Let’s talk about preparing for life in the postpartum period.
In particular, I want to run through a really rough timeline about what you might expect in the first few months of your baby’s life.
The baby that you have.
Before we start saying what’s normal, it is really important that we have a good understanding about the range of normal. Just like you and me, who are all very, very different and unique individuals, of course our babies are unique.
A certain amount of newborn behaviour is just who they are and what they are born with, and not as much about what we are able to do to help them, comfort them and support them.
What we would sort of expect is a really diverse range of normal, how healthy and well babies might behave.
So, on one end, you might have babies who are particularly settled. These babies might feed and almost fall asleep straight afterwards, they might not grizzle much, and they are very easy to just keep in a calm, relaxed, settled state. You might have heard parents who have more than one child often sort of saying, “oh, this one was so unsettled and this one was the easy baby”. It just goes to show that it really isn’t always about us (and what we do ‘right’ or ‘wrong’), when we can love, and parent and care for 2 babies in a similar way, but they react and respond so differently.
On the other end, there are babies who are the complete polar opposite. These babies who are just particularly unsettled little beans. They might be just a little bit more fractious, a bit quicker to be overstimulated and they tend to require a lot more hands on assistance to settle.
Parenting a baby who is on this end of the spectrum can be really, really challenging and if this is your baby you can see that you might compare yourself to someone who has a baby who is particularly settled and begin to think that there is something YOU should do. It has been said that “comparison is the thief of joy” and this is a never any truer than the early days, weeks and months with our new baby. This is a time when we should be free to bunker down with our new family and take our lead from our baby, learning to dance with their rhythm, and getting to know them.
Well and healthy babies come in a huge diverse range with most babies sitting somewhere in between. They might have periods where they’re more and periods where they are very, very unsettled and everything in between.
With this in mind what follows is a very general map that navigates the first few months with your new baby.
At the time of birth, babies often cry spontaneously. All being well, they should spend some time with mum skin to skin and might have a good breastfeed followed by a period of rest. During the first 24 hours babies tend to be quite settled, they might wake a few times for a breastfeed, but otherwise it’s mostly just recovering from birth.
The tricky starting bit:
By about 48 to 72 hours into life most babies will have started to really wake up. If you are breastfeeding it would be really normal to be breastfeeding very frequently or even breastfeeding continuously until mature breastmilk begins to be produced. Once mature breast milk starts being produced, you might find that they have a bit more ability to sleep and be settled in between feeds. Around this time, day 5-7, you might start to notice a little bit more of a rhythm in the day.
The rest and recover (and fall in love) bit:
At the time mature milk is created and babies are filling and emptying their bellies, you may find a certain ‘rhythm’ begins to reveal itself. In general, there will be periods of hunger followed by feeding and then generally being settled. This tends to be somewhat of the pattern that follows you through the first couple of weeks of life. Often around this time I hear people say, “oh, my baby’s the greatest baby, they never cry and they sleep all the time”. If this is you – fantastic. If this isn’t your experience please don’t expect too much of yourself. Regardless of your experience this is the time for you to lay low, only doing the things that you love and make you feel wonderful, rest, regroup and fall in love with your baby.
The second wind stage
Around two weeks of age a lot of babies tend to start to wake up and you can see after a gentle start this can be really quite confronting and a little bit overwhelming. It’s never easy even when it’s easy, but if it’s been a lot smoother and then suddenly your baby’s starts to wake up and require a bit more hands on help settling, that can be a bit overwhelming and potentially we can start to feel as though there’s something that we’ve done. Often at this time women might start to worry about all the reasons why and women typically start to worry, do I have enough milk? Um, am I doing this correctly? Am I overstimulating my baby? Do they have reflux? Even though it is reasonable to look at all the internal and external things that might be affecting our baby’s being settled, but for the majority well and healthy babies, they are just developing in the normal way. Part of that normal development is starting to wake up and require a bit more assistance.
The Hollywood drama stage
From about two weeks to six weeks, babies will generally need increasingly more help and assistance to settle, climaxing around the six-week mark. If you’ve ever watched a Hollywood film with a brand-new baby or heard these stories going around about driving the streets in a car late at night to get the baby to sleep or rocking the baby in the laundry with the washing machine or the dryer rumbling, this pretty much sums up this time with your baby. Be aware that you are the perfect target of every single baby settling book, or person selling you a magic ‘cure-all’, around this time. Although, if we just keep being gentle ourselves time itself tends to be the cure for most babies.
The chilling out stage
By around the 10 to 12 weeks mark you might find that there’s a bit more of a rhythm to the day. I definitely wouldn’t say your baby will be in a “routine”, as babies this age do not adhere to routines. Babies brains are far too immature to abide a routine until at least the six month mark, so until then we wouldn’t be expecting them to actually respond to any sort of routine. If you find one is naturally developing and that works for you – go with it. However at this early age, their circadian rhythms are really immature and they don’t even know the difference between day and night until they’re around four months of age, if not after.
The 3-month mark
What you might find around this time is that you as a mother, father or parent, are getting to know your baby and what is normal for them. You tend to know that around a certain time in the day your baby might be settled, eat more or cry a little more. At least one day a week it would be expected for you to have no idea what’s happening because generally speaking, one day a week at least, the baby will completely throw your whole routine off.
Your baby is developing mentally and physically so rapidly that there are massive changes in their behaviour and our expectations of them should reflect that. You might feel that as soon as you’ve got on top of it, something changes and you have to relearn what works and doesn’t work with your baby.
If you are about to have a baby hopefully this gives you some food for thought around the sort of support that you might want to put in place that can make this transition a lot smoother and a lot gentler. If you have a brand-new baby hopefully it helps you feel a lot more normal because you’re doing a fantastic job it’s just really, really hard.
Jen is a midwife and mother of five. She is really passionate about women having voices and choices in maternity care and absolutely privileged to be working alongside women and their loved ones during this time.