Tag Archives: newborn

If Becoming a Parent Was a “Real” Job

 

Google has a funny idea of what "postpartum" looks like.

Google’s idea of what “postpartum” looks like. Google is sadly mistaken.

 

You got hired for a new job. Congratulations! You’re told it’s the best, most rewarding job on the planet. You will be paid in things worth more than money, more than gold, things you can’t fully fathom yet. You get instant tenure, and your significant other is your co-worker. Many people want this job, but not everyone gets it. People have paid thousands and thousands of dollars to get this job. Some people spend their whole adult lives hoping for, wishing for this job.

You’re promised 40 weeks of training for this job, though you may wind up with a few more or a few less depending on your boss’ schedule. This training is not easy- it includes many challenges such as fatigue, extreme physical discomfort, financial risk, illness, mood swings, extreme weight gain. Some people enjoy the training, but many more hate it. Even more hate it but never say they do out of fear of judgement because the perceived “norm” is to love every moment of the training. Training includes a few classes, monthly visits with experts, books, literature, panicked late-night Google searches, and peeing your pants when you laugh. As the weeks go by, it becomes more and more clear that soon your training will end and you’ll be out on the floor, finally earning your new job title.

After many months, you’re given your final test, and lucky you: it’s open-book. All your hard work and studying are about to pay off, and you go into the test with a handy cheat sheet of your exact answers to all of the questions you studied.

Unbeknownst to you, some jerk switches the test out last minute for a different test, one longer and harder than you expected. You TOTALLY DIDN’T STUDY FOR THIS. And yet, you pass. You’ve earned your name badge, and the second your test is over, you’re officially employed by a tiny, screaming person that only you and your co-worker can please.

Only, your employer speaks in an ancient, mystical tongue that you can’t understand. You and your coworker proceed to spend every waking moment (and they’re all waking moments, aren’t they?) scrambling to decode this ancient tongue and figure out how to make your boss stop screaming at you. You find yourself exhausted, dehydrated, starving, and mysteriously bleeding heavily for weeks, all while feeling guilty for wondering why you ever wanted this job in the first place. You and your co-worker, who used to get along famously, barely speak for weeks and even months. You both trudge along, taking rides on an emotional roller coaster through moments of pure, unconditional love and pure, crazy-making frustration. The days are long, and to quote Melisandre from Game of Thrones, “The nights are dark and full of terrors.”

 This is the initial postpartum experience for many first-time parents.

One day, you wake up and things are easier. And certain things keep getting easier, while others stay challenging and even increase in difficulty at times. You and your coworker slowly learn how to meet your boss’ needs while juggling your own (and each other’s). Eventually, you start to let go of control and begin the humbling process of admitting you have no idea what you’re doing. You do what works to get the job done, and throw away the rest. You do all the things you said you never would and bite your tongue when cheeky seasoned employees of other tiny bosses call you out on changing your plans. Your new normal is still a challenge, but when the joys start to outnumber the frustrations, your boss becomes the most amazing person on the planet, and obviously a smarter, cuter, better boss than anyone else’s.

And it really does get better, and all the people who you want to smack right now for telling you this with a pitying smile are right. And you will survive this. Ask for help. Demand help. Take breathers. Be patient with yourself. Kiss your partner. Kiss that baby. Drink lots of water. And know you are not alone. Somewhere out there at 3 am, there is a new mom feeding her baby in a dark room, just like you, staring out the window at a big world that she no longer knows how to fit into.

—————————————–

As in labor, in the postpartum there is an important difference between pain and suffering. Please don’t hesitate to use these resources if you need them and talk to your partner and healthcare provider about how you’re feeling. Please.

