How To Survive Your First Week With A New Baby (& Keep Your Sanity Intact!)

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first time parents new parents

Human babies are the most helpless newborns in the animal kingdom. They can do absolutely nothing for themselves, so it’s up to their parents to ensure their survival.

This is a decidedly new skill for most of us, and learning how to take care of a newborn baby can be a trial by fire for new parents.

The good news is: You and your newborn baby are going to survive and thrive. The rest of the human race has figured this out — and you will, too.

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Here are 5 tips to ease first-time parents into their new role, plus tips for how to take care of a newborn baby:

1. Plan early. (Your due date is an estimate, not a guarantee.)

It is quite normal for a baby to arrive two weeks early, and for a variety of reasons, some women deliver even earlier. 

So, what’s the most important thing you can do to plan as new parents? Make sure you have the basics taken care of: At the very least, you need a car seat, a crib or bassinet, onesies, pajamas, blankets, diapers, wipes, and bottles and formula, if you aren’t planning to breastfeed.

Trust me when I tell you that this is the bare minimum of baby gear you need — you are going to need a lot more. But these items but will get you through a few postpartum days without having to run to the store right after giving birth.

Some first-time parents are not comfortable having baby furniture in the house before the baby is safely born. Luckily, most baby registries like Toys R Us and Target will let you choose your items beforehand and then as soon as the baby is born, you can arrange a quick delivery with a click.

2. Be a teammate with your partner.

Learn together, fail together, and support each other. If your partner is able to take some time off after the baby is born, you will cement your connection as a team.

If taking care of a newborn baby is new to you two as first-time parents, experiencing those first incompetent days together and surviving (which you surely will) creates a bond between the two of you that is deep and meaningful. It will set the tone for raising your children together for a lifetime.

Fathers are often excluded when a first baby comes home. Women are more likely to read up on caring for babies beforehand. So, when Dad steps in to change a diaper, Mom sees that the way he is doing it is different from the book, and she criticizes. This serves to alienate Dad and can ultimately make him disengage.

If we want men to be involved in childcare, we’ve got to bring them in with acceptance and generosity. Be positive and appreciative of his involvement, and he will get the hang of things. Remember, at this age, all a newborn baby really needs is to be loved, safe, and fed.

3. Call in the troops.

Brazenly ask for and accept help from your social support group: your sister, your mother, your best girlfriend. If anyone offers to help, give them a specific task. People don’t know what would help the most and are often relieved to be assigned a task like, ”Bring dinner on Tuesday by five," or “Come for an hour on Wednesday at ten so I can get a shower.”

If there is someone who really loves you, like your mother or girlfriend, and their help is regularly useful to you, ask them stay with you for the first few days. My mom stayed over after I had my first baby and did a few middle-of-the-night feedings, which gave me and my husband a couple of extra precious hours of continuous sleep.

When you have a newborn and someone offers to let you sleep, don’t protest, don’t be polite. Say yes. ALWAYS.

Functioning without sleep is one of the most difficult parts of new parenthood. Easing sleep deprivation is the best thing you can do for your physical and emotional health.

4. Be generous with yourself as a new parent.

There is no getting around this — it’s hard to learn how to take care of a newborn who can only communicate by crying or not crying. It’s hard to live on only a couple of hours of sleep. And more so while you are recovering from birthing a baby, especially by Cesarean section.

If you are sometimes emotional or cranky, give yourself a break. You are going to feel a whole range of emotions, especially in the first week of being a new parent.

Anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of women experience what’s called postpartum blues, which can involve sadness, tearfulness, or irritability. The good news is that for most mothers, this goes away by the tenth day after the baby is born, and you will feel more like your regular self again soon.

To cope during this time, ask your partner for tiny bits of tender, loving care when possible. Just 60 seconds of hugging can reduce the stress-induced neurochemicals that make you feel strung out.

5. Remember: It will absolutely get better.

I promise you that in a few weeks, your baby will get into a routine. There will be a nap time you can count on. Your body will recover. You (and your partner) will become experts in taking care of a newborn. And somewhere between six and 12 weeks, your newborn will reward you with a smile, and then a giggle, and then one of those full, throaty baby guffaws that you will do anything to bring on.

Sometime soon after that, you will wake up in the morning and realize that you and the baby slept all night. Life will get easier, and you will look back on these early days in a haze, where you can’t even remember how you got through.

Your baby is going to get the hang of being a human, and you will get the hang of being a new parent. I guarantee that these things will all happen.

If you are expecting a new baby, congratulations! You are beginning the hard but deeply satisfying work of parenting. Inviting your village to participate and caring for yourself when you can will be good for you and your child.

Let your journey begin!

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Robyn Stein DeLuca, Ph.D. is a psychologist and postpartum expert. She teaches the Two Day Bringing Baby Home Workshop for Couples, which helps couples improve and protect their relationship when the new baby comes home. Go to her website to learn more about all of her prenatal and postpartum programs.