For the first time, I thought I might document the newborn and postpartum process in real time. Just for interest, or for help, or for comic relief, or to help myself should we have another child in the future. These updates may start out as weekly and change to monthly–I’m not sure yet.
Elvie Kate turned one week on Thursday; she is nine days old today.
This has been a hard week. Of all of my births since Ephraim, Elvie Kate’s has been the hardest to recover from. While I didn’t hemorrhage with her like I did with Ephraim, I did lose more blood than with Clive or Anselm, and I assume that has contributed. It took several hours after her birth for me to even be able to move or want to put my legs down from their raised, bent position they were left in after she was born. I did not have an epidural, so that wasn’t the problem.
That first night I slept for maybe two-and-a-half hours. The second night (always the worst–those second nights are just killer!) Elvie spent in the nursery and came back to me for feedings, so I was able to sleep more.
nightