Week 1

Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

For nine months you focused on the mother of all physical events: childbirth. You exercised to maintain your endurance, read endless amounts of expert advice and even attended Lamaze class. You planned, feared and anticipated – and now you’ve accomplished the feat. You’re on the other side with perhaps too-fresh memories of the event, holding an exclusive membership in the Mom Club.

While you were so focused on your pregnancy and delivery, you may have been ill-prepared for the physical and emotional toll childbirth actually brings. The post-delivery bleeding, cramping, exhaustion and engorgement almost makes being pregnant look appealing – plus there’s the overwhelming enormity of new motherhood. You might be running on an adrenaline-induced new mother’s high, but much of what you’re feeling is less than blissful.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on regarding you, not just your bundle of joy.

Emotional health:

Women’s emotional health can vary widely – often in the same day. One minute you might feel overwhelmed and anxious, then weepy with happiness, and then, out of nowhere, anger that your partner is at work and you’re confined to the house. You might feel lonely, stressed, exhilarated and content – all in the same hour. These mood swings are expected and completely normal. However, a good chunk of women are overwhelmingly sad, perhaps feeling a sense of disconnect with the baby or fear of what lies ahead. These feelings are also normal, but should be watched more closely in case a more serious depression develops.

Baby blues:

A couple of days after giving birth, most new moms (around 80 percent) will experience sudden and unexpected sadness, anger and irritability, mostly as a result of feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and disappointed. These are probably the baby blues, not post-partum depression or psychosis (see below). During pregnancy, your estrogen and progesterone drastically spiked, and now suddenly they’ve come crashing back to pre-pregnancy levels. On top of that, there are a number of emotional factors adding to your blues: Maybe motherhood is harder than the romanticized image in your head; perhaps you don’t feel an instant connection with your baby, or maybe you’re horrified at your reflection in the mirror. Try these tips to lift your spirits:

  • Go outside. Even if it’s just to run to the store or take a walk, breathing fresh air and taking a break from the mundane routine of diapers and feedings will help clear your head.
  • Shower and get dressed. Ah, the things you once took for granted. While we promise it eventually gets easier to shower, we remember a long, hot shower being more of a luxury than a reality during those first couple of weeks. But finding a way to clean up, even – gasp! – putting on makeup and fresh clothes that aren’t stained with spit up, can help make you feel human once again.
  • Ask for help. Have your mother, mother-in-law, sister – someone! – come over, if not to help, then to just keep you company. Nothing is more depressing than the solitude of mothering a newborn, and just having someone to talk to and laugh with can do wonders for your mood.

Most moms shed the blues in a week or two, but if your sadness persists and becomes debilitating, call your doctor.

Postpartum depression:

Postpartum depression (PPD) affects about 15 percent of women, and while it sometimes sets in right after delivery, it can take months or even a year to occur. Due to fluctuating hormones and severe lifestyle upheaval, anyone is susceptible to PPD. However, those at more risk are those who:

  • Suffered from depression in the past
  • Have severe PMS
  • Have a family history of depression
  • Felt sad and depressed during the pregnancy
  • Had a complicated labor and/or delivery
  • Have a sick baby

If you feel you’re at risk, talk to your doctor about taking preventative measures. This might just mean being watched more closely, checking in with a social worker on a regular basis, or taking medication (depending on your history).

Signs of postpartum depression are more severe baby blues, including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Crying spells
  • Feeling hopeless or out of control
  • Fear of touching the baby
  • Little or no concern about your appearance
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleep
  • Disturbing thoughts that scare you

If your symptoms last for more than two weeks, call your doctor for professional help.

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12 thoughts on “Caring for Your Newborn: A complete guide to the first week with your new baby

  1. says:

    If you plan on breast feeding, having formula in the house is an invitation to failure. Pleas consider NOT having “back up” formula. Instead have good breast feeding books (like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding) & the number of a good lactation consultant.

  2. says:

    I agree entirely on not keeping formula in your house. Breastfeeding can take awhile to get a hang of, and that’s okay for the baby. That first week is such a vulnerable time, it’s easy to give in. If you need formula, your doctor will tell you at your one week appointment, or you can see a lactation consultant, and pick it up on the way home. It’s not that hard to stop by a drug store or get someone to stop for you if it’s needed.

  3. says:

    If you’ve decided to cloth diaper, I’d still use disposables for the first month or so. For one thing, it’s not particularly cost effective over disposables to buy that tiny size in addition to the bigger sizes or one size diapers. Also, figuring out a laundry routine for cloth diapers can take some experimentation and troubleshooting, which I think is better left for a little later on.

  4. says:

    This is a really well thought-out and written piece. Week one is so overwhelming, I’m glad it’s acknowledged and supported.