1-800-PPD-MOMS

The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (in plain mama English)

International Cesarean Awareness Network

 

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I Also Lived a Day According to Ben Franklin’s Schedule (but with a newborn, and only kind of)

A few days ago I stumbled across the Good Men Project‘s post I Lived a Day According to Ben Franklin’s Schedule and it Changed My LifeI envied the author, Tim Goessling, for getting to live by a schedule- even one from 1791. Dividing my day and living in an organized fashion are ridiculous fantasies for me now that I have a newborn. No two days are alike in this house. One day baby naps and I get things done, and the next there are no naps in sight and I end the day crying. Though I was very intrigued and love a good challenge, I figured there was no way I’d be able to also live a day by Ben Franklin’s schedule, mainly because of the 5am wake up. I sleep when the baby sleeps in the mornings (most of the time) and waking before she did just seemed foolish. I talked to Steve over the weekend about living by this schedule for a day and explained that if I did manage to try it, I wouldn’t let it interfere with his schedule, which, you know, pays the bills around here.

Tuesday morning I awoke at 5:20am very confused. The baby had gone to bed when we did, at 11:30pm. The confusion turned to panic as I ripped myself out of bed and stared wild-eyed into the pack and play 2 feet away from where I sleep. There she was, my little daughter, sleeping as she had slept for the past 6 hours straight, an obvious miracle. She was tossing and turning a bit, her signal to change her diaper. I decided that waking up at 5:20 was just as good as waking up at 5:00 sharp, and knowing that this opportunity might not present itself so nicely again, started my day living (loosely) according to Ben Franklin’s schedule, pictured below.

Image

borrowed from Good Men Project’s “I Lived a Day According to Ben Franklin’s Schedule and it Changed My Life.” (click photo for link to article)

 

5:20am~ awaken with big open eyes, wonder why baby hasn’t woken up in SIX hours, panic

5:20-5:23am~change diaper in the dark while baby screams

5:23-5:40am~ feed on both breasts, baby falls back asleep

5:40-6:00 pee, confirm menstruation is back a mere 11 weeks after birth (even with EBF, no bottles, and no pacifiers), make coffee, learn that Meadowlands Racetrack has ostrich racing, vow to later Google ostrich racing, fill up Brita tank. I reminded a confused Steve of why I was awake by tiredly mumbling “Benjamin Franklin” with a shrug and assured him it wouldn’t interfere with his getting ready to go to work. Things were going well in the kitchen until I became too efficient and overfilled my coffee mug. I could go on a rant here about the inefficiency of a Keurig which only fills coffee mugs half way, forcing the user to brew twice in a row, but I’ll spare you.

Ben Franklin’s schedule clearly stated that I should rise and wash in the morning. The shower would have been a good time to contrive the day’s business, think on Powerful Goodness, and come up with the day’s resolutions but I chose not to shower in the morning for two reasons: 1) I had just showered last night and postpartum/PMSy hormones were already making my skin incredibly dry and 2) I had promised Steve that my Ben-Franklin-for-a-day stint wouldn’t affect his necessary schedule to, you know, go to work and provide for our family. If the baby woke up while I was in the shower it would throw off his usual morning rhythm and so I chose to forgo it.

I sat in bed with the laptop and contrived my day’s business. What did the day hold? Well, the baby is teething so probably the day was going to hold lots of crying and drooling and general unhappiness. The female cat was going to pee in the kitchen because apparently that’s just what she does now and my efforts of resistance are futile. If this day was like the day prior it would end in tears for me, as long days with a baby sometimes do. A walk outside would do us good, so I checked the weather- forecast was for 20 degrees F, with snow showers at night. At 6:15 it was 14 degrees but felt like FOUR, so yeah, probably no walk for us today. I contrived that the day’s business would just go as it was going to go, and that was that. I had no plans for socialization due to the menstruating. No one tells you the first one after birth can be terrifying… I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone, instead just wanted to curl up in a ball and rock my cramps away.

