The New Parent First Month Survival Guide
The following is intended to keep you sane. It’s not particularly nice, well formatted, nor will it solve all your problems. It’s my experiences over the first month of being with my newborn and what I learned, failed at, and nearly died at. Some is missing and will be added, or not.
Maggie was a week and a day late already and showed no signs of showing up anytime soon so labor was induced. We were awake from roughly 7am Tuesday morning until ~4pm Thursday with very short, interrupted naps.
I’ll skip the day of birth and prep pieces for another piece as those are articles unto themselves and your situation will vary.
2-3 days on average
At the hospital you’re going to have someone show up at your bedside roughly every 1.5 hours
They’ll be checking on the mother, the baby, paperwork, whether you want food, the cleaning staff, introducing themselves at a shift change, etc.
The hospital has quiet hours. The hospital staff will not respect those. You’re not going to get sleep for more than 30 minutes even if you put your newborn in the baby toaster room.
Your friends will become the enemy of sleep
You’ve got friends, they want to see you and the baby. After a day of no sleep you’re probably going to want to not see them for a couple of days.
Everyone wants to see the baby. You can tell them not yet. Remember this. You’re going to be exhausted and wanting to sleep, and they can’t get into the newborn wing without you letting them in, so there’s no way for them to just drop in while you’re asleep.
They can wait if you need them to. Tell them you love them and are going to sleep and will invite them back later.
What if I don’t recognize my baby in the nursery?
All babies look like Winston Churchill. Luckily for you your baby is going to have a nametag. If you forget what your baby is named, look at your wrist. They’ll have scribbled down the name to look for there.
While that may sound an insane statement, when your wife has a different last name than you and the baby, and the staff grow concerned because you’re asking for a name that doesn’t show, look to your wrist and say “wife’s been too lazy to change her name for her first husband.”
Your memory will start to fail, write down anything important
Without proper sleep, your memory doesn’t function like you want it to. A mind like a steel trap becomes a mind like a rusted trap.
Having lived with sleep problems my entire life and having been awake at one point for several days on end I thought I would be fine. I was not.
I still functioned, but I repeated myself, forgot who showed up, forgot names of people I knew, forgot how long we’d been there.
Your friends need to understand you’re not quite you
You’ve got a metric fuckton of hormones going through your body, or you’re sleep deprived, or your attention is focusing solely on your new baby, or whatever, doesn’t matter.
If you’ve got a friend who always comes to you for help and long soulful discussions about this that and the other, make sure they have someone else to talk to who can prioritize them for these couple of days. This is about you and your baby, not them.
You and your baby need sleep, food, rest, and time. They can wait.
Lactation consultant sounds silly until you realize the level of breastfeeding problems
Want to be completely natural? Cool – just remember completely natural means that roughly 25% of all children will die in their first year from nutritional and environmental issues.
Lots of babies can’t breastfeed, lots of breasts can’t properly babyfeed, and attempting to latch an un-trainable squirming infant who can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch onto a nipple that’s never known anything but love can be a daunting task.
Think bleeding, scabbing, cranky newborn kicking mommy’s boobs, exhaustion in attempting because you’ve been awake for two days at this point… etc.
Having a person who can come in and consult with you about what you’re doing wrong and how to force the baby to learn is useful. Your hospital staff will have one on hand. Use them.
Baby in the wild
You’ve escaped, now make your way out
Hopefully you’ve practiced putting a child seat into your car. If not, this will be when you discover everything that’s going wrong. From not having a neck pillow for the baby (one of you will need to ride next to baby holding the head,) to the realization that it’s impossible to put it in correctly with an infant in it without pissing said infant off.
An important thing to remember here is that your job is to get home. You’ve been awake for a very long time and may technically fall under your country’s DUI/impaired driving laws.
Drive carefully, don’t talk much, get home safe.
Keep a backup food supply
You may have received a can of dry powered infant formula in the mail and thought about discarding it. Keep it. At some point you may need it. If not give it to a friend. That stuff is expensive.
You also will need it if something goes wrong with the boobs.
Create baby containment protocols
A baby containment protocol is something you’ll make to limit fluid and solid contamination of your sheets, carpet, pets, clothes, etc.
A decent baby containment protocol involves baby wipes. paper towels, a receiving blanket or designated baby blanket in every room easily accessible from a sitting position.
When baby pukes on you on the couch, you’re going to need to stay there with the vomit monster until you can get the spill contained. This usually involves quite a bit of cleanup while not moving. The other choice is to walk with vomit streaming off of you.
A blanket can solve most of that issue.
Buy a breast pump
Make sure you have a pump handy even if you’re breastfeeding fine unless you want to wake up every hour and feed your baby for an hour.
Daddy can feed if you’ve got some milk set away. You can sleep.
You’ll need the following all within arm’s reach in order to have a successful changing station.
- Comfy changing pad that’s anchored to the wall
- wet wipes
- foot operated trashcan
- plastic changing pad that’s on top of the comfy absorbent changing pad
- place to put socks and onesies
- eff-it bucket for when everything goes to hell and you have to move a soppy mess out
If you have to take a step to get to any of these, you’ve probably failed already.
