Mabel Murtagh works as a public health nurse in the Ballyfermot Primary Care Centre in Dublin. In addition she runs sleep workshops with colleagues, and facilitates The Incredible Years Parent and Babies programme with Deansrath Family Centre. She has three children.
Here she shares some of her advice for the first weeks and months after birth.
– Your public health nurse will make a home visit after you leave hospital with your baby, usually within the first three days. People get caught up with the house, and how they look. Don’t! We’re just there to check your baby, see how you are physically and mentally, and offer support and advice. We may also need to do the heel prick test.
– If you can get the self-care right your health, your diet, exercise, rest,everything else will be easier. Stay hydrated. Eat little and often. Try snacks like rice cakes and peanut butter instead of reaching for the coffee and chocolate. Eat simple dishes like pasta that can be rustled up quickly.
– Even as restrictions lift you should value time without visitors, which will allow you to embed as a family and adjust to your new role as a parent. Allow a few days for you and your baby to get to know each other without the pressure of visitors calling. Then welcome visitors who bring food or take the ironing away. You will need help, especially in the first six weeks. Factoring food and meals in while caring for a baby is difficult. The lack of support from family and friends was one negative impact of Covid-19 restrictions for new parents.
– Instagram is a curse. Mams aren’t asking for help because there’s so much pressure on social media to be the best; in their skinny jeans, having cappuccinos with their baby in a pure white babygro. It is normal to feel rubbish. It is normal not to have washed your hair. It is normal not to be back in your jeans, and to be tired and overwhelmed, and feeling that you haven’t a clue. This is normal.
– It’s hard to sleep when the baby sleeps. But you do need to rest. Keep a blanket behind the sofa. During naps turn off the phone and telly, and sit or lie quietly for 20 minutes.
– Breastfeeding is a skill, and you and your baby have to learn it. It’s all about getting the positioning and the latch right, and staying rested. Link in with support groups even online. You can also live-chat to a lactation consultant on mychild.ie
– Babies will feed often; 12 times in 24 hours is not unusual. Skin-to-skin contact during breast and bottle-feeding creates a bond. Put your phone away. Make eye contact. If they cry after you put them down, pick them back up. They might need winding. They might need another small feed. They might just need a cuddle. Consider using a sling or a baby-wearing wrap.
– People get very worried about caring for the umbilical cord stump, but it’s only dead tissue. At every nappy change clean around the base of the cord with cooled boiled water, and turn down the nappy’s top to prevent rubbing. If there’s any sign of redness, constant oozing, or a bad odour contact your public health nurse or GP. If usually falls off within a week, but can take another 10 days to heal completely.
– Don’t put on too much barrier cream when changing nappies. If you use too much it rubs off on the nappy and stops the urine being absorbed.
– Babies don’t need to be bathed every day. Once or twice a week is plenty. They only need a daily top and tail where you’re cleaning the face, the eyes, the cord and the nappy area as needed.
– All you need to bathe your baby is the kitchen sink, a baby bath or a small basin. Safety is the most important thing to remember. Have everything to hand, so you never have to step or reach away. A few inches of water is all that’s needed. Put your elbow in; it should just feel cool and warm. Keep them warm by wetting a face cloth in the water to cover their abdomen. Some parents like to co-bathe with babies for its skin-to-skin benefits, but just ensure there’s another adult to help lift baby in and out of the bath.
– A quick, cool bath can help babies who are over-tired or irritable. It lowers temperature and stimulates melatonin levels which helps with sleep. But no longer than 10 minutes or you will begin to stimulate them .
– Once the cord is off start tummy-time to strengthen the neck and back. Place them on the floor for a minute, three or four times a day. You can place a rolled towel under the chest to elevate them slightly. Get down with them. Talk to them. Once they start wriggling pick them up, so they feel secure. Put them on your lap or chest, or across the arm, and they will also automatically lift up their head, strengthening their neck muscles.
– It’s not too early to stimulate your child’s development. Read to them. Sing to them. Talk to them constantly. Parents should be like sports commentators, describing the day: “It’s morning time. Let’s pull the curtains.We’re putting on your blue socks and your red babygro…”
– Sit and face your baby. Babies love faces. They learn to smile because you smile at them. Even newborns will copy you. If you stick out your tongue they will repeat the action back to you.
– Babies wake frequently and often. This is an essential part of their development. Every baby is different and has an individual routine, and it is important to follow their cues for sleep and awake patterns.
– Enjoy this precious time with your baby, and hang on to your common sense. We try to be the best parents ever but good enough is good enough. Have you cuddled and held your baby and tended to his basic needs? Have you told him you love him and played with him? Have you managed a few minutes of self -care for yourself? Well done, you are doing a great job. Keep going.
Read: 23 things for every parent with a newborn to know