After contriving business and whatnot, I addressed Powerful Goodness. I sat in bed with my coffee and pledged to just sit and think for a full 5 minutes. I should have relished this time, as during the day before I had exactly zero time to think and ended the day completely fried, but I only lasted 4 minutes. Not knowing exactly what Powerful Goodness is, I reflected on the day before and forgave myself for losing my patience and temper. I resolved to practice Only Love Today and peeked in at the baby sweetly sleeping and felt the warm wave of gratitude wash over me. God, is she ever beautiful. We are so lucky.Then I remembered my husband and had a moment of gratitude for him. This led to wondering what was for dinner, which led to the realization that today he was going to be gone until 10:30pm. The dread set in as I looked at the clock and realized I had 16 more hours until someone else could hold the baby. Putting the dread aside, I decided to make turkey meatballs and roasted brussel sprouts for dinner, should I have the time. If not: leftovers.

Thinking on Powerful Goodness was actually really nice. I still don’t know what it means, but it feels great to do.

Sipping my coffee, it was time for the resolution of the day. Uhh… “Don’t lose my mind?” Does that count? What about “Don’t throw up when changing a poopy diaper.” “Try and eat breakfast before 3pm?” No, those didn’t sound right. I made 3 resolutions, one work-related, one home-related and one sanity-related. I would update a page on my website, fold the (2) hamper laundry in the family room, and start the Orange Rhino Challenge of no yelling. I didn’t expect to accomplish all of these, and placed the Orange Rhino Challenge as my priority.

Prosecute the present study… hmm. I scanned the original Good Men Project article for what the author thought that meant. Oh- “I took “contrive day’s business” to mean I should set out some goals for the day and “prosecute the present study” as me setting up a clear plan on how to accomplish them.” This made me laugh because my clear plan on how to accomplish the day’s goals was just “KEEP IT TOGETHER.” I decided my clear plan would include doing anything and everything in my power to get my infant to nap. With the teething and growth spurts she hasn’t been napping for more than 15 minutes during the day and it’s been very trying. Infant massage has been helping, but getting her back to a 2 or 3 nap routine (which I can tell she needs) has been impossible. So, “Get that baby to nap” became my (vague) clear plan for the day.

Then, breakfast. While the baby was still asleep I washed some blackberries, which I put atop a big bowl of old country muesli. It was heaven. By 7:30am I had eaten, blogged (albeit a very short post), written in a few personal side projects, beaten a level in Candy Crush, read a chapter of a book, taken pictures of the baby and texted them about, and stretched.

While Ben Franklin scheduled his work from 8am-12pm and 2pm to 6pm, my workday lasted for  solid 15 hours. From 7:30am until Steve stepped through the door, my time was spent wiping drool, changing diapers, scrubbing the kitchen floor, freaking out on the cat (totally failed at my Orange Rhino Challenge a few hours in… very un-Ben Franklin-like of me), swaying/rocking/dancing with/singing to the baby, nursing, doing everything in my power to get her to nap, making mental notes, thinking about coffee, organizing individual messes into piles of mess, and cleaning the house. I kept forgetting my goals of the day and had to constantly check my morning’s notes to remind myself to fold the laundry (done at 6:30pm), update my website (fail, but I did some tinkering to my business’ Facebook page), and not yell (complete and utter fail). At around 1 I was able to read a few more chapters of a book, just as Ben Franklin would have done, and even heated some lunch.

Through crazy persistence and some (read: lots of) luck, the time I put into helping my daughter nap worked, and she took a short afternoon and long early evening nap- this meant I had time to make dinner! Roasted brussel sprouts and turkey meatballs: a dream come true. I also had time to get an array of other neat house-stuff done, none of which included doing the dishes or laundry. The actual text from me to my husband stated: Try not to kill me when you get home. There’s stuff everywhere. But I swear I have a plan! 

Ben Franklin ended his work day at 6, at which point he tidied up, ate dinner, relaxed, and reflected on his day. I didn’t get to reflect until I quietly crawled into bed at 11:30 (unlike BF there was no way I was staying up until 1am). I thought about the goals I had set earlier, what I accomplished, what good I had done. I thought fondly of the majority of the day, which was spent cuddling with my baby and providing what I could for my family with what limited time I had. I thought about how to anyone without a child, my day might seem really stupid, lame, boring, or unproductive. Then I thought about how little I care nowadays of the opinions of others, how everything I need I have, and how much better life is with naps.

