Coming home from the hospital can feel both scary and overwhelming. Don’t worry it only takes a few days to get into your new routine and you will feel like a pro. Below are a couple of tips and expectations to help you make that transition even easier.
What to expect
Between the drive home and the first few hours at home you may be overwhelmed. Figuring out where everything goes, unpacking, and doing it all with a tiny human who isn’t used to the world will be a lot. It’s also a moment of realizing you are now completely responsible for this tiny human…for the rest of your life. But I promise within a few hours of being back in your own home the stress of “change” will subside and you will only have to deal with the crippling stress of having a newborn.
The very first thing you need to know: it’s pretty hard to break a baby! Despite feeling like you’re holding the most fragile thing that has ever existed, babies are not made of glass. You only have two things to worry about: 1) don’t drop the baby, and 2) keep their neck from whiplashing.
One important lesson I learned was to stop feeling like I was walking on eggshells around the clock. You don’t have to be quiet while the baby is sleeping. The womb is loud (the volume of a vacuum cleaner), and newborns are used to the noise. When ours first came home, we watched television and had normal conversations around her while she slept. The result? She got used to sleeping with noise and movement, allowing us to get stuff done, and find some semblance of normalcy (even in the form of visitors and conversation).
Ask any parent for advice and you’ll hear something to the likes of:, “sleep when the baby sleeps.” They will sleep a lot the first few weeks. You won’t believe it and it’s hard, I get it. There’s always work to do around the house and/or you might have a velcro baby, but you also need to encourage your wife to use these breaks too. Take advantage of it. Play those video games, get some sleep, spend some time together as a couple. This will all change around week 5-7. They will start being awake a lot more and need more attention between feedings.
When I ask new parents what their biggest regrets were these first few days and weeks they always share a similar note: don’t try to do everything together all the time. I know it will be exciting and may be nice to share the moments, but try to rest or take a mental break while one parent is on duty.
Also remember, in the first few days and weeks parenting and chores are not a fifty fifty split. It might seem obvious, but here’s an invaluable piece of new-dad advice: Never ask an exhausted new mother, “What’s for dinner?” Instead, try, “Hey, what can I fix you for dinner?” Taking care of the baby is more than a full-time job for the first few weeks, which means Mom’s share of chores will pile up. So pick up the slack on dishes, laundry, cleaning — whatever needs doing, whenever you can.
My favorite advice is “parenting isn’t 50/50, it’s 100/100. You have to give your all and expect your spouse to. During these first few weeks there is so much work to go around, just do what you can and know your spouse is too. The balance of what 100% of your effort looks like will shift as the baby gets older.
Embrace the chaos
It usually takes a week or two to start developing a routine. Don’t worry if the first few days feel chaotic. I like to say that the hospital is pure chaos and the first few days at home are just more comfortable chaos.
Babies this little can’t develop habits. We stressed out so much with our first, “We’re holding her too much, she needs to learn to sleep in the dark, we need to do X to make sure she does y forever.” Forget this. At this point your job is getting the baby into a routine that works for you and the baby. The baby should be sleeping a lot (even if it doesn’t feel like it since it’s 1-2 hours at a time – if you’re lucky) and as long as they are in a safe sleeping position you will be fine. Don’t stress about using the pacifier, feeding off-schedule, or letting the baby sleep on you. You are not creating sleep associations or bad habits at this point. In fact, most leading sleep programs (Babywise for example says they don’t recommend starting these types of programs for a minimum of 6-8 weeks).
The days are long … but the nights are longer…
Take the night shift. Share in the early weeks of sleepless nights. Even if you’re not giving supplementary bottles, there’s plenty you can do: Pick baby up, do any necessary diaper changing, deliver baby to mom for feedings and return baby to the crib or bassinet once the feeding is finished. Not only will you be connecting more with your baby, you’ll also be giving Mom some much-needed rest.
Be prepared that your baby’s days and nights may be switched. This means a lot of sleeping during the day and a lot of wake time during the night. Make sure to get those naps in during the day but also help them adjust by keeping night calm and dark, and getting outside during the day for a little bit of sun.
You should expect your partner’s hormones to go haywire (my wife’s tended to be late at night). It was usually crying, feeling overwhelmed, and anger. During the first six weeks, these are called the baby blues and they’re very normal. Just be supportive. Know her hormones are rapidly changing, and this usually subsides within 6 weeks. If it doesn’t get better, or you’re worried it’s getting worse, talk to the pediatrician or OBGYN about it at the next appointment. They should provide your spouse with a screening, and encourage her to answer honestly.
I had to put a section in here for breastfeeding. A hungry baby is the number one cause of short sleep cycles, fussiness, and stress the first few weeks home. As was mentioned in the beginning of this guide, this section is not going to give you a how-to related to breastfeeding. I am not qualified in the slightest, and I contend that if men had to breastfeed that all babies would be on formula. The following are tips and tricks for supporting your partner through this journey and hopefully making it a little less stressful.
First off, a woman’s breastfeeding journey is important and a sensitive topic. You should acknowledge that we will never understand the pain, stress of being the sole provider of food, and other challenges of breastfeeding. Just watch what you say. Ask your wife ahead of time what her breastfeeding goals are and how you can support. At many stages when my wife asked about breastfeeding milestones my default answer was, “Well what do you think?”.
Most hospitals have lactation consultants. You may need to ask specifically to see one or to have them come by more often. Make sure to take advantage of this service. Also, one of the biggest regrets I hear is that they had one session. Have multiple sessions and really take advantage of this service. If you miss out in the hospital most insurance companies will fully pay for a consultant to come to your house. Check that out.
I remember falling asleep waiting for the doctor at one of my early pediatrician appointments. She came in and said something that shifted our perspective and stress around breastfeeding. She said, “Fed is best. Remember that breastfeeding is not an all or nothing activity. You can breastfeed and supplement, you can pump and do bottles sometimes. Making sure we got the sleep and self-care we need to take care of our kiddo is priority number one.” Don’t get me wrong breast milk is proven to have benefits over non-breast milk but I do feel like we are made to think that if we don’t exclusively breast fed our children we’re bad parents.
As a result of that session we tried a new strategy. My wife would breastfeed as much as she could and would then pump for the remaining time. A lot of people recommend pumping after breastfeeding anyway, to ensure milk comes in faster. I would then feed the baby from milk from a prior session. Then sometimes when my wife was really sore or didn’t feel up to it she would just exclusively pump and I would bottle feed. It gave me an opportunity to bond with the baby and gave her the breaks she needed. Eventually, she transitioned to exclusively pumping and then finally formula between months 4-6. I remember thinking that if my baby had formula they wouldn’t be as smart growing up or they wouldn’t be able to thrive. Formula is safe, effective, and provides all the nutrition a baby needs. Formula exclusive babies have thrived for generations. Don’t stress – get the baby fed and do what is best for your family. It will all be fine.