I am on maternity leave #1: The first month

Hello families! Baby David is 1 month old!

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In the past, most of my blog postings have been inspired by my profession - working with children, families, and students who are pursuing their early childhood education licenses. However, this posting will be a lot different since it is based on my own experience as a first-time parent with a newborn. Even though I have nearly 20 years of experience and education related to early childhood, especially with infants and toddlers, starting parenthood is definitely a new experience. Of course, I have had many new parent moments, felt helpless with my crying baby but at the same time, those moments are precious because my own baby is so special to me.

I will share my experiences during the first month based on three categories – Things that have already worked, things that are still in progress, and things that have not worked yet. I would like to emphasize that my child is unique just as yours are as well. There are countless things that impact a child’s behaviour and development as well as family dynamic. I cannot say that what I have done directly causes the outcomes of my child or my family. However, I thought it would be great to share what I have applied for those who are looking for some experience-based ideas for their newborns.


Things that have already worked


Among the many hats that I wear, baby sleep consulting is certainly one of them – I have helped dozens of parents even prior to being a mother. One thing that I wanted to do from the very beginning was helping my baby understands the difference between day and night. Even though circadian rhythm develops at around 3-4 months, it doesn’t hurt to start helping my baby early on.

What I have done

  • Gone out twice a day (daytime, and evening): I have gone out daily since day 5. During the daytime, I usually go out with a stroller but on a rainy day, I go out with a sling so I can use an umbrella. He is usually sleeping but there were a few days he was so alert. I have not skipped this daytime routine yet. In the evening, my husband joins our outings. It has been such a nice time as a new growing family. We had to skip a few days of this when it was pouring or too late due to other schedules (e.g., guest visits). I could anticipate those occasions and on those days, I go for a longer walk during the daytime. This actually has helped my own recovery and prevented me from being stuck in the house singing the baby blues.

  • Set the mood: When my baby wakes up, I open the window and turn on music. I also turn on a diffuser with diluted sweet orange essential oil which is known for uplifting mood (I also mix with diluted tea tree oil and peppermint that are known for preventing colic). Also, I don’t attempt to limit sound during the daytime. I live in the very busy part of Vancouver so it is almost impossible to block the sound from outside anyways. During the nighttime, naturally, every sensory input subsides. On top of that, I set the mood by dimming the light and turning on unwinding music or white noise. My husband and I also try to use a softer voice.

* There are conflicting arguments regarding the usage of essential oils and only limited numbers of essential oil are safe for babies. Please do your own research and discuss with a healthcare professional before using them.

  • Change his outfits at least twice: I understand it is very easy to let newborns wear a sleeper for the full day because their main job is to sleep. However, I change his outfit at least twice a day (in most of the times, more than twice due to leaking and spitting up) from sleeper to daytime outfit and from daytime outfit to sleeper.

  • Face, hands and bum washing in the morning and full bathing at night: I washed his face, hands and bum with water in the morning and my husband and I give him a bath every night. I believe that these two are very distinguished daily experiences for him. I hope these can be a cue for time to start a day and time to go to sleep. 

  • Vitamin D drops in the morning: It is recommended in Canada that all breastfeeding babies get vitamin D drops. I can't explain this with scientific reasoning, however, based on my own experiences, vitamin D pills made me more alert and awake. Also, when I took it at night, I had a hard time to fall asleep. Therefore, I give vitamin D drops to my baby in the morning.

*I set up the alarm on my phone for this. If you are the mommy who struggles with “mommy’s brain” this helps.

Outcomes

After I got confirmation from my midwife that his weight gain was better than target (30 mg per day. He was gaining for 35 mg per day), I started letting him sleep as much as he can instead of waking him up every two hours. I would like to consider that it has been successful since 3 weeks in, my baby stretched his sleep to an average of 4 hours or more at night and by 4 weeks for 6 hours in a row. I know that it can change in an instant, but I do feel as though we have accomplished this.

 

Since I started maternity/parental leave, I became the main caregiver of my baby. However, from the very beginning, I would like to share this precious moment with my husband so he can develop bonding with the baby. Developing attachment does not just happen. It requires time and effort of a new caregiver as my husband does. Therefore, I would like to encourage my husband and our baby to share more intimate time.