  5. says:

    I completely agree with the cloth diaper comment – and I’m glad this article pointed that out as well. While I’m a big fan of cloth diapers LATER, trying to use them in the beginning is a set-up for failure and a HUGE waste of what should have been an investment. I’d try them in a few months.

  6. says:

    Give yourself complete permission to do nothing that isn’t crucial to your infant’s (and your) survival in those early weeks. This probably means feeding the baby and yourself, changing the baby, and getting as much rest as possible. I am one of those people who can’t easily fall asleep, no matter how exhausted I am, so napping while my newborn took 30-minute “naps” just was not possible (and the people who cheerfully told me “just sleep when the baby sleeps!” became very irritating). Between that and breastfeeding every 90-120 minutes, exhaustion got me quickly and probably set me up for a few very rough months. So rest if you can, even if you can’t sleep, and ignore the guilt that might come along with seeing the laundry stack up.

  7. says:

    I breastfed my infant for over a year, but those early weeks were tougher than I ever expected. As much as I agree with not “caving in” by giving the baby formula early on, recognize that for some people, this *may* be a much-needed bridge to full-blown breastfeeding. In my case my milk didn’t come in for 6 full days and my lactation consultant from La Leche League didn’t get back to me for almost 36 hours, which is a lifetime when your baby is hungry and crying constantly and no one is sleeping. At day 5 we decided to use some formula and this covered us until my milk arrived. I beat myself up over this repeatedly (as did so-called “friends” who viewed using formula as practically the equivalent of giving the baby red Kool-Aid). Formula isn’t poison; try not to add guilt to everything else you’re probably feeling in those weeks.

  8. says:

    Excellent article Babble – bravo! I am mixed with the formula in the house debate. I only have one can and one bottle that someone gave me – low and behold a month later and I’m being rushed to the ER with a serious intra-uterine infection. My neighbors took our daughter and gave her her first bottle. They kept asking him how much she took and we were like “we have no idea!” we went right back to BFing when I got home from the hospital. but if we hadn’t had that one little can and lone bottle we would have really been up a creek and inconvienced our neighbors.

    I totally agree with the comment of don’t do anything that you don’t HAVE to. I am about as earthy as the come….but the first two weeks solid..we used paper plates and cups. It’s just a “pass” I gave myself. I threw all the laundry into the machine together and went to bed at 7 when the baby went “down for the night”

    DON”T FEEL GUILTY and DON”T LET ANYONE ELSE MAKE YOU FEEL GUILTY for doing whatever you need (within reason obviously!!!) to get by! This is even more true with subsequent babies

  9. says:

    I was so relieved at how easy it was to switch back and forth between breastfeeding and formula. I had been told that my baby, given a bottle, would never go back to the breast and that was absolutely not the case. It saved my health and sanity for my husband to be able to feed the baby overnight — and gave him (and my parental visitors) a chance to bond with her as well. If you must use breastmilk only, you can always pump, but I highly recommend getting used to not being the sole feeder early on. You will be grateful for the rest and your partner will be grateful to share such an important role.

  10. says:

    I agree with most of the advice in this article, however breastfeeding mothers should NOT keep formula in the house “just in case”. Breastfeeding can be hard in the beginning and having an easy out right under your nose is counter-productive. If the baby isn’t gaining well and you need to supplement, it can be easy enough to pick some up on the way home from the pediatrician’s office, as someone already pointed out. Also, pumping a little milk from engorged breasts will not make your body produce even more milk. It’s *emptying* the breast that signals the brain to produce more milk. Pumping or hand expressing a little to soften the breasts and allow the baby to latch easier, relieve the mother’s discomfort and prevent a plugged duct is absolutely fine.

  11. Jane says:

    I disagree with many of these comments. You should absolutely have a good formula on hand (organic!) even if you plan on exclusively breastfeeding. I had to go to the ER for postpartum hemmorhage when my son was just 10 days old, and I was there for 18 hours (had to have a D&C). I didn’t have time to pump before I went (obviously) and if I hadn’t had formula on hand at home, it would have been a lot more difficult for my sister to deal with at 3am in the middle of the night. And I’d rather have the best formula on hand than have someone run out and buy the crappy stuff, not to mention having a screaming hungry newborn who has to wait for them to go to the store and back and then make a bottle. Anyway, I believe in having formula on hand for other emergency situations (storms, earthquakes, etc). Be prepared! If you really want to breastfeed, you can do it and a bottle of formula in your pantry won’t deter you.

  12. Hi,

    Thanks for your valuable tips about Parenting. I am also a mother of 2 year old daughter and I know how naughty she is. Your tips is really helpful to calm in irritating situations as well

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