Having a baby is much more than a physical experience. Feelings may range from joy, fascination, and excitement to exhaustion. It is the beginning of a parenting role that will continue for a lifetime. A new little person has entered your life. Things will never be quite the same.
Adjusting to such a big change does not happen overnight. Parents may not be suddenly struck with instant love for their baby. As with any relationship, love for the new baby grows and blossoms over time.
Each family’s adjustment to a new baby differs. This process is affected by many things, such as the health of the mother and the baby, maturity of the parents, family support, and how well parents combine their personal goals with their new responsibilities.
For the first day or two after the birth, new mothers need extra food and rest. Cesarean mothers need even more rest. All new mothers also need “mothering” themselves so they can successfully mother their new babies. New fathers also may have trouble adjusting to parenting. Partners can make a special effort to support each other during this big change in their lives.
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Needs of parents
Common needs of parents after their baby's birth include:
- The need to realize that your actual baby is different from your fantasy baby. Real babies have their own personalities. They cry, demand to be fed in the middle of the night and dirty their diapers. During pregnancy you may have imagined a baby with a different personality. You may have also focused on the fun parts of taking care of a baby rather than the hard parts.
- The need to establish the newborn as a separate individual. Each baby is unique with a distinct personality.
- New parents tend to have high expectations, which can lead to disappointment and feelings of failure and helplessness during the first few weeks. Taking care of a newborn is very tiring and challenging.
- The need to learn infant care skills. As you learn and get used to taking care of your baby, you will become more relaxed and feel better as a parent.
- The need to understand your baby’s way of communicating. Since newborns have not yet learned to talk, parents must learn, understand and get used to their baby’s cry, body language and infant cues. Babies communicate before they can talk through behaviors, such as opening the eyes wide, turning the head or looking away.
- The need to establish a place for the newborn within the family. Suddenly there is a new member of the family. There are a lot of adjustments that need to be made by all family members towards the baby.
- The need to maintain adult relationships. It is important for the mother and/or partner to spend some time alone away from the baby, with each other or with other adults. This can be hardest for the person who cares for the baby most of the time. Spend some time with your partner as a couple, without the baby. Enjoy a dinner together or an evening out with friends. Take advantage of offers by friends to baby sit for a few hours.
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Many new mothers experience what is called “postpartum blues” between the third and tenth day after childbirth. This is thought to occur due to the rapid change in hormonal levels after birth. When you think about it, it is not surprising that this let down occurs. You may experience feelings of depression or inability to cope with the new demands being asked of you. Also, you may have increasing doubts about your ability to care for your baby. You may wonder if you will ever feel anything but exhausted. You may experience unexplained crying, mood swings, loss of appetite and a feeling of being trapped. Your partner is also usually exhausted and may resent the amount of time the baby takes up, and at the same time, experience guilt for having these feelings.
Such feelings are normal and usually go away after one or two weeks.
As mentioned above, after the baby is born, a large change occurs in the amounts of certain hormones in the mother’s body. This change in hormone levels is believed to cause postpartum depression in about 15 percent of new mothers. Unlike the “baby blues,” postpartum depression symptoms continue beyond the first six weeks after birth and are more serious. If you have a history of depression, you may be at greater risk of developing postpartum depression. Be sure to discuss this with your health care provider.
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This term has multiple meanings: how you see yourself as a woman, mate, wife, mother, “superwoman” and possible career woman. You are a very important person to many people. To be all you can be to them, you need to be good to yourself and take care of yourself! There are many articles and books that suggest how you can take good care of yourself as a “newly-delivered mother.”
Here are a few suggestions:
- Postpartum fatigue is overwhelming. Nap whenever your baby naps.
- Let details go. Do not try to be perfect.
- Try to get some time away from home without children to relax and enjoy yourself. (Some families trade child care rather than always hire a babysitter.)
- Give yourself time to know your baby and how to care for his/her special needs. In time, your baby will come to know you better, too. Also, your family needs time to adjust to the new baby. Part of the family adjustment is in getting used to the baby’s real behavior and looks, rather than what you and your family thought the baby would be like.
