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What All New Parents Should Know Before The Baby Comes: Top Advice from a Maternal Child Health Nurse and Lactation Consultant

Learn from my 12 years as a bedside nurse in both Postpartum and Labor and Delivery seeing who was thriving and who was... well,  freaking out. 

When I decided to switch from pediatric nursing to mother baby I thought I knew a lot about newborns. Oh boy, was I wrong. I thought breastfeeding was just "put the baby on the breast and they eat '' and that everyone would be prepared for how little sleep they will get (everyone talks about it, but it's different when it is happening to YOU). I jumped right in and my fascination (obsession?) with birth and breastfeeding began. I learned from other nurses and experts, but really found the most understanding being with and supporting the beautiful new parents who let me into these once-in-a-lifetime moments. 

So what have I learned in these 12 years since I came to that Postpartum hospital unit all innocent and clueless? There are a few things about the hospital experience that I see as surprising to  new (and seasoned!) parents over and over... 

Surprise #1 - You Are Super Tired

Yes, I know this shouldn't be a surprise! People know that new parents don't get much sleep. It's in every sitcom... ever. But if you truly expect it and make a conscious decision to BE OK with it, you will have a better time. You won't get more sleep and it is still hard, but it's all about managing your expectations. Later on you will be impressed with how much you can do on so little sleep. 

Have an honest and real conversation with your partner about who needs more sleep and make an actual plan of action. My husband is a delightful fully functioning human with 4-5 hours of sleep. I, however, need 7-8 to even be tolerable. We decided to prioritize my sleep. This meant he held the baby while I wasn't breastfeeding so I  could nap during the day. With the second and third babies, he woke up with the big kids so I could sleep in with the baby. 

Surprise #2 - Your Baby Won’t Sleep in the Bassinet

Is the bassinet made of broken glass? According to most newborns the answer is “Yes” and “How dare you?”. New babies have a hard time going from their cushy hot tub where they floated naked upside down and got fed by a tube/an unending source of amniotic fluid while also being rocked all day long as you walked around…  into the bassinet (AKA the box of NOPE). The easiest way to deal with this is to trade off holding the baby while the other one sleeps. Don't panic! Don’t worry about spoiling your baby. It's too late. They are already spoiled. Your amazing and wonderful uterus spoiled them for 9 months. I promise this is only temporary while your baby is adjusting to having to wear clothes and eat (the horror!). Your baby wants to survive and the best way it can guarantee not being eaten by wolves is to be in your arms. 

Surprise #3 - Mom and Baby Need Support… Like a Lot. 

The nurses at the nurse’s station WILL complain to each other about the spouse or partner that does nothing but sleep at the hospital all night. If they aren't going to do baby care at night, bring someone who will. The nurses want to help as much as they can, but will have to split their time with other patients. It is unfortunate how often I've had to wake spouses for mothers who were yelling and throwing things at them. Commit to waking up and give your partner and baby the support they deserve.

Surprise #4 -You Don't See Your Doctor Much

How many times have I heard at the end of a 12 hour shift “I didn’t realize the nurses do everything”? SO many times. While this statement isn’t 100% true since it is a team effort with multiple providers, it can feel like that. Most people expect to see their doctor during labor, but the reality is they probably won’t come until the very end when the baby is definitely on their way. Your nurse is frequently updating your doctor and collaborating in your care, I promise. And in postpartum, you will probably see your doctor for a few minutes once a day and that’s it. 

Surprise #5 - You Don’t Like Your Nurse

Listen… I’ve been “fired” by a patient before. And it's OK! Sometimes personalities clash and it's just not working for either party. Just ask to speak with the charge nurse privately and tell them it's not working out. If you feel unsupported or dismissed by your nurse, please bring that up with the charge nurse. This also goes for doctors too! Once you are in the hospital, they are required to provide a physician for your birth, it's the law! 

Surprise #6 - The Way You Birth Matters 

I noticed fairly quickly that some babies and mothers did better in the postpartum period than others. These babies breastfed more easily and the mothers were more satisfied with their birth experiences. Usually (but not always) they were the ones who had the fewest interventions in their births. 

Of course, sometimes interventions become necessary or helpful, so knowing what may be offered to you during your pregnancy and birth and how it may affect your experience is invaluable. This is where a thorough, complete childbirth class is worth its weight in gold. I knew I wanted to breastfeed more than anything. I had seen so many sleepy babies unable to breastfeed after receiving opiates during birth, so I chose to use hypnosis instead. Not only did my Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis class help me have a more relaxing pregnancy, I was also able to have the easiest, most comfortable births possible and had alert, coordinated newborns. 

