The First Forty Days
The moment has finally arrived – you’re finally gazing into that beautiful face of your newborn. All of the mystery surrounding the identity of your baby has been resolved in just one moment. You’re fascinated by the unique little features and the perfection of creation. Not every parent feels the love straight away, as bonding is an individual experience between the baby and the new parents, but never underestimate the power of bonding. It’ll happen, the baby’s survival depends upon it.
Now what? Most new parents haven’t thought too much about this stage. About the first forty days.
Many cultures have very old and tested traditions around supporting the new family. Unfortunately, we have lost some of the wisdom of these traditions. Let’s look at what you will need in those first forty days:
1. Establishment of Feeding
The most important step after a baby has arrived is establishing good breastfeeding. ‘Good’ means little to no pain for the mother (which can take a bit of time) and good milk supply. Both these elements will be supported by good attachment. The biggest feedback I get from new parents is conflicting advice around breastfeeding from the midwives, which can be confusing and not always helpful in getting things going. If you are experiencing issues, the best support to get is from a specially trained lactation consultant. They have a much broader base of training and understanding of how to overcome problems. This is a particularly important time, and the new mother requires quiet time so she can focus on each feed. She often needs to be exposed. Having a house full of visitors can really get in the way of this and will tire her out very quickly. Feeding frequently and making sure her breasts are drained and there are no lumps can help avoid issues like mastitis. Getting the baby to gain weight and feed regularly requires a well-rested and non-distracted mother.
2. Sleep Over The First Forty Days
Baby’s sleeping patterns are not likely to get established in any type of predictable routine within the first 12 months. Any books or programs that tell you otherwise can be setting you up for a lot of angst and unrealistic expectations. At best, you can start to experience a rhythm. Babies grow very rapidly in the first 12 months, which means their needs change rapidly and they change the rules on you all the time. What worked yesterday may not work today. What they have been doing in the last month may change dramatically tomorrow. Your role is to learn to read their cues and tired signs and respond to what they are doing today. It is a biological necessity for babies to feed often and, whilst this will vary from baby to baby, expecting them to sleep through the night (particularly early on in the first 6 months) is not likely to happen consistently.
Mother’s sleep. Mother nature is clever, she sets you up to be able to wake to your baby, by changing the quality of your sleep. This is happening even during pregnancy. She wants you to be aware enough to always protect the baby. Waking up is generally not hard but getting back to sleep can be. Teaching yourself to fall back to sleep by using relaxations or meditations can be incredibly useful. Catching up on sleep during the day is also essential for you to not suffer too much sleep deprivation.
3. Food & Groceries
Women are generally ravenous after having a baby, particularly if they are breastfeeding. It can be easy to consume food that is easy, overly processed, and not that healthy. The new mother’s body is recovering from birth, working very hard to make milk and readjust back to a non-pregnant state, and getting less sleep. Her health and wellbeing are so important and need to be fuelled well. Filling up the freezer with ready-made nutritious foods, getting your community to bring around food for the first few weeks, ordering online groceries or online healthy meals are ways to avoid eating junk.
4. Time Off
The more the better. Tim O’Leary, a wonderful parenting and relationship educator, talks about his experience of bonding with his first baby. His original intention of going back to work a couple of weeks after the baby was born was thwarted when there was some health issue within the family that required him to be at home for longer. As a result of taking more time off, he shares his own powerful story of bonding with his baby and how the extra time helped him to get more confident and enjoy his baby more. This had quite a flow-on effect for the following months and he was so grateful he took that time. When the care of a newborn baby is left fully on the shoulders of the birthing mother, who is feeding around the clock, that is a recipe for a tired and tetchy mother. Teamwork is the key – for everyone’s enjoyment of this time. You will never get this precious time back.
5. Managing Visitors
I was so proud of my new baby son that I wanted everyone I know to come and see what a masterpiece of creation he was. By day three of visitors, my midwife wisely advised me to close the door and only have those come by who were in service to the new family. Having a house full of visitors eating all your food, sitting on your couch for hours, and wanting to nurse the newborn is not what is needed in the early weeks. Frequent feeding requires exposed breasts, and you may not want your father-in-law to meet your breasts at the door. Discuss managing visitors and be clear with your community what your expectations are – and put them to work supporting your new family.
6. Time to Learn
Babies are communicating all the time, our job is to watch, listen and not get too distracted. Fortunately, babies are amazingly easy to stare at and become mesmerised by all their little ways. The movements, sounds and facial expressions are your baby communicating, so taking the time to learn requires focus. The answers are resting in your baby (not on google or books), you just need to learn their language.
7. Extra Support Over The First Forty Days
Cleaning, shopping, cooking, massaging the mother, looking after other children, bringing gifts and care packages are gold to the new family. Let your community know what you want and preferably line this up prior to the birth.
8. Birth Debriefing
Many women find themselves wanting to talk about the birth. Birth is an intense emotional experience and the new mother is trying to integrate what happened. Choose wisely who you share with. Flippant comments like, “oh well, you got a healthy baby,” are not always helpful. She is processing it and needs to be heard. She needs to find understanding and meaning to move forward. Debriefing with your caregivers can be immensely helpful in order to understand why certain things might have happened.
9. Recovery Care
Some women’s bodies need time to heal after birth and the new mother can be left with discomfort and even longer-term pain that needs to be managed and cared for. The more support around her, taking care of her and the baby, the better the conditions are for this healing to occur. When women try to get back to the new normal and put pressure on themselves to perform, healing time can be extended.
10. Lots of Love and Reassurance
No new parents know what they are doing with their new baby. They must learn. Receiving unwanted and excessive advice gets in the way of that learning. All they need is lots of reassurance that they will work things out and to trust themselves. There can be important tips and tricks that can be helpful, but only when asked for. People making comments on what they think the baby needs can take away confidence in the new parents, which makes their learning harder.
11. Newborn Babies Like to be Held
The first forty days is sometimes called the fourth trimester, and that means babies like to be held a lot. A baby carrier is one of the most important purchases you will make. Their survival depends on being connected to a human, so this is a great opportunity for partners to do more of the grunt work of carrying the baby after birth.
This is a very precious period and the best conditions for this new phase are love, support and the ability to focus on the new baby. See it as an investment in your learning, confidence and ultimate enjoyment of life with a new baby. You will never have this experience with this baby again.
I hope this helps you all,