For new mums, the first weeks after your baby is born can be happy and exciting. But it’s also normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed. It helps to have some idea of what to expect after the birth, when you leave the birth centre or hospital, and when you’re at home with your new baby.
After a hospital or birth centre birth: what new mums can expect
If you had your baby in a hospital or birth centre, you and your baby will probably stay in hospital for at least 24 hours.
If you’re both well enough, you might be encouraged to go home earlier. If you want to go earlier or stay longer, or you’re not sure, it’s OK to talk with your doctor or midwife.
Your hospital stay might be longer if you have a medical condition, your baby needs extra care or your labour or birth was assisted – for example, a forceps birth or caesarean birth. In these situations you might stay in hospital for 2-5 days.
If your baby was born prematurely, he’ll probably need to stay in hospital for longer in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or the special care nursery (SCN).
Before you leave hospital
It helps to know about your recovery and how to get support in your first weeks at home with your baby. Before you leave hospital you or your partner might like to ask:
- who to contact for breastfeeding support
- where to go for your six-week check-up
- whether you need to be careful about driving or lifting and carrying heavy things
- when and where to have your stitches taken out (if you have them)
- whether the hospital has a lactation consultant or women’s health physiotherapist and how to contact this professional.
You can also ask about caring for your new baby. For example, it’s good to know things like:
- how many feeds your newborn might need and how long feeds might take
- how to recognise your baby’s cues for comfort and feeding
- who to call if you or your baby is sick
- how to contact your local child and family health nurse and how the nurse can help you.
Your midwife or doctor will give you this information as part of your care.
It’s a good idea to ask friends or family members for help with practical jobs like washing baby clothes, buying nappies and filling your fridge and pantry with healthy foods.
After a homebirth: what new mums can expect
If you gave birth at home, your midwife will stay with you on the day of birth until you and your baby are stable and breastfeeding has started. This usually happens around four hours after birth.
Your homebirth midwife will keep giving you and your baby care and support until your baby is about six weeks old.
Your feelings in the first week after birth
Whether you’ve given birth at home or in hospital, your body has been through a lot. The good news is that you’ll start to heal, and you can usually manage pain and discomfort.
Most women will feel tired and overwhelmed soon after giving birth. You might also feel relief, happiness, fear and joy. You might feel teary and anxious 3-5 days after birth – this is called the ‘baby blues’. The ‘baby blues’ last for only a few days, and about 50-80% of women have them.
It really helps to keep talking to your partner about how you’re feeling. This helps both of you to be aware of any changes in mood and how long the changes go on for.
You’ll probably start to feel like yourself again in a week or two. If the blue feelings don’t go away, it’s important to seek help. For one in every seven women, these feelings become postnatal depression
. When women get help early, they usually recover fully from postnatal depression.
Midwife home visits
If you’ve had a homebirth, your homebirth midwife will visit you regularly (daily at first) and then less often, depending on how much help you and your baby need.
If you’ve had a hospital birth, a midwife or child and family health nurse will usually visit you at home in the week after you leave the hospital. They’ll check on you and your baby, and answer your questions. Some new mums also choose to see a private lactation consultant.
If you have other urgent questions or worries, you can call the parenting helpline in your state or territory. You can also make an appointment with your GP or your local child and family health centre.
Learning to breastfeed
Breastfeeding can sometimes be tricky for new mums, but finding a breastfeeding technique that works for you and your baby can make all the difference. It can help to keep your baby close to you in the early hours and days, especially if you have as much skin-to-skin contact as possible.
It’s normal for it to take a couple of weeks to really get the hang of breastfeeding.
If you have any problems breastfeeding, ask your midwife or a lactation consultant, or contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association. You can phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 (24 hours, 7 days).
Learning about baby care
If you’re a first-time mum, there’s a lot for you to learn about caring for your new baby. For example, you’ll probably need to learn about:
Taking it easy
Sometimes a good day will be just feeding and comforting your baby, getting out of your pyjamas and having a shower. This is totally fine. Try to rest whenever you can, and give yourself time to get to know your baby.
It’s also good to have someone you trust to support you for the first few days – for example, your partner, a family member or a friend. If you’re not a first-time mum, it’s still good to have support, especially if you have other children to look after.
Eating and drinking
Some days it can be hard to make time to cook a healthy meal, even though you know healthy eating and drinking are important. If friends and family offer to cook meals for you, accept them. You can also buy prepared meals, soups and salads for the days when time is short.
Another way to save time is to shop online and have your groceries delivered.
Family and friends will be excited to see you and your baby. They’ll want to visit you at home.
It’s OK for you to say how and when you’d like visitors. Some new mums give the job of managing visitors to their partners or a trusted friend – for example, they might ask family and friends to come two at a time or to wait a few days before visiting.
It can help to put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your front door, use your answering machine and switch your mobile phone to silent.
Video Mothers groups: why they’re good
In this short video on parent support groups, Australian mothers discuss the benefits of going to a mothers group. You can connect with others sharing similar experiences. You can find support in tough times. And you can also talk about your child’s development and see that there’s a big range of normal when it comes to child development.
Other parents can be a great source of help and support. If you join a local or online mothers group, you can share ideas and experiences with other new mums.