As I drifted off to sleep, I again addressed Powerful Goodness, something which Ben Franklin only did in the mornings (according to his schedule). My mind swelled and caved around thoughts of the universe, why we’re all here, and what makes me happy. I didn’t come to any huge conclusions or figure out the meaning of life, but I did fall asleep peacefully, and awoke this morning with a strange sense of contentment. As a new mom, I can’t even begin to think about the possibility of considering following Ben Franklin’s daily schedule every day, or any schedule any day for that matter- but I will try to continue to address Powerful Goodness as often as possible to keep me centered, humbled, and thankful.

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I Screamed into a Pillow Yesterday

I don’t really want to think about yesterday. It was hard. And long. In a cruel twist, the universe decided that the baby would start teething and I would start ovulating at the same time (Read: 9 weeks postpartum). This means that yesterday, teething was in full spring as was my period. Even exclusively breastfeeding, with no bottles or pacifiers, and baby not sleeping through the night (though last night she slept for 6 hours straight… go figure). I didn’t realize how terrifying the first one after birth could be. The day ended with Steve coming home from work and taking the baby, and me taking a moment to sit on the couch and cry into my hands for a few minutes, then composing myself and heading into the kitchen to eat my first food in 10 hours.

I’m not going to recap everything. Instead, read this blog entry by PA doula and mother of 2, Brittany, to get an idea of how One of Those Days as a new mom can go. Brittany has a newborn AND a toddler, so, yeah. I can’t even imagine.

Some days… some days are really challenging. Luckily today is a new day. Fingers crossed, deep breath, here we go.

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9 Ways to Relax a Baby with Infant Massage

IMsleepygirl

After a stint of NO day naps due to teething, my kiddo now gets massaged every day after her morning bath… and we’re rewarded with a nice long afternoon nap. WOOHOO!

 

Infant massage has numerous benefits, a major one being relaxation for your baby. Research shows that infant massage reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels and improves sleep patterns and can help babies sleep more deeply (and awake well-rested). Many parents ask me to teach them specifically to help with their child’s sleep habits (or non-sleep habits, I should say!) Every baby, including my own, goes through different day & night sleep/awake phases as they grow, develop, and hit new milestones. Some parents sleep-train while others find that baby-led routines work best for them. Infant massage classes can help new parents no matter what style of parenting they choose- parents leave class with a better understanding of infant behavioral states and learn hands-on techniques for relaxation.

Here are some tips to help make the infant massage experience more relaxing and enjoyable for both you and your baby. Try them out and see if they work for you and your family!

 

  • Use a natural, plant-based oil

We know that using an oil during massage can cuts down on friction and thus makes massage smoother and more flowing, as opposed to jarring. Studies have found that, as compared with infants who received massage without oil, infants who received massage with oil were less active, showed fewer stress behaviors and head averting, and their saliva cortisol levels decreased more.(1) Check out my article at Our Mom Spot to read more about choosing the right oil.

 

  • Focus the massage on one body part at a time

If you don’t have much time but want to get a massage in (something that occurs in my life quite often), you may want to save time and massage two areas at the same time, as in both arms or both legs simultaneously. One great thing about attending a class and learning all of the techniques properly is that once you’re comfortable with them at home you can adjust the routine as needed. Instead of massaging two areas at once, try spending less time on each area, or only doing certain techniques. Rushing and massaging baby too much at one time could be counterproductive to the relaxing experience you’re hoping to create.

 

  • Only one parent massages at a time

Having more than one person massage at a time may be overstimulating for the baby. It’s tempting to, for example, have mom massage the left leg followed by dad massaging baby’s right leg, but another option is to have one parent massage in the morning, and the other in the evening (or any other system that you find works for you).

