Have you just given birth or are you about to bring a tiny wonder into the world, but you don’t know what to expect on the first 24 hours? First of all, congratulations! No matter how tired and scared you may feel right now, with all the changes affecting your body and your life, you are strong, beautiful, and amazing, and you should be proud of yourself.
Take a deep breath and relax! If you were able to carry that miracle in your womb for nine months, you will be able to take care of it after it is born as well. You have it in you, just learn to follow your instincts, and everything will be alright. Take it from someone who didn’t even know how to change a diaper when she had her first baby, didn’t have anyone to help out, but managed to sleep through the night before her baby reached one month, and raised two gorgeous and healthy wonders!
I should know! When I woke up after my C-section, and I realized I knew nothing about caring for a newborn and I had no one to help me, I felt desperate. Then, I remembered my mom telling me that I can do anything if I try hard enough and I don’t lose faith. She was right. If I could do it, you can, too. How? Keep reading to find out!
Gather Everything You’ll Need and Keep It Handy!
There are a few things you should have with you on the first 24 hours with your baby, no matter if you spend this time in the hospital or at home. They will help you avoid many troubles and make sure your baby receives everything they need.
• Formula – Your breasts may not be able to produce all the milk your baby needs on the first days, especially if you give birth by C-section, so you will need formula to compensate.
• Scale or breast pump – If you breastfeed, you need to make sure your baby eats enough. To monitor your baby’s milk intake, you can either put them on the scale before and after breastfeeding, or use a breast pump to suck the milk and measure it before feeding it to the baby.
• Diapers – On their first days of life, babies need changing every couple of hours, so prepare at least 5 diapers / day.
• Wet wipes – They’ll save your life when your baby regurgitates or they need their diaper changed. Look for varieties created for babies, as they use fewer chemicals and no alcohol.
• Bibs – Babies regurgitate a lot, and a bib can protect their clothes against stains and moisture. You shouldn’t use the same bib repeatedly, as the milk it absorbed during the previous meals will irritate the baby’s skin.
• Change clothes – Whether your baby regurgitates or has a soft stool, chances are you will need to change their clothes several times a day, so make sure you have enough options. To avoid rashes, choose organic cotton, and wash the clothes even if they’re new. Make sure you use baby-friendly products, and steam iron the clothes before your baby gets to wear them, if you can.
• Baby shampoo, towel, oil, powder, and moisturizing cream – You will need to bathe your child every day, and these products will help you. After the bath, gently massage your baby’s skin with oil. You can use the baby powder and the moisturizing cream alternatively when you change their diaper, to avoid irritations.
• Colic drops – Your midwife or pediatrician should be the one to recommend the best treatment, and you should follow their advice. Keep in mind, however, that what works for one baby may be useless for another. You need to pay attention to your baby’s reaction and see if the drops work or you need to try a different product.
• Tea – Depending on the variety you choose, it can calm your baby’s colic and help you set up their meal schedule and stick to it. I discovered that anise, cumin, chamomile, and fennel can really work miracles when it comes to colic. Mint helps with diarrhea.
• Bottle warmer and sterilizer – You will need to warm up and sterilize your baby’s bottles for every meal. If you don’t want or can’t afford a warmer and a sterilizer, an electric kettle should do the trick.
• Physiological serum and sterile wipes – You will need these to clean your baby’s eyes and nose.
• Pacifier – Some advise against using pacifiers, but I found them useful for setting up a meal schedule and avoiding night meals.
• Baby monitor – You’ll want to know how your baby is doing or whether they are awake every second of the day, even if you’re only going to the bathroom or kitchen, and this device will help.
Now that you have everything ready, it is time to take a look at the big picture. Before we get there, however, let’s cover two important aspects: the visits of your friends and relatives, and the advice you receive from other women who have given birth.
Avoid Visits and Keep the Ones You Can’t Avoid Short
I know, everyone wants to see the baby and congratulate you. However, you are in no condition to receive guests, and they should get that. More than that, your baby is just getting used to a new environment. The last thing they need is noise, passing from one person’s arms to another’s, getting in contact with all kind of germs and bacteria, and smelling various perfumes.
When your friends or family call, don’t be afraid to tell them you are tired and in pain, and all you want is to get some sleep in your husband’s arms, or hold your baby. They will get the message and will not mind postponing their visit with a couple of days, until your body heals and you and your baby get used to your new life.
If someone does come to visit, let them see the baby for a couple of minutes and show them to another room, to let the little one sleep. Don’t hesitate to ask them to buy the small things you need on their way over. They will be glad to help, and you will repay the money they spent.
Don’t bother to prepare snacks, food, or special drinks. Your visitors know and understand your situation, or they should. You are in no condition to cook or serve stuff, so take the most comfortable seat in the room and let them make their own coffee if they want one.
