You've read the books. You've stocked the room. You've
interviewed friends and family. You've taken classes. You're
feeling pretty prepared.
But, in the back of your head, there's a little voice warning
you-what will it really be like the first week the baby comes
"There's not a lot automatic about this. Nothing descends upon
you when you deliver that tells you how to interpret this child,"
says Karla Nacion, a certified nurse-midwife at the University of
Illinois Medical Center at Chicago. "You have to learn how to do it
and you have to be patient with yourself."
As you've likely realized by now there's no magic baby
equation-each family has a completely different experience than
another. But there are some things that seem universal.
"The big thing is that no matter what you say and do nothing can
prepare you for what you're going home with," says Jen Malinsky, of
Chicago, mother of 1-month-old Keegan.
Here's a look into what you can expect from baby, mom, partner
and other folks during the first week you're home.
A lot of your time during the first week will be spent trying to
figure out this new life you've brought home, Nacion says.
"Learning baby behavior is hardest," she says. "We don't really
But things like sleeping (or not sleeping), eating and diaper
filling are common traits among all babies.
Sleeping: Babies have the ability to sleep up
to 20 hours a day, but rarely sleep in large stretches of time.
Instead the pattern is completely irregular and it's too early for
you to start trying to sense a schedule, says Dr. Poj Lysouvakon,
assistant professor of pediatrics and co-director of the general
care nursery at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Most don't start sleeping through the night for a couple of
months, so you can expect to get up at least twice a night through
that first week.
Eating: Babies will also feed on their own time
and eventually create a feeding schedule, Lysouvakon says.
"We just ask that babies be fed or offered a bottle every two to
three hours," he says.
All that feeding will result in a lot of diapers-more than you
might think if you've never been around babies before. A baby
should have at least six wet diapers a day by the time they are 6
days old, Lysouvakon says. More than that is fine and babies can go
as long as five to seven days without a stool.
"As a long as the kid has a soft belly, a normal appetite and is
otherwise acting fine there is nothing to worry about," he
Diaper changes and feeding will increase your laundry load as
well-not just the baby's. You may find many of your clothes
suddenly have trademark white shoulders due to spit-up. Lysouvakon
says that up to 85 percent of babies have spit-up of some kind.
Behavior: Know that your baby will cry-it's how
they communicate. Up to an hour total of crying is normal,
Lysouvakon says, but much beyond that may indicate either the
baby's needs aren't being met or there is something else making the
"Typically a baby will cry several times throughout the day and
parents will have to learn to interpret the crying language. Every
cry is different," Lysouvakon says. "An hour a day is perfectly
normal as long as the baby can be consoled."
Other care: You'll learn about umbilical cord
care and circumcision care before you leave the hospital, but you
might not be warned about the strange sounds your baby may make.
Babies are still learning how to breathe over the next week and
also may be congested from being birthed so you may hear some
clunky sounding breaths. Your child may also stop breathing for up
to 10 seconds at a time, Lysouvakon says.
Sleeping: There's no right way to feel when you
bring your baby home. One thing most women agree on is that they
don't get enough sleep.
"Nobody gets any sleep in the house unless you plan for it. You
need to plan to lie down," Nacion says. "When the baby goes down
you need to lay down too."
Planning, Malinsky agrees, is key.
"I feel like I haven't had any me time," she says. "You have to
schedule a nap or showering and decide what's more important. You
have to schedule everything."
But some women feel that sleep is actually the same or easier
than it was at the end of their pregnancies.
"I think you're pretty prepared for that," says Jane Healy Brown
of Forest Park, mother of 13-month-old Margaret. "It's more of an
adjustment for the father than the mother."