 

  • Set the mood

This isn’t always possible to do, but it may be worth a try if relaxation or deeper, more restful sleep for your baby is a goal. Think about the type of environment you enjoy when getting a massage- maybe a warm temperature, dim lighting, and soft music, and set a relaxing mood before beginning a massage.

 

  • Relax yourself before beginning the massage

In class, we always do a relaxation exercise before beginning massage. This is a great habit to get into as your baby can sense your stress and become stressed himself. And consider this: studies have shown that when mothers and babies make eye contact, their hearts beat in sync! Imagine the effect that your actual touch can have on your infant’s systems.

 

  • Find a comfortable position for both you and baby before beginning

Your baby (though sometimes not at first) may enjoy being massaged for 15 minutes or longer, so it’s important that you are in a comfortable position to start with. Try propping yourself up with a pillow or two to keep your bottom and lower back comfortable, and keep some water next to you.

 

  • Follow your baby’s cues and don’t force the massage

Infant massage is all about reading your infant’s cues and meeting your baby’s needs. If your child at any point is giving you “no” signs, like fussing, crying, arching the back, or a clue that is unique to your baby, stop the massage and give your baby what she needs. You can always try again later!

 

  • Use enough pressure to be gentle but effective

Using a pressure that is too light may tickle your baby. Always use your best judgement when applying pressure, be extra gentle around joints and knees, and stay below the ribs during tummy massage.

 

  • Use “Resting Hands” before each massage

Resting hands is a technique taught in class that is to be used before each part of the massage begins. For example, if you are about to massage your baby’s left leg, heavily rest your hands on top of the leg before going into your strokes. This way, your baby has a moment to understand that that particular body part is going to be massaged. Using Resting Hands will help to not overstimulate or startle your baby. Touch Relaxation is another technique learned in class which over time may help to “wire” your baby for relaxation at your touch.

 

Infant massage is science and evidence-based, but it’s also an art. Don’t stress over perfecting the techniques- enjoy the one-on-one quality time with your baby! They’re only so little for such a short period of time.

 

I. Field, T., Schanberg, S., Davalos, M., & Malphurs, J. (1996). Massage with oil has more positive effects on normal infants. Pre and Perinatal Psychology Journal, 11, 75-80.

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To the Mother on the Cover

To the Mother on the Cover:

Man, did I hate you.

A few weeks ago, I couldn’t even stand to look at you, and kept the book turned face-down at all times. I loathed everything about you; your perfectly coifed hair, fresh face, relaxed posture. You look so at ease with your little baby, gently holding him in cradle position without need of a Boppy. From what I can tell, you’re either gazing down at baby with a very pleased expression, or even WORSE, you’re sleeping, because apparently you’re not only lucky enough to feed your baby easily, you also get to sleep. You’re even wearing real clothes, which upon further inspection, are pressed and… wait, are those some sort of skinny jeans? Effffff yoooouuuu.

You see, you represented breastfeeding success in my eyes, and my experience was anything but successful- my baby had trouble even latching onto a bottle. And despite finally getting a proper breast latch at Day 3 with the help of our lactation counselor, my baby was too exhausted from hunger to try to eat most attempts. Her bilirubin levels were fast approaching “high-risk status”according to the hospital staff and our pediatrician, which meant that we didn’t have the luxury of time for experimenting with positions and techniques- she needed to eat in order to poop out that bilirubin and no longer be neon orange. Finger feeding colostrum and using a syringe were all well and good, but they took too long, and we needed to get as much food into her as possible in our tiny window of time before she passed out again to conserve her energy. We tried everything we had, even basically force feeding her colostrum with a syringe while she was sleeping… the thought of doing this makes my stomach churn even now, weeks later. It seemed like my milk was never going to come in.

We gave her three ounces of Similac in the early morning hours of Day 4. It was the right thing to do, period, and I don’t care who says otherwise- our baby was EATING. The incessant cries of hunger ended. My husband and I breathed shaky sighs of momentary relief, and I collapsed into happy tears. That afternoon, my milk arrived. I thought things would be so much easier once that happened… but things only got more challenging.

