Those first days immediately after baby’s birth can pass in a blur of bliss. But, no matter how overjoyed and prepared you are, reality will hit sometime during the first 100 days.
Here’s what this dad has learnt about what to expect during baby’s first days.
In my experience, the fun begins when you bring your bundle of joy home from the hospital. In those first days out of the womb, babies tend to spend most of their time sleeping. And even if yours doesn’t, dealing with a niggly newborn is a lot easier when you have an entire ward of doctors, nurses, cleaners and caterers at your disposal.
You’re on your own
Once you’re back home, the gravity of the situation sets in. You’re on your own with a helpless infant whose only reflexes are sucking, swallowing and breathing. Everything else has to be done by you, 24-7. No amount of reading and research can prepare you for this exam, even if you’re writing it for the second or third time. Despite what the cooing aunties you meet in Clicks may tell you, there is no such thing as an easy baby. The first 100 days will be tough, but they will also introduce you to a brand of love that cannot be beaten.
In the early days, a baby’s sole task is to sleep and eat, but most babies have trouble doing one or both of these things at some point. “The most important thing to remember,” explains Cape Town paediatrician Dr Mandy Meyer, “is that every baby is different, so it’s very difficult to define ‘normal’ behaviour.”
Meyer emphasises the importance of regular check-ups at a clinic, not least for the opportunity these afford mothers to talk about their concerns with someone who understands. “Of course there will be difficult times,” she explains, “but if your baby is sleeping, eating and growing then you deserve a huge pat on the back.”
“By the time your baby is six weeks old, he or she should be smiling, staring at bright lights and faces, and be startled by sound. At three months, your baby should be cooing, chuckling, reaching for things and displaying head control.”
Sing the blues
There can be no underestimating the enormous emotional and physical impact the birth of a baby has on a mother. Someone who knows this better than most is Tamara Zanella, a counselling psychologist based in Bryanston. “Up to 85% of mothers suffer from the baby blues, a period characterised by moodiness, weeping and irritability, which should clear up when your baby is about two weeks old. If symptoms persist much longer than this, then it’s probably postnatal depression (PND) – a condition that affects 10–15% of mothers.”
“Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest things for any new parent,” explains Zanella. “It affects mood, appetite and energy levels, and if left unchecked, can easily spiral out of control. A new parent without any history of anxiety or depression still needs to get rest.” This is why Zanella encourages new moms to make use of any adult help that is available, and to push aside the belief that others – especially dads – won’t be able to look after your baby properly.
But, Zanella continues, “Emotional support is just as important as practical help. People have unrealistic expectations of motherhood and the pressure to be ‘the perfect mom’ makes asking for help very difficult. What we know from research is that just having some support alleviates a lot of the stress, even in patients with PND. It doesn’t have to be professional support either, just talking to another mother who’s been through the same kind of thing can work wonders.”
As Dad, it’s entirely normal to feel a bit left out of the special bond that develops between the mom and baby. There’s not much you can do to change this. Guys can’t breastfeed and in South Africa most men only get a few days’ paternity leave, so there will be plenty of opportunity for mom and baby to bond.
But, fret not. There are loads of times – like the middle of the night, and at 5:05am on a Sunday morning – when you will be able to lend a hand. Whether it’s holding the baby while mom showers, doing the laundry, or making sure the fridge is well-stocked, the first 100 days will show you just how simple it can be to demonstrate your love.
I would also strongly recommend establishing some kind of routine that involves you spending alone time with the baby. With my first daughter it was walking the dogs, by the time number two came along, I was confident enough to take ownership of bath time.
Which brings me to my next point: Don’t be shy. Only Mom can breastfeed, but there’s nothing stopping Dad from changing nappies, cleaning the umbilical cord, or cutting fingernails and doing some or all of these things, which will help you to connect with Junior.
Light at the end of the tunnel
As the haze lifts, and baby gets older, things will definitely start to get better. You’ll establish some sort of routine, which hopefully involves sleeping when it’s dark, and all three of you will get a much clearer idea of your role in your new life.
Besides, in the months and years ahead there’ll be many times when you wish you could have that cuddly, dependent and adoring newborn back, so take my advice and do your best to enjoy it while it lasts…
Here are three golden rules from Dr Mandy Meyer:
When it comes to feeding, breast is most definitely best. Feed on demand rather than imposing strict schedules on yourself – unless your baby is not gaining weight.
Swaddling your baby is good, as it mimics the conditions in the womb. To reduce the risks of Sids, a baby should sleep on its back.
All babies cry, but you should seek medical attention if the crying is excessive, out of character or accompanied by a high temperature, too much vomiting, or a change in bowel function.