Bringing your newborn home is arguably one of the best moments of your life, but it's also one of the scariest. After you deliver your baby, you've typically got a team of professionals surrounding you (for at least a day) while you rest and recover and bond with your baby. When you're home, alone, your newborn and with no one other than Dr. Google to confide in, that infamous new parent panic typically sets in. There are things every new mom needs to know about newborns, that can help combat that panic; things that you won't necessarily find in a baby or parenting book because, well, there are things only time and experience can teach you.
The first three months at home with your baby (i.e. the newborn months) aren't exactly as exciting as we'd hope for them to be. There's a lot of redundancy and stress and work associated with newborn care, conveniently combined with a severe lack of sleep, so those first few months at home don't necessarily feel quite as blissful as those tear-jerking commercials make them out to be. Those months aren't so much about laughing and playing with your baby (don't worry, you'll get to that part eventually) as they are about simply tending to your newborn's needs, establishing a helpful routine, adjusting to your new life as a parent and recovering from labor and delivery.
Your postpartum life can be confusing and exciting and raw and emotional and it's all so wonderful and terrifying. It's also difficult not to feel utterly alone in the experience, even when you're surrounded by doting friends and family members and your parenting partner, if you have one. There's so much to learn and do and learn again, so it doesn't hurt to get a head start, starting with things every new mom needs to know when caring for a newborn:
They Sleep. Like, A Lot...
How much do newborns sleep, exactly? Newborns sleep between 16-17 hours per day, but their sleep patterns are very irregular at first, which means that getting sleep yourself probably isn't going to happen (unless you've got help). A sleeping baby is adorable, yes, but you can only do so much staring at them before you get a little bored. The good news is that a sleeping baby is a developing one, because babies grow and develop the most during their REM sleep, which is typically what they're in as newborns.
...And They Eat A Lot...
Newborns have an insatiable appetite. They typically eat every 2-3 hours, with the amounts varying based on whether they're breastfed or bottle fed, and how old they are. Their appetites grow just as quickly as they do, and you will see an increase in the amount they're eating almost every week during the first few months of their life.
...And, Of Course, They Poop A Lot
Newborns poop a lot, sometimes 8-10 times a day. No two babies are exactly the same though, so if your baby isn't having 8-10 bowel movements a day, it's probably nothing to worry about. Breastfed babies have more bowel movements than formula fed babies, and formula fed babies are slightly more likely to get constipated. As long as your baby is having regular wet diapers and are pooping every day, or every other day, there's probably nothing to worry about. If your baby has a swollen abdomen and is fussy, though, they may be having trouble having bowel movements on their own, so you should speak with their doctor.
They're Not As Fragile As You Think
Every new parent is afraid of breaking their baby. Yes, really, every single one. It's understandable though, since babies are so tiny and helpless and aren't able support their head or even keep their eyes open for very long. Still, the truth is that babies were built to withstand their parents. It's always a good idea to be careful, of course, but keep in mind how your baby came into the world. I mean, it wasn't exactly an easy journey, so the likelihood of you causing them harm when handling them is very, very slim.
They're Going To Grow Insanely Fast
According to the Mayo Clinic, "From birth to age 6 months, a baby may grow 1/2 to 1 inch (about 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters) a month and gain 5 to 7 ounces (about 140 to 200 grams) a week. Expect your baby to double his or her birth weight by about age 5 months." Of course, your doctor will monitor your baby's growth at every well visit to make sure that they're on track, and every baby does grow differently. Still, when someone tells you "they grow up so fast," they mean it, because babies aren't babies for very long.
Their Diapers Will Tell You Everything You Need To Know
As previously mentioned, your baby could have between 8-10 bowel movements per day. Not every baby has that many, and you will quickly learn what is and is not normal for your own, but what is in those diapers is just as informative as the number you're changing. A baby's poop can range in size, texture, and color depending on what they're eating, and there's some pretty interesting colors in that rainbow. Also, the number of wet diapers you're changing is an important indication of your newborn's health. The more your baby is eating, and the older they get, the more output they will have, so if you notice that you're not changing many wet diapers (average five per day after they are several days old), consult your pediatrician to make sure your baby isn't becoming dehydrated.
They Won't Be Able To Sleep More Than A Few Hours In A Row For Several Weeks, Maybe Months
Your baby is going to sleep a lot at first, but never for more than a few hours at a time. They need to be fed and changed frequently, so they wake up every 2-3 hours in order to do so. When your baby is 6-8 weeks old, they will begin to sleep for longer spurts during the night and taking shorter naps during the day (still quite frequently, though). Those first few months seem exhausting when you're not getting much sleep yourself, but I promise you'll eventually get the rest you need.
They Don't Know The Difference Between Night And Day
At first, babies have no circadian rhythm to help them differentiate between night and day. That's why it's your job, as their parent, to help teach them the difference. Try to keep day time bright and busy, and night times dim, calm, and quiet. They will begin to recognize that night time is peaceful, and makes for a great sleep, and that during the day, there's a lot going on that they should probably stay awake to experience.
You Need To Give Them Sponge Baths Until Their Umbilical Cord Falls Off
Most umbilical cords fall off within three weeks, though some can take longer. They can stay in tact, hanging by what seems like a thread for several days, but most doctors recommend that you don't interfere with them (unless you're cleaning them wit?//h an alcohol wipe). Like any wound, it's important to keep the umbilical cord dry so that the skin underneath it can heal.
You Don't Have To Be Afraid Of The Soft Spot On Their Head
The soft spot on a baby's head seems a little strange at first, especially if you see it pulsating, but it's perfectly normal and not nearly as fragile as you may initially believe it to be. Your baby's soft spot is just gaps in between the fontanels of their skull. The will close over time (most likely during your baby's second year), but aren't closed at first so that your baby's brain will have room to grow (they also had to be flexible for your baby to come through the birth canal). Be gentle with them, of course, but don't be scared of them.
They're Probably Going To Lose That Fuzzy Hair
That newborn peach fuzz is one of the most adorable things you will ever see, and it will melt you into a helpless puddle every time you rub your hands across your baby's sweet little head. Unfortunately, for some, it doesn't last for long. Newborns typically lose quite a bit of the hair they were born with during the first six months of their life. Sad, yes, but it's normal, and it will grow back and be just as adorable as ever.
They Might Look A Little Funny At First
You baby might appear to have an oddly shaped head if you delivered him or her vaginally. They'll also be quite swollen around their sweet little faces, but have wrinkled skin on their lanky arms and legs. They're cute, of course, but maybe not as squishy and big eyed as you had thought they'd be. Keep in mind that they just spend nine or more month nestled snug in your body, and surrounded by amniotic fluid, so they're going to look a little different the first few days of their life than they will once they've spent some time outside of your womb.
They Need You To Take Care Of You, Too
Your job as your baby's mother is to take care of them and nurture them, but it's important that you take care of yourself, too. Your body needs rest after you've given birth, and you will probably need to take some time to yourself so that you can emotionally grasp the monumental change that just happened. Having a baby is a big deal, almost super-human, but you're still a human being and and you still need the same attention and nurturing that you're giving your baby. Not just for you, but for them, too.