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 home?
“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 teach that.”
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 says.
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 child uncomfortable.
“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 up.
“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 physically.”
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 over time.
“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 says.
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 pass.
“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 it more.”
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 get involved.
“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 week.”
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 awhile.”
Or resentment might also build. While the partner’s life assumes some semblance of normalcy after birth, it takes mom a lot longer to adjust.
“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 comes in.
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.”