Understanding the Needs of Your Newborn: A Doulas Perspective

By Renee Adair, Australian Doula College

I’m sure we all agree that one of the trickiest jobs as a new parent, besides navigating your lack of sleep, is to begin to understand your newborn baby’s needs.

As a new parent with reality biting at your heels, you will no doubt experience some mixed feelings and challenges as you transition into the world of parenthood.

You will be exposed to a mountain of information from well-meaning friends, family and experts on how you should care for your baby. And everyone will have an opinion on what’s going on for your baby at any given time. For the record, we firmly believe that you are the expert and that a Doulas main objective is to offer guidance and build your confidence. Just like in any new job, having someone stand beside you and guide you, is better than someone doing it for you and you standing by.

One of the easiest ways to best understand the needs of your newborn is to think about where they have just come from. The womb is a warm, dark, fairly noisy, fluid environment where your baby has not had to work for food or comfort. They have naturally been rocked to sleep, can constantly hear your voice and know your smell. Your baby has never felt clothes on its skin, had air in its lungs, been exposed to bright lights nor knows how to put themselves to sleep. They do not know night from day.

All of sudden they land here. Like a tourist in a new destination, they need a local guide. Surprise, surprise, that’s you!

The best way to begin to get to know your baby is to hang out with him or her with as little distraction as possible in the first few weeks. Try not to pass your baby around too much or head to the shopping mall. Babies don’t do well when over stimulated and when you are out and about in the early few weeks post birth you may miss your babies cues and what your baby is trying to tell you. Babies are actually good communicators, it’s us that has to learn their language.

Babies do need lots of love, cuddles and skin-to-skin contact, but it’s best if that is just with mum and dad/partner for the first few weeks. You cannot ‘spoil’ a baby with love and affection. This will in fact help ease the transition into their new world and you’ll have a much more settled baby.

So, broken down and simply put, the most basic of a newborn baby’s needs are food, sleep and contact and guidance from you.

Keep things basic and simple at the start and try not to get sucked into the void of the 62 billion dollars spent every year by unsuspecting parents across the globe on baby ‘stuff’. A baby doesn’t need a lot of ‘stuff’ and ‘stuff’ doesn’t make you a better parent.

Whether you breast or bottle-feed, look out for and respond to your baby’s cues. Feed on demand if breastfeeding, and use feeding time to touch, connect, talk to, and make eye contact with your baby.

On the all-illusive need for sleep, again, remember where your baby came from and that your baby needs to be taught to sleep.

We strongly suggest you be prepared to operate on a 24-hour clock with them and get familiar with the universal tired signs of a newborn: Grizzling or crying; jerky movements; clenched fists; and grimacing. All babies will display one or all of these signs and they get easier and clearer to spot around two/three weeks.

Follow the same rituals every sleep/bed time around that 24-hour clock and act when you see those signs, trusting your baby is ready for sleep. Babies learn from consistency and repetition, so darken the room and wrap your bub the same way and place them down in the same sleep place every time. You may even like to add some white noise. These rituals will begin to create a more relaxed baby and a pattern will form and a routine will follow. Remembering that a routine can take weeks to establish and it will change as your baby grows and develops.

Understanding the needs of your newborn or a child at any age can present challenges at times, but trust your instincts, rest and stay flexible, be patient, and don’t forget to laugh and parent from your heart space and in no time you will be the expert.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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