8 things expecting parents need to know about birth + postpartum stay in hospital
As a Midwife, I meet lots of new and expecting parents every day. From my time over the last 5 years, here are the top 8 things I think new and expecting parents need to know about their birth + postpartum time in hospital:
1. You are in control.
Let me be really clear when I say; this is your body, your baby, your labour and birth, and your postpartum journey. As Doctors and Midwives, we aren't there to make decisions for you. Instead, it's our job to give you all the information, including risks, benefits and alternatives, to enable you and your birthing partner to make an informed decision that is best for you. While we may recommend things, the final decision is not ours to make. Keep in mind things in labour and birth may not always go to plan, and sometimes you'll have to make decisions under pressure and be flexible. So my advice is to work with your birthing team to make the decisions best for you and bub. But keep in mind that at the end of the day, the power in the room and the final decision belongs to you.
2. Wait to bathe your baby.
After a little one is born, lots of parents ask, when can we bathe him/her? The recommendation is to wait until at least 48hrs. That's to avoid purposely washing off any vernix and to reduce the chance of bub getting cold while bathing or getting redressed and dropping their blood sugar as a result. Vernix is the wax-like, white and thick, sticky substance bubs are sometimes covered in after birth. It's more common in bubs who are slightly preterm and less common in those born after their due date. Vernix acts as a protective coating for bub's skin while in your belly with water floating around and is a great moisturiser after birth. So instead of washing it off early, wait for it to absorb and then bath bub. If bub's got blood in their hair and you'd like to rinse it, feel free to do so with warm water and cloths. The only time we would recommend bathing bub shortly after birth is if a mama has a blood-transmittable disease such as Hepatitis B. We wash bub before giving needles or doing things such as heel prick tests to minimise the chance of the disease being passed to bub through any residual blood from a mama at birth that is left on the skin.
3. Bonding might not happen straight away, and that's ok.
You know how in the movies, a mama's water breaks in a big flood and suddenly she's in labour? We all know it doesn't always happen like that in real life, and bonding can be much the same. There's such an expectation that this wet, slimy, and likely screaming new little person will be placed on your chest, and you'll be instantly bonded. While that happens for some and it's 'love at first sight', it's not always the case. If that's you, some tips to encourage and support bonding include:
Here are my tips:
- Take it back to basics; skin to skin and babywearing.
- Do something you enjoy together like the beach or a picnic.
- Talk to bub. Some papa bears are not used to newborns or young babies. It might feel strange at first to talk to this little person who is staring back at you, but pretty soon, it will become like second nature. If you're finding it really difficult, start small by reading them a book or singing them a song and work your way up from there.
- Get outside. Go to the park. Feed the ducks. Fly a kite. Doing things together makes special shared memories.
- One on one time. Whether it's storytime before bed, or a babycino date on Sundays, spending time together will naturally make you closer.
- Play games. When bubs are little, it might be tricky to know how to play with them. Some games you can play with a young bub include peek-a-boo, this little piggy went to market, row your boat or pat-a-cake.
- Let go of those feelings of inadequacy. Feeling guilty about not bonding with your bub isn't going to make bonding any easier.
- Look deep inside your heart of hearts- is there something else impacting your bonding, and can you address it?
Regardless of what you do with bub, the best way to bond involves spending time with them, smiling at bub [and they will eventually smile back], physical contact, looking in their eyes and talking/ singing to them. If you need support to bond, chat to bub's MCH Nurse or GP for some more ideas.
4. Education makes a huge difference.
In the first point, I spoke about being in control, making decisions and having to be flexible. The best thing you can do to be able to make tough decisions in a short amount of time is to be educated. Arm yourself with knowledge because knowledge = power. If you're informed, you can advocate for yourself, your partner and your little one, you know what to expect, and in my professional experience, your anxiety will be a lot less because there are no surprises. Most hospitals run basic birthing classes, but for a more comprehensive class, check our new Bump, Birth + Beyond instant access class covering the whole pregnancy spectrum, including newborn care.
5. Consider your stance on visitors while still in the hospital.
When bub is born, lots of people will want to come and see bub [naturally]! They're excited, and who doesn't love newborn cuddles! Consider things like,
- Do you want people visiting you in the hospital?
- What is your hospital's stance/ restrictions on visitors in Covid times?
- Do you require visitors to be vaxed with the Whooping Cough vax?
