Your baby has been with you for a few weeks now and, in some ways, looking after it will be getting easier. Many of the tasks associated with its care will be becoming more familiar to you. Feeding, settling, changing, and looking after its needs will continue to occupy much of your time.
You’ll probably be wondering just what you did with your time before your new baby arrived and it will be getting harder to remember what life was like before your baby was born.
The initial novelty and fuss of having the baby may be just starting to wane a bit now and your friends and family will be giving you more time as a family. You’ll need time to find your own routines and decide on what works for you.
Getting to know your baby and feeling comfortable in predicting its needs is something which only you and your partner can experience. Although you’re likely to get lots of advice from well meaning sources, only you can decide on what will work for your own little family.
Your baby’s feeding and sleep will be closely linked at 3 weeks and it can be impossible to separate them. It is so common for young babies to go to sleep when they are feeding that this is considered normal behaviour. Feeding is hard work and tires small babies out. To coordinate the complex actions of sucking, swallowing, pausing and then starting the whole cycle over again uses up energy. After feeds, your baby is likely to want to sleep for a couple of hours until hunger causes them to wake again.
Your baby’s stomach won’t be able to hold much milk at any one time which is why they will need to feed frequently. If your baby is breastfed , expect them to demand a feed as often as two hourly. Bottle fed babies can often last around 3-4 hours between feeds. It is important to not enforce a regimented feeding routine on your baby at 3 weeks. Aim to be realistic and not expect too much.
You’ll find your baby dozes off to sleep quite easily at 3 weeks, commonly after a feed or when you are cuddling them. Having a tummy full of warm milk acts as a natural sedative so the most realistic time to expect young babies to settle is after they have fed.
Hungry babies tend not to sleep well because they are constantly searching for more milk. If your baby is unsettled and not sleeping between feeds, check with your child health nurse to ensure your baby has regained their birth weight. This generally takes around 2 weeks after birth but it can be a little longer in cases of prematurity or complications.
Wrap or swaddle your baby before you place them in their bassinette or cot. A light muslin or cotton wrap is ideal and will help them to feel secure. It will also help to contain their startle reflex which may cause them to wake early. Always place your baby on their back to go to sleep. This is a protective strategy against SIDS .
The newborn reflexes your baby was born with will still be clear to you. Their startle, sucking, grasp and stepping reflexes are all automatic actions which stem from deep within their brain. Each reflex disappears at different times and ages, though their startle reflex will continue throughout life.
Your baby may be a little more wakeful now. You will find them responding to your voice, trying to focus on your face and search or “map” your face for features. They will make small noises, quite separate to their crying and which will become more familiar to you.
This is still a time of discovery and becoming familiar with each other. There will be times when you feel you know your baby and their behaviour and others where they are still a relative stranger to you.
If you are breastfeeding you’re likely to find your baby fills their nappy as soon as they start sucking. This is caused by a reflex action and is likely to settle in the next few weeks. Some parents choose not to change their baby before a feed because of the inevitable dirty nappy half way through a breast feed. As long as your baby does not have a nappy rash and their skin is intact, this is not a problem.
Work out what is practical and minimises your work load in terms of nappy changing. You may find a couple of changing stations set up in the house is a better arrangement than just one.
Encourage your partner to change your baby’s nappies as well as you. This is one of many tasks where both parents can equally excel.
Your baby’s cord stump will have separated by now; however, there may be a small area of redness in the centre of their umbilicus. Unless it has an unusual smell, is moist or the surrounding skin is red, don’t be concerned. With time and exposure to the air, this area will fully heal.
Some babies have a small hernia in their umbilicus. This happens when the ring of muscle fibres around the cord stump do not completely join. If you are concerned, check with your doctor or paediatrician.
Daily bathing for your baby is not essential, but it can be a very pleasant experience for both of you. If your baby is unsettled and not wanting to sleep, a deep warm bath can be a lovely way to relax. Some babies don’t like being naked and object to feeling exposed. Placing a warm, wet washer over your baby’s tummy when they are in the bath can help them to feel more secure.
Look after your own hygiene as well. It is important to shower at least once a day, if not twice, especially if you still have any vaginal bleeding. It may take up to six weeks before you stop bleeding but don’t be concerned if you have stopped before this time.
Hand washing is an important part of everyday hygiene with a new-born in the house. Just being careful about washing well and then drying your hands is the best practice. Before feeding and after nappy changing are the most important times to wash the hands.
You could be feeling a little drained and worn out when your baby is 3 weeks old. The initial excitement is settling and the reality of having the baby is hitting home. After so many months of looking forward to your baby’s arrival, you could be feeling disappointed and a little empty without this as a focus. This is such a normal emotion and it does not mean you are being ungrateful.
You could find yourself brought easily to tears. Looking at the baby, listening to their cry, feeding and cuddling them may bring up powerful, strong emotions. Give into the tears if you need to. Unless you are feeling miserable and not enjoying these early weeks, some crying and fluctuating maternal emotions are completely normal.
Remember to look after yourself and ask your partner and family for help if you need it. The focus can be so strongly on the baby that mothers often miss out. Sometimes people need to be reminded that new mothers need some attention as well.
Don’t expect yourself to be an expert parent – no one is. You are likely to go through a whole range of trial and error attempts before you find what works for you and your baby.
Don’t expect your body to look like it did before you had the baby. Your tummy will still be loose and stretchy and some women even look as if they are still pregnant at this stage. With time, your body will resume its usual size, but for most women, pregnancy does change their shape and muscle tone, especially in the abdominal region.
Mothers are not the expert parents and dads are not the support act. Give your partner time and space to develop his own, special relationship with the baby. Even if you are breastfeeding he can help support you by changing, burping and settling the baby after feeds.