The first six weeks with a newborn are a blur of sleepless nights, uncertainty and tears (yours, because he can’t produce them yet). It’s also a time of intense bonding with an amazing little person. In a nutshell, it’s like the getting-to-know-you stage of a blind date. There are all kinds of fun complications thrown in—figuring out how to feed and change and swaddle the baby, recovering from that crazy delivery, dealing with out-of-control hormones, and fielding well-meaning but often wildly inconvenient guests—all of which you’ll be handling on minimal sleep.
Half of the fun in these early days is getting to know each other, right down to the intoxicating baby scent, those magical baby sighs, and the cries (and yes, screams) guaranteed to make your heart pound with anxiety. Anxiety will be a common theme in these six weeks, so keep the pediatrician (and your mom, sister or the friend with three kids) on speed dial and a good baby book or three close by. Other than that, “Be present, enjoy the moment, don’t sweat the small stuff,” says Kelly McBride, mom of one in Boulder, Colorado. “Your house will most likely be a disaster, the laundry will pile up, and you’ll forget to let the dog out. But enjoy those precious first few weeks. Your baby will never be this small again!”
It’s hilarious in a panicky kind of way—after about 24 to 72 hours in the hospital, the competent, kindly nurses and staff bringing you meals, helping you to the bathroom, and boosting your confidence about your ability to mother your screaming bundle of joy will think you’re actually ready to leave the hospital. After delivery, this is probably the first big hurdle of motherhood. But really, all you need is a properly installed car seat. (An extra set of hands is helpful too.)
Once you get home, things are likely to go a lot like this: Your new baby will need to eat every two to three hours around the clock and will spend much of the rest of the time sleeping, pooping and crying. In between navigating the intricacies of nursing and/or bottle-feeding, you’ll be regularly changing diapers, snuggling, and gazing in wonder at this tiny being. You’ll also be recovering from your delivery, working through the incredible phenomenon that is breast engorgement, and adjusting to your new no-sleep schedule. “I was physically more exhausted than I had ever been in my whole life, and with all of those postpartum hormones I was oh-so-tender emotionally,” says McBride. “I remember thinking, ‘This is the hardest thing I have ever done and I have to do it on no sleep.’”
You may have heard a rumor or two about being sleep-deprived when the baby comes, but living it is something else altogether. Try to salvage some of your sanity by snoozing, or even just resting, when baby does. “Even if it’s only 10 minutes, it helps,” says McBride. And though you’re both probably weeks away from any real routine, it’s wise to begin as you mean to go on. “During the first week and beyond, try to establish a normal circadian rhythm to help baby get on a regular schedule,” says Jasmine Rausch, clinical director of women’s and children’s services at Mercy Health-Anderson Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. “When it’s light out, let light in baby’s room. When it’s dark, close the curtains and turn down the lights.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a pediatrician appointment within 48 hours of leaving the hospital, so you may feel like you’re packing up your baby just as soon as you get home. As daunting as that can be, it’s a critical visit—your baby’s doctor will note any problems related to jaundice, feeding, excessive weight loss or inadequate weight gain, as well as answer any questions you may have (and believe us, you’ll have them, so fire away). Within the first 14 days, your baby’s second metabolic screening test (the first will have been done before you left the hospital) should also be completed.
Weeks two and three
Holy hungry baby! While growth spurts occur at different times for different babies, it’s likely that he’ll have one sometime between weeks two and four. That means a hefty increase in appetite, and he won’t be shy about making his demands known. If you’re breastfeeding, get ready to do it all the time—and don’t panic. “Moms can interpret that as I don’t have enough milk, I’m not producing enough,” cautions Marie Luback-Neves, RNC, IBCLC, director of the family birthing center, lactation and newborn education at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada. Nursing more frequently stimulates more milk production, so don’t automatically assume your milk production is lacking. “You will know things are going well if your baby is gaining weight and peeing and pooping enough to soil eight to 12 diapers a day,” says Rausch. Since your brain is going to be pretty foggy, keep track of diapers and feedings with a list.
Around this time, you may find that you’ve started decoding some of your little peanut’s cries—or maybe not. “You will learn your baby’s cues,” says Rausch, but it can take time. Remember that crying is his sole method of communication in these early days, which can make things difficult for the both of you. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, “Put the baby down in a safe environment and take some deep breaths,” says Rausch. “Walk away until you get yourself under control.” On the other end of things, be prepared for the first (of many) diaper blowouts as his digestive system really kicks into gear. Megan Olivetti, mom of one in Boise, Idaho, remembers week two as her “mommy initiation.” “I had projectile poo all over me!” she recalls.
You may also notice that your baby has increased periods of placid wakefulness and focus as his vision improves. His skin may be displaying interesting things—baby acne, tiny white bumps known as milia or red blotches—all of which are normal and will go away by themselves. The umbilical cord stump will likely fall off somewhere around week two, which means baby is ready for his first real bath and some time on his belly. You’ll also be gearing up for another outing. “You’ll have your two-week pediatrician’s appointment to ensure baby is continuing to thrive,” says Rausch. As for mom, just try to take it one day at a time. “Even though you’ll be busy and tired, rest as much as you can and pay attention to when you’re overdoing it,” says Rausch. If you have family or friends who can pitch in, this is probably when you’ll need it.
If you haven’t introduced it yet, your little bundle is ready for regular bouts of tummy time by now, which is great practice for big developmental leaps still to come. “The key here is supervision,” says Luback-Neves. Start with a few minutes at a time and build from there.
By the 1-month mark, many babies are (thankfully) exercising those vocal chords with more than just wails. Gurgles, sighs, grunts, coos—it’s all adorable, and you can encourage it with lots of responsive communication and interaction. Get in the habit of talking to your baby now, and you’ll be setting him up for success when it comes to mastering language down the road.
At this point, you may also find that you’re—surprise, surprise!—settling into this whole motherhood thing. “I was finally on my own full-time with my baby [at four weeks],” says Olivetti. “I was doing it, and doing it well!” It helps that your little guy may be conking out for longer stretches (which means you can grab a bit more shut-eye, too), even if a discernable sleep-wake pattern has yet to be established. Another bonus? “At this stage, babies become easier to soothe because you’ve already figured out each other’s cues,” says Rausch.
Weeks five and six
You’ve probably caught a grin before week five, but around this time, it’s likely that his charming little smile is downright social—and directed right at you (or the ceiling fan). Keep them coming with lots of talking, singing and silliness, which will be easy to do because around this time, your baby becomes more interactive. He’s likely having longer periods of quiet and active alertness, which is good news on the sleep front too—he’ll need lots of shut-eye to recover from all that stimulation.
The six-week mark means you’ll both be heading back to the doctor for a check-up. Your OB will want to check that you’ve fully recovered from your delivery and see how you’re doing emotionally (plus give you the all-clear on the sex front). Sometime between six and eight weeks, the pediatrician will need to see your baby again—the first of many well-baby check-ups to come. And just like that, the first six weeks with your new baby will have come and gone. It may feel endless when you’re living it, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly it’s all over. Even better, you’ll realize that your little sprout is a stranger no more and you’ll barely remember a time when he was.