Surviving the first week with a newborn – a surgeon’s approach

by Media Xpose

We’ll never forget the day our baby girl left the warm artificial womb of NICU to be discharged to our care. I remember fumbling with the car seat buckles, readjusting her head every two minutes and then finally feeling my heart skip a beat when I thought I didn’t see a symmetrical chest rise with her breathing.

Forever glad we got an Isofix installed for the car seat, we unclipped her easily when we got home. I felt bare. It’s just us. No paediatrician, no nurse, no staff, no breastfeeding consultants, no family members, just us. I’ve taken care of many sick children in the hospital before, but now for the first time it’s my healthy tiny bundle. I know nothing.

Night one went like a breeze, she adjusted well to the NICU schedule, and we tried to recreate it to the last detail. My husband and I took turns through the night – and even did a little high five dance the next morning when we realized we survived.

However, the rest of the week took its toll on us.

In surgery you’re used to being on call seven to eight times a month, meaning you are the go-to surgeon for your region for a full 36+ hours. You’ll spend that whole time operating,  taking consults, seeing clinic patients, and managing sick trauma patients.

So for the first three nights being ”on call” for my own was a refreshing change. I managed well.

But by the fourth night the sleep deprivation really set in, and I had to work on a mindset shift. Adrenalin can only take you so far and I needed to prepare for this caffeine deprived marathon ahead.

They say try to sleep when the baby sleeps, and for the first time I took the advice to heart, along with others we’ve acquired.  Here are some helpful tips on how to navigate the first week home.

  1. Invest in the best baby monitor you can afford

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a much dreaded consequence of many unknown factors. There are many theories, but alas, mostly no cause is found. However, having a monitor to help you with regulating her breathing patterns made a big difference. We invested in a baby monitor system which includes a breathing monitor pad and a camera.

It gave us such peace of mind knowing the monitor manages most of your paranoia.

  1. Create a decent sleep environment for the partner who is not taking the graveyard shift

My husband and I took turns during the night for night feeds. Usually we decided by around 8pm who was the most tired. That person got to sleep first and then we swopped over at around 1am depending on when she woke again.

We decided early on that our newborn would sleep in her own nursery.  This way at least one of us would go into much needed REM sleep. When baby wakes, you crawl out of bed, baby monitor to silent mode, and close the bedroom door and nursery door on your way out.

This routine made a tremendous difference to our sanity and quality of sleep.

  1. Online grocery delivery services

One of the few advantages of lockdown is the boom in online grocery delivery options. For a nominal fee you can have fresh produce delivered to your doorstep in an hour. This made a big difference for us in the first week and made sure we were fed and healthy in the first few days after our discharge.

The consequences of not eating well will easily be seen in your breastmilk production.

  1. Get a decent breast pump, both manual and electric

Expressing breastmilk after feeding really helped my milk production in the first week (not that it’s been easy, my milk production took two months to catch up).

Using a quality pump made a big difference. I got my hands on a hospital grade pump.  Moms, you get what you pay for so invest in the best.

You’ll still spend many hours hooked to a pump, so make if efficient and hands-free with the help of a pumping bra.

At night engorged breasts might wake you up in between feeds. If you choose to ignore it, it might reward your lack of effort with early signs of mastitis.

You can keep a handheld pump ready at your bedside for a quick pumping session to relieve the pressure.

  1. Pacing yourself

I was ready for the sprint only to find out I wouldn‘t last the marathon.

Just like your baby learns to self-soothe, I‘m also working on my sleep hygiene to facilitate falling back asleep as efficiently as I possibly can.

Put your phone away as soon as you get into bed. If the midnight munchies strike, make sure there’s a high protein, low calorie shake handy and drink plenty of water.

  1. Establish and maintain a routine early on, until you feel confident to deviate

We followed a few high-impact baby books, and this really helped us as first time parents to understand sensory overload with our newborn.

In my third trimester I was preparing for my surgery exams, so I never got to read them antenatally.

But my husband read to us aloud while I was in labour, and it was a nice distraction. Even the maternity sister said she learnt a thing or two.

Once your routine is established (feeding three hourly, creating a calm space, bedtime routines, etc), you can start to take small liberties and see if baby adjusts well to them. That being said, don’t be too ambitious in the early days.

Having a newborn is much harder than we’ve anticipated. None of our friends with kids could have emphasized enough how time consuming such a little one can be. However, nobody can prepare you for the instant burst of love you feel when you finally meet your newborn for the first time.

Try out these newborn hacks, they helped us survive the first week with minimal injuries!

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