Your kid’s going to become ripe at about week one. Don’t worry, bathing won’t wash off that newborn smell.
Bathing is not absurdly important as you’ve been wet wiping the areas that need work on a sometimes hourly basis when you change diapers. Proceed at own rate.
Water should be slightly warmer than the baby, and effort should be made to keep the baby warm and entertained.
Traveling somewhere with baby
Plan a small baby-outing to a public place during a time when you’re not going to have to deal with psycho traffic or psycho people.
Your first attempt is to figure out what you’re doing wrong or missing.
You’ll want a stroller, car seat, diaper bag with twice as much formula and milk as you think you should need, diapers, wet wipes, a couple of plastic grocery bags, zip lock bag or two, pacifiers, bottles, nipples, and a baby.
Take care to keep baby out of direct sunlight, warm but not hot, and don’t let baby’s feet get in direct sunlight unless you’ve got socks on them – the feet burn like nobody’s business.
Working with baby
So, you’re at home and have a few things to do while you’re with baby? Quick bit of advice here – break everything that you need to get done down into single steps. You’re going to be yanked away from anything you do again and again by baby.
If you write, write in small little sections so that you can remember what you’re going on about.
Sleep in shifts
Infants can’t be taught when to sleep. You can attempt to manage it, but forget about it working for the first couple of months. If you have the ability, let one person do some night care, and another do day care. Your object is to let your partner sleep, not to train baby to do anything at the moment.
A rested parent is a better parent. You’re not being selfish taking care of yourself while your newborn is in the hands of the other person who had a hand in making her. You’ll be a much better parent right after a nap.
Write it down or use an app
You’ve got information to impart, but it’s your turn to sleep. Use an app or a note to keep track of diapers/vomits/feedings when you’re passing off baby control. You get to sleep faster and you don’t have to use a faulty memory.
Baby should be distanced from sleeping parent
Babies make noises that wake the dead. Something about your child’s cries will wake you no matter what. Keep the baby away from sleeping parent even if they can sleep through a bombing.
Every plan you had should be expected to fail
Breastfeeding? Make sure to investigate formula.
Cloth diapers? Have a pack of Huggies ready.
You get the point. Make a plan, but investigate the other options. You’ll be surprised how many things can fail and do.
Food, gas, diaper, sleep
Whatever is wrong is probably one of these, or a combination. My general protocol is feed, burp, check/change diaper, see if she’ll sleep.
Things to understand
know the enemy
- Babies aren’t manipulative – they have next to no memory, are untrainable for the first few months, and cry loudly to inform you that they need attention. They have no ability to say “excuse me, I need burped.” They just scream at the top of their lungs.
- Babies are born with gunk in their ears. You don’t need to worry excessively about noise we think is normal for the first few weeks. Their hearing will improve and you can tiptoe around them later on.
- Breasts don’t initially produce milk. They produce colostrum and it’s hard as hell to pump. Think butter that comes out in half-teaspoon increments. It’s wicked hard to pump and you lose as much pumping it as you keep.
- The immune system transfer people think they get from breastfeeding only occurs in the first 36 hours of life. After that you get gut closure and breastfeeding just helps them as it’s soothing and contains hormones that say “stop eating – you’re full.”
- Swaddling isn’t about putting your baby in a straight jacket so you can ignore them, it’s about calming the infant down and preventing them from punching themselves in the face or genitals while sleeping. It also prevents them from cutting their faces with a fingernail.
- Newborns can’t calm themselves. They will cry until they pass out or whatever is bothering them is remedied, or they find something else to be upset about.
- Newborn poop and pee doesn’t smell horrible. You don’t need a diaper genie for a newborn. You may later, but this isn’t something that has to be part of your first strike plans.
- Babies don’t produce tears for the first few weeks, when they do they can get clogged tear ducts.
- There is seldom love at first sight for a newborn. Those who say there is are in the minority. You’ll love your baby, don’t feel like crap if you just like it to begin with.
- There are seven billion people on the planet. They were all babies who survived. Yours will too.
Things to not worry about
or at least worry less…
- About 2000 babies die in the US a year from SIDS. SIDS is the primary reason for such protocols as baby on back, ABC, etc. About 4,000,000 babies are born in the US each year. Your chance of SIDS in the US is 1 in 2000, or 0.05%.
- If you breastfed for the first four days, your immune input has been inserted into the baby.
- Babies generally do not die if they roll over. A baby on tummy can relieve gas, stretch about, build up neck muscles. Same with a baby on her side.
- Baby eating too much? Baby eating less than expected? Babies don’t care much for what they’re supposed to eat or not eat. If the baby looks healthy, you’re feeding it enough.
- Drinking a couple of beers isn’t going to give your baby brain damage. You have to be fairly buzzed in order for anything to happen.
- You’re not a horrible person for feeling indifferent after hours of crying and failed attempts to sooth baby. Your choices are: Indifferent, which lets you go on with attempts, horrible, which is self-destructive, and angry, which is bad for baby.