No matter how much preparation is done during pregnancy, most new moms understandably have lots of questions about caring for their newborn once their bundle of joy arrives. Follow along for tips from a pediatrician on how to take the best care possible of your newborn, and, just as important, yourself.

Women's Health | 20 days ago

Baby’s Arrival Marks New Beginning for Mother, Child, and Everyone Connected

No matter how much preparation is done during pregnancy, most new moms understandably have lots of questions about caring for their newborn once their bundle of joy arrives. Follow along for tips from a pediatrician on how to take the best care possible of your newborn, and, just as important, yourself. 

No matter how much is done in preparation when expecting a baby, most new moms will have lots of questions on how to take care of the newest addition to the family in the first few weeks after birth – as they should! Caring for a newborn isn’t easy, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding experience that makes all the hard work worthwhile. While there may be moments that seem overwhelming, your pediatrician is always there to answer any and all questions you may have.

Here, Melodie Harrison, MD, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Arboretum Pediatrics, gives her advice on some of the most common topics new moms have questions about during those first few weeks after birth and what to expect.

Nutrition

Whether you need to eat more postpartum than you typically would depends on whether you breastfeed. While there are well-documented benefits of breastfeeding – including bonding, nutrients, stronger immunity, and perhaps weight loss – Dr. Harrison avoids pressuring new moms.

“It’s beneficial for everyone involved, but some women are not able to produce enough breast milk to support the infant’s needs,” she says. “Or it could be overwhelming or difficult for them, through no fault of their own. In those situations, parents can use formula as a supplemental way to provide nutrition for the baby. I encourage breastfeeding, but I’m also OK with moms deciding to not do it if it is the best decision for them. Ultimately, “‘fed’ is best.”

Moms who breastfeed burn an extra 500 calories a day producing milk. So, they need to consume about 2,300-2,500 calories daily to ensure an adequate volume of milk supply for their newborn. They also should drink as much water as possible.

When breastfeeding, what you eat directly impacts your baby, so prioritizing eating healthy foods is beneficial for both mom and baby. Foods to avoid include processed meats and items high in mercury, like some fish. Caffeine should be consumed in small amounts because it can pass through breast milk and lead to irritable babies with poor sleep patterns. And drinking alcohol is strongly discouraged.

“In general, whether or not you are breastfeeding, you should try to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, and greens,” Dr. Harrison says. “If you’re on a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s important to take vitamin B12 to supplement your diet.” Eating a vitamin-rich diet is also crucial to help maintain energy levels, which is essential when taking care of a newborn. 

Fitness

Exercising after delivery can help you strengthen core muscles, relieve stress, improve your mood, and lose weight. For vaginal deliveries, exercise recommendations, and how quickly after birth moms are able to resume exercise, depends on the level of any vaginal lacerations (or tears) that a mom had during the delivery. “For smaller lacerations, we encourage moving around initially, slowly increasing the amount of movement every day, as long as pain is well-controlled with movement. For larger lacerations, it's important to ask your physician when you can start walking longer distances,” says Joshua Counihan, MD, an OB/GYN at Atrium Health Eastover OB/GYN – Morehead Medical Plaza.

It is generally recommended that moms see their OB/GYN four to six weeks after delivery for a postpartum exam, during which providers inspect any lacerations and can clear someone to begin slowly increasing their activities and exercise.

“For c-section deliveries, light walking (such as walking around the postpartum floor slowly while you are still admitted) actually helps to reduce pain overall and prevents abdominal bloating or gas pain. As you heal over the next several weeks, you can add on longer distances slowly, while listening to your body,” says Dr. Counihan. It’s important not to begin strenuous exercise until being cleared by your physician, which is typically six weeks after delivery for both vaginal and c-section deliveries.

Another physical adjustment for moms is changes to the body postpartum. Some moms shed baby weight fairly quickly while others take much longer. Dr. Harrison says mothers must accept that their bodies underwent major changes to bring new life into the world. “The biggest thing is being patient with your body,” she says. “Focus on the new bundle of joy and enjoy. The changes will come.” 

Support

Physical changes might take some time to occur, but lifestyle changes tend to happen overnight. Babies tend to sleep more during the day, often leaving parents sleep-deprived during the night. “It’s going to take a while for the baby to get used to routines and develop a sleep pattern,” Dr. Harrison says.

Don’t be reluctant to ask for help if support from family and friends is available. Let them step in and assist so you can take care of yourself and get some rest – looking out for your own health is important in order to take the best possible care of your baby. “Try to sleep when the baby is sleeping, especially in those first several weeks after delivery,” she says. “And remember to eat and drink. Some moms forget because they get so wrapped up in taking care of the baby.”

Parents also need to consider childcare if they plan to work outside the home. Choices might include a friend, a relative, a nanny, or a daycare provider. But it needs to be addressed quickly if it’s not settled.

“Waiting lists can be pretty long at some daycares,” Dr. Harrison says. “You definitely want to start that process early.”

Mental Health

Baby blues and postpartum depression are completely normal and nothing moms should be ashamed of – in fact, according to the American Psychological Association, nearly 1 in 7 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression alone, with baby blues being even more prevalent. It’s important for moms to recognize the symptoms and have open conversations with their doctor in order to develop an appropriate care plan.

Baby blues, which can occur from a few days to a few weeks after delivery, might include mood swings; a lot of anxiety or sadness; irritability; feeling very overwhelmed; crying a lot; changes in appetite; sleep disturbances; and poor concentration.

Postpartum depression symptoms are more intense and can last longer. Some women have it from weeks after to a year after birth. Symptoms can affect the mom’s ability to take care of her infant and do daily activities. “Some of the most significant are feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of doing self-harm and thoughts of harming the baby,” Dr. Harrison says. “We try to screen the moms for symptoms when they come in during newborn visits the first few months of life.”

A plan of care is developed to help manage the symptoms when necessary. Sometimes the mother needs more support. Other times, the remedy is medication or therapy. “Some might need a combination of all three,” she says. “But support is a big thing, having someone who can help with the baby.”

Dr. Harrison says new parents should be open to learning as they go. No two children are alike and there are no cookie-cutter approaches to parenting. You and your  newborn must learn from each other, taking the positives with the negatives.

“Just try to be open to the ride because it’s definitely going be a journey. It’s enjoyable, but it’s not going to be straight black-and-white a lot of times. But in the end, the good certainly outweighs the bad.”


If you have any questions regarding caring for your newborn, contact your pediatrician. Need a pediatrician? Find one near you.

See below for additional postpartum resources: