The first four weeks: what caring for a newborn is really like

Follow rookie parents Carolyn and Scott Campbell through their first four weeks with their newborn daughter, Grace.

Photo: Kathleen Finlay

Day 1
Grace, at six pounds, seven ounces, is already bringing her family an intoxicating mix of joy and exhaustion: Her first night in the hospital, she dozes in 15-minute spurts, preferring to be held, so Scott and Carolyn catch sleep in bits and pieces, too. Grace also performs spurts of another kind by filling four diapers, shedding her stomach of the meconium infants ingest in utero. Grace sounds stuffy, though the hospital nurses assure the new parents that it’s the mucous and fluids clearing out of her nose. To get through night duty, Scott pulls two chairs together to sleep on (only realizing on the second night that the chairs pull out into beds). Both parents are clearly tired but continue to share the exciting news with friends and family via their cellphones. “I had to confiscate Carolyn’s phone because she needed sleep,” says Scott. “She only slept for 15 minutes but she was out, snoring. She never snores.” 

Day 2
After being released from the hospital and arriving home, Carolyn and Grace are working on breastfeeding. Carolyn worries about Grace not waking up to feed, and since Grace left the hospital at five pounds, 14 ounces—having lost almost nine percent of her baby weight—feeding is Carolyn’s prime concern. (Most babies lose weight after birth, although if they lose more than 10 percent of their weight, paediatricians often start recommending feeding alternatives). “It’s like she lost her sucking ability,” says a slightly frustrated Carolyn. “She will root and I’ll put the nipple in her mouth and she’ll just lie there.” 

cupcakes with flowers and a card that reads Welcome home

Photo: Kathleen Finlay

The Campbells have family reinforcements on standby to help: Scott’s mom, Linda, a retired nurse, is bedding down at night on the family couch. Carolyn’s mom, Laurie, is there in the daytime, helping with anything and everything, including getting Grace to her first doctor’s appointment. “We’re wondering if Carolyn should supplement with something because her milk hasn’t come in,” says a concerned Laurie. 

Carolyn is still tender post-birth, but that’s not stopping her. One arm holds blanket-wrapped Grace to her chest, the other works on getting a glass of water, putting things in the fridge and straightening up. “I don’t know if it’s mother’s instinct kicking in, but she got home from the hospital and said she had to clean the house and do this and do that,” Scott says. “She hadn’t rested until last night when my mom finally just told her to go to sleep.” 

Day 12
Carolyn has enjoyed a tea. A full cup. And she didn’t have to reheat it in the microwave. It’s a small victory in the days with a newborn. Grace is drinking better as well. Now seven pounds and over her birth weight, her feeding has improved, thanks to a clear nipple shield Carolyn’s wearing to help Grace latch. That said, it’s still a process. “My girlfriends were over while I was trying to feed Grace under a blanket, trying to put this shield on, and they were laughing because it was such a production,” laughs Carolyn. 

Yet Carolyn worries she doesn’t have enough milk for Grace. “Yesterday in the afternoon she fed at three, four, five and six, and I felt like she wasn’t getting much,” says Carolyn. Could it be the 10-day growth spurt? Carolyn is working with a lactation consultant, who advised her to pump post-feed to help build up her milk production

Grace now sleeps in a bassinette in Mom and Dad’s room. Nights are getting slightly better; Grace is in the 19th weight percentile, so Carolyn no longer has to wake her every three hours to feed. This is a big relief. 

This week also marked a few firsts: Grace graduated from her usual sponge-down to a proper bath. “It was definitely a two-person job!” says Carolyn. There was also a stroll to a friend’s house, “but then Grace started getting fussy and I said, ‘I have to go home! I can’t do this here, I’ve got a whole process,’” Carolyn laughs. 

Parents giving their baby a bath

Photo: Kathleen Finlay

Carolyn also had an opportunity to go out for dinner with girlfriends—without Grace. Did she do it? “I was frustrated with the breastfeeding and close to tears and wasn’t sure if I’d go,” says Carolyn, who was not only exhausted, but nervous to be away from Grace. “Scott was sweet—they told him in prenatal class that he should watch for the baby blues and wondered if this was it,” Carolyn says. She assured Scott she was feeling fine and, in the end, went out, arming Scott with instructions and a pumped bottle, and made sure her phone was fully charged.

Day 18
The last four nights, Grace has had bowel movements six or seven times in a row, forcing repeated diaper changes. “She lets out a really painful cry and that’s how I know she’s gone again,” Carolyn says tiredly. 

Carolyn is still using a nipple shield to feed Grace, but has started experimenting nursing without it on a lower-key second feeding, as her lactation consultant suggested. It’s working well. 

