Becoming a parent for the first time can trigger a variety of emotions.
You might feel: excited, overjoyed, exhausted, and even not quite ready for the task at times. The interesting thing about parenting is that the journey is similar for all of us. Whether you are rich or struggling, young or older, alone or surrounded by family and friends, having your first child will lead you into this journey of mixed emotions, trial and error, and wonderful and challenging firsts. Knowing the basics, including what to expect, can make these first years just a little easier.
Know That the First Couple of Years are Challenging
The first few years of parenting will demand the most of your body, time, energy, and patience, and then those demands will ease up a little and life will settle into a rhythm that becomes easier to manage daily. Knowing that this too, shall pass, can make it easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel on challenging days.
During the first year, expect changes to your daily routines: what time you wake up, what time you go to bed, how long it takes to get ready before leaving the house, what kinds of things you do for fun, when you eat, who you spend time with, and more.
Lean on the people who love and support you (and local programs if you don’t have a strong support network) for the help you need to get through the first few years.
Carrying a Newborn
Your newborn baby isn’t strong enough to support his/her own head and neck. Be sure to support his or her head and neck every time you pick up or carry your new baby to prevent harm. This website provides step-by-step instructions – with pictures – for picking up, holding, and carrying your baby safely.
General tips include:
- Always support the head and neck until the baby is strong enough to support his or her own head
- Never cook or carry a hot beverage while you are holding the baby
- When elderly people or children want to hold your baby, ask them to sit and show them how to hold their arms to provide adequate neck support — and then stay nearby
Your child’s development is dependent upon bonding with you. In fact, touching, talking, cuddling, and singing cause your infant’s brain to release hormones that support brain growth and development. That means that while you may feel pressured to keep up with the housework and your appearance, the most important need you can address is your infant’s need for time with you.
Ways to support healthy bonding:
- Incorporate touch into your regular routine. You can gently massage your newborn’s legs, arms, back, or scalp when dressing him or her, bathing him or her, or changing his or her diaper.
- Offer skin-to-skin contact as much as possible or consider using a sling or carrier to hold your baby when you walk, shop, or do your household chores.
- Respond when your newborn cries to let him or her know that you are there and you hear them or care for them, even if you are not sure why they might be crying.
- Make eye contact with your newborn when you speak to them, sing to them, or engage with them. Make facial expressions that match what you are saying to help them learn to connect feelings and words.
- Sing to your newborn, even if you don’t like your singing voice!
Feeding and Bathing
Newborns should only be fed breast milk or infant formula. Breastfed babies typically eat as often as every 2-3 hours while formula-fed babies eat every 2-4 hours. Your baby might tell you they’re hungry by sucking on their hands, grabbing for the breast or bottle, or smacking or sucking on their lips and tongue. If they don’t demonstrate these hunger cues or you miss them, they might become upset and cry.
Your baby will also tell you when they’re full by falling asleep during the feeding, pulling away from the breast or bottle, or discontinuing the sucking motion. Your pediatrician will tell you when to introduce foods into your baby’s diet.
When it comes to bathing, follow your baby’s cues. Newborns don’t need a bath more than a couple of times per week, but for some babies, bathing relaxes them and helps them sleep better. If your baby enjoys bathing, you can certainly bathe him or her daily. If your baby has dry skin, cradle cap, or other skin problems, you may need to bathe less often depending on your provider’s recommendations.
To bathe your baby, use warm water (tested with your wrist) and no soap in the first few weeks. Wash their arms, legs, fingers, toes, bottom, hair, and back. Pay special attention to the little folds in their neck. Sweat and milk like to hide here!
Then, gently pat your baby dry, drying in between any skin folds carefully to prevent soreness or yeast infections. Keep a towel draped over the baby while you dress him or her to prevent lost heat.
When Baby Sleeps, You Sleep
Finding time to rest with a newborn at home can feel challenging as they rarely sleep through the night, a schedule you may have been accustomed to before having a baby. Instead, your newborn will sleep frequently, for shorter periods of time, throughout the day.
Your body is recovering from growing, carrying, and delivering a baby along with the hormonal changes that follow it. At the same time, whether you breastfeed or formula feed, your body is adjusting breast milk production accordingly – a process that can be painful and draining.
To ensure you get plenty of rest after bringing the baby home, sleep when the baby sleeps. All the other things can wait.
For more support as you prepare for first-time parenting – for support if you’re already there – visit us at Willow Womens Center. Free parenting classes help you prepare for parenting at all ages and stages!