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The Basics of Motherhood:
Meeting your Daily Needs While Meeting the Needs of your Newborn

Karen Smith
St. Charles, IL, USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 6, 2008-9, pp. 4-7

You made your preparations. You survived those last few weeks of pregnancy. Your due date has come and gone, your labor and birth experience are recorded in photos, and you are now cuddling a beautiful bundle of joy.

Now what? How do you find a way to meet your basic daily needs while also meeting the needs of the amazing addition to your family? Things that you never gave a moment's thought to before have suddenly become challenges that require a level of planning and coordination previously reserved for major life events like weddings and safaris in Africa.

Without the ability to clone yourself or grow extra appendages, these challenges can seem insurmountable, particularly after you've gone through the enormous physical tasks related to childbirth. We hope this list of tips, tricks, and techniques from mothers who have been there and done that a few times before will help alleviate your stress and find ways to accomplish things that didn't seem so hard just a few short weeks ago.

How do I take a shower?

  • Switch your schedule and shower in the evenings when your partner is home.
  • Try a bouncy seat in the bathroom and talk or sing to baby while you are in the shower so he knows you are nearby.
  • Bathe with your baby, though this requires an assistant to pass you the baby because it isn't safe to climb in and out of a tub with baby in arms.
  • Try warm washcloth sponge baths when fitting in an entire shower seems impossible.

How do I cook dinner?

  • Simplify! Simple pastas and slow-cooker meals are easy to prepare. Fresh fruits and foods like cottage cheese, hummus, whole-grain tortillas, and pitas can easily become healthy meals.
  • Take advantage of sales to stock up on healthy convenience foods.
  • Order in on occasion. You have a small baby; that's a good excuse for takeout from time to time.
  • Prepare food in bursts throughout the day. Chop the salad and vegetables in the morning. Mix up a meatloaf or brown the chicken breasts while baby is snoozing. Don't feel confined by the "dinner hour" -- view your whole day as an opportunity to prepare foods for your family. Bonus: you can snack on the chopped veggies as you go, or use some of the dinner onions and peppers to make yourself a simple scrambled egg for lunch.

How do I go grocery shopping?

  • Try online shopping. Not only can it save you time, you may be able to save money, too.
  • Go shopping with baby in a sling, and expect the need to take a break here and there to breastfeed or tend to baby. Practice nursing in the sling at home, or attend La Leche League meetings to watch other moms in action and practice! (Find a La Leche League meeting in your area at www.llli.org.)
  • Email your grocery list to your husband, mother, sister, friend, or uncle who is coming to visit. Keep a list of items you need handy, and if someone asks you, "Is there anything you need?" before they come over, say yes and let them know what's on the list.
  • Buy in bulk, particularly for products you use regularly (toilet paper, meat, condiments, cereal) so you won't need to shop as often.

How do I find time to eat?

  • Keep healthy foods readily available for you to snack on when you need a quick snack or meal. Whole grain breads, pitas, tortillas, buns, dried fruits, fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cheese cubes, peanut butter, and hard-boiled eggs are all good choices.
  • Ask your partner to make you a sandwich or other meal in the morning before leaving for work so you have something in easy reach in the refrigerator.
  • When friends want to visit and ask what you want, have them bring your favorite dish for lunch or dinner. They'll love feeling like they're pampering the new mom. This works great with friends who live near specialty shops that may be too far for you to get to in your new life as a mom.

How do I shop for clothes?

  • Online shopping has made a tremendous difference in how a new mom can shop. Some Web sites offer custom sizing or will take your measurements and suggest the sizes that will fit best. Many online stores will take returns at their bricks-and-mortar stores. Try them on at home as your baby watches (make funny faces while you try on, your baby will love it!). It's much less time consuming to dash in to return a few items than it is to try them all on in the store.
  • Find stores with large comfortable fitting rooms and plan to take extra time while shopping to nurse your baby.

How do I use a public toilet?

