You’ve read the pre-natal books. You’ve attended the classes. You’ve bought out the entire newborn section in the kids’ clothing department. Yet, all of that preparation evaporates into thin air when your obstetrician hands you this perfect pink-bellied, tiny-toed creature whose entire survival now depends on you. Your heart bursts with newfound love, you want to protect, nurture and care for this tiny baby who has suddenly become your entire world. Yet, you find yourself woefully inadequate to rise up to the challenge on many occasions. When motherhood becomes a reality, you can become overwhelmed.
It’s not easy to cope with the demands of a newborn in the first month, especially when you’re struggling with your post-delivery recovery. Sleep deprivation, latching issues and even the colour of your baby’s poop can make you second guess your parenting skills. Most moms struggle to cope during the first month, convinced that something has gone horrifically wrong. They frantically rush out to see their doctors, when really, everything is perfectly normal. So, take a deep breath. And remember, you’re not alone. If you’re a new mother, or about to become one, here is a guide to some of the biggest challenges faced in the first month, along with information about what’s normal and what’s not.
#1 Breastfeeding challenges
Doctors recommend nursing exclusively for six months, yet you might find yourself facing the following breastfeeding problems within the first week itself.
1. Baby’s weight loss after birth:
Oh no! Your newborn baby lost weight! Calm down, no need to panic. This was expected. Newborn babies lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight within the first week, so don’t despair. You baby will gain it back. By week two, most babies return to their birth weight. However, if you feel your baby isn’t gaining enough weight after that, despite breastfeeding consistently, you need to examine your breastfeeding technique or speak to your doctor.
2. Improper latching:
A poor latch is pretty common than you may think. After all, you and your baby are both new at this. If you feel your baby isn’t latching on correctly, keep trying.
Make sure your baby takes the entire nipple plus some of the areolae into the mouth. You can also switch your feeding position to see what works best. You’ll know the latch is good when:
- Your baby has a firm grip and is visibly swallowing the milk
- Your breast should feel lighter post-feeding
You and your baby may take a week or two to get the correct latch, so don’t despair. If you’re still unable to get a perfect latching, contact your paediatrician or a lactation expert. They can help to identify the problem and resolve it. In most cases, experts can help resolve the latching issue within a few days.
3. Latching on to only one nipple:
If your baby has a preferred nipple (and most newborns do), you need to train your baby to drink from the other breast. Offer the less favourite breast first, even if the baby refuses to take the nipple and cries out for the other. This issue only gets resolved if you are persistent. With time, both breasts will reach equal status. Till then, you can choose to express from the less preferred breast to prevent engorgement.
Note: Take care not to let the less preferred breast remain engorged for a long time as it can cause blocked duct/abscess.
4. Nipples hurt due to feeding:
The first few attempts at nursing will place a strain your nipples. Your doctor might recommend a nipple guard or nipple cream to solve the problem. Don’t rush out to buy these items. Once your newborn’s latch is perfected and there is a steady flow of milk, the problem generally solves itself. Most moms feel absolutely no pain or soreness from months of nursing, after the initial painful first week. Till then, you can apply a little breast milk or even a little ghee to reduce the soreness. If you continue to experience pain or difficulty in feeding, then you might want to consult a lactation expert.
5. Low milk supply:
At some point, every new mother questions her milk supply. Is it enough? Is the baby satisfied? Do I offer formula instead? First of all, don’t jump the gun on day one. It takes up to four days (sometimes more) for your milk to come in after the baby is born. Till then, your colostrum is enough for your baby. Remember, we discussed weight loss in the first week earlier? This is why. Your baby is born with extra padding to keep him satiated until the mother’s milk arrives.
Signs that your supply is genuinely low, after the first two weeks, are:
- Slow or lack of weight gain in the baby
- Less than 6 pee counts in 24 hours
Watch this video which debunks typical symptoms when new mothers wrongly assume they have low milk supply:
However, with proper nutrition and the right support, many moms who experience a low supply are able to improve their milk production. A lactation-boosting diet is important and traditionally recommended in the first 40 days.
It’s normal to wake up in the morning with engorged breasts. A quick feed and you will instantly feel lighter. However sometimes, engorged breasts that haven’t been drained quickly enough could cause milk ducts to clog. In severe cases, it may lead to mastitis.
These blockages form lumps in your breasts and can be painful too. The best way to deal with this is to nurse as often as possible. Also, the application of a warm washcloth, cabbage therapy on your swollen breast will help dissolve the milk lumps. Pumping to remove the excess milk can also provide some relief. If the pain is unbearable, your breasts are swollen and red, or if the clots remain for a long time, you need to see your doctor.
#2 Sleeping challenges
You’ll find a large chunk of the first month of your baby’s life is spent trying to put him to sleep. While sleep is very important for your baby’s development, it can also be difficult to figure out the best techniques to get your newborn sleeping.
1. Baby waking up at night:
This is the part of every new mother dreads. Newborn babies are notorious for waking up their parents at night, whether for a feed or out of discomfort. Some lucky parents have newborns who only wake up once or twice, whereas others are woken up once every 2-3 hours. Both are considered normal.
New babies have small stomachs and need frequent feeds, so doctors’ recommend waking heavy sleepers up every 2-4 hours for nursing. Newborns generally need around 14-18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour cycle, and they haven’t really grasped the concept of day and night just yet. However, if your baby can’t sleep, it could be more than just hunger. Your baby might be feeling uncomfortable, too hot or too cold to sleep, gas or any other reason. Also, if he is crying non-stop for hours while drawing his knees to his body, he may have colic.
