When we think about the early days of parenthood, it’s hard not to let our minds wander to the more picture-perfect moments. Think cute outfits, teeny tiny baby feet and warm, snuggly cuddles.
And while there’s no denying there’s nothing cuter than a baby fresh out of the womb, all bundled up in the iconic rainbow-striped hospital blanket, there’s a whole new world you’re about to crash land into – and it’s not always so polished!
So as you get ready to welcome your newborn, we’ve rounded up all the things you can expect to happen in the days and weeks after giving birth.
1. Your hospital stay
Your aftercare post-birth will involve a lot of tests for the baby (hearing, jaundice, bloodspot screening for medical conditions etc) and making sure mum is recovering well, too. If you have an uncomplicated labour and are staying in a public hospital, you can be given clearance to go home anywhere between 48 hours (two nights) and 96 hours (four nights). If you’re staying in a private hospital, the average stay is around four nights for a vaginal birth and five nights for a caesarean. Your obstetrician or midwife will keep a close eye on your stitches or c-section scar and make sure they are in a good condition before sending you home. You’ll definitely end up having a favourite midwife too who you wish you could smuggle home to keep looking after you!
2. Mum’s first poo 💩 👏
Passing your bowels for the first time post-birth can often feel as scary as giving birth itself! Don’t worry if it takes a few days for it to happen, constipation after giving birth – whether vaginally or from a c-section – is totally normal. If you need extra help, your midwife can provide you with some laxatives to get things going. It’s also really important to keep your fluids up and eat loads of fibre-fuelled foods (hot tip: it’s a good time to make friends with prunes) to kick your system back into regular programming. When the big moment comes, take things slow – especially if you have any vaginal stitches or a c-section scar.
3. Bub’s first poo
Many new parents are left gobsmacked when they survey the contents of their baby’s first poo only to realise it’s a thick, black, oozy tar-like substance that looks nothing like *actual* poo. Yep, they don’t show that in the movies! One pro – it doesn’t actually smell that bad and is pretty odourless! Meconium is the medical name for a baby’s first poo and is a collection of protein, fats, bile and cells that have built up after nine months in utero. You can expect your baby’s first bowel movements to happen in the 24 hours after birth.
As you establish your feeding, your baby’s poos will change colour. Breastfed babies have softer, runnier stools which are a mustard colour, while formula poos are a more khaki-green colour and a firmer texture.
4. Colostrum gold
Before your milk comes in, your breasts will produce colostrum and it is the perfect nourishment for your newborn. The yellow-coloured substance is packed with goodness – it’s nutrient-dense and full of protein so a small amount is more than enough in your baby’s minuscule tummy. It also plays a vital part in helping build up your baby’s immune system. While every person is different, milk usually comes in around the two to four-day mark.
5. The cluster feeding marathons
Once your milk is in the equation, it’s very normal for babies to be ravenous and cluster feed (which simply means an excessive amount of feeds back-to-back) around the clock. The telltale signs of cluster feeding are when your baby becomes unsettled and shows signs of hunger (nuzzling your breast, alertness, trying to suck your shoulder or relatch back onto the boob) right after you’ve fed them. Cluster feeding is no doubt draining for any new mum but it is a normal part of the newborn days and in fact, indicates healthy development and growth. Hang in there!
When you set up your feeding station at home, it’s always handy to have lots of healthy snacks and a big drink bottle full of water close by so you can stay hydrated and well-nourished.
6. Lots of blood and surfboard pads
Growing a human for nine months is hard work. And after you welcome your baby, there’s a lot of internal matter that your body needs to dispose of. Postpartum bleeding can often surprise women but once again, it’s completely normal. Most women will bleed for around four to six weeks after birth. Bleeding occurs whether you had a caesarean or delivered vaginally. In the first few days after birth, bleeding will be heavy and you can expect blood clots so thick pads will become your BFF. Don’t worry, it will peter out and become more manageable.
7. Night sweats
Here’s another thing you’re probably not going to see on pretty curated Instagram feeds – intense night sweats! It’s not uncommon for a woman to wake up in the middle of the night absolutely dripping with sweat. Postpartum night sweats are caused as the body’s hormone levels adjust to not being pregnant anymore. You may also sweat in the weeks after labour in an attempt to expel fluid from the body. If the sweating persists, it’s important to speak to your doctor about it.
8. You’re living on a 24-hr cycle
Time, who is she? In the days and weeks after having a baby, time is all but a social construct. Get ready to live in your own little world that’s punctuated by feeding, sleeping and nappy changes. You might feel like the only person in the world during the late-night feeds but remember you’re not alone! And if you’re up for entertainment to keep you awake but don’t want to wake yourself up too much by turning the TV on, investing in some Airpods so you can listen to audiobooks or podcasts can be a godsend.
9. Settling in at home
When you first come home with a brand-new baby in tow, suddenly your whole house (and world!) looks different. You may turn to your partner and ask “Now what do we do?” It will take a few weeks and even months to feel settled with your adorable new roomie and until then, try and establish a few nice rituals you can do together every day as a family – whether that’s going for a morning walk to get coffee (never underestimate the power of vitamin D after a bumpy night), or bathing bub all together.
10. Baby blues
In the early days following birth, some women will experience a temporary condition commonly known as ‘The Baby Blues’. This generally occurs between the third and fifth days and can leave you feeling very distressed and/or emotional. Often women will describe feeling very teary and sometimes even irritable. Be reassured that these overwhelming feelings are completely normal and natural, and are due to the sudden change in your hormone levels following the birth.
Baby blues are very common, with up to 80% of women experiencing this condition. They will usually disappear within a few days, and there is generally no need for any treatment other than understanding what is going on, getting rest and having support around you.
If these symptoms don’t pass on their own, it may be a sign of another type of condition relating to childbirth, such as postnatal depression or postnatal anxiety. This is an important time to seek professional advice and support from those around you.
Being a parent is a true labour of love – and the weeks after giving birth sure prove it. While intense and exhausting, like everything with kids, it’s not forever and will eventually pass. So lap up those newborn cuddles, get a solid support system in place and remember – you’ve got this!