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You’re dutifully shopping for the seemingly endless list of baby gear, you’re attending labor and delivery classes to prepare for the big Birth Day, but has anyone prepared you for after B-Day? Chances are, in the excitement and anticipation of bringing home a new baby, no one stopped to tell you, or your partner, about the reality of after-birth.
While mommy is star of the show in the delivery room, when you arrive home with your little bundle of joy, you’ll take center stage. You’ll never be more needed or more appreciated; taking care of your partner after a birth is your shining moment to become the hero. It won’t be easy; you’ll encounter bodily fluids and trips down drug store aisles that were before unknown. But no mission was ever more rewarding or worthwhile. This is your guide to mommy-care.
Fast-forward to homecoming and what to expect.
Mission Stratagem: Every successful mission needs a well-equipped Base Camp. After hours of labor and finally delivering the baby, (or after major abdominal surgery, a.k.a.: Cesarean section,) mommy will be bedridden. Mommy is not simply resting or more comfortable lying down, she is virtually unable to do anything but lay down, outside of using the bathroom. She may not be able to walk to the bathroom, in fact, and will require help with a bedpan. She will not, under any circumstances, be able to use stairs for some time, possibly weeks. Base Camp can be either a bed or couch on the main floor of your home. You can safely lodge both mommy and baby there. Bring in her favorite music, roll in the TV. Keep her baby-care books, a camera, and a telephone within reach.
Tip: Be sure the Base Camp bed isn’t made with your best sheets. Save the fancy robes and nightgowns for when visitors come; stains are inevitable.
Reward: This will be your “island” as a new family; it will be where you spend those first, very precious days together. The hours will melt into one another, and you will share some of the most intimate moments of your life together, staring in amazement at what you’ve created.
It takes a village…
Mission Stratagem: Turn to others for help. Since you will be helping your partner with the baby, and with several health concerns, you’ll both need food and water. Call in reinforcements now. (Possible reliable sources: Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, best friends, people from church, neighbors.) You must have a freezer stocked with healthy, quick to heat and serve food. You won’t have time for cooking or cleaning the house. You may even need to spoon-feed mommy if she can’t sit up. If all else fails, begin stocking up on take-out menus. Remember, nutrition is key-think calcium, whole grains, protein, and veggies.
Mommy will be fighting dehydration. Recovery, paired with nursing, will require plenty of fluids and healthy snacks. Keep a gallon jug of purified water at Base Camp constantly. Use it to refill a sippy-cup, or plastic cup with a straw. Replenish her with real fruit juices. Orange juice is a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Supply her with protein bars, dried and fresh fruit, crackers and cheese. Remember, you are on baby-time, which means there is no difference between day and night. She will need to have water and snacks available twenty-four hours a day.
Reward: A well-nourished mommy recovers faster and produces sufficient breast milk. The arrival of your reliable sources, and their home-cooked food, is a huge blessing. They have probably been through this before and can help you with the workload of running a household. And, they will be overjoyed to see the baby so soon after the birth.
The baby will sleep. A lot.
Mission Stratagem: Let mommy get her rest as well. Join her often, rest will help you to stay healthy and alert. When you are both awake, however, you can help mommy recover from pain with massage. Her back is likely sore. This is because her abdominal muscles are not where they once were and are not supporting her back. Gently use your hands to massage her, or roll a tennis ball under your palm. If you learned positive visualization or relaxation techniques in your prenatal class, put them to use now. If she has not had a C-Section, locate the top of her uterus (fundus), and massage it until it becomes firm. You will find it just below her belly button. Do this regularly to help it to shrink, and to control bleeding. Do this before nursing to alleviate cramping. For an itchy C-Section scar, the doctor can prescribe an ointment. Extra points: Compliment her beautiful body which produced such a perfectly wonderful little person. Carrying and delivering your child is an awesome and astonishing miracle.
Reward: After nine months of pregnancy, gentle touching and stroking of your partner is the welcome first intimacy you two will share as parents. Helping her with her pains is a loving and respectful way to show your gratitude for giving you a child.
Nursing: A New Frontier.
Mission Stratagem: Your partner may choose to breastfeed. The first few days after the birth, colostrums appear before her milk comes in. She should nurse as often as the baby wishes, usually every two hours. Neither mommy nor baby will be very efficient at first, they are both beginners! She will need plenty of patience and encouragement from you, until she becomes more skilled. Mommies rarely see the colostrums and often worry the baby will starve. Assure her that baby’s tiny clenched fist is roughly the size of a newborn stomach, and soiled or wet diapers are proof positive of a well-fed infant. As her milk comes in, she may become engorged and very sore. A cold compress will provide relief, along with pumping or expressing by hand. Her hormones may also cause her body to alternate between sensations of heat or extreme cold. Bear with her, adding or removing blankets as needed. Above all else, your calm and confident demeanor will help her maintain hers. If mommy had a Cesarean, she won’t be able to lift the baby. She can nurse while lying on her side, or place the baby on a nursing pillow or rolled blanket.