Grace’s cord stump broke off into her diaper. “She was bleeding a little bit on her onesies before it happened, so I knew it was coming. It was looking really crusty,” says Carolyn. Thankfully, a bit of blood is fine. (However, blood combined with fluids such as pus can indicate infection.)

Grace is more alert, warily eyeing toys such as her Sleep Sheep, holding her head up and even rolling onto her side to sleep. But tummy time to prevent flat head is no fun. “We tried it in her crib and she just cried,” says Carolyn. Dad’s chest is working better: Scott lounges on his back on the couch and Grace lies tummy-down on top and tries to push up to see him. 

Carolyn has encountered a common infant conundrum: How do you entertain a newborn? “I hold up toys for her to look at and that’s about the extent of it,” she says. Music is proving to be a hit—Carolyn cranks the mobile to entertain Grace in her crib while she gathers her feeding accessories or washes her hands. At least all the home time means Carolyn can catch up on The Bachelor with Grace cuddled in her arms.

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Day 25
It’s been a rough night. Carolyn started putting Grace down to sleep at 10 p.m. “She’d start to fall asleep at the end of the feed and I’d put her down, and about two minutes later—just enough time for me to get in bed—she’d start stirring. Then she had a huge, messy poop. And then I fed her again.” The cycle continued. By the time Scott arrived home from lacrosse at midnight (he plays for the Rochester Knighthawks), Carolyn was exhausted and frustrated that Grace wouldn’t nod off. “I said ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ So he took her for a half-hour and walked around with her and she was calm,” Carolyn says. 

Carolyn is still concerned that Grace’s frequent feedings mean she is not getting enough milk. So today she’s hoping the doctor will prescribe something to increase her milk supply and Grace’s nighttime sleeping. Maybe using a soother would help? Carolyn would like to wait until their breastfeeding issues are sorted out. Some experts believe that if the soother is introduced too early, it can interfere with breastfeeding. 

Meanwhile, Grace’s cheeks are filling out and her milia (the white spots on a newborn’s nose) has vanished. She is content to hang out in mom’s arms or in her baby swing—but not the bouncy chair, thank you very much.

Mom holding her new born baby

Photo: Kathleen Finlay

Carolyn is finding that late nights mean late mornings too, and can’t plan to do anything before about 11:30 a.m. Today, Carolyn and Grace woke up at 9:45 a.m. after a night of broken sleep. “I felt so guilty! Who gets up at this time? But we got a good chunk of sleep this morning,” she says. Her troubles with pumping have also been resolved—Carolyn pumps after the first feed in the morning, a time when Grace is guaranteed to go back to sleep for a few hours. That affords her a few hours to replenish her milk supply.   

Carolyn still has her mom, who lives five minutes away, to call on for help on the weekends Scott is away with lacrosse, or if life gets overwhelming. She is is working on how to manage daily tasks: While she keeps the baby monitor on to help her do things like clean the kitchen when Grace is in another room, she also has the security of knowing Scott’s working his weekday job from his basement home office. “I tell myself to pretend that he’s gone from nine to five, but because he’s in the house, I’m tempted to say, ‘I’m just going to pump, can you watch her?’” says Carolyn. “He comes up for 15 minutes or so to let me have a shower.” 

Meanwhile, Grace is showing a delightful developmental sign—a smile (though, like most new parents, Carolyn questions if it’s gas). Grace might just be smiling during her naked time. “When her clothes are off, she’s so content to look around,” Carolyn says.

Day 32
Grace is eyeing the nurse weighing her at the physician’s office. It’s happy news:  Grace is a healthy eight pounds, 14 ounces, moving up to the 41st weight percentile from the 30th. She’s gotten a bump in height too, up into the 51st percentile after sprouting almost seven centimetres this month. Could it be the Fenugreek? Carolyn has a prescription medication to increase her milk, but she’s opted for natural Fenugreek pills. And if the proof isn’t in the scale, it’s in the sleep—this week marked the first five-and-a-half-hour sleeping stint. Carolyn has also unlocked that pumping equation. “Scott or I will give Grace a pumped bottle at night before bed so she’s full,” says Carolyn. The pooping issue also has resolved itself—Grace is now only going two to three times a day. And a soother? As it turns out, Grace isn’t keen on it and often lets it fall from her mouth. 

As Grace lays on the table, half tucked into the ubiquitous blue, pink and white hospital blanket Carolyn’s reluctant to relinquish, the doctor does his usual inspection of her eyes, ears, hip placement, height and weight, and smiles. Carolyn’s relieved, and happy—Grace’s feeding issues seem settled, as are her nights, and things seem to be falling into place. Finally. It’s been quite a month.

Then the nurse returns with literature on what’s coming up at Grace’s two-month appointment: her vaccines. And the adventures of parenthood continue….

Read more:
3 tips for surviving the first three months with baby
55 things nobody told me about my baby’s first year

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