Mother on the Cover, there are a thousand comparisons I could draw between our early breastfeeding experience and the one I’ve created for you in my mind. The biggest could be the difference in how I felt during a feeding, and how I imagine you felt while being photographed… you appear content, peaceful, rested. I felt miserable. I dreaded every feeding. I cried, a lot. I freaked my husband out by being dismissive and angry towards the baby when she needed to cluster feed and my nipples couldn’t take anymore. “I can’t do this.” “She hates me.” “I don’t want this.” “Bad mommy.”

All latches hurt. My nipples cracked and bled. I suffered through every feeding for fear that if I broke a latch, she’d never latch again. Every feeding, every latch, was precious. And painful. But we kept trying, and trying, and trying. Some days were easier, some more difficult. All were challenging, either physically or emotionally or both. If not for my husband being home with me, I would have starved and my milk production would have plummeted- he kept me fed and hydrated as I dealt solely with feeding our little one. A good friend told me that it takes one month to start to figure things out, but with each day dragging, one month seemed an eternity away. I pleaded with my daughter to latch, please, even one that hurt. “Please eat, baby. Mama wants to feed you, but she doesn’t know how, I guess.” Oh, how I hated myself, hated breastfeeding, hated how much I craved, needed to breastfeed to soothe my pain and fill the emptiness from the nonexistent relationship with my own mother.

And then, time slowly shifted from burden to blessing. A month passed, and I was healing from birth and eating more, taking better care of myself. Jaundice was no longer an issue and sometimes baby let me try different positions. Sometimes cradle or cross cradle worked, and sometimes laid back breastfeeding, and sometimes even side-lying (we still haven’t been able to make football hold work). We had more tiny victories than I ever thought possible, and though breastfeeding wasn’t “easy” still, it was doable. Some latches hurt, and others were just”okay”, but when I gently unlatched my daughter, I trusted that eventually we’d have a more comfortable (even if not “perfect”) latch. I trusted myself more, I gained patience. And Mother on the Cover, I loathed you less and less.

Today, I realized that instead of hating you for your success, I needed to realize my own. All mothers who feed their babies in any way are successful, even if their methods vary from what they originally intended. You are nourishing your baby, period- how can I hate you for that? And who is to say you never struggled with breastfeeding, or pregnancy, or labor, or motherhood? No one can be sure of what your breastfeeding experience looked like in the days and weeks before your cover photo was taken. Maybe you had long days and even longer nights. Maybe you cried, or felt helpless, or hopeless. Maybe you would have to put the baby down and walk away, give yourself a few minutes to compose yourself. Maybe your postpartum didn’t wind up looking how you always thought it would. Though on the cover you make motherhood look easy, it is only a moment in time, and no one knows your personal journey.

I originally thought that you were the goal, that breastfeeding success would look controlled, and postured, and clean and neat. But so far, for us, it looks more like this:

 and (deep breath)… this:

…completely exhausted, with a body I no longer recognize that’s 30 pounds heavier than I’m used to, with more joy, pride, and peace than I’ve ever known. And of course, frustration. Baby girl and I are only human, after all.

To the Mother on the Cover: You’re doing the best you can, and I support you.

Sincerely,

This New Mom

To stay abreast (see what I did there?) of the happenings with our new little family, follow me on Bloglovin’!

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Natural Oils are Best for Infant Massage ~ on OurMomSpot

Just a few benefits of infant massage!

Just a few benefits of infant massage!

 

I had a wonderful opportunity to be a featured guest writer on OurMomSpot. It’s a really unique site dedicated to parents and has lots of great forums to participate in (my personal favorites are Parenting Talk and Homestead Talk!) The article is entitled Natural Oils are Best for Infant Massage and includes some things to look for and consider when choosing a massage medium, as well as a short video by Linda Storm of Infant Massage USA, who explains the basics of baby massage.