Reward: Beside breastfeeding’s numerous benefits to both baby and mother, you may be thankful for avoiding the high cost of formula. Breast milk expressed with a pump will allow you the closeness she shares with baby during feedings. Babies love skin-to-skin contact. Open your shirt and snuggle your child close while giving a bottle.
When Good Intentions Go Bad.
Mission Stratagem: Family members are often eager to help with the new baby. While their help and advice is often welcome, there are times when even the most well-meaning Nana or Auntie can be the cause, rather than the dispeller of, stress.
You are in charge of this mission. Therefore, gently and tactfully redirect those who freely dispense unwanted advice to highly valued tasks, like laundry or cooking. For those who are busy in the kitchen, but whose advice is needed at Base Camp, take over the stirring of the pot and send the advisor to mommy. And, should chaos prevail, shield mommy and baby from unnecessary stress by announcing the need for quiet time. Let them know when they may come for another visit.
Reward: You are daddy, hero, protector, and knower-of-what-is-best for mommy. Let poorly-chosen comments just roll off your back; you are strong, and quite frankly, too busy and too needed to be bothered.
No longer “No Man’s Land”.
Mission Stratagem: Just when you thought you’d seen it all in the delivery room, trips to the bathroom may become your biggest challenge. Your partner probably knew that there would be blood, but even she may not be prepared for the sheer volume of it. Gently explain that it is lochia (low-key-ah), a vaginal discharge from the wound left by the placenta. It will be bright red after the birth, then darken in color, and eventually pale. Nursing, which causes the uterus to contract, may cause some bleeding.
Prepare a squeeze bottle of boiled saltwater. Your partner will use this to rinse off after using the toilet. She can use toilet paper to blot, but not rub, dry. The greatest gift you can give mommy at this point are incontinence undergarments, such as Depend®. Have a good laugh about it with your partner, then go out and get them. There is simply no better “catch-all” for her condition over the next few weeks. Keep maxi-pads, undergarments and saltwater within reach of the toilet. She must not bend at the waist, so leave them on the counter or on a shelf.
You have probably never touched a maxi-pad in your lifetime, so the next suggestion may come as a surprise. Keep in mind that your partner likely feels as though she has passed a football through her privates-something in the ballpark of having the worst kick to the groin ever known to mankind. Take half a dozen maxi-pads into the kitchen, and with a soup ladle or large spoon, carefully pour water down the middle of each, then place in the freezer in a slightly “U” shape. These frozen pads will bring great relief when secured in an incontinence undergarment. The undergarment will absorb the water as it melts.
Be the king among new daddies: draw a bath for mommy. Do not add any soaps, bubble baths or oils, just warm water. Light some candles, put on some relaxing music, and help mommy into and out of the water. Note: if mommy had a C-Section, give her a warm sponge bath.
Reward: Your support of mommy, in even these less-than-glamorous tasks, will instill trust and openness in your relationship. She will feel confident that she can come to you for most anything, and that you, above everyone else, can be trusted and relied upon through the toughest of times.
Congratulations on your upcoming move into fatherhood! The days ahead are filled with yet greater rewards.
The Shopping List
Orange juice with added vitamin C and/or calcium
Other favorite 100% real fruit juices
1 dozen protein bars
Dried and fresh fruits
Whole grain bread and crackers
Whole grain cereals and popcorn
Milk, yogurt and cheese (cow’s milk or calcium-fortified soy-based)
4-5 gallons purified water
Squeeze bottle (peri bottle)
2-3 dozen maxi-pads (sanitary napkins)
1-2 packages incontinence undergarments (e.g. Depend®)
1 sippy-cup or package of straws
If mommy plans to breastfeed: breast cream, nursing pillow, breast pump, bottles and nipples, nursing pads.
When to Call the Doctor. Call your healthcare practitioner in the event of:
Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Localized, persistent breast pain
Chills or fever over 100.4
Heavy, bright red vaginal bleeding (saturating more than 1 pad per hour)
Pain, redness or swelling over perineum or varicose veins
C-Section incision is persistently painful, or if the area around it turns dark red, or if a brown, gray, green or yellow discharge oozes from the wound.