A postpartum doula’s guide to bonding with your little one—and caring for yourself—during the first month after birth
Newborns: they’re incredible, awe-inspiring little creatures, and you’ve been waiting nine long months to meet them. But no matter how much you’ve read up on them, the reality of living with a newborn can be ever-so-slightly more complicated than you’d envisioned. Those early weeks can be pure bliss—but there can also be just as much worry and anxiety. We talked to Kim Lucchesi, a postpartum doula who has helped hundreds of babies and moms at this earliest stage, to learn how moms can navigate this important time with their sanity intact. Postpartum doulas offer crucial support to mothers right after birth, whether that means offering baby-soothing tactics, giving advice on feeding and lactation, or just a being a much-needed sympathetic ear. “People rarely think about the anxieties around postpartum care and bonding with your newborn,” explains Lucchesi. “Moms expect this euphoric feeling in the beginning and if they don’t have it, there’s guilt built around it.” Consider this your road map for getting to know this newest member of the family in a way that’s gentle, easy on baby, and easy on yourself.
Skin-to-skin contact is everything (no, really, EVERYTHING)
”Human nature loves touch,” says Lucchesi. Direct skin-to-skin contact with your baby has a host of scientifically proven, slightly incredible benefits: it regulates their body temperature, stabilizes breathing, promotes brain development, regulates their heart rate, decreases how much they cry, and helps with breastfeeding. (Whew!) That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends skin-to-skin contact between moms and newborns immediately after birth, and as much as possible for the first six weeks of your baby’s life. Holding your baby and having that close connection helps you as well: it lowers the risk of postpartum mood disorders, boosts your milk supply, and releases hormones that decrease your stress levels. “It gets the love hormones going, and your husband or partner can do it too,” says Lucchesi. “I always like to undress the babies in the first few weeks, get them on parents, and snuggle up. I’ll say to my moms and dads that you don’t even need to be naked—as long as the baby is on your chest and has some sort of skin-to-skin contact.” You can integrate skin-to-skin into your routine after breastfeeding, or it can be a great opportunity to give your baby a little tummy time while you’re lying down. Remember, your baby has just come from a very cozy world where they could hear your heartbeat all the time, so the closer they are to you, the happier they are. And don’t worry about “spoiling” your baby—in the first few months, there’s no such thing. So just settle in, throw on your favorite Netflix series, and get comfy with your little one.
The ups and downs of feeding
Is there any parenting topic more fraught than how you feed your baby? “It’s such a touchy subject,” Lucchesi says. “Breastfeeding is a huge part of the early days, and almost every mom wants to try it. But if it doesn’t work, moms can feel like they’re failures, and it can actually deter a mom from bonding with her baby.” If you’re trying to breastfeed your baby and it’s feeling challenging (it happens to the best of us, truly), just revert to skin-to-skin, says Lucchesi: hold your baby, get them calmed down, and then try again. “A lot of times, that’s all they need,” she explains. Lucchesi believes that while breastfeeding can be an amazing bonding opportunity, skin-to-skin contact is even more important. “If [breastfeeding] works and it’s all perfect, moms absolutely love it, they bond with their baby, and it’s this great snuggle time,” she says. “But I also have so many women who can’t breastfeed—and it’s okay. It’s so much better to have a happy, sane mother who can take care of her baby than a woman who’s depressed and upset that they’re doing the wrong thing.”
How to change your baby, newborn edition
Remember how easy diaper changing seemed when you practiced on a placid, unmoving baby doll? Yeah—that’s not usually how it goes with an actual real live newborn. And you’re going to be doing a lot of changing, because newborns go through 10-12 diapers a day. In those first few weeks babies generally don’t like to be naked, so changes can involve a lot of screaming and operatics from babies—and stress for parents. Lucchesi’s tip: plug in a hairdryer near your changing table, and turn it on when you’re on diaper duty. “Babies love the white noise,” she says. “I also start encouraging moms to talk gently to their babies [during diaper changes], whether you’re telling babies what you’ll be doing to them or reciting your grocery list.” While you’re talking, get through your diaper/wipes/baby balm application routine as smoothly and swiftly as you can. Lucchesi recommends changing diapers shortly before breastfeeding; “That way they’re nice and awake, and then you can reward them with the breast afterwards.”
Why baby massage matters—and how to do it
Lucchesi is certified in infant massage, and thinks it can be a great bonding tool for early on. Baby massages can help relieve gas, aid with digestion, and relax babies before bedtime—and you get more of that all-important hands-on time with your little one. After bathtime when your baby is toweled off and warm, rub a little skin-nourishing, nontoxic baby oil between your palms and start slow. “Begin at the extremities, just by playing with their toes and feet,” says Lucchesi. “Move from feet to legs to hands to arms to shoulders, and then lightly massage their stomachs at the very end, doing little circular motions on their tummies.” (Word to the wise: don’t do massage immediately after your newborn eats!) Some babies are more sensitive than others, so only do what your baby allows you to do. “If your baby’s upset, stop the massage,” says Lucchesi. “It’s like tummy time—you do a little bit every day, and if your baby isn’t enjoying it, you stop and try again later.”
Last but not least: it’s okay to feel how you feel
Each mother’s birth story is different, and no one can predict in advance how it will go. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could??) Whether or not everything goes as planned can play a role in how you process bringing that baby home. Even moms whose births went smoothly can feel overwhelmed by the real-life implications of caring for a brand-new person 24/7. “I was working with a certain type-A mom recently who took a baby class and felt like a full failure, because the other moms who came in looked like they had it all together,” says Lucchesi. “I looked at her and said, ‘They’re lying to you.’” Lucchesi explains that the percentage of mothers who have a harder time after birth is much higher than the percentage of women where parenting comes super-naturally to them. (Up to 80% of mothers experience “baby blues,” and 10-20% of women experience postpartum depression and anxiety.) When Lucchesi first meets a new client, she always asks to hear the mom’s birth story, and reinforces that whatever feelings she’s having are allowed. “I’ve had moms who don’t process the experience, and think ‘I’m strong, I can get over this, I’m just not going to talk about it.’ And then 8 weeks in they’re not okay, whether it’s the postpartum blues or anxiety.” Finding someone you can talk to about your labor, delivery, and coming-home experience can be hugely helpful—whether it’s a mom group, a postpartum doula, or postpartum support coordinator. There’s a whole landscape of emotions out there around birth and babies, and they’re all totally, completely okay to have. And when the days are long, remember: this too shall pass. “It feels like forever, but it’s such a short time,” says Lucchesi.
The information provided by Pipette is intended solely for educational purposes. The information is not to be used for medical diagnostic purposes and is not intended to serve as a recommendation for treatment and/or management of any medical/surgical condition. Most of all, this information should not be used in place of a physician or other qualified health provider. If you believe you or your child have a medical condition, please contact your physician immediately.