The early weeks of being a new parent bring joy and fulfillment, but also anxiety and bewilderment.
Feeding is your baby’s prime need – you can’t settle a hungry baby. So, the first thing you need to learn is how to feed your baby. Your baby’s day revolves around their feed/sleep cycle.
The benefits of breastfeeding are many, for both you and your baby. Your breast milk increases baby’s resistance to infection and disease, satisfies both hunger and thirst, and meets all their nutritional needs for the first 6 months. As well as being fresh, cheap and convenient, it helps create a close and loving bond between you and the baby. It also helps your uterus return to its normal size. For as long as you breastfeed, you and your baby will benefit
Although breastfeeding is a natural process, it does not always come naturally. For some, it may take up to 8 weeks to feel confident about breastfeeding. Persistence, professional support and encouragement from your family will help get you through this period.
If possible, try to breastfeed your baby as soon as possible after birth, as most babies are alert and have a strong desire to suck. Making an attempt in the first half hour is good. Your body will have already produced colostrum (baby’s first milk), which is ideal for your newborn baby.
Settling for sleep
During the first few weeks, your baby’s day is a continuous cycle of feeding, quiet time, settling and sleep. Remember, unsettled behaviour is normal in newborns.
All babies cry, and this is normal. Newborn babies cry on average for a few hours each day. Crying is a way for babies to communicate their needs. At the beginning, it’s quite normal to have at least one or two unsettled periods a day (where there’s a lot of crying), and at least one unsettled day per week. Responding to your baby’s cries promptly in the early weeks helps them to feel safe and secure.
It is important at this stage to develop a settling technique your baby becomes familiar with, which reassures and calms them. Use the same technique wherever you are, whenever your baby needs to go to sleep. This relaxes them and prepares them for bed. Just like music, a cup of tea, or a good book may work for adults.
The purpose of developing settling techniques is not to put your baby to sleep, but to prepare your baby for sleep – so they can learn to go to sleep by themselves as they get older.
Looking after you
Becoming parents is a huge adjustment and can be both a time of joy and great stress for new parents. It’s important to look after your own needs, as well as your baby’s.
An enormous amount of time is spent preparing for labour and delivery, yet this usually happens within the space of about 24 hours. Parenting is for the rest of your life – you will never stop being a parent. It is probably the most important job you will ever do and yet you get the least amount of training. It’s not like a job where you can take a holiday. You are totally responsible for someone – perhaps for the first time in your life – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
There is no right answer to parenting – everyone has an opinion on how to parent. Being a parent for the first time, you can expect to be confused or anxious about doing the right thing, as well as exhausted and sleep deprived.
While most parents easily bond with their babies, for some it can take time – weeks, or even months. Be patient – try to relax and get to know your new baby. They have to get to know you, too. There will be that magic moment when everything clicks.
Expecting to be a perfect parent is unrealistic – you are going to put too much pressure on yourself. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Plan for being a ‘good enough’ parent. The most important thing is to try to relax with your baby and enjoy them, as they grow so quickly. It’s important that you develop a close and loving relationship with them, as well as making sure all their needs are met.
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