Parenthood is, undoubtedly, an acquired talent. No books, tutorials or family vloggers can prepare you for the life-altering (each and every inch of it) event of becoming responsible for raising a tiny human. When we spoke to Delhi-based Aman Julka, it was apparent that it is a beautiful yet tiring journey. "We did everything our doctor asked, but we were still not emotionally prepared," laughs the new father of a baby girl. With the COVID-19 pandemic still a looming threat, he also laments not being able to have his family around.
The process of becoming a parent is most obviously challenging for mothers, with the dual pressure of postpartum recovery and maternal responsibilities—all the while trying to retain their selfhood. However, the transition to fatherhood isn't an overnight transformation either. A 2018 paper in the Jbi Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports concludes three factors that affect new fathers' mental health—formation of the fatherhood identity, challenges that come with the role and negative fears and feelings related to it. A lack of enough resources for fathers and couple relationships are other contributing factors.
Most importantly, it is important to avoid putting societal pressures on new parents. As long as you try your best with the information and resources you have at the time, you're doing a great job. Although there is no one-for-all technique when it comes to parenting, the following are some common things to expect and keep in mind in the first seven days with your newborn.
Things to expect in the first week of your baby's life
- Feeding can take a few tries: We presume that all babies go from the womb to the boob, just like that. And yet, each baby's feeding journey can differ substantially. Some do latch and feed immediately after birth, but others may need to formula feed or take more time to latch and suckle. "We had to learn to formula feed our daughter, that too with a spoon and not a bottle," says Julka. Thus, feeding, burping, sanitising the bottles—the entire process has a learning curve for any caregiver. Talk to your doctor or consult a lactation specialist to figure out what works best for you.
- Rest whenever you can: "Sleep when the baby sleeps" is great advice on paper, not so much in practice. You will be exhausted through the day as well as the night, so make sure to take little breaks whenever you get the opportunity. Newborns have tiny stomachs, and they cannot regulate their body temperature. So they cannot sleep through the night for the first few months. You'll need to feed them every couple of hours, change them, soothe them. It's best to come up with a system that works for you and your partner. If you have to work in the morning (like Julka), you can take the first half of the night while your partner takes the second half. Adapt, improvise, overcome—as the new kids say.
- Your baby will look different: If you notice your baby losing some weight, do not be alarmed. According to a 2017 paper titled Early Nutrition: Effects on Infants’ Growth and Body Composition, "the first postnatal days after delivery are characterized by an initial weight loss that reflects newborn’s adaptation to extrauterine life, which requires the maintenance of his/her own thermoregulation, fluid balance and breathing and, hence, leads to high energy requirements". Thanks to their growth spurts in the first year of life, they’ll gain it back in no time. Physical changes also depend on whether your baby was full-term or preterm. While preterm babies tend to experience shedding of lanugo (a type of body hair that sheds in the womb during the third trimester) more, full-term babies’ skin may peel more due to lesser vernix (an outer waxy coating that protects the skin from amniotic fluid) at birth.
- Don’t skimp on the cuddles: The early days are the best time to maximise skin-to-skin contact, as newborns thrive on smell and touch. It’s also the best you can do to emotionally bond with them at that point, even if you don’t feel “the connection” yet. According to UNICEF, skin-to-skin or kangaroo care facilitates better breastfeeding, helps the baby to regulate blood glucose and body temperature. It also provides a sense of comfort and security for both the baby and the caregiver.
- Jaundice in newborns is common: Around 60 percent of newborns will experience jaundice to some extent, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA. Julka's daughter was no exception. "She got tested on the third day after her birth, but thankfully she did not need to be hospitalised and recovered by herself," the new father reminisces with relief. Regardless, it is extremely important to be careful about keeping the baby warm, and protected. A study published in the journal Photodermatology, photoimmunology and photomedicine revealed that “sunlight may be considered an alternative phototherapy source for the treatment of neonatal jaundice, particularly in areas where conventional phototherapy units are unavailable”. It is even more effective in winter, due to reduced intensity.
- You need to be hands-on: Unless you're a single parent, it goes without saying that parenting in your household needs to be a team effort. Particularly, if there is a postpartum mother involved, you must go above and beyond to share the duties and let her heal. This also gives you the opportunity to bond with your baby. "Listen to your wife, give her space and help her recover," concludes Julka. Moreover, a 2014 study published in the Maternal and Child health Journal reveals that "women across all groups identified receipt of instrumental support as essential to their physical and emotional recovery. Support from partners and families was expected and many women believed this support should be provided without asking.
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