  • If a friend, spouse, or other relative isn't available to hold baby while you use the facilities, wear baby in a sling or other carrier. Just be sure to plan ahead with elastic-waist pants or other simple bottoms.
  • Consider using a stroller for outings, even if only as a place to stow purchases and safely buckle baby during bathroom breaks.

How do I get sleep?

  • Sharing sleep may provide a solution when baby wakes frequently at night. It can be much more restful for mom to nurse lying down.
  • You've read it in books, your friends have told you, now do it -- sleep when your baby sleeps. This is a very short period of time in your life, your body needs sleep to heal from labor and delivery. Some mothers have the impression that they "can't sleep during the day." Try stretching out and closing your eyes and see what happens! Set an alarm clock or clock radio so you won't be worried about waking up at a certain time. Even if you don't actually fall asleep, a half-hour of relaxing will do wonders for your disposition!

How do I take care of my other children?

  • Plan in advance. Have a big box of special "nursing toys" that your older children can play with while the baby is nursing.
  • Expect a mess. Keep a box or basket in every room where toys and other clutter can be collected until there is time to put them where they belong.
  • Give Dad a chance to build a strong bond with older siblings. Have him plan a fun outing with them at the zoo or the park.
  • Remember this is an opportunity for your other children to demonstrate responsibility. Give them jobs to do like bringing mommy a bottle of water or fetching a burp rag.

How do I get any chores done?

  • Lower your standards. Dust can wait until the baby is walking. Concentrate on keeping the kitchen and bathroom clean.
  • Encourage your spouse and other children to pitch in by vacuuming, mopping floors, or dusting.
  • Work in short bursts, picking up toys for five minutes here, cleaning the sink for five minutes there.
  • Put people before things. The house may be messy for a few months, but your baby certainly doesn't care.

How do I handle unwelcome parenting advice from family, friends, and strangers?

  • Smile sweetly and say thank you, while changing the subject.
  • Seek out like-minded parents who are less likely to give you unsolicited advice. La Leche League meetings can be a great place to meet other moms who share your parenting views.

How will my partner and I be able to have a night out?

  • Remember that babies like happy parents. You may be getting pressure from friends and relatives to "let us watch the baby so you can have some alone time." Do what you feel helps you to be a better parent. Follow your heart, whether that means focusing on family time and staying close together while baby is still young, or going out with your partner for a few hours while a trusted family member or friend watches your baby.
  • Bring baby along with you and your partner. Some babies sleep a lot or are happy to just be with you while worn in a carrier. Give dad a chance with a sling -- he may surprise you with how much he enjoys the closeness.

How do I get my hair cut?

  • Get a hair cut just before your due date. Try a new style that is easy to maintain.
  • Find a stylist who works out of her home or will come to your home. Chances are this will be more affordable than going to a salon. If you and a few friends plans for hair cuts on the same day, the stylist may give you additional discounts.

No matter what the changes in your life since your baby was born, remember that you always smell good to your baby. She won't mind if you didn't manage to bathe today.

When your baby first arrives, many things seem so different and over-whelming. Adjustment can take some time, but be assured that -- soon -- having baby with you will seem completely natural. You'll learn how to handle the day-to-day tasks with baby right there with you, and the sometimes panicked feeling of new motherhood lessens as your baby and your confidence grows.

Answers to questions frequently asked by new breastfeeding mothers

How often will my baby nurse?

Healthy, full-term breastfed babies nurse as often as every hour or as infrequently as every three hours and thrive. This means you'll be feeding your baby eight to 12 times every 24 hours. Your newborn needs frequent feedings for adequate nourishment and hydration. It will also ensure that your breasts are stimulated enough to establish a full milk supply.

The best advice is to watch your baby for signs of hunger, not the clock. Signs of hunger include:

  • Rooting reflex (when baby opens his mouth and moves his head side to side).
  • Chewing or sucking on hands or fingers.
  • Don't wait for baby to cry to let you know he is hungry. Crying is a very late hunger cue.