Physically: Every woman, no matter the
difficulty of her labor, will need some healing time, says Camela
Daley of Oak Park, mother of seven children ages 6 months and
"They may not realize the amount of healing that needs to take
place during that first week," she says. "They're going to have to
really take it easy. Be good to yourself mentally and
Many women have difficulty driving a car or walking up stairs,
not to mention recovering from the sheer exhaustion of giving
birth. If you have a Cesarean section you can expect also to be on
pain medications and have limited mobility. You may also have pain
from contractions after you've given birth and from an episiotomy
or tear if you had one during birth.
"Depending on the type of delivery there's just a lot of
emotional and physical things involved in that first week. You're
healing," Daley says. "And during that healing process there might
not be that kind of relationship you thought about having with the
baby because things are going on that you didn't think of."
Emotionally: While some women do bond with
their baby immediately, it's not uncommon for that love to grow
"I just think having this life that you're sustaining is this
huge thing. I don't have that instant bond right way," Malinsky
says. "It sounds so awful to say out loud."
And not having that "movie moment" (as Malinsky calls it) can be
devastating. But most women are hormonally out of sorts the first
few weeks after birth.
"Mom becomes more emotionally delicate or fragile. There's
nothing wrong with the mom-it's just the hormones," Lysouvakon
But, if you aren't blue that first week, that's normal too.
"I was thinking about postpartum depression but for me there was
none at all," Healy Brown says. "I was so happy to meet Maggie that
I really didn't think about it."
Carrying and birthing a baby also will leave your body nearly
unrecognizable. Some women can't fit into their maternity clothes
when they get home due to bloating. Your body may be a source of
sadness for you.
Crying is totally normal of a new mother. You may cry of sadness
or happiness or for no reason at all, Lysouvakon says. But it will
"I've come to appreciate the first week more. When I had my
first and second it just seemed like it would never end," Daley
says. "Honestly now that I'm on my seventh, and with my sixth, I
just remember having these feelings that I don't want this to end
because it ends too fast. I appreciate it more and look forward to
Emotionally: There will be tears.
"I was an emotional wreck. I don't think I've ever been so
emotional in my life," says Mason Brown, 33. "Even changing her
diaper I'd start crying."
Just because hormones may not directly affect the partner
doesn't mean that their life isn't affected. Partners will find
their lives altered in ways they may not expect.
First and foremost the first week should be about being a
support person for the new mom.
"The husband has to be understanding that the wife has gone
through all these changes and needs a lot of T.L.C. during that
time," Daley says.
Partners may feel left out because mom is doing most of the
feeding or care but the easiest way to combat that feeling is to
"I really felt included," Brown says. "I would say be as much a
part of the experience as you feel comfortable with. It was like
the best part of my life going through the pregnancy and being a
part of the birth and being Jane's right arm through the first
Your relationship: Many people think that
having a baby will bring them closer. Be prepared for a new person
in the house to actually have the opposite effect, Nacion says.
"You might lose each other for a little bit-like the first six
weeks or so. Everybody is tied up with the baby and sometimes
spouses feel left behind," she says. "You have this other person
who is the focus and your relationship takes a back burner for
Or resentment might also build. While the partner's life assumes
some semblance of normalcy after birth, it takes mom a lot longer
"He gets a chance to leave," Malinsky says. "He gets to go live
his life. He gets to go out to lunch."
People will want to see the baby.
"A lot of people like to come see the baby right away. I always
think they don't really understand," Daley says. "I think guests
should be considerate of waiting awhile."
Malinsky agrees. After all, the house is likely somewhat messy
from the little one's arrival and poor sleeping habits. By coming
over people are often putting you on edge.
"I think it's more stressful than anything," she says. "That was
hard to have people coming over."
Some people will offer help in the form of cleaning or a meal.
Take the help, says Nacion. But be careful about the form the help
You may have asked people to stay with you your first week home.
"Sometimes people you really dearly love, if they are living with
you, may really irritate you," Nacion says.
"Pick the people that you want that will be helpful but not really
intrusive and will give you the support you really need."
Christy Bonstell spends most of her time making people laugh. The best laughs are the ones she gets from her son, Keagan.
See more of Christy's stories here.
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