- Resume sexual intercourse knowing that there will be some temporary changes in your body.
You may resume intercourse after you have healed and vaginal discharge has stopped; usually three to four weeks. During the first weeks or months after giving birth, the vagina is dry and tender. Your own responses during sex happen more slowly and with less intensity. This can make intercourse uncomfortable and disappointing if you are not prepared.
Here are some suggestions:
- Use a water soluble gel or lubricant cocoa butter, contraceptive cream or jelly to coat the vagina during intercourse.
- Your partner may gently insert one or two fingers into the vagina and rotate them to help relax the vagina and find tender areas.
- Use a position during sex that gives you more control of the depth of penetration, which is side-by-side or woman-on-top.
- If you are breastfeeding, or your breasts tend to leak (leakage increases during intercourse), you may want to wear a bra lined with breast pads. It is normal for breastfeeding to cause sexual feelings and increase your desire for sex.
They say babies have built-in radar for interrupting sexual times by waking up, crying or just moving. It may help to feed and settle your baby first and place your baby nearby. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you will be distracted by or concerned about the baby. Be patient and supportive of each other. Keep your sense of humor and realize that as a very tired, overwhelmed parent, you are less able to cope with these situations right now.
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Breastfeeding is not a reliable method of birth control! Even though you may not have a period, you may ovulate and could become pregnant. Before resuming sexual activity, discuss birth control options with your health care provider if you do not wish to become pregnant now.
Common methods of birth control
A cervical cap is a thimble-shaped rubber cap that covers the cervix like a mini-diaphragm. It can be worn for up to 48 hours. Spermicidal jelly is used only once, at insertion. One disadvantage is that the cervical cap may be difficult to insert and remove.
A male condom is a thin sheath that is worn by the male partner. The condom collects the semen and prevents it from entering the vagina. The risk of pregnancy is less if the woman also uses a contraceptive cream, jelly or foam.
The female condom is a soft, loose-fitting sheath with two flexible rings which can be inserted as many as eight hours before intercourse. As with the male condom, spermicidal cream, jelly or foam should be used to increase effectiveness.
Depo Provera is a hormone (progestin) given by injection to prevent ovulation. Protection is provided for three months. It is more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Some women notice a decrease in milk supply when using this form of birth control.
A diaphragm is a strong, flexible rubber shield that fits over the cervix. It is only effective if lubricated with a contraceptive jelly or cream. You will need to be re-fitted at your postpartum check-up, as well as at any time you experience a weight loss or gain of 10 or more pounds.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
An IUD is a small flexible piece of plastic or copper that is inserted into the uterus and removed by a health care provider. After insertion, the IUD is left in place for up to four years. A health care provider can remove the IUD if pregnancy is desired. It is believed that the IUD prevents the egg from implanting in the uterus.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
Birth control pills or patch
The most effective method of birth control (besides sterilization) is the contraceptive pill or patch. They contain synthetic hormones similar to those produced by a woman’s body each month. These hormones prevent the monthly release of the woman’s egg. Some forms of these contraceptives are not recommended if breastfeeding, as they may decrease milk supply. (Those containing progestin-only are perfect for breastfeeding mothers.) The type and dosage is determined by your health care provider. Consult your health care provider for more information.
Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
Contraceptive skin patch, such as transdermal Ortho Evra.
Spermicidal Foams, Creams, Jellies and Sponges
The chemical found in vaginal foams, creams, jellies and sponges kills sperm and prevents them from entering the uterus. These products can be purchased without a prescription.
Spermicidal Foams, Creams and Jellies
Sterilization is a permanent method of birth control. For a man, a vasectomy surgically blocks the tubes that transport sperm from the testes. This procedure is usually done in a physician’s office. For a woman, tubal ligation surgically blocks the fallopian tubes to prevent the egg and sperm from meeting. This procedure is usually done in an operating room in an outpatient surgery center. Contact your health care provider for more information about these procedures.
Read more about birth control in our Health Information section.
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