How do I know if I'm making enough milk for my baby?

A newborn should nurse at least eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period. Allow baby to determine the length of feedings (10 to 20 minutes per breast or longer). You can tell baby is getting enough by keeping track of wet and dirty diapers, weight gain, and overall appearance.

  • Right after birth your baby is receiving colostrum at the breast. He will wet one to two diapers a day.
  • Once your milk "comes in" between the second and sixth day, baby should have five to six wet disposable diapers (six to eight wet cloth diapers) daily.
  • Most young babies will have at least two to five bowel movements every 24 hours for the first several months. Some babies switch to less frequent but large bowel movements at about six weeks.
  • Baby should gain at least four to six ounces per week after the fourth day of life.
  • Baby is alert, appears healthy, has good color, firm skin, and is growing in length & head circumference. If baby is not gaining well, or if he is losing weight after the first few days, contact baby's physician.

Is breastfeeding supposed to hurt?

Breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt. If you feel more than some tenderness or slight soreness as baby latches on during the first week or so, ask for help with your baby's latch-on. If your baby is poorly latched on, remove him from the breast by inserting the tip of your finger over your nipple to break the suction, and re-latch.

In the early days, you and your baby are learning a new skill. With practice it will soon become second nature. For helpful tips on positioning and latching on baby, contact an LLL Leader by going to www.llli.org.

How often should I express my milk if I'm away from my baby?

  • Pump or hand express your milk as often as you breastfeed when you and baby are together. If baby typically nurses four times in an eight-hour period, aim to pump or hand express at least four times during an eight-hour separation.
  • By using a pump that will pump both breasts at the same time, you may be able to express your milk in 10 to 15 minutes. If you're at work, double pumping three times a day can result in having enough milk to leave with baby's caregiver for the following day. As your baby gets older and begins eating solids, you may not need to pump as frequently.
  • Pumping or hand expression can be avoided or reduced if your baby is cared for nearby, enabling you to breastfeed during the separation.
  • Your baby may sleep more while you're apart, and nurse more when you're together, including throughout the night. If your baby adopts this pattern, you may be able to eventually pump or hand express milk less often when you are away.

What can a father do to help?

Though a father can't breastfeed his baby, there are a number of important ways he can bond with baby and participate in baby's care.

  • Comfort baby by holding and rocking.
  • Play with baby.
  • Take on the tasks of giving baths and changing diapers.
  • When baby begins to show signs of readiness for solid foods, dad can look forward to helping at mealtimes.
  • Being supportive of breastfeeding is perhaps the most important thing a father can do -- it helps a mom be confident in her decisions and ensures that baby gets the best start in life.

What about weaning?

  • Babies receive the full benefits of your milk when they are exclusively breastfed for about six months. After that, they can begin receiving other nutritious foods.
  • It is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least the first year, and for as long after that as mother and child desire.
  • Weaning will occur gradually as you and your baby move into the next phase of your relationship.

Breastfeeding in Public

As you and baby adjust to life after birth, you will slowly start to fall into a routine that includes shopping, restaurants, and outings with family and friends. Some tips for nursing in public include:

  • Wear two piece outfits, tops that unbutton from the bottom, or apparel designed especially for nursing are convenient for breastfeeding in public. La Leche League International has partnered with Q-T Intimates to create a unique and affordable line of bras and apparel so moms can breastfeed with ease and comfort. See the line of apparel at www.lllibras.com.
  • Babywearing (carrying your baby in a soft carrier) lends itself to inconspicuous nursing. Find a carrier that is comfortable for you and baby and see if how easy it is to breastfeed while keeping your hands free!
  • Practice breastfeeding at home. Your partner, a close friend, or a mirror can give helpful feedback. And don't forget about attending La Leche League meetings! They provide the perfect setting to connect with other moms and see live demonstrations of how other mothers breastfeed in public.
  • Many states in the USA have laws that protect a mother's right to feed her baby in public. Check www.llli.org for more information about legislation in your area.
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