Listen, But Don’t Follow through Blindly
Every woman who has already had a child will consider herself more qualified than you, and will offer advice even if you don’t ask for it. It’s polite and helpful to listen, but it doesn’t mean you should necessarily apply everything you hear.
When I gave birth, everyone around me, from nurses to visitors and women I didn’t even know, tried to tell me how to raise my baby. I listened, and I felt overwhelmed. How was I supposed to memorize and follow all that advice? Yet, according to them, if I didn’t, my baby would suffocate and die, cry all night, or develop all sorts of conditions.
I tried to follow the advice I could, but as I was doing it, my instincts rebelled. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my two pregnancies and deliveries, is that no one knows better what works for you and your baby than the two of you.
Of course, you should listen, even if you don’t follow through, as it will help you learn things you didn’t know and your midwife may forget to tell you. For example, when I had my first baby, I had no idea I was to clean her tongue regularly. I only found out about it when she stopped eating properly, and I noticed the white coating on her tongue and asked her doctor.
I also didn’t know about jaundice, since my first baby was born at term. I got really scared when my second one developed it and her skin and eyes gained that yellow tint. In some situations, it helps to have someone to talk to. In others, you just need to pay attention to your baby and listen to your instincts. I’ll explain this later on, as we discuss feeding and sleeping.
Brief Guide to Caring for Your Baby throughout the First 24 Hours, and How I Did It
Feeding a baby is a little more complex than sticking a milk bottle into their mouth. If you don’t breastfeed, or you use a pump to collect breast milk, the bottle should be ready when feeding time comes. The milk should be at least at room temperature, preferably slightly warmer, as warm milk has a soothing effect.
Before feeding your baby, change their diaper and make sure their clothes are dry, warm, and comfy. If your baby needs changing, it is better to do it on an empty stomach, to avoid regurgitation. After giving birth, your whole body, and especially your back, hurts, so you may want to find a comfortable position for both you and your baby.
If you can, align their crib to your bed in such a position that all you need to do to feed them and take them in your arms is stretch a little. If not, don’t be afraid to set up a place for them right next to you, in your bed. In your condition, you can’t get up and stand too many times, and your back will probably kill you.
Especially when eating, your baby’s upper body should be higher than their lower body. I found that placing a pillow underneath one end of the crib’s mattress provides that effect without affecting the baby’s spine or comfort. Also, don’t forget the bib, as your baby might regurgitate, and it is easier to get a new bib than to change their clothes and yours, if it happens while you burp them.
What’s the deal with burping? When it comes into the world, your baby knows how to suck. What they don’t know, is how to breathe while sucking. As they learn to do it, they will take in a lot of air. This air will fill their tummy and prevent them from eating all the milk they need.
In theory, you should only burp them when they finish eating. In practice, I found out burping them more often helps them eat properly. I used to burp my babies three or four times on every meal. This way, they could eat the recommended amount of milk and I could time their meals more effectively. More than that, if they burp properly, they will regurgitate less.
To avoid regurgitation stains, place a small towel or clean cloth on your shoulder as you burp or hold your baby in your arms. In fact, everyone holding the baby should wear one. Besides protecting the holder in case the baby regurgitates, it also protects the baby against contact with synthetic, dyed- or perfume-filled fabrics.
Depending on your pediatrician’s recommendation, you may need to add colic drops to the milk. To make sure your baby drinks them, mix them in a small amount of milk. If your baby needs more, give them. If not, you at least know they got their treatment.
Some pediatricians recommend tea, others not so much. I gave tea to both my babies, between meals, to help them stick to the three-hour schedule and prolong the interval between night meals. You’ll find numerous baby tea varieties in stores and pharmacies, some made from plants exclusively, others with added sweeteners.
I made my own mix of anise, cumin, chamomile, and fennel. When my babies’ stools were too soft, I added mint as well. I tried to stay away from sweeteners of any kind until my babies reached the age of one. My babies kept drinking this tea until we gave up bottles for good, often having it instead of water. It helped calm colic and improved their digestion.
As for the meal schedule, we started working on it from the first 24 hours we spent together. I had a C-section, so they only brought my first daughter to me the day after the surgery. She was asleep, and so tiny that I was afraid to take her in my arms. The nurse told me to breastfeed her, letting her suck for about 10-15 minutes on every breast, and only give her formula if she doesn’t get enough milk.
When I tried to feed her, my baby fell asleep after just 5 minutes, and waking her up was almost impossible. The nurse pinched her, but it was in vain. When she woke up, she sucked for another minute and went back to sleep. She would wake up half an hour later, crying for more milk.