- What times do you want visitors to come?
- Do you want to limit the time they are there for?
- Would you rather bub be passed around in the early days, or are you not fussed?
- Would you prefer they visit once you're home, or you'd enjoy the company while still in the hospital?
- What if bub is admitted to the nursery?
Gone are the days of daytime visiting hours in most hospitals, which means that unless there are Covid restrictions, you may find yourself entertaining people in your hospital room all day. While that can be good during the day while bub is sleeping, it often means that you haven't rested. So when nighttime comes, and bub only wants to feed after sleeping on and off for the majority of the day, you'll quickly become exhausted. So while it's perfectly fine, and even helpful at times to have daytime visitors, try and limit the number of visitors and the time for which they stay [excluding partners and siblings] to make sure you're also resting and recovering from birth too.
6. It's ok to ask for help; that's what we're there for.
Too many times, I've walked in to find mama crying, struggling or unsure what to do because they have been too scared or embarrassed to ask for help. Sometimes they even say, I know it's so busy, and I didn't want to bother you. But parents, you're not bothering me. Supporting you in your new roles to care for yourselves and your little one during this time is my job and one I'm so passionate about, as are 99.9% of the other Midwives I know. No one walks in and knows absolutely everything about newborns. Even seasoned parents need help sometimes. I'm not judging you because your hands shake when you hold your newest little love, or because you don't know how to hand express, or that you couldn't swaddle bub, or because you don't know how to make formula, or because you put the nappy on backwards. You're not the first who doesn't know, and you certainly won't be the last. And those little moments where I'm helping you care for your bub or teaching you something are the moments that bring the magic to Midwifery. What a pleasure it is to see two people walk in as a couple and leave as a family. Knowing that I played some part in helping you makes me love my job, so even if it's 3am, or bub won't stop screaming, or you've got no idea what you're doing, ask for help! Because no matter what it is, it's important and I'm never too busy for that.
7. Don't forget to acknowledge siblings.
Having a new bub is such an exciting time for siblings but can also be a little nerve-wracking, particularly if they're meeting bub for the first time in an unfamiliar environment, like a hospital. Some things I've seen/ done myself that have worked well when introducing siblings in the hospital include:
- Asking siblings to pick out bub's next outfit and dressing them in it, so they feel included.
- One parent bringing the sibling into the room to meet bub [who is with the other parent], rather than babysitters bringing them in to see both parents and bub together without them. Whilst it may seem trivial, it's an easy way to reassure older siblings that bub is joining the family rather than replacing them.
- Gift them a present from bub. Particularly for little ones, it's an easy way to start the idea of a new bub being around on a good note.
- Give them cuddles and attention as normal as a reminder that they're still important and that your love for them has not changed.
8. Clothing tips!
- When you're labouring, you'll probably want to wear something lightweight, easily removable and not restrictive, for example, a loose button-up shirt, sports bra or nothing at all.
- When you've gotten up for the first shower after a vaginal birth, something lightweight that you can easily open or lift at the front [if breastfeeding] is ideal.
- After a c-section, the advice is much the same—lightweight, easily removable and something that opens at the front if breastfeeding.
- In all honesty, we don't mind if you stay in your pyjamas for your whole stay; as long as you're comfy.
- When it comes to undies, my advice is the same for everyone: black, high-waisted undies or disposable postpartum undies that rip at the sides. Why? Black means no bloodstains, and high-waisted stay off your belly, particularly if it's tender and don't put pressure on c-section wounds as the band sits above it. Disposable postpartum undies mean you don't have to worry about stains, pads or undies sitting too low. Instead, you use these in place of undies and pads, as they actually act as a pad to collect blood. They can be easily removed by ripping the sides, and you don't have to wash them; just dispose of them. Tick, tick, tick!
- Bring a cardigan because hospitals can be cold at night, particularly if you're walking back and forth to the nursery to visit bub.
- Wear shoes everywhere you go. Hospitals have lots of germs floating around, some of which are on the floor. It's not like home; wear slippers/ thongs/ shoes all the time.
- Bring swimwear and a change of clothes for partners, in case you want to join a mama in the birthing pool.
I hope these help you bring your little one into the world! For more tips + tricks, check out our new instant access Bump, Bub + Beyond birthing course.
Share your tips below for making the labour, birth + postnatal stay in hospital better!