2. Baby falling asleep while nursing:
Many newborns find suckling a soothing, comforting action that can lull them into sleep. Very often, you’ll look down and find your baby passed out in the middle of a feed, with your nipple in his mouth. This is normal. However, it doesn’t mean your baby is finished with his meal. You need to gently coax your baby to resume feeding. Keep your child awake by tickling his toes, firmly patting his stomach or gently tapping the face. You can take out the swaddle so the baby doesn’t feel cosy enough to fall asleep.
3. Baby sleeping on side/ Baby sleeping on tummy:
Doctors advise all new mothers to lie their babies down on their backs for sleeping. Newborns are unable to voluntarily move about in their sleep, especially if their noses get blocked by external forces. There is also a connection between sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleeping on the stomach. So till your child can independently move his body, especially the neck, always lay him down on his back. Even if he turns on the side or on the tummy, gently bring him on the back.
4. Struggle with putting the baby to sleep:
We’ve all seen the commercials where young babies are put in their cots, and then immediately fall asleep. That only happens in TV land. Most new babies, even when they’re tired, won’t be able to fall asleep by themselves. It’s common for newborns to cry when placed in their cots. They need to be rocked, held, patted or even sung to sleep. Babies have the natural need for human contact and hence prefer to be held most of the times for security and comfort.
Most experts recommended holding your baby until he is drowsy, but not asleep. Then lower the baby in the cot so he can go to sleep. Swaddling your baby also helps a lot here, as it forms a comfy cocoon that helps newborn sleep better, without being woken up by their kicker reflex. Many people will tell you that newborns form habits and won’t be able to sleep independently later on. This isn’t really true. All babies eventually learn to fall asleep on their own at some point. Some sooner, others later.
#3 Crying challenges
“Why does my baby cry so much?” Asks every mother ever. Your newborn has only one form of communication: crying. And the first month can be an endless cacophony of cries until you tune your ears to listen and figure out which wails match which corresponding needs.
1. Baby crying due to hunger:
This one is relatively easy to figure out, especially if it has been three hours since the last feed. You can insert a clean index finger into your baby’s mouth and if he quietens down and starts suckling, your newborn might be crying for his supper.
2. Baby crying due to sleep:
Many newborns struggle to fall asleep on their own. They’re tired, but they don’t know how to deal with it. If your baby stops crying when you hold him, then you can rock him gently or swaddle him. Sometimes, if you gently close his eyes with your hands, your baby might quieten down and drift off to sleep.
3. Baby crying due to discomfort:
You’ve just fed your newborn, he’s finished with his nap time, and he is still sobbing. Chances are your baby is uncomfortable or restless. Check the nappies, as a soiled diaper can rub against your baby’s delicate skin. Also, check the temperature of the room. Peel off or add a layer of clothes in case your baby is feeling too hot or too cold. Your infant may also need soothing/skin contact. In that case, you can try wearing your baby in an ergonomic, age-appropriate wrap. The skin to skin contact will help your newborn to calm down.
If the problem appears to be gas, you can try regular cycling exercises or apply hing mixed in water for an effective release [click here to know more about relieving a gassy baby].
4. Colic cries:
If your newborn is wailing uncontrollably for over 3 hours, unable to sleep, acts fussy and pulls his legs up, he may suffer from colic. There is no definite cure, and there are no sure shot symptoms. Most parents are advised to ride it out, but you can offer your baby some comfort by holding him or placing a warm water bag on his stomach. If it gets too persistent, your doctor may prescribe an anti-colic medicine for some gentle relief.
#4 Newborn physical challenges
Your newborn baby may have left your womb, but his tiny body is still developing. There are a few surprises that occur within the first month you should be prepared for.
1. Umbilical cord:
Every newborn comes home with a clamped umbilical cord stump. The cord will eventually dry out and fall off on its own within the span of two weeks. It won’t bother your baby as long as you keep the area dry and untouched, especially during bath time. In fact, most doctors will advise you to just give a sponge bath, till cord falls off. If the area gets infected or filled with fluid, contact your doctor right away.
It can be a bit horrifying to open up your newborn’s diaper for the first time and witness the dark green/blackish contents within it. Despite the ghastly appearance, meconium or the first poop is perfectly normal in newborn babies. The colour is due to the substances your baby consumes when in the womb, such as amniotic fluid, bile and water. Once these substances leave the system within 3 to 5 days, your baby’s poop will turn to mustard yellow.
3. Unsteady neck muscles:
Your newborn is born with weak or underdeveloped muscles that take time to strengthen. For the first month or so, your baby will have a floppy neck that will need proper support. You can help him get to this milestone quicker with some neck exercises. However, if your baby doesn’t gain control over his neck muscles by month 3 or 4, please see your paediatrician.
4. Cradle cap:
There is a yellowish, greasy, scaly patch on your newborn’s scalp. You think it’s finally time to panic. Well, it’s not. Like most issues involving babies, things always look more sinister than they actually are. Your baby has cradle cap. It’s harmless, painless and will disappear on its own. Check out our in-depth post to know more.
5. Blocked tear duct:
It can be frightening to see a yellowish discharge seeping out of your little one’s delicate eyes. Your newborn’s eyes could also appear swollen or red. Like all parts on your baby’s new body, the tear ducts are also still developing, and can cause a blockage till the opening of the duct is fully formed. Again it is usually harmless and corrects on its own. Read here to find out all the details.
6. Spitting of milk:
It’s quite common for new babies to spit up a little milk immediately after a feed. Don’t worry, this isn’t the same as vomiting. Your baby has either eaten too quickly or has an underdeveloped digestive system. This problem will sort itself out, but until then you can learn more about it here.
The first month of your baby’s life, and your life as a new mother, will be the longest month of your life. Tending to a young newborn can be terrifying and exhausting, and you’ll find yourself out of your depth many times. Hopefully, with this post, you’ll be able to figure out what’s normal, and when to panic.