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What newborn stage is the hardest?

A Pep Talk For Getting Through The Newborn Stage

newborn stage

This is what being a parent is? This is horrible,” my husband cried, standing in the kitchen in the middle of the night, fumbling with a bag of breast milk. I sat in the kitchen in mesh underwear, crying, examining my wounds from the emergency C-section and the lacerations from the first breast-feeding attempts. The baby screamed. None of us had slept in two days. I’d stopped distinguishing between “weeping” and “not weeping” as discrete states and merely crept around the house naked and leaking tears, struggling to keep up with the pumping/feeding/changing demands of a 1-week-old. Since the delivery, I’d run a fever that I couldn’t get my OB to take seriously. A sort of bleak despair settled over us.

“I guess this is what being a parent is,” we said. We felt like the rest of the world had played a big joke on us with their Facebook first-day-of-school pics and smiling holiday cards. For us, so far, parenthood had been nothing but pain, fatigue, worry and fever.

It passed, of course. The newborn is 5 now, a happy, healthy kindergartner. But I realize, in retrospect, that a major part of the horror of the newborn stage is that we didn’t know when it would end. We thought that the unrelenting demands of a 1-week-old, or even a 1-month-old, were how our lives were going to be from then on, which is to say, really fucking miserable.

Every day brought fresh horrors: the C-section pain, injuries from nursing, the subsequent pumping, my spiking temperature, and the unrelenting diaper-changing. That dreadful stretch of time, which my husband dubbed Antietam after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, lasted three months—three months until the baby started sleeping longer stretches, all my wounds healed, and our spirits improved.

What do I wish I had known? That things get better in two-week increments. That’s what made the second baby so much easier: We knew exactly how long each stage—even each micro stage, like the scary umbilical cord cleaning—lasts. Before kid No. 2 arrived, I rehearsed those first few days and weeks mentally, coaching myself for the upcoming ordeal: The C-section pain gets better after two weeks, and don’t be afraid to take the Percocet. The nursing gets better after three or four weeks. For some reason, the eight-week mark is a big turning point, and we’ll all feel a lot better. At 10 to 12 weeks, he’ll be able to hold his head up, and he will become less wobbly and fragile. Fourteen weeks, if we’re lucky, the whole sleep thing will get a little better.

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I repeated my pep talk in the early days of No. 2: On the first day after the C-section, I mumbled to myself, “It gets easier after two weeks.” In those first painful days of nursing, I reminded myself, “Just hang on till week four and then you can quit if it’s still bad.” The miserable nighttime wake-ups? They were still bad, but I knew the stretches of sleep would get a little longer after a little while. Sure, those first few days and weeks dragged. On day 11, I grimly said to myself, “This is day 11,” about 40 times. But knowing that every stage has an end was immensely comforting, and it made the newborn stage with our second kid vastly easier than the one with our first.

My dear friend, right before delivering her second child, wrote herself an email and scheduled it to be sent at the two-week mark, which in her experience was the absolutely hardest moment. She reminded herself that this was the lowest point, and it only gets better from here.

So if you have a newborn, I hope this is some comfort to you. In my experience, things get better in two-week increments. It gets a little easier when the baby is 2 weeks old, a little more at 4 weeks, still easier at 6 and 8 and 10 and 12. (I don’t mean this to be blasé: If you’re feeling pure despair or misery or overwhelming anxiety, irritability or depression, please, talk to your OB immediately.) But for the ordinary newborn struggle, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This stage will end—in just about two weeks.

When does it get easier?

Image of tired mom and newborn asleep on the couch

ABC Doula & Newborn Care

Many things have been written about fussy babies, and I say read it all and try everything! This post is more about planning for them and coping with them as parents, and less about how to fix a fussy baby. Because sometimes you can’t and you just have to COPE.

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First of all, if you know your baby’s due date, you can plan accordingly for those peak fussy times and shore up your help during the more intense times. If you don’t know, or your babies were premature and you are in the grey zone, you can estimate a bit.

So here is what you do: Take your 40 week gestational due date and add 4-6 weeks to it. Circle that day on your calendar and know that your baby will likely begin to be MORE fussy during that time. If they aren’t, you can celebrate that you win in the newborn department!

(BTW Good news, they start responsively smiling during this time and I’m pretty sure it was built into the design of babies to smile right before they get WAY harder!)

One you have that date, mark the dates between week 6 and week 8 as the CHALLENGE dates. It might not be exactly those weeks, but sometime around that time, you will be glad you knew that this was coming and that it WASN’T YOUR FAULT. (Make sure that you are adjusting for prematurity, as these are brain weeks, not necessarily womb vs earth weeks.)

Now go in and mark week 7…for two reasons. In my mom’s group, we call week 7 “Hate your Partner Week” (or partner, or anyone you live with who goes back to work and leaves you alone with your baby). This is because things tend to hit the zenith of fussiness at that point, and couples tend to have a terrible week with each other trying to deal with a less consolable baby and all the transitions of not being able to relax in the evening, eat a meal, or get anything done but KEEP SOOTHING THE BABY.