Working with new families is absolutely one of the most rewarding things I get to do, and teaching infant massage is a deeply meaningful experience for me- I get to watch parents fall in love with their babies… for some it’s for the very first time and for others, well, they fall in love with their child all over again! New parents often become more comfortable in handling their infant through massage, and learn to communicate with their babies and recognize/respond to their cues. There are countless physical and emotional benefits for both infants and the adults who massage them, and watching parents strengthen their confidence while bonding with their little ones is priceless.

During my training with Infant Massage USA, I witnessed live breastfeeding for the very first time, which completely rocked me to the core in the most positively powerful way. I also experienced parents coming to classes gushing with excitement about changes they saw and felt in their babies’ health, sleep patterns, and behavior. I hoped that after my initial training, I would keep the joy that I felt during my time spent with my learning group, and I have. Infant massage is that amazing.

Read Natural Oils are Best for Infant Massage on OurMomSpot and watch the video, choose an oil that’s right for you, and enjoy some special time with your baby today!

 

Also check out:

Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents

Find an Infant Massage USA instructor near you here!

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Resources for the Postpartum Period

My doula partner and I put out a newsletter each month for our small pregnancy, birth, and postpartum support business. This month, we focused on the early postpartum period, and all of the physical and emotional recovery and changes that take place.  We’ve included some really amazing resources from:

concerning postpartum topics like

  • meal planning and recipes
  • visitors in the first week
  • why it’s so important to rest, relax, and bond with baby
  • tips for a less stressful, more restorative postpartum from moms who have been there
  • the physical and emotional realities of the first few days and weeks
  • how to be a great partner during the postpartum

This month’s newsletter is a a great resource for expecting parents and new families, as well as doulas and birthworkers ~ you are welcome to share!

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Primal Newborn: The Magical Hour

Touch is the ultimate positive communication. The sensitive mother’s hands, fingers, and arms are warm, calm, and receptive, her whole body conveying that her infant is endearing, desirable, adorable, precious.  With loving, tender touch more or less a constant, her infant feels loved, lovable, and accepted.
Sharon Heller, PhD ~ The Vital Touch

The first hour of a baby’s life is known as The Magical Hour. During this hour, your baby will go through 9 distinct stages when she is placed upon Mom’s chest directly after birth- 9 stages that we all, as infants, are primally wired to experience.

When infants and mothers experience skin to skin right after birth, bonding occurs naturally. Back in the day, we thought that babies had to immediately be placed in warming beds after birth, but now we know that mothers have thermal synchrony with their infants! This means that when a baby is placed on your chest, your breasts will change temperature, and warm your baby by up to 2 degrees Celsius, or cool her by 1 degree, depending on what she needs in that moment. Our bodies know just what is right for ourselves and our new baby, and immediate skin to skin and touch has lasting benefits for all involved.

In The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson explains that
Newborns who have abundant contact with their caregivers, particularly the mother, each day tend to be calmer and less fussy. The tend to sleep better and fall into a regulated schedule more easily than those who receive less touch. They gain weight and grow more. On the other hand, babies who experience touch deprivation show markedly suppressed levels of growth hormone, oxytocin and vasopressin (another bonding-related hormone), and higher levels of cortisol (the primary neurochemical associated with stress).

Once your baby is Earthbound, he will experience the the following 9 stages- all which can occur if he is simply placed upon Mom’s belly or chest (depending on the length of the umbilical cord!) right after birth:

1. Cry
Your baby will shout her birth cry as her lungs fully expand. If the baby was born vaginally, her lungs will have been ‘squeezed’ while being pressed through the birth canal, and most fluid will be “coughed” out immediately after her upper half is born.

While in utero, your baby did not have to use her lungs, because oxygen was passed through the placenta and umbilical cord. Now that she is out in the world, she will use her lungs for the very first time ~ one of many exciting “firsts” you will have the honor of experiencing with her.

