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FEATURE ARTICLE: Welcome Home, New Mom!

Five proven steps to ease the first week after you've given birth

After nine months of waiting followed by the intense work of childbirth, the time has finally arrived. You're ready to take your baby home.

Preparations have been in the making for weeks. A frozen casserole is thawing in the refrigerator; disposable diapers and handsewn breast pads line the bottom shelf of the bathroom linen closet; and the phone machine message is ready to go. You've looked forward to basking in the settled-in warmth of your own home. You can even imagine yourself curling up on the couch after tucking the baby in bed, sparkling cider in your hand.

The fantasy disappears as soon as you walk in the front door. Rather than peacefully sleeping, your baby starts crying loudly. Well-intentioned friends arrive, asking for a peek. (Their visit lasts for 40 minutes.)

Then Aunt Martha phones from Wyoming. As you graciously try to excuse yourself from the conversation, your milk suddenly lets down and soaks your clothes. Meanwhile, your husband tries to clean up the remainder of a surprise bowel movement that managed to escape the diaper.

Two hours later, with your baby asleep at last, you both collapse, exhausted, on the couch.

Five Steps to Sanity

With a new baby, life changes substantially, but you can take the following steps to ease this major life transition:

1. Limit visitors. The "babymoon" is not a time for extensive socializing. Don't feel reluctant to limit phone calls and visitors; you didn't when you were first married. Like the honeymoon, the transition period after a baby's birth is a time of bonding and intimacy.

Consider setting "visiting hours" each day for a period of from 60 to 90 minutes every evening. Ask friends and family to call before stopping by. Children under age 5 should be discouraged from visiting for a week or two?they're more likely to pass communicable illnesses to you or your baby, and their energy level tends to be demanding. Limit visits that can't be avoided to a maximum of 10 minutes.

Some families even refrain from accepting visitors during the first week to give mom a chance to rest. Say you're tired and your baby's unpredictable schedule makes it difficult to have guests.

2. Go to bed as soon as you get home. By getting into comfortable pajamas and climbing into bed, you'll be more likely to get the rest you need?and send a message that you're unavailable. New moms, even if they have eight children, appreciate time alone with the new baby and time to rest.

When you're not sleeping or spending time with the baby, you can hold one another, talk, read, watch interesting videos or tv. Take at least one long, relaxing shower every day.

A new mother benefits from back rubs, long showers, fresh flowers and a peaceful atmosphere within the home.

A new robe, softly scented body lotion, or a bright-colored cotton sweatsuit can make you feel valued. If you are tired, ask your husband to bathe and change the baby while you rest. Or lie down together?just the three of you?to nap.

3. Surround yourselves with good music and food.You can stock up on these ahead of time, as well as on paper plates and cups. The less preparation and clean-up time required, the better.

Eat frequent snacks as needed and keep a pitcher of juice or water available. During breastfeeding, a woman requires three to five hundred extra calories daily and an extra one to two quarts of fluids.

4. Accept offers of help. In the prenatal classes I teach, I always offer couples these words: "For at least one to two weeks after the baby is born, new mothers are not to do any of the following activities: laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, primary care of the older children and attending church."

Invariably, this statement is greeted with big grins by the women and looks of surprise by the men. I then explain how husbands, mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, friends, neighbors and congregations can be enlisted for these tasks.

But wait a minute?do real women need all this help? Many of us have heard about women elsewhere in the world who give birth and then immediately resume working. This is a myth. In traditional cultures, women are pampered and cared for (normally by female relatives) while taking time to recover and establish their milk supply.

Sadly, our culture is dismally inadequate when it comes to supporting new mothers during their transition to motherhood. We somehow have forgotten that new mothers need mothering.

Be specific about what you want to have done; give itemized suggestions to choose from. Again, you aren't obligated to entertain your friends and family right now. Let them do something special for you instead?like taking out the garbage, running errands, or scrubbing the kitchen floor?then sweetly say good-bye.

5. Snuggle with your baby. Make your bedroom a sanctuary where you can get to know your newborn. You may want to keep the baby in a cradle or bassinet next to you while you snooze during the day. If you're breastfeeding, you can quickly master the art of nursing lying down, comfortably propped with pillows. Regardless of the feeding method you've chosen, however, you may soon discover that a rocking chair in the privacy of your room encourages lullaby singing and uninterrupted cuddling.

Eventually, of course, friends and family retreat, dad returns to work and mom and baby are home alone. That's when you need new-mother groups, visits from friends and calls from your husband. But for now, enjoy your baby.

The days and weeks following a baby's birth bring many changes to a woman's life. This is a period of transition, a time of assuming new roles and responsibilities, new schedules and routines. By marveling at the wonder of your newborn, putting the rest of the world on hold for a few days and taking time together as a family, you will remember these days for the remainder of your lives.

Debra L. Evans is a childbirth educator and mother of four children in Austin, Texas.

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