Thoughts from a Labor and Delivery Nurse
Liesel Teen is a labor and delivery nurse (L&D RN), mama, the face behind the popular pregnancy Instagram page @mommy.labornurse and creator of the online childbirth class, Birth It Up. She has been passionate about birth for as long as she can remember, and she loves sharing her nursing knowledge to help mamas-to-be. She lives in North Carolina and is expecting her second baby in August 2020.
Most pregnant mamas do a great job of preparing for their baby and birth. We take the birth classes, execute the perfect registry, arrange a Pinterest-worthy nursery, and follow all of our provider’s guidelines for a safe and healthy pregnancy.
And that’s awesome! In fact, as a Labor & Delivery nurse, I LOVE seeing mamas get prepared and educated about birth. It’s totally my thing and why I started my site, Mommy Labor Nurse.
But today I’m here to talk a little bit about what lies beyond birth. Because after all, birth is but a day. Caring for your newborn will be your new, round the clock responsibility, no matter what. And we could all benefit from getting a little more prepared for that ahead of time, too!
Here I’m going to share the five things I wish I’d known before I brought my first baby home—the things that would have given me more confidence in the early days, weeks, and months as a mama. The things I want you to learn from!
For babies, sleep begets sleep
Baby sleep is a topic that you will likely read and obsess about endlessly once your baby arrives. I could go on and on about my best newborn sleep tips and what to do and not to do. But if I could choose one piece of advice I’d wish I’d known regarding baby sleep? Sleep begets sleep.
The more often Baby sleeps, the better they will sleep. Keeping babies up longer actually makes them sleep for shorter lengths of time or have more disrupted sleep. For this reason, it’s important to learn Baby’s wake times. You want to become a master of reading your baby’s sleep cues to follow the “more is better” philosophy.
Developmentally, most babies from 0-3 months old can only stay awake for 1-2 hours at a time during the day. For some, they may only stay awake for as long as they slept during their last nap—if Baby took a 30-minute nap, they may be ready to sleep again after only 30 minutes of awake time.
With newborn naps often only lasting 30-60 minutes, and you may feel like all you’re doing is feeding your little one and getting them to sleep. But trust me, this is completely normal and will actually set you up for longer chunks of sleep at night sooner.
Breastfeeding might be hard
I was under the mistaken impression that breastfeeding was an innate thing that we could all just do. I thought babies and mamas could just nurse, no questions asked. Well, mama, I was wrong!
Breastfeeding comes with a steep learning curve for many. It often takes a lot of determination, troubleshooting, and perseverance, but it is well worth it in the end if you can make it work.
My own breastfeeding journey wasn’t without hiccups, and I struggled with a low milk supply that stole the joy from my newborn experience and I decided to start supplementing. It was the best decision ever, and I still nursed my son well past one year.
So what can you do before your baby arrives? Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding now. Getting a leg up on breastfeeding basics will set you up for success. If breastfeeding is important to you, preparation is key. Just like we approach any other goal in life with practice and education, breastfeeding should be the same.
There’s some recovery involved with all births
Whether you have a natural birth, epidural, induction, C-section, or something in between, every birth will have some aspect of recovery. Yes, recovering from a C-section is usually a little more intense, but every mama should prepare for postpartum discomfort and exhaustion.
Giving yourself grace and time to rest after birth is so important. And I don’t just mean during your hospital stay! Postpartum healing and adjustment to life as a mother takes time. Don’t dive right into social visits, housework, and cooking. Your body needs to recover because birth takes a toll and rest is important. Use the Owlet Monitor Duo to ease your worries and get the rest you need. The Cam streams audio and HD video to your phone while the Smart Sock tracks Baby’s heart rate and oxygen level. This way, you can relax and recover while Baby sleeps in their room!
There’s actually a lot you can do to prepare for postpartum before your baby arrives. Doing things like stocking your freezer with cooked meals, buying household essentials, and having postpartum care supplies on hand will all aid in your ability to rest and heal.\
Emotional and mental health challenges are common
Mental health challenges are more prevalent after having your baby than many mamas realize. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 80% of all new mamas experience the baby blues.
We’ve all heard about postpartum depression, but until you’re facing it, it can seem abstract and hard to believe. Many mamas have shared their stories with postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders in the Mommy Labor Nurse community, and my heart goes out to all of them.
I think it’s so important for new mamas to learn about emotional health challenges before they bring their babies home so that they know the red flags and warning signs. Here’s a brief rundown to help you understand the hallmarks and differences between the baby blues, postpartum depression, and postpartum anxiety:
- Baby Blues: These are often described as the feeling of being weepy or having bad PMS. It peaks around 4-5 days postpartum. You may have mood instability, sadness, irritability, anxious thoughts or lack of concentration. If it’s the baby blues, these symptoms will gradually get better on their own after about 3 weeks and which is the key difference I want you to remember.
- Postpartum Depression (PPD): PPD lasts longer than three weeks and is generally a more severe or significant version of the symptoms described above. Often, it’s to the point of not being able to function, feelings of hopelessness, lost interest in things, and a feeling that it’s impossible to bond with your baby. It usually occurs within the first 3 months, but can happen any time after having a baby.
- Postpartum Anxiety (PPA): This is slightly less talked about but causes significant challenges for many new mamas. Postpartum anxiety is described as constant, or near-constant worry that can’t be eased, feelings of dread, and sleep disruption even when Baby is sleeping peacefully. If you find yourself experiencing these types of symptoms, PLEASE bring them up to your provider so that they can help you.
You’ll experience a love you never thought possible
In spite of the sleepless nights, breastfeeding challenges, and postpartum discomforts, you’ll fall in love with a tiny human. You’ll relish in snuggles and naps on your chest. You’ll be in awe of their tiny features, perfect profile, and adorable feet. You’ll feel like your days are never-ending, but you’ll be blindsided at how quickly everything is passing at the same time. Most of all, you’ll rock motherhood in your own way as the perfect mama for your baby.