Surprise #7 - You Don’t Get True Informed Consent 

Please know that things like induction, artificial rupture of membranes/breaking waters, IV fluids, continuous fetal monitoring, vaginal exams, positioning, movement, eating and drinking, epidural and cesarean all have risks and benefits. It is VERY difficult to get all the information you need to be confident in your decisions when you are already in labor. Whatever the birth outcome, women are generally more satisfied when they understand all their options and then their choices are supported and respected. A childbirth class like Hypnobabies walks you through all of these things so you can feel confident in your decisions. 

"Many common obstetric practices are of limited or uncertain benefit for low-risk women in spontaneous labor. In addition, some women may seek to reduce medical interventions during labor and delivery. Satisfaction with one’s birth experience also is related to personal expectations, support from caregivers, quality of the patient–caregiver relationship, and the patient’s involvement in decision making" 

- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 

Surprise #8 - It Takes a While to Learn Breastfeeding 

This is especially true if you have never seen someone else breastfeed a newborn - which is most people! Every breastfeeding journey is unique because each mother and baby is unique! Taking a breastfeeding class like Beautiful Breastfeeding by the Thompson Method gives you the information you need for every step of the way to prevent issues from happening instead of just reacting to them. And if something does come up, there is support in their private Facebook group 24/7.

Getting connected to an IBCLC (like me!) before birth and even doing a prenatal appointment if you have a more complex medical history can go a long way in ensuring success. 

Surprise #9 - You Are Sooooo Hungry

Whenever anyone asks me what to pack in their hospital bag my #1 is food. You will never be more hungry in your life than you are after having a baby. And somehow most hospitals have not gotten the memo. I've worked in 4 different hospital systems and none of them feed new parents enough. Bring easy to digest, soft foods with lots and lots of protein and good fat and some carbs too. Nourishing drinks to sip on or something like honey sticks during labor are also super helpful if you don’t feel like eating. Remember there is no evidence to support not allowing mothers to eat and drink during labor. 

Bring food for both mom and dad/partner! You both need to replenish and sustain yourselves after expending so much energy in birth and new baby care. 

Use your nesting energy in late pregnancy to prepare meals for home too. Or have a nesting party with your friends who like to cook or are halfway decent at following a recipe. Freeze meals to last for at least 2 weeks (or more!). I ordered from Mama Meals for my most recent birth and it was a game changer! I could relax and recover knowing that I had nourishing meals available. I even got their cookbook and made a bunch of those meals too. I am still using some of the recipes 7 months later! 

Surprise #10 - You Regret Having Visitors 

This may be the most unpopular opinion I have, but I don’t think anyone should come visit new parents in the hospital or in the first few days. I get it, I DO. Your new baby is so cute and awesome, everyone wants to meet them and you want to show them off. However, a few things can happen. Newborns breastfeed FREQUENTLY in the first 3-5 days to move the colostrum through the breasts and stimulate hormones to make mature milk. If you are skipping feedings or missing feeding cues because visitors are there, that is a recipe for a hungry baby and engorged breasts. Newborns are also easily overstimulated, so even if they look happy in everyone's arms now, they will probably be screaming when it's just you at night. 

Have a conversation with your partner ahead of time to decide what you want to do about visitors and tell family and friends about your expectations. This is your baby and your recovery so you know what is best. Always. 

Surprise #11 - Your Village Doesn’t Show Up

But you can build one yourself! Taking time during pregnancy to find anyone and everyone you might need during and after birth makes it much easier to get help if you need it. You can even make a list of friends who you know will be ok with coming over and doing dishes or laundry and NOT holding the baby at all. 

During each of my postpartum experiences my village expanded as I felt more confident to ask for what I needed for my health and comfort. It included a chiropractor for me and baby, a cranio-sacral fascial therapist, a massage therapist who does home visits, a pelvic floor therapist and an IBCLC as well as my fabulous midwife and my family. 

Surprise #12 - It’s All Worth It 

The journey into parenthood is full of surprises, challenges, and moments of profound joy. From the inevitable fatigue to the complexities of newborn care and breastfeeding, each experience is unique and deeply personal. Ultimately, embracing the unpredictability and seeking out resources and assistance can pave the way for a more rewarding and fulfilling transition into parenthood.

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