Back home with your newborn: what can you expect?
If you have given birth in hospital, taking your new baby home for the first time is very exciting. It can however, also feel a little daunting, as you begin to realise that you won’t be able to ring the call bell for ‘on hand’ assistance from the maternity ward staff. The midwives and maternity/health care assistants caring for you and your new baby will however, make sure that you are ready to go home, so you shouldn’t feel too worried that you won’t know what to do once you get inside your front door. The midwives will ensure that your baby is feeding well and that you feel confident about feeding him; whether this is breast or bottle feeding. They will make sure you are happy undertaking the different aspects of your baby’s care and feel confident in undertaking nappy changes, looking after the umbilical cord, and bathing your baby. They can also give you advice on the correct use of any equipment that you might have bought and other aspects of your baby’s care that might concern you.
If you have any queries or concerns, it is important that, wherever possible, you talk these through with your midwife/carer before you are discharged from the postnatal ward. Postnatal wards can be extremely busy places and, despite the very best intentions, it can sometimes be difficult to give every new mother and father the time and attention that they require. Don’t worry though; a midwife or health care assistant will also visit you at home over the first 10 days following your baby’s birth. They will not come every day, but you can contact them through your local maternity services at any time, 24 hours a day should you have any worries or concerns. Midwives are available to offer care, support and advice up to 28 days following your baby’s birth; your health visitor will then take over once the baby is about two weeks old.
The very best thing is to take each day at a time – while you will undoubtedly feel a bit anxious, try not to worry too much as you will soon get to know your baby in the hours and days following their birth. It’s amazing how quickly first-time mums and dads become confident in baby care; even where they have had no previous experience of handling young babies. What you should try to remember is that when you go home, it is only your location that is changing and not your baby.
Many new parents find it helpful to time their discharge home, so that it doesn’t coincide with their baby’s next feed. If possible, change your baby’s nappy, then give them a breast or bottle feed before you leave the postnatal ward, it is more likely that they will then be nicely settled for the journey home. In fact, they will probably sleep for the entire journey and a bit more too! This will help you to feel more relaxed and will give you the extra time to enjoy being back in your home surroundings. It is also a good idea to have a practice run with handling and fitting your baby’s car seat. Many of the stores selling baby equipment are more than happy to give you advice to ensure your baby travels as safely as possible.
Whether or not you choose to have family and friends back at home to welcome you and your new baby is an entirely personal choice. Some new mums and dads prefer to have time alone together with their new baby for at least a few days, so that they can settle into their new routines and get to know each other. However, other parents like to have family and friends close by, or staying with them during the early days of parenthood. See our feature on Enjoying your Babymoon!
The initial weeks following the birth are recognised as being an extremely tiring time, as you cope with disturbed sleep and the care needs of your young baby. At times like this, it is important that you try and catch up on lost sleep whenever the opportunity arises; so try to sleep when your baby is asleep. This can be difficult however, especially where there are other children to be considered, not to mention all the extra laundry that a new baby manages to generate! Extra support at this time can be a great help with household chores, grocery shops and childcare, so that mum and dad are able to focus solely on their new baby’s needs and their role as new parents. Therefore, you might wish to consider asking your baby’s grandmother, a relative, neighbour or close friend to lend a helping hand.
Many dads take time off from work when their child is born – ie Paternity Leave. This gives the new family some special time together to develop confidence in the baby’s routine care and to enjoy shared activities such as bathing the baby and going for pram walks in the fresh air.
One common question that many new mums ask is: where should our new baby sleep? A Moses basket is ideal for a young baby because it is not too large and overwhelming for them, so when you get home from hospital, unless your baby is comfortably snoozing in their car seat – it is probably a good idea to place them in the basket so that they can get used to it. You will want to put the basket in the places where you are for the first few days, so this will be the living/dining room and your bedroom. It is extremely important that you, your partner or visitors, do not smoke in the same room as the baby, as research has shown that smoking around babies increases the risk of cot death (also called SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). For the same reason, it is equally important that your baby doesn’t get too hot or too cold.
The room temperature should be comfortable so that, for example, you are warm wearing one layer of clothing – but not so hot that you, and everyone else, feels the need to discard most of their clothing! The ideal room temperature for your baby is between 16-20oC, the optimum being 18oC (65oF). It can be difficult for you to gauge the room temperature, so use a room thermometer in the room(s) that your baby occupies and move the thermometer whenever you move the Moses basket to a different room. If your baby has been born during the colder months of the year, you will also need to think about where to place their Moses basket, especially if this is going to be directly onto the floor. Just be aware of draughts from doorways or windows that might chill them even though the room itself might feel warm. You should never place the Moses basket next to a heater, radiator or fire, as your baby could easily become too hot.
For their bedding it is best to use either lightweight sleeping blankets or a baby sleeping bag. You can tell if your baby is too warm, by gently touching their tummy; if it feels hot and ‘clammy’ your baby is too warm, so simply take off some of the layers of bedding or use a lower tog sleeping bag. The pillow and duvet set that often come with your Moses basket can look very pretty, but should not be used. They could become a hazard if your baby’s head becomes covered by them, or they become tangled in the duvet. All babies need to be able to lose any excess heat from the top of their head, so it is important that when lying baby in their Moses basket, your baby sleeps on their back (supine) with their feet to the foot of the basket. This way there is no danger of the baby slipping under the covers so that your baby’s head becomes covered by the bedding and they become too hot.
The very best thing you can do as soon as you feel able to, is to go out for a pram walk – your baby should be soothed by the movement; it also gives you a chance to work out how all the pram accessories work and a little bit of gentle exercise and fresh air will make you all feel good too. But just keep in mind that you are doing everything for an extra little person – so, it will therefore take twice as long, but there is no time limit, no target to meet, just do it in your own time, and enjoy each others’ company.