2. Relaxation
After he cries, your baby will fall into a state of deep relaxation. Eye and body movements will be minimal, and he can relax on your bare chest, warmed by your thermosynthesis and a blanket over him. Warm, safe and secure, there is no better place to relax than right on his mother. The birth cry and relaxation stages all occur within the first few minutes of life.

3. Awakening
Your baby may begin to awaken from her relaxation stage. She might begin to move her shoulders, head, mouth, eyes, arms and legs.

4. Activity
Around 8 minutes after birth, your baby will begin to make more pronounced movements and may begin to make sucking motions and other early feeding cues, such as displaying her Rooting Reflex. You may notice her focusing her eyes- she may be able to see as far as 7-12 inches!

5. Crawling
This is, to me, one of the most amazing things that we do as human beings in an entire lifetime. Your baby comes equipped with an incredible primal reflex called the Walking or Stepping Reflex, and will literally crawl from your stomach or chest, to your breasts. Yes, really. Not only can your newborn baby crawl/step from your stomach to your chest, but in the process also massages your uterus, which may help to expel the placenta and reduce uterine bleeding. (Klaus and Kennel, 2001). The stage is also known as The Breast Crawl. Interestingly, the Stepping Reflex disappears at approximately 6 weeks after birth.

6. Rest
Your baby may rest for long or short periods during this first hour.

7. Familiarization
Once the baby crawls to the breasts, she will begin to explore. Using her hands and mouth she will begin to touch and massage the breast. Just as cats do, the baby will “make biscuits” in her own way. Her sense of smell is highly developed; most babies respond to scents as early as 7 months gestation! (Schaal, Orgeur, Rognon 1995). She’ll use this incredible sense to find her way around your breast.

Amniotic fluid may also have a role in helping infants locate the mother’s nipple (Porter & Winberg, 1999; Varendi et al., 1994). There is considerable overlap in the odors contained in amniotic fluid and the secretion of odors surrounding the nipple and areola and newborn infants will crawl on the mother’s belly to reach her nipple…
A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper, Review: Olfaction in the Human Infant

8. Suckling
After she has found the nipple through touch, smell and taste, your baby can self-latch and begin to feed herself!

9. Sleep
Labor is hard work, and your baby will be tired after his spiral dance down into your life. The sleep stage is a wonderful opportunity for Mom, baby and Mom’s support team to get some rest.
From research by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC and the International Breastfeeding Centre, immediate skin to skin for the first hour of life has incredible benefits for your baby:

  • baby is more likely to latch and latch on well
  • maintains body temperature normal better than an incubator
  • is less likely to cry
  • will indicate to Mom when ready to feed
  • is more likely to breastfeed exclusively and breastfeed longer
  • has higher blood sugar
  • maintains her normal heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate

We also know that consistency and quality of touch as an infant can affect the child’s social and emotional development later in life:

There is a clear relation between a lack of touching in infancy and childhood and the awkwardness and roughness in “play” that characterizes such individuals in childhood and in later life- individuals who are unable to establish contact without colliding.  – Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin

Especially if your parenting practices reflect the same values of infant massage, your child will be more likely to respond to others with empathy and warmth, to respond to social problems with compassion and altruism, and to experience life as a joyful adventure in which he has the opportunity to love and be loved- to help others and extend himself in genuine service to humanity.  -Vimala McClure, Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents

Skin to skin does not have to end after The Magical Hour- Kangaroo Care is an amazing way to bond and encourage your infant’s intuition and trust in you. It’s also a great way for dads and partners to relax and bond with baby, too! Infants want to feel your warmth, hear your heartbeat and inhale your smell; there’s no safer or more comfortable place to be than snug against their parent’s chest, not only right after birth but throughout infancy.

Resources:
Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, Vimala McClure
The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson
Boba Family
Breast Crawl
Sense of Smell Institute
The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact with Your Baby Leads to Happier, Healthier Development, Sharon Heller, PhD
International Breastfeeding Centre
Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
The Magical Hour
Touching; The Human Significance of the Skin, Ashley Montagu
From Birth to Breast
Midwifery Today

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