all these changes in their poop, occasionally getting peed on, or feel comfortable with the diapering process in general. If possible, practice beforehand, even on a doll, so that you get the hang of it. Ask the nurses at the hospital, experienced family members or friends, or your pediatrician if you are unsure if you're doing it right or if have any other diapering concerns.

Bathing

While the diaper area needs to be cleaned regularly using wipes and/or water and a soft cloth, newborns don't typically need a daily bath. Usually, babies are bathed soon after birth and likely won't need a bath again for a few days. In fact, the AAP only recommends around 3 baths per week for babies. More frequent bathing can dry out your newborn's delicate skin. When needed, you can accomplish this by taking your baby into the bathtub or by giving them a sponge bath.

"It can take up to two weeks for the umbilical cord to fall off and it can smell terrible as it's happening. This is normal. The only time to be concerned about the umbilical stump is if you see obvious pus or if the skin around the cord appears red, warm, hard, or seems to hurt the baby when touched," explains Dr. Hasson.

Bonding and Caretaking

Babies like to be held—a lot. It can be a big adjustment to go from carrying your baby in your belly to suddenly having one in your arms. Especially on your first day home, you may have some things you want to accomplish, like laundry, getting your baby's room or supplies ready, making food, or cleaning up. Baby carriers or slings are a great solution that allows you to both hold your baby and have your arms free.

While some parents may worry that they'll spoil their baby by holding them too much, pediatricians think the opposite is true—that holding your baby and responding to their cries actually results in a calmer, more secure baby who cries less often.

Also, give yourself time to get acclimated to your baby and caring for them. "Bonding with each baby is completely different. Their cues, cries, and needs are completely different from one another," says Rachael Van Klompenberg, a mother of two children, in Portland, Oregon. She found that giving herself space and grace to really tune into each baby really helped.

Additionally, you'll want to dress your baby so that they are warm enough but not too warm, says Dr. Hasson. This typically means dressing them in one more layer than you need to feel comfortable.

"Caring for your baby is hard and repetitive work," says Dr. Hasson. "You’ll become the expert on your baby over time, but few parents feel like they ever 'master' anything because as baby grows and develops, the goal post is constantly changing.  It’s part of what makes parenting both challenging and fun!"

Sleeping

Many parents may be surprised that their baby doesn't "sleep like a baby." Instead, your baby may sleep for only short stretches at a time and make lots of noises while they sleep. Some babies sleep well from the start and don't cry very often. Others may cry even when all their needs seem to be met. They may only sleep when you are holding them and/or may wake up or cry when placed down on their backs to sleep. This is all normal infant behavior and not a reflection of your parenting.

"Most babies have flipped night and day cycles. Expect that your baby will sleep most of the daytime hours and want to be awake and feeding frequently in the evening. It will take several weeks for them to fully adjust to daytime being wake time," advises Hasson. 

It can take time for your baby's sleep schedule to normalize and for them to get used to sleeping alone in their cribs. It's important to note that in order to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), your newborn should always be put to sleep on their back in their own safe sleep space like a crib or playpen with a firm mattress that is free of any blankets, pillows, or other items. Room sharing is recommended by the AAP but not bed-sharing.

When to Call the Doctor

If you ever have any concerns about your baby, particularly as you are learning on the job during that first day, don't hesitate to call your pediatrician. If your baby is not eating, seems in distress, or has a fever call right away or go to your local emergency room.

Supplies

In order for your first day to go smoothly, you'll want to have a number of supplies at home before arriving with your baby, such as: infant-sized diapers, wipes, a car seat, baby clothing, a stroller, a baby carrier, a nursing pillow (if breastfeeding), bottles and formula (if bottle feeding), a crib, playpen, or co-sleeper, changing table, changing pad, and a diaper bag. Note that you also don't need to worry too much about some supplies if having them all is not feasible for you.

The key items you need are diapers, clothing, a car seat (if you'll be driving your baby), and feeding supplies, as needed. Sometimes, you can repurpose items you already own as baby supplies. In fact, you can lay a towel on the ground and change your baby there, if desired. Also, most large bags can function as a diaper bag and you can also use spare pillows to help you prop up your baby in your arms for nursing.

"Having a small bassinet with wheels next to our bed at night was a lifesaver," says Van Klompenberg. "The bassinet kept her close and safe."

The important thing is that you make sure what you use is safe. Additionally, some items should be avoided altogether, such as crib bumpers, inclined sleepers, and baby positioners. These products are not considered safe as they may contribute to an increased risk of SIDS.

Healing From Pregnancy and Childbirth

Some new parents feel great soon after giving birth, but most will be dealing with a variety of pains and discomforts. These may include constipation, pelvic area swelling and discomfort, heavy vaginal bleeding, perineum tearing, taking care of C-Section sutures, and general soreness and exhaustion from labor and delivery. New parents also need to eat, bathe, use the restroom, and sleep—all while caring for their infant. While the baby is very tiny, caring for yourself, too, can feel like a lot.

A common misconception is that you will have time to do anything else besides taking care of the baby and yourself. "I foolishly made a list of books I wanted to read while on maternity leave and didn’t realize how exhausted I would be from birth recovery and the repetitive cycle of feed/change/sleep," remembers Dr. Hasson. "Give yourself permission to be postpartum. If you achieve anything above having a fed and clean mom and baby at the end of the day, then job well done!"

