It is true that after your first baby is born, your life changes forever. Physically your body has changed a lot, and not all the changes are reversible. Mentally and emotionally, you are now a mother. Even though your child will not always rely on you for every need as a new baby does, she will always be your child.
After the birth
If all is well, you might only stay a couple of days in hospital (although some women go home on a supported early discharge program). It will be a very busy time with a lot to learn, and can seem quite confusing. The staff might seem busy, but they are there to help you so ask any questions you have about yourself or your baby.
You’re likely to feel very excited at first, and relieved that the long wait of pregnancy and hard work of giving birth are over. There will be phone calls and visitors and congratulations as everyone greets the new arrival.
After the first day or so, though, you might start to feel quite flat and let down. You might be physically uncomfortable, quite exhausted, worried about managing feeding and overwhelmed with all you need to do for the baby. Massive hormone changes don’t help either. Not surprisingly, many mothers have mood swings and lots of tears at this time. This is what is meant by ‘the baby blues’.
You will notice changes in your breasts as your milk comes in (also known as ‘let-down’). If your baby attaches and sucks well, your breasts might become fuller fairly gradually, but sometimes they get hard, full and uncomfortable quite quickly. This is called engorgement and there are things you can do to help.
It is common for nipples to feel a bit tender as they get used to the baby feeding. This will be helped by making sure your baby attaches properly.
Bringing your baby home for the first time can feel rather scary. There’s so much to think about and organise and you worry about what to do first, or what will happen if the baby won’t stop crying. Try to have somebody with you for the first day or two, at least. Keep a list of parenting hotlines handy so you can ring to talk things over with someone if you need to.
The feeling of responsibility for your baby’s life can be overwhelming at first. Every first baby survived a new mum, and yours will too.
Breastfeeding is a new skill for you and your baby. It might take some time for you both to learn how best to manage. Early breastfeeding problems can usually be easily overcome, so do get help if you need it.
New babies need feeding every few hours, day and night. You will feel very tired from broken sleep, so it’s important to rest, or sleep if you can, during the day. The housework will keep until later.
It’s great to have visitors at home in the early weeks, but it can be tiring too. Put a notice on the door if you’re having a rest. Encourage the sort of visitor who does some jobs around the house, minds the baby or even brings a meal, and discourage those who want to just sit while you provide afternoon tea!
Physical recovery and concerns
If you have an episiotomy (cut), or a tear, or a caesarean section wound, you will feel some soreness as it heals, especially as you start being more active. This discomfort should gradually lessen over the next couple of weeks. If it seems to be getting worse rather than better, or if it is suddenly more painful, check with your doctor.
You will be bleeding at first. This blood loss might be quite heavy in the first week, and also get a little worse when you first get home and are more active. You might pass some clots. After the first week, your loss (called lochia) should gradually get lighter and change from red to dark red to brown to yellowish white. It might clear up in 10-14 days, or there might be some loss for several weeks. Again, if the bleeding is getting heavier rather than lighter, or if you have a sudden heavy loss or large clots after the first few days, check with your doctor or midwife.
When you’re breastfeeding, the hormone that lets down your milk will also cause the uterus (womb) to contract. You might feel some discomfort low in your tummy (these are called ‘afterpains’ and are more commonly felt with second or third children), and you might notice you bleed a little more during feeds. This is all normal.
The early weeks
You and your baby will gradually get to know each other, and you (and your partner) will gain confidence as the weeks go by.
Most mums find the ‘baby blues’ stage only lasts a week or two (with highs and lows over this time), then they gradually get back to normal. But it’s not unusual for the blues to continue, or for you to start feeling tearful, anxious and depressed at any stage in the first few months. If you’re feeling bad much of the time, and particularly if this interferes with your sleep or enjoyment of the baby, do talk to someone about it.
If you’re breastfeeding, you might not get your period until the baby is 4-6 months old or later. This can vary a lot though. Some women start their periods at two or three months and others not for a year or more. If you’re not breastfeeding, your period will usually return in a few weeks.
Whenever it comes, your first period after having a baby might well be heavier and more uncomfortable than usual. Don’t worry, the next one should be better. Do remember, however, that you could get pregnant before this period, so take precautions if you don’t want another baby immediately.
Looking after yourself
Looking after yourself is very important if you are to have enough energy to look after your baby.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help – babies weren’t meant to be brought up by just one person. Get rest, exercise and some time out, even for a short time. Physically you should gradually feel stronger over the first few weeks, but it can take some time to feel you’re back to normal energy levels.
Make sure you have a postnatal check at about 6-8 weeks with your doctor, an ideal time to discuss any concerns you have.
What you can do for yourself
- All new parents need support. If you’re parenting on your own this is even more important. It's OK to say yes if someone offers to help you.
- Make sure you take some time out for yourself and to do some things with your partner or a friend.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure you do some things you enjoy regularly, get some exercise and eat well.
- If you feel desperate when your baby is crying, make sure she is safe and then leave the room until you feel better. Play some music, make a cup of tea, ring someone who understands or do whatever helps you.
- If you find you’re feeling down and irritable most of the time, talk it over with your doctor or someone at your local community health centre.
resources and support for new mums
If the early days of motherhood sometimes feel overwhelming, there’s no need for you to cope alone.
This short video offers information on the resources that can help you look after newborns, babies and children. For example, extended family and friends can be a great source of support. Also, a clinical nurse specialist talks about Tresilian, Australia’s largest child and family health organisation. There are many other resources available nationwide that can help you with parenting issues.