Second reason to mark the calendar on week 7? For a trip. Usually couples feel comfortable traveling with their baby by then, and taking a weekend away is a great time to let go of the chores and just share the job of keeping baby happy while enjoying neutral territory and new surroundings. Try it. It helps. I know it can be pricey to get away, but…it’s for your sanity and your marriage!

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Then just HANG IN THERE. Keep soothing as you find things that work. Meet your baby’s needs. Meet your own needs. Nose to the grindstone—with adorable baby snuggles in between—hang on and know that it will change quickly. I promise. No really, I promise.

Now mark weeks 10, 12 and 15. Week 10 is for the downhill mark. Usually by week 10, babies are less fussy, start going to bed earlier, and become more peaceful little creatures. Plan for it. Tell yourself it is coming whether you ‘fix it’ or not. Know that you can get there…even when it is really hard, tell yourself that you will make it to week 10.

Put week 12 on your calendar for the bottom swing of the crying curve. This will mark the time when things should get easier. If they are not, adjust for prematurity and then reassess. If they are still not, check in with your pediatrician, postpartum doula, or another baby-related practitioner/expert who might help suggest some things that could help.

Weeks 12-15 should be more about FUN. This is the time to enjoy that baby that has begun the shift from brain stem (reflex driven) to cognitive brain (thought and reaction driven) which means they operate more like big people and are much easier to interpret! If this stage isn’t more fun, there could be something going on that is making baby uncomfortable that needs addressing.

Then you are through the crying curve! Yes, there will be times when baby gets their first cold, or stomach virus, or is teething, and you are up all night with a very unhappy baby. But this is just the stuff that parenting is made up of, and is not at all predictable. There is actual research on the crying curve being super challenging for parents, somewhat predictably, so this gives you a huge advantage to KNOW WHEN IT IS COMING.

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My hope for this is that parents can help to plan and set up for the expected stages, AND to know that most parents go through questioning themselves, when indeed they are probably doing exactly what their baby needs at that stage. Knowledge means you can be ready, have helpers in place, and conquer those early weeks with a team to support you.

Plan on future blogs to cover getting that team together and when they should come for maximum enjoyment for all.

PS…Doulas are great at every stage! We help moms and dad, babies, siblings, and even pets to adjust when things are tough. And we can fold your laundry, run your dishes, and whip up a mean frittata or bake you some banana bread to make it all seem better in the meantime. In Portland, call us and we will set you up with awesome support!

The hardest part about having a newborn

People will tell you all sorts of unsolicited advice about becoming a parent. But hardly ever do you hear the hardest part of all.

The hardest part about having a newborn <it

The hardest part about having a newborn

Newborns are a lot of work. They seem to constantly need fed, changed, or just held. Then there are the growth spurts where they “cluster feed”–aka eating what seems like every five minutes. It can be exhausting, especially when you’re a new mom and have no baseline to reference.

I had no clue about how much work was involved before having my first baby. People told me, but it just didn’t really register until I was holding that newborn in my arms. What, I have to feed him every two hours? He goes through 10-15+ diapers a day? He constantly wants skin-to-skin contact, and will cry if I leave him in his crib for just a few minutes to jump in the shower?!

The hardest part about having a newborn <it

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Slowly, ever so slowly, a day passes. Then the first week. Then the second. The sleepless nights turn into sleepless weeks. You feel a bit like a puke- and poo-splattered, flabby mom-zombie.

Then you realize, that baby face is changing already. That sweet newborn that you once cuddled every couple hours, all night long is now sleeping a bit longer, and you see less of the moon and more of the sunshine in their eyes.

That baby is starting to explore. Starting to see the world around them, and marvel at it. Those little fingers and toes that once only grasped at you are now reaching for other things.

You realize, my newborn is not a newborn anymore.

My newborn is an exploring, roly-poly, happy baby, who will grow into a curious toddler before I can blink.

The hardest part about having a newborn <it

The hardest part about having a newborn goes beyond the hours of sleep lost and the many, many parts of “me” I give up, to be everything this baby needs. It’s realizing I only have this once with them–that very soon, my weary mom fog will be replaced with sprinting after a toddler who is now more interested in exploring the world around them than clinging tight to the first safe place they knew.

These tiny newborn toes in my hand will soon be chubby baby feet that push off to take steps toward the world beyond. The eyes that look deep into mine will soon be lost in books and adventures.

This newborn will be a smart, happy little boy (or girl), always learning something new or making us laugh–but I will not have these moments of midnight cuddles and tiny sighs again. Because the hardest part of having a newborn is savoring every moment, all while knowing each exhausting, exhilarating phase is so very short.

So we hold the sweet, tiny baby a little closer, and breathe in his newborn smell a little deeper. We caress his soft, fine hair and silky cheeks with gentle hands, and are thankful we have yet a few more moments.

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