Your body will likely be recovering physically for several weeks. A birthing parent needs to honor the time it takes to heal, taking care of themselves, not just physically but emotionally, as well.

"I encourage moms to consider healing from the birth process and ramping up milk production to be a full-time job and to outsource the other tasks of running a household to your partner or community as much as possible," says Dr. Hasson. "Give yourself the grace to let other things go. Babies don’t need a tidy house." 

Complex Emotions

The emotional experience of becoming a parent may hit you once you get home—or you may have been feeling it since the moment they were born or conceived. Everyone is different and their feelings are unique, but now that whatever you're feeling, a lot of other new parents probably are, too.

"It was crazy what a strong connection I had to this little person I just met. I would look at her that first week and just cry. Not out of sadness but pure love and almost feeling so scared her life depends on me," shares Morrelli. You may experience a flood of conflicting feelings, from joy and love to loneliness, frustration, confusion, or anger.

"It can be normal to feel like you have brought home a very tiny stranger," says Dr. Hasson. "Rest assured, that love builds over the first few days or weeks as you bond with your baby."

Emotional ups and downs are common due to the huge adjustment to your body and the change in hormones after giving birth. While some sadness or feelings of being overwhelmed are normal, some new parents experience baby blues, a moodiness or unhappiness that often occurs during the first two weeks postpartum, or postpartum depression (PPD), a more pervasive form of depression that impacts new parents.

"If you’re feeling distress, anxiety, anger, or sadness that is interfering with your ability to bond with your baby, talk to your healthcare professional," says Dr. Hasson.

It's cause for concern if your feelings of sadness prevent you from engaging in your daily activities, caring for your baby, or are making you feel that you or your baby are unsafe. An estimated 50% of people with perinatal and prenatal depression are not diagnosed or treated, so reach out if you think you may need help.

"Postpartum mood disorders are common and not talked about enough. They can take many different forms including depression, anxiety, obsessive or intrusive thoughts, and anger," says Dr. Hasson. Treatment options that can be helpful include individual or group therapy or breastfeeding safe medications, says the doctor. "Psichapters.com is a good resource for finding postpartum support groups in each state." 

Tips for Your First Day

While you can't predict exactly how your first day will go, there are things you can do to set yourself up for an easier transition into parenthood.

Delegate

Things partners, family members, and other caregivers can take on include bringing baby to the postpartum person in bed to feed and then taking the baby away to burp, change diapers, swaddle, and soothe, says Dr. Hasson. "Establish roles for the support partner and helpers early on, ideally before baby comes, and be flexible as [your] postpartum needs evolve."

Other jobs that can be delegated are preparing and cleaning bottles for bottle-feeding parents or pump parts for breastfeeding ones; taking over household chores or being responsible for outsourcing them to another person; making sure a nursing parent always has a full water jug and snacks near their bed; and being the point person for texts/calls from family and friends, recommends Dr. Hasson.

Personal Space

Sometimes what is needed most is a little bit of room to breathe. "If you have the space, it can be helpful for parents to sleep separately and take turns doing overnight shifts with the baby so that at least one parent gets three hours of uninterrupted sleep (or more, for the non-lactating parent), recommends Dr. Hasson.

Alternatively, give yourself permission to take a shower, walk around the block, or simply take a few minutes alone as needed to recharge.

"Caring for baby seems to be easier than caring for self. If you need to pass the baby off to their dad or another relative while you take a nap or a shower, the guilt can be overwhelming, but we have to remember it's necessary for baby's wellbeing, too," explains Van Klompenberg.

Patience

Newborns are changing constantly and time resolves most newborn problems, says Dr. Hasson. "Remind yourself that while it may feel like an eternity while you’re living it, each stage passes in just a couple weeks."

Additionally, remember to give yourself a break and let go of perfection as a goal. "Even on that first day, you'll make mistakes and you'll feel guilt," says Van Klompenberg. "But learning how to acknowledge mistakes and continue moving forward is the key."

Ask For Help

Don't wait until you are overwhelmed to ask for help. Instead, seek out support from the get-go. "Having a newborn can feel very isolating, so having a community of friends or family who have been through a similar experience and can give perspective is critical," advises Dr. Hasson. "Do not feel guilty about asking for the help that you need." 

Have your support system lined up well before the baby’s arrival, too.

"My first day home with my newborn the first time around was really peaceful, relaxing, and easy," says Van Klompenberg. "At the time, I lived at home with my mom and she made sure I was well supported and taken care of."

Say "No"

People may ask things of you that you don't want to do. Feel free to say "no" whenever it suits you. "Do not feel obligated to have visitors who are not helpful to you," says Dr. Hasson. Likewise, you never need to let someone touch or hold your baby if you are not comfortable with that.

Additionally, if possible, say "no" to doing anything beyond taking care of yourself and your baby. "My mom wouldn't let me do any housework and allowed me to focus 100% of my focus on my new baby. It was a really beautiful experience and something that all moms and babies need and deserve," says Van Klompenberg.

A Word From Verywell

Your first day home with your baby is something to celebrate. There's often a steep learning curve on taking care of your baby and it's natural to feel like you might not be doing it right. It's also totally normal if you have a bit of a rough transition or if you feel overwhelmed, sad, detached, or uncertain.

Whatever your feelings are, physically and emotionally, honor them and know that you are not alone, and it doesn't make you a bad parent to feel wiped out or something besides happy.

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13 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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