The first 6 weeks post-birth, otherwise known as the fourth trimester, is a crucial time to get to know your baby and establish a beautiful and gentle feeding and sleeping routine. This period is a time of rapid growth for your baby a time for them to learn to adapt to the world outside of your womb. Naturally, it is also a time or elated happiness mixed with pure exhaustion as you both adapt to your new world's together. Below, are a few of my favourite tips that I share with my mother's upon leaving the hospital with their baby.
1. Rest when you can
This isn't a case of sleep when the baby sleeps.. that rarely happens and imposes pressure on you instantly. It is simply about sitting down with your feet up or even better, laying on the couch watching your favourite tv show because you need it more then you realise. The journey that your body has just been through for the last 9 months is huge, not to mention the recovery of your birth, whether it be a vaginal or caesarean section, your body needs respite more than ever.
This is SO underrated when it comes to postpartum recovery, particularly those whom are breastfeeding. Essentially, you need to put back in what your baby takes out plus a lot more. On average, 2L of fluid (preferably water) a day is essential to maximise your recovery.
It takes a good 6 weeks to establish breastfeeding. By this stage, it should be much easier to feed your baby, and your milk will be more regulated. In saying this, I tell my patients that breastfeeding will be the hardest part of motherhood.. for the first few weeks anyway. Despite it being the most natural thing we can offer our babies, it doesn't come naturally to everyone, and that is okay. Deep breath and take your time. Relax. The more you relax come feed time, the better your baby will feed. This includes relaxing your shoulders and body and also your mind. Once the anxiety is taken away from feeding you, both will feel a million times better. For those that find feeding quite easy, brilliant. Be mindful that you will go through periods of cluster feeding etc and this too is normal. Take each day as it comes. Demand feeding for all is what we recommend.
4. Bottle/Formula feeding
This is totally okay. For whatever reason, you can't or choose not to breastfeed, be okay with your decision. It is up to you, and your decision must be respected. Ensure that you educate yourself with how to correctly sterilise your feeding equipment and familiarise yourself with the correct amounts to feed your baby depending on what formula you choose. Always position yourself comfortably along with your baby to prevent yourself from getting an uncomfortable neck or back. The same applies to breastfeeding mothers. The correct position is super important.
The most important of all. If you do not practise self-care, you will not be able to be the best version of yourself. Trust me. I am SO passionate about mental health, and this is why I strongly advocate the need for self-care. It is very easy to get caught up in the throws of motherhood that we completely lose ourselves and a sense of identity and autonomy. What I recommend is making at least 15 minutes a day just for yourself and yourself only. This can be prior to your partner leaving for work, during the day if you have an extra set of hands or after your partner returns home from work. I know you think this may be impossible or you may feel exhausted beyond belief but PLEASE try it and make it a regular thing. You will thank me later. Below are some suggestions for some simple self-care:
Walking any walk is good. Try this daily. Big or small practise it. I used to walk around my block that would only take 5 minutes, and that was enough at the start to make me feel independent enough and to fill my cup back up momentarily.
Running errands at the shop. I used to always 'duck out' and get some milk or groceries.. a 15-minute shop trip felt like 3 hours, and it was amazing.
Massage/facial/nails/blow wave. This was a fave of mine. I am far from a princess but if I treated myself to one of these weekly I felt like a new woman.
Friend catch up solo. I would always just pop in to see a friend without the babe if I had a spare minute with my partner home.. I would often do this on the way home from the shops.. Even if it was just a quick cuppa, it would make me feel like I had socialised and always ended in a good laugh.
Date night .. believe me.. if people offer to babysit – TAKE THEM UP ON THEIR OFFER. It doesn't have to be a night out, it could just be a quick dinner or movie date. This is actually really important for both you and your partner and NEVER feel guilty for it.
Now for the most commonly asked question 'How do I get my baby to sleep?'
First and foremost, do not lose your mental health oversleep. Easier said then done, I totally first hand get that, but truly, if I look back, I wish I didn't fret over it as much as I did. Start with some basic positive sleep associations from day one. A swaddle for your baby, a dark room (discussed later) and some gentle lullaby music.
Simply, FEED PLAY SLEEP is key. All you need to remember is this…For the first 3 weeks of your babies life, they will spend more time asleep than awake. This is normal. The reason behind this is that when they are born, their mother's melatonin hormone (sleepy hormone) saturates their bloodstream. This means they will sleep a lot because this hormone is high in their bodies. From 3 weeks of age, this hormone starts to wean out of their system and they are now responsible for creating their own sleepy hormone for the first time ever.
From 3 weeks of age, you will see your baby essentially 'wake up to the world' and spend a lot more time awake and alert and may be harder to get to sleep. At 3 weeks of age, your baby will also undergo their first true growth spurt. Please remember at this age to feed more regularly or when your baby demands as they need it. From this age, we recommend starting to sleep your baby in a pitch-black room as this helps them produce the sleepy hormone melatonin that is essential for wake and sleep patterns. The darker the room the better. This means that for all sleep times popping them to bed in a dark bedroom and then when bubby wakes obviously bringing them out into the bright lounge etc. On this note, it is also important for your baby to spend some time outdoors during the awake time..Vitamin D is so important for their little bones and the bright outdoors also works in conjunction with their melatonin hormones. Always be sun smart of course.
At 6 weeks of age, your baby will have its second growth spurt along with their first developmental wonder week leap which can lead to a very hungry, tired and fussy baby! Be patient.. once again feed on demand and practice some floor time so they can practice their tummy time and rolling skills along with stimulating their busy brains as they are forever evolving. Catnapping also commences at this age because their sleep cycles & patterns are starting to change. This is where you need to be patient and know that it won't last forever.
Although we recommend a FEED PLAY SLEEP routine from birth, now is the time you may wish for it to become a little more regimented. Not strict just a little tweaking for your baby to get some more solid sleep. You may be able to extend the awake time to beyond an hour at this age which will allow your baby the time to build up enough sleep debt and also enough time to tire themselves out before sleep time is due. In relation to cat napping, what we recommend is picking one of the naps of the day and spend that time resettling and assisting them to link their sleep cycles. Babies of this age respond beautifully to the pick up put down method or the shhh pat. Both super gentle and easy to implement.
Lastly, be kind to yourself and your baby. They are only little for so long. We recommend enjoying your bub and bonding as much as possible, and at the end of the day, a happy mum and bub means a happy, thriving family unit.
About the Author
Mother of two (with a 21 month age gap-crazy!) A midwife to many mummas and babies born over the last four years, and now a fresh new sleep consultant on the block! Where do I get the time you might ask? Well, I make time. My passion for sleep is second to none, and I completely understand your desperation for help and, more importantly, a solid block of sleep. I couldn't bear to know that, without our help, you are silently suffering away when we could easily spare a few hours to assist you. It is SO rewarding…sleep is so precious and, in my opinion, underrated!
As a midwife and a successful blogger, I started to connect with lots of Mum's who were struggling with sleep and needed help. I received numerous daily messages from desperate Mum's who needed help with their babies' sleep. I offered my tips and advice from my own experience as well as personalised support, and suddenly Mum's were happy and their babies starting sleeping. I had the magic touch!
If you're looking for expert advice on your babies sleep, get in touch with Amelia and Marrisa from the Baby Sleep School.
With love x