By Megan McQueen
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The “fourth trimester,” or newborn phase, is unique for families. Snuggling a sleeping baby and watching them become aware of the world around them compares to nothing else. As many families fall in love with their newborns, they may also be learning many new skills and feel overwhelmed. Each of my babies taught me new techniques for soothing. I look back fondly on parenting a newborn and remember the exhaustion and feelings of fear that I managed. I was surprised at how deeply I felt all these emotions. I was shocked by the fatigue, the energy needs of parenting a toddler (after my second baby), and the difference in temperaments of my children.
Learning about my baby’s needs helped me feel more capable and understanding. Read on to learn more and take comfort in your efforts.
Care for Yourself: Families of newborns need care too! Open your arms and accept offers of help from family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends. They want to spoil you, and receiving a hot meal can feel like a lifeline. Stock up on easy-to-prepare, healthy foods for meals and snacks. Quickly grabbing a yogurt, cheese stick, piece of fruit, veggie sticks, or lean proteins will be essential. Sleep as often as you can and move your body in ways your doctor supports. Be gentle with yourself, especially if you just gave birth. There are many incredible physical, hormonal, and emotional changes happening in you. Give it all time and offer yourself the same love you would give a close friend. If you are struggling with sadness or depression, reach out to your doctor.
What Can They Do?: It may seem as though newborns only sleep, eat, and cry, but their brains and bodies are growing at an incredible pace! New babies can see about eight inches from their faces. Eight inches is the distance from their eyes to yours when holding a baby in the crook of your elbow. Get close to your baby and watch them study your face. New babies can recognize the scent of their caretakers. Just as many adults love to breathe in the sweet milky scent of a new baby, they are doing the same with us! Babies can hear, even if they don’t understand every word you say. They may recognize their caretaker’s voices. Singing to and reading with your baby are enjoyable, help their brains develop essential literacy skills, and attach to you.
Preemies: Babies born early have different developmental timelines. When reading about milestones, note that preemies may meet these on a schedule based on their due date instead of their birth date. They will catch up with their peers in many areas, but you may have a newborn experience with other demands. Some preemies may be covered in hair and may have transparent skin. Sometimes preemies need more support because their muscles need more time to develop fully. Sometimes preemies have trouble sucking and swallowing, so careful monitoring of their weight gain will be necessary. Check-in with your pediatrician about any questions you have and opportunities to help your baby grow.
Feeding: The best way to feed your baby is the way that works best for your family. If using bottles, be sure bottles and nipples are clean before each use. Keep the nipple full of milk or formula so there are no air bubbles for your baby to swallow. Feeding your baby creates a natural bonding time. Hold your baby close, look into each other’s eyes, and caress their soft skin. If you are breastfeeding, reach out to lactation consultants if you have questions. Often, people think breastfeeding should be natural and easy, but it takes some teaching for both parent and baby. Be sure you are drinking lots of water and eating well – breastfeeding takes a lot of energy!
A Baby with a Disability: When families learn of a baby’s disability, many feelings usually arise. You love your child and want a life of ease for them. You may feel sadness, grief, anger, fear, great love, and compassion for your baby. All your feelings are valid and reasonable. You may find it helpful to connect with other families dealing with similar circumstances and talk through your thoughts with a therapist. Lean on your medical community to direct you to services to support your baby. Hold on to the love you have for your family.
Join a Parenting Class. Many communities offer free in-person and online parenting classes where you can connect with other families, share the joys of getting to know your children along with learning strategies to manage the challenges. We can all use more tools in our parenting toolbox and there are times when being a parent can feel very isolating. Parenting classes help us connect with the community where we are reminded that we are never alone in this journey. Learn more about parenting classes offered in Oregon through the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative.
Your baby is busy learning and growing, but most importantly, connecting with you. Your baby will change quickly during this time; enjoy noticing new developments as well as all the snuggles! Learning new ways to care for yourself and your new family will help you all as you adjust to your new life.
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.