Labor and birth will take as much as 24 or 48 hours, during which you’ll possibly be eating and sleeping very little. It’s very hard work (even with an epidural). That’s why it’s called “labor” and not “leisure”. Pushing the baby out initially seems like the finish line, but really it’s just the very beginning.
Women are generally discharged two days after a vaginal birth, and three or four days after a cesarean section (which is major abdominal surgery). The best thing you can do for the most positive and effective postpartum hospital experience is to prepare ahead of time.
Tip #1: Educate yourself. There is A LOT of new stuff to learn and decisions to make once the baby arrives, but you are often in a place of exhaustion, adrenalin, excitement, overwhelm and awe. You and your partner may not have slept at all in the past 24 hours. It is NOT a time that is conducive to absorbing lots of important new information. You need to do that learning ahead of time. The info that you learn in the hospital after your baby arrives will simply reinforce your learning. At Isis, we offer a three hour prenatal breastfeeding class, and a three hour prenatal newborn care class in addition to the birthing class. The hospital nurses will help, but there’s still a whole lot of information and it’s better to understand ahead of time, when you’re in a more receptive state to listen, ask questions, and read more on certain topics. In addition to making the expectant couple more feel more confident as they anticipate their baby’s arrival, the prenatal classes help set realistic expectations about life with a newborn. There’s also good research that when partners/dads participate in prenatal breastfeeding and infant care classes, they are more involved in the hands-on day to day care in early infancy. That’s huge!
Tip #2: Be prepared for conflicting information. Many women will comment that though all the nurses were nice, the shifts changed often and each nurse seemed to have her own opinions and way to do things, sometimes that contradicted the instructions offered by the previous nurse. It can be frustrating to hear so many contradicting pieces of advice. I suggest gathering all the information and suggestions with an open mind and realize that if there are many ways to do something (like how to swaddle, or how to position the baby for a better latch). In fact, there may be many “right” ways and not just one “only” way. Once you are home, you can figure out what techniques work best for you and your family.
Tip #3: Do not anticipate getting plenty of rest in the hospital. You will not be a princess dressed in fancy silky pajamas propped up on pillows greeting your guests. It’s a hospital. You’re there for two days. You’ll be tired. It’s not a restful place. It’s not a hotel and the nurses are there to assess you and your baby’s health, recovery and manage complications, but not to cater to your every need. That said, Mother Baby Unit nurses usually do truly love their work and want to help you and make you as comfortable and confident as possible. But they are also under a lot of pressure with many, many tasks to accomplish each shift and have to maintain routines, which may involve entering your room to check you or the baby because it’s been four hours, even if you happen to be asleep. Because it’s a hospital and you are a patient. It’s not supposed to be a fun place to be.
Tip #4: Restrict visitors. You’ll be amazed that there are, on average, perhaps 40 different people entering your hospital room each day from hospital staff alone. It’s always either time to feed the baby, or change the baby, or feed the baby again or nap, and you don’t need an audience of well-meaning friends and family members when practicing and trying to figure out all these events.
Tip #5: Keep the baby with you. A good sized birthing hospital has about 10,000 babies born each year. You will have ONE baby born this year. Guess who is going to be just a little more attentive and cautious about your baby’s needs? By keeping the baby with you (hospitals call this “rooming in”), you are able to learn his sounds and do all the hands-on care (while asking for coaching and support from the nurses). In two days, when you’re home on your own, you’ve got some practice under your belt. Also, if the baby does anything concerning, like chokes on a gob of mucus, you’ll panic and yell for the nurse and they’ll come in and show you what to do, and then when it happens at home, you’ve seen it already and panic less. Send the baby to the nursery if you are alone in your room and are on narcotics, or recovering from a c/section and can’t tend to the baby on your own, or if you want to take a shower. In other words, don’t leave your baby unattended if your partner or family member isn’t in the room.
Nancy Holtzman RN IBCLC
What other tips would you add?