After two hours, I was crying in desperation, as my baby wasn’t eating and sleeping properly, and I was exhausted and needed help, but didn’t know where to get it from. I wished my mom was there. She always had an answer and knew what to say to keep me strong and confident. What would she say to me?
“Wipe out your tears, calm down, and think! You have the answer; you just don’t know it yet!” And she was right. The minute I calmed down, I realized the problem wasn’t with me or my baby, but with the feeding system.
If my baby got tired sucking, I had to save her the trouble. I tried to milk myself, but I couldn’t, and it was obvious I had little to no milk. Yet, I knew breast milk is important to a baby’s health, so I called my husband and asked him to bring me a breast pump. After half an hour, I had barely squeezed 10ml, but it was better than nothing.
I read on the formula can that a baby her age should eat around 1 ounce (30 ml) per meal, so I prepared 1 ounce of formula as well. When my baby woke up, I changed her diaper, fed her the breast milk, burped her, and continued with the formula. After two more burps, she had emptied the bottle.
She fell asleep instantly, and didn’t wake up for another 4 hours. I could finally wash up, eat, and even get some sleep. Life seemed happier, and I was ready for it. If your baby cries, they must have a reason. They could be hungry, need a diaper change, or suffer from colic pain. You need to figure out the cause and act on it. Desperation won’t help.
Things were extremely easy with my first baby, but more challenging with my second one. The pain after my second C-section was unbearable, much stronger than after my first one. As if that were not enough, my baby girl developed jaundice on our first 24 hours together.
I didn’t even know what that was, I just noticed she was pale and more agitated than her sister had been. After a couple of hours of getting up every 5 minutes to check up on her and putting up with the excruciating pain, I decided to ditch the crib and take her in bed, next to me.
I know, everyone recommends letting the baby in their crib, to give them their space and avoid accidental suffocation. Well, I couldn’t bear hear her cry and moan, and I couldn’t keep up either, so I had to do something.
When I took her in my arms, I could see her tummy ached from her reactions, so I raised the pillow to support my upped body at a 45 degrees angle, and took her at my chest, with her tummy facing down. The minute her body came into contact with my chest and belly, she calmed down and fell asleep.
Trust me, this position works like magic. Whenever your baby is sick or agitated, holding them at your chest, on their tummy, and rubbing their back will work better than medicine. It will also save you some pain and effort, and give you peace and confidence.
When you watch that little angel find peace and comfort in your arms, you feel strong, and you know you would do anything to protect them. You forget all about pain and exhaustion, and you feel happy and fortunate. As long as your baby is fine, you’ll be too, for their sake.
Even from your first hours with your baby, you’ll be dreaming of being able to sleep through the night. It’s natural, especially when you hear stories about babies crying all night and parents unable to get any sleep. I say it’s all up to you.
Here are a few tips on how to get your baby to sleep more at night, and extend the interval between their night meals.
• Bathe your baby before their last meal of the day, and gently massage their skin with baby oil. Lavender helps calm them down and improves their sleep.
• After the bath, pour physiological serum down your baby’s nose, to help clear their airways, and use a sterile wipe dipped in serum to clean their eyes, working your way from the sides towards the nose.
• Don’t forget to administer the colic treatment, to avoid having your baby up and crying all night from colic pain.
• Make sure your baby eats properly, even if it means feeding them exclusively formula (I later discovered that breast milk wasn’t consistent enough for my baby, so I breastfed her during the day and gave her formula on the last meal, to keep her full for longer).
• Place their crib next to your bed, so that you can check up on them without getting up, and let them feel you close and sense your smell.
• Keep the tea bottle and the pacifier close. If the baby wakes up before 4-5 hours have passed, give them the pacifier or some tea, and put them back to sleep.
• Keep the light in the room dim, to let you see your baby without waking them up.
• Check and adjust your baby’s sleeping position regularly, to make sure they’re comfortable and breathing properly at all times.
Take Care of Yourself!
You finally get to hold your baby and spend time with them, and that’s overwhelming. You have a million questions and fears running through your head, and that’s normal. Just don’t forget that, while your baby’s life is just beginning, your body is recovering from a considerable trauma.
No matter how your baby came into the world, your body paid a huge price, and it needs nutrients and rest to recover. Your pregnancy probably caused an emotional turmoil and a small gap between you and your husband. Therefore, take advantage of every minute you get to eat, sleep, or simply lie in your husband’s arms.
Without proper food, your body won’t produce the milk your baby needs to grow healthy. Without proper rest, your body won’t heal as fast, and you won’t have the energy to look after your baby, your health, and your relationship.
These being said, leave your worries aside, take a deep breath, and enjoy your first 24 hours with your baby. You can always call the midwife to ask anything you don’t know, but, in the end, all you need is love and attention. Keep your baby close and pay attention to them, and everything will follow naturally!