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Once More Into the Breach

The newest addition to our family is three weeks old, and I'm rediscovering all the things I'd forgotten about early infancy. It's funny, when you're experiencing a particular stage of parenting, it seems like you'll never forget all those little details -- how to care for the umbilical cord or how to coax a toddler into using the potty -- but once you don't need that information anymore, your brain tends to dump it.

Even the stuff I can remember isn't always that relevant. Each child is so different that the lessons you learned from previous ones are of limited use with the current one. As my grandmother used to say, "if you had ten, they'd all be different" (and she raised seven, so she knew whereof she spoke).

Nonetheless, now that I have three children, I'm beginning to see some unchangeable rules that hold fast for all of them. Every time I remember one of these constants, I kick myself for not writing them down the last time. I'm fairly certain that I won't need this information again, but for the benefit of those who will be having babies in the future, here are some of the things I've learned about newborns.

Stay at the hospital as long as they'll let you. Seriously. With my first two children, I was eager to get home, and left as soon as they'd let me. This time, I didn't leave until they evicted me. I know it's hard to rest with the nurses waking you up every couple of hours to take your temperature and find out when the baby last nursed, but it will be even harder to rest at home, especially if you have older children. At the hospital, someone else cooks all your meals, no one expects you to put on clothes and run errands and if the baby won't sleep, you can always ask the nurse to take her to the nursery for a while so you can get some shut eye.

No matter how long you stay at the hospital, your first night at home will be hellish. There's something about coming home that disrupts even the most placid baby. Think about it, he's spent his entire life in a quiet, dimly lit room, and then you put him in the car and drive him to a new place where there's significantly more noise, light, and stimulation; of course he's going to have a hard time sleeping. Mentally prepare yourself for little sleep and a cranky baby. Even better, arrange for someone to bring breakfast the next morning, and take a shift of baby care so that you can get some rest.

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With all the focus on your new baby, it's easy to forget that your body has been through the wringer, especially if you had a cesarean section or some other kind of difficult delivery. Most people who have major abdominal surgery do nothing but lay in bed and rest for weeks; when you've had a c-section you're immediately immersed in baby care and nursing and you're lucky to get two hours of sleep in a row. Recovering from childbirth takes time and goes much more smoothly if you get as much rest as possible. Call in every favor you can for help with meals, entertaining older children, and housework. Give yourself permission to laze around and get to know your new baby. Don't worry, your pre-baby life will be there waiting when you're ready for it.

Establishing breastfeeding can be frustrating and painful. Even if you've breastfed previous children, the current baby is a novice, and so, in many ways, you're back at square one. If you're having problems or pain, see a lactation consultant, pronto. Unfortunately, some women experience nipple pain and soreness despite doing everything right. Yes, I know all the books say that if it hurts you're doing something wrong. Trust me, they're lying. My latch and positioning have been certified as correct by a panel of experts and I still grit my teeth every time my baby starts to nurse. The most important thing to remember is that it won't be like this forever. Nursing an older baby or a toddler is easier and more fun than nursing a newborn. Stick with it, it's worth it. The pain and fullness will subside, the baby will be able to latch herself on, and best of all, she'll start going longer stretches between feedings. 

Last and possibly most important is something that I'm not sure you can prepare yourself for, even if you can remember it. New babies are overwhelming. I suspected this before I had my first child, and I've known it for certain ever since, but the reality of it shocks me every time. It's similar to the way that our bodies are programmed to forget the pain of labor - - we all know that labor hurts, but it's only when you're in labor that you really comprehend how much it hurts. 

Having a newborn is an all-consuming experience. There's no schedule, so you can't plan around the baby. He may be sleeping a good deal of the time, but potentially he could need you at any moment. In fact, every time you start to do something non-baby related, like eat a meal or catch up on work, he's guaranteed to need you. Emotionally, you're on a roller coaster, ricocheting from intense emotional highs and lows to abject boredom with little warning. When you're snuggling with your baby or smelling her little head, nothing could be more satisfying, but when she won't quit crying at 3:00 am, or when she wants to nurse every hour for 45 minutes, it gives new meaning to the phrase "dark night of the soul."

Having older kids has given me a little perspective on all this though. For one thing, I can say with absolute certainty that it does get better. Before you know it, the baby who couldn't hold his head up is toasting bagels for himself and taking the training wheels off his bike. On the other hand, you'll never again be as connected to your child as you are to your newborn. The first three months are essentially the fourth trimester of pregnancy - your baby is completely helpless and dependent on you. After three months, she'll get more independent and self-reliant every day. Of course, this is exactly what you want your child to do, and you'll burst with pride at every milestone, but sometimes you'll miss the simplicity and peace of the infant at your breast. Enjoy it while it lasts.
About the Author:

Melissa Lipscomb lives in Austin with her children, six-year-old Drew, three-year-old Franny, and three-week-old Alec, and her husband Adam. She's currently a sleep deprived, hormonal wreck, and everything in her life smells like sour milk, but she's confident that every day in every way things are getting better. Send feedback for Melissa to disturbance@austinmama.com and visit her blog


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