The first week home with a new baby can feel really daunting. It reminds me of getting dropped off at college, or the first time you move away from home. You have a lot of build-up, anticipating the baby’s arrival, or visiting different colleges. But then your parents drive away and you’re left in your empty dorm room wondering what to do with yourself. Coming home from the hospital with a newborn is like that, but with a person.
The first couple of weeks should be focused on everyone – you, your partner, your baby – getting their basic needs met. That means food, sleep, dry diapers, and comfort. That can feel a little daunting, but the good news is that newborns don’t really do a whole lot besides eat, sleep, and cry. The sleeping and the crying are worth longer discussions, but trust that you’ll learn over time what your kid likes and doesn’t like when it comes to calming down and going to sleep. And tending to your baby’s needs is pretty hard-wired into you, so we’re not going to sweat that here.
But what about you and your partner? Eating well and getting enough sleep can both go out the window, particularly if your partner is breastfeeding. If you’re breastfeeding exclusively, then one of you is basically stuck with all of the overnight wake-ups.
That means that you, as the one without boobs, are going to need to step up in other ways. A lot of couples find the input/output division of labor to be helpful. If she’s responsible for the input of nutrients, you’re responsible for the kid’s output as much as possible.
Also consider what you can do to take other mental and physical loads off of your partner. Especially if the new kid isn’t a great sleeper, which is usually the case, feeding the kid and herself and getting enough sleep (or as close to enough as possible) is about a full-time job. See what you can do in terms of other household management. Order groceries, maybe online if getting out of the house feels like a lot. Or order take-out. Manage household bills and the like. Handle relatives. Clean, or pay people money to clean. Write thank-you cards for baby gifts. And make sure that you’re not just doing things when asked — thinking of the things to do and setting up a task list is work in itself.
Also, sleep when you can, and take care of the kid when the kid isn’t eating so your partner can get some sleep. Hopefully you’ve taken some paternity leave to ease the transition.
It’s pretty common for friends and family to ask how they can help once you have a newborn. And though it can feel daunting: say yes. Your friends and family may not be able to take over breastfeeding duties, but they can go pick up groceries or bottles from the store, or drop off a casserole for dinner, or handle other sundry household duties or chores. Let them help with everything that isn’t sleeping and feeding the baby so you and your partner can focus on sleeping and feeding the baby.
Be Kind to Each Other
The first few weeks home can be tough. You’re tired, you’re adjusting to a new reality, maybe you haven’t showered in a few days. You’re probably going to snap at your partner at some point, and your partner is probably going to snap at you. Take care to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this isn’t really about the dishes in the dishwasher as much as it’s about only sleeping four hours in the past 24. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt and be kind wherever you can. It’s key to surviving the first week home with the new baby.