Caring for Yourself while Caring for Baby

Photo by Oleg Sergeichik on Unsplash

There is no right or wrong way to be pregnant, to become a mother, to make a family. There is only one way—your way, which will inevitably be filled with tears, mistakes, doubt, but also joy, relief, triumph, and love.

Angela Garbes, author of “Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy”

By now, you’re likely getting used to having a tiny human living with you 24/7 … but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s getting any easier. At four weeks, most parents we work with at WellNested still have tons of questions about navigating life with their newborn. We find that concerns around feeding and sleeping are often top of mind. 

While there are many ways to manage these early days, we encourage you to find what seems to be working best for you and your baby, and follow that rhythm.

Should I Give a Bottle?

If you have been exclusively breastfeeding your baby and want to start offering a bottle, experts suggest week four can be a good time to start this process. Keep in mind, there is no “mandate” to offer your baby a bottle and you can continue to exclusively breastfeed, if that is working for you. 

However, if you expect you will need — or will want — to separate from your baby during regular feedings in the near future, four weeks is a time that many babies are likely to accept a bottle. 

The choice to offer a bottle is yours. While many nursing moms need or want a break from breastfeeding, and will pump breastmilk for a bottle, others find it easier to not deal with bottles or pumping until they have to. If your baby takes a bottle of previously pumped milk instead of breastfeeding, you will need to pump at or around the time your baby drinks the bottle in order to replace the milk. It’s also important to empty your breasts when you skip a nursing session in order to avoid engorgement, clogs, or mastitis, as well as keeping up your milk production.

Pumping, Storing, and Bottle Feeding Breast Milk

If you are ready to start offering a bottle, begin pumping about a week before you plan to give the first one. La Leche League recommends that if breastfeeding is well established, to start by pumping a small amount once per day. You can begin by pumping any “leftovers” you have after the baby is finished nursing, ideally at a time when breasts still feel full after baby nurses, such as after the first morning feeding.  

We often encourage those who have an easy time hand expressing, or find there is still milk dripping down after feedings, to try the Haakaa Pump or a simple hand pump, which can be easier to manage than an electric breast pump in the early days. If your milk is not expressed that easily, that’s ok—you can try your electric pump, starting on a low setting. This quick guide can help you prepare for your first pumping experience, but for more hands on guidance or questions for how to integrate pumping into a breastfeeding routine, talk to your WellNested lactation consultant.

After pumping, immediately label and freeze the pumped breast milk in a milk storage bag or bottle. You can freeze small amounts of milk (.5-2 oz) at a time and begin to plan the bottle feeding once you have enough stored (usually 2-4 oz, depending on your baby). Be sure to follow Breastmilk Storage Guidelines when thawing and combining milk. 

By now, your baby knows you are their milk source so often it’s easier for them to take a bottle from someone else. For the first bottle feeding, choose a day when your partner, postpartum doula, or a family member will be available to offer the bottle and a fine window when the baby tends not to be fussy. Check out these tips for successful bottle feeding. Try not to get discouraged if the baby doesn’t take the bottle on the first try, you can try again in a few days or a week. 

Coping With Sleep Deprivation

Since your newborn is still eating around the clock, chances are you are not getting much sleep, particularly if you are breastfeeding. While you may hear other parents or family members talking a lot about getting more sleep, the truth is, longer stretches of sleep are still elusive for most parents at this stage. 

There are, however, many ways to help you get more rest and to cope with the exhaustion. Studies show that well-rested parents are better able to help their babies self regulate and that parental exhaustion can lead to an increase in crying. So how do you make sure you get more rest?

Rest When The Baby Sleeps

“Sleep when the baby sleeps” sounds great, but unless you are a newborn, falling asleep suddenly is not realistic, no matter how tired you are. Most new parents we see aren’t able to fall asleep (especially deep sleep) on cue. However, simply laying down with your feet up, taking deep breaths in and out, or listening to a podcast or audio book, can help you get into a relaxed mental state and provide some restorative feedback to your body. 

It is normal to feel that when you have a minute to yourself, you find your thoughts are racing or that you remain hyper focused on the baby. But it is important to take a mental break from these thoughts and let yourself check out for a bit to clear your head. 

Here are a few things can help increase your rest:

  • Keeping baby close to you at night and nursing baby in bed to avoid having to get out of bed
  • Asking a partner to manage burping or diaper changes so you can focus on just feeding the baby
  • Taking shifts if you are bottle feeding formula, where one partner is “on call” for four hours and then you switch
  • Having a partner or other support people who can make meals, do dishes, and do laundry
  • Asking friends and family to sign up for a Meal Train 
  • Letting someone else hold the baby when you feel tired
  • Not pushing yourself when it comes to exercise
  • Avoid long, ambitious journeys to visit family or friends
  • Reaching out to WellNested to learn about our Help at Home Services

Finding Connections

Remember, your body is still healing from pregnancy and birth. While four weeks is a time when many new parents start to get antsy and stir crazy, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. While light exercise (such as short walks or gentle stretching) is encouraged as soon as you are feeling up for it, it’s recommended to wait until you are at least six weeks postpartum and fully done bleeding before resuming more rigorous exercise. If taking longer walks at this stage, you can ask a partner or friend to push the baby in a stroller or wear them so that you aren’t overly strained.

If there is a new parent group or nursing circle in your area that’s either meeting safely in person or virtually, that can be a gentle way to start socializing and finding some relief from the isolation of new parenthood. Remember that this phase is not forever, and there will be plenty of time for socializing and getting out into the world when you’re ready.

INFOGRAPHIC: How Partners Can Support New Moms

Help around the house:

  • Plan to cook or pick up healthy dinner as often as you can — and be sure to handle all the cleanup!
  • Offer to handle the grocery shopping. Take a look around and see which staples might be missing. Start a list then ask her what else she wants to add, if anything.
  • Take over laundry duty, and be sure to ask her if there’s anything that needs to be washed with a particular setting. Add stain treatment to any stained clothes!

While breastfeeding:

  • Breastfeeding is very dehydrating, so bringing her a glass of water when she’s feeding the baby is a great way to support and be involved.
  • Check if she needs anything, such a phone charger or the TV remote. Feeding the baby 12 times a day means moms often feel trapped under the baby.
  • Offer snacks, preferably healthy snacks that can be easily eaten with one hand.

Emotionally:

  • Encourage her to connect virtually with other mothers. You can even try to look up a baby class or new parent group to recommend to her.
  • Remind her she’s doing a great job and that taking care of the baby is hard work.
  • Let her be emotional without trying to ‘fix’ the problem. Just listen. Remember that crying is expected during the postpartum period and that hormones are in full swing.

With the baby:

  • While the baby is sleeping, insist she go take a shower and that you will take care of things if the baby wakes up.
  • Offer to take the baby for a quick walk she’s done breastfeeding so mom can shower or rest.
  • If she is doing the night feedings, offer to wake up with baby in the morning or take the baby right after a morning feed (5-6am) while she gets some extra sleep.

When you return to work:

  • Prepare breakfast in the morning before you leave.
  • Text/call throughout the day to check on her. Let her vent or cry if she needs, being alone with a baby at home can be very isolating.
  • When you get home, let her debrief you about her day. If she’s too frazzled or too cranky to chat, immediately take the baby (no questions asked).

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