What I have done

  • Daddy and me-time: My husband started a new job just before we brought our baby into the world. As expected, he is super busy. We tried to find any time that he could spend some time with the baby without being rushed. We learned that in the morning before his work, my husband can spend some time with the baby for 30 minutes to one hour (Also, this gives me some time to take a shower and do some tidying up). Also, just before the last feeding at night, there is some snuggle time (skin to skin) between them.

  • Daddy takes care of me: Typical caregiving moments are the best time to develop attachment. When my husband is at home, he is the person who changes baby D’s diapers. He carries the baby around. He goes out for a walk and takes a bath – even inside the tub with him. When I pump, I always give the bottle to my husband (Sometimes I purposely pump for this. It is extra work for me but it is worth it). These attempts have allowed my husband gets to know the baby better and his caregiving skills have improved drastically in order to meet the needs of the baby (good job, hubby!).

Outcomes

Daily daddy routines have been established between my two precious gems. They seem to enjoy these times together. My husband who has never had experience with taking care of newborns is developing a solid relationship with his son. I am very happy and thankful to see that my husband and I are adapting to our new roles as parents and working together as a team.


Things that are still progress


It is important to keep a calm demeanour when taking care of babies. I am confidently able to say that I have been able to deal with crying and behavioural issues related to children in a calm manner for most of my life/career. However, dealing with my own child is different. My logical part of my brain is telling me that he is ok and safe even though he is crying but the emotional part of my brain is telling me to rescue my baby. My stress hits the roof when I hear the sound of my baby crying. This intensified stress makes me lose a bit of my control. There were a few times that I cried with my baby since I felt such pain during the first week.

What I have done

  • Stop, breath, and think through it: Whenever I feel uncontrollable stress due to him crying, I stop and breath. I have to keep reminding myself of the following:

    1) A Little bit of crying isn’t going to hurt him

    2) Crying is the only way he can communicate so try to find the reason and resolve it

    3) Sometimes he just cries with no specific reason

    4) The more I can be calm, the quicker he can be calm again

    5) How I feel has intensified due to the hormonal and brain changes that have occurred to me. It does not reflect how he actually feels.

  • Be ready: I knew that the witch hour was going to be difficult but I did not anticipate how frustrated and helpless I would feel. Feeding after feeding (cluster feeding) made me exhausted both physically and mentally. After a few days of struggles, I could anticipate this, and I started readying myself for this. I also made sure to eat well (sometimes a piece of cake helped me to get through), and hydrated. Also, this applies to when my husband and I are out (Oh man that first doctor’s office visit! We were rushed and soaking wet because of stress sweat). We have learned that it will take way more time to get out of the house. We also need to master how to use new baby-related products such as the stroller and car seat. The better prepared we are, the calmer we can be.

Outcomes in progress

I would put this as a thing that is still progress because we have yet to encounter all the various situations that would require a calm demeanour. I am aware that this may remain as an in-progress task during my entire parenthood.


Things that have not worked yet


First of all, I hope this isn’t misunderstood in that I don’t like to have guests. I do appreciate their kindness and care for our growing family, love to have as many guests as I can and introduce my beautiful baby to them.

Everyone welcomes and wants to meet the new baby. However, having guests does not necessarily follow the needs of the newborn baby. It can disrupt his wake-eat-sleep patterns. He can be overstimulated and become overly tired especially when the visits occur in the evening. We learned it in a hard way. We realized that we cannot say yes to guests whenever they would like to visit. There were two days he woke up more than 10 times at night because we had guests in the evening! Also, this is the time that a new mother must focus on recovery as well and for new parents-baby bonding.

What I have tried

Before I had my baby, I read some postings from mommies groups about rules for guests and did not think about it much. However, after having constant visits from guests, my husband and I realized that we needed something. We tried to set up rules such as the timing of the visit, limiting the numbers of guests at one time, etc. However, we have failed this quite often. It is difficult to say “no” to families and friends who are excited to see the baby. However, my husband and I need to reinforce these rules for the benefit of our baby and ourselves. We just need to remember - Babies cannot accommodate adults. Adults should accommodate babies.


I cannot believe this has already been a month. Time flies and I don’t want these precious moments with my newborn to go away. I hope as my baby gets bigger, stronger, and smarter, my husband and I become more mature and patient for his benefit and ours!

- Minnie