Things I wish I’d known before I had a newborn

1) Your baby might be traumatised for the first few days.

The day your baby comes home from the hospital, he will sleep through the car ride like a sweet little angel. Upon reaching home, you will deposit him in his crib, all cutely swaddled and cherub-like. And everybody will gather round to take photos.

 

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Five minutes later, his eyes will pop open and the screaming will begin. “You woke him up!” You will accuse your poor parents, who will quickly scuttle off to “leave the new parents alone”. You will drive yourself batty trying to figure out what the problem is. Hungry? Wet? Gas? You will find yourself tentatively rubbing ruyi oil on his tummy at 3am, whereupon he will suddenly stop crying and stare at you, and you will rejoice, and then he will resume screaming. You may despair, thinking that your baby will always and forever be a shrieky mess of nerves, and he will always need to have his head held while he sleeps (simulating your pelvis which he’d been grinding his head into for the past three months). And then suddenly after two or three days, it will all be over. His nerves will calm. And you’ll realise that you don’t in fact have the most needy and sensitive baby in the universe. Hooray!

2) Your baby may be violent at the breast in the beginning.

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Your baby may snarl and growl and pounce on your boob like a lion after its prey. This is horrifying. But it isn’t permanent. He just hasn’t learned how to extract milk efficiently yet, and you’re probably not letting down milk fast enough yet. So he’s going to be kinda mad for a few weeks. You can do what I did: quickly despair that your son is an animal and you just cannot do this anymore and move towards almost-exclusive pumping. Or maybe you could persevere, knowing that you will get better at production and he will get better at extraction. And one day, you will be able to hug him close, his cheek smooshed against you, his eyes semi closed and hands lightly opening and closing, and you will thank God that He created this crazy system of nourishing your young. Because there is truly nothing like it.

If you do decide to pump, then it would be good to realise that:

3) It may take a while for your breasts to learn how to release milk to a mechanical sucking machine.

I got nothing more than a couple of drops, for a few days. Despite the fact that I clearly had milk, the pump just wasn’t extracting. I nearly threw in the towel, until I learned that it’s not just a mechanical process, and it’s at least partly psychological. I was advised to visualise my baby. Use warm compresses. Keep calm. I’m not sure I persevered with any of those things. But I did keep pumping, even though it seemed like nothing was happening. After a few days, I got a little layer of milk in the bottle. And then it quickly got better from there.

4) Engorgement will pass, all on its own. 

When my milk came in and it looked and felt like a bad boob job (you know, like two coconut halves nailed on), I freaked out. I probably had a few clogged ducts, and neither my pump nor my baby seemed to be able to extract anything from me (see above). My breasts were not “going soft” after breastfeeding like the lactation consultant said must happen. I was afraid of exploding. Or getting infected. Or all sorts of other horrible things. At the time, I didn’t even care if I stopped producing milk, I just wanted it to all go away. Like, just stop being crazy boobs. Be normal boobs. Please. I was in panic. I was mean. I enlisted everybody around me to give me boob massages, including the husband, who had the cheek to look horrified. Anyway, three days later, I woke up and my breasts were deflated. It was over! I realised that initial engorgement passes all on its own, even if you don’t empty your breasts. Instead of panicking, I should have enjoyed my momentarily giant boobs and been thankful that my milk had come in.

5) Enjoy your newborn’s ability to sleep anywhere and for long periods of time. 

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Savour it, with all your heart. Because it ain’t gonna last. In fact, if your baby is one Michael Dean Lee, it’s all going to go swiftly downhill at 9 weeks. More on that next time.

6) Cover all your upholstery with something you don’t mind getting gross stuff on.

The first few weeks, your baby is going to projectile vomit at least once. It’s going to start off sounding like a massive burp, but just as you begin to rejoice that he got that out, a massive column of milk is going to spew out of your little one right onto your nice Arne Jacobsen (rip-off, but nice nonetheless) chair. On other days, there’s going to be pee and poo happening on other fabric-like surfaces. So bring out the old sheets and blankets and cover everything.

7) In the same vein, don’t change your baby in the car.

Just…don’t.

8) Forget the baby books, and do what works.

For the first month or so, everything be crazy. Baby is going to sleep when he wants to sleep, not sleep when he does not want to sleep, and let’s face it, his favourite place to take a snooze is going to be in your arms or on your chest.

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And it’s okay. Forget Gina Ford, forget The Baby Whisperer, dispose of every baby book that says your baby should never, ever, on pain of death, sleep in your arms. Or be nursed/rocked to sleep. The put-down-drowsy is something you’d probably want to work towards by the end of the second month, but in the first month or so, just do what works. You are not ruining him for life, nor creating sleep associations which he won’t be able to shake. You and your baby deserve to get through the first month with both your sanities intact, and really, nothing is irreversible at this point.

9) Don’t despair and don’t be smug, because everything changes.

Babies change all the time. Your baby may start out liking diaper changes. So you call up your friend and you’re like, “Hey my baby’s cool! He likes diaper changes!” The very next day, diaper changes are going to be The Worst Thing In The World. Why Are You Torturing Me With This Diaper Change??? And then a couple weeks later, it’s all sunshine and games again.

Same thing with washing his hair.

And pacifiers.

And how he likes to be held.

And sleep habits.

And games. One day he loves to play kick-kick-kick, and the next day, he’s all “Whatever. Got anything else?”

10) It sometimes gets worse before it gets better. But it does get better.

There’s the blues.

And the PURPLE crying. Literally and mnemonically. It gathered momentum and got really terrible around week 6. He was crying whenever he was awake, no matter what I did. All day long. I cried and yelled right along with him, and then cried some more after he went to bed in the evening, because the day was finally over. However, week 7! He suddenly turned the corner, and the first smile appeared. It got rapidly better after that.

And then the sleep. Sleep does progress, but with mini regressions scattered throughout. It’s like paddling against a current, and sometimes you take a break and drift back a couple of steps, but then you start paddling again and ultimately you’re much closer to your destination than when you started. At around 3 to 4 weeks, Michael became the noisiest, most restless sleeper starting around 3am. He screeched, groaned, moaned, convulsed violently. He made unearthly sounds I couldn’t reproduce. He was as loud and sounded as terrible as a grown man undergoing an exorcism. Ralph threatened to throw him out of our bedroom. I obsessively googled “baby restless sleep grunting early morning” and was pleased to note that I was not the only one with a possessed baby at 3am. But there were no solutions. It could be silent reflux, it could be colic, it could be nerves, it could be nothing. I was constantly on tenderhooks in the early hours of the morning, peering over his crib to see if he was sleeping through his own din, occasionally holding down his arms because it seemed to calm him back to sleep. This went on, peaking at 10 weeks, when I became convinced my poor baby was in some kind of pain. And then before we knew it, it faded to nothing around week 11 to 12. Sometimes, Ralph still makes the pterodactyl sounds just for nostalgia’s sake. “Remember this? *Screech*” And we chuckle, misty eyed. I wish I’d taken Liz’s advice and recorded it for posterity before it all stopped.

Finally…you will get better. There will be times when you will lose it, in an ugly mess of tears and screaming. But eventually you grow a special mommy skin which becomes relatively impenetrable to fussing, yelling, sleep shenanigans, pooping disasters, and the like. And your meltdowns space themselves out a little more. You get stronger, cleverer, wiser. And one day, you will find yourself nonchalantly bouncing your screaming baby on your shoulder, and realize that confidence has replaced the bewilderment. You are doing what you once thought you couldn’t. You know that eventually he will stop screaming and lean into you. And you will stand and sway with him for a little while, stepping to the ancient music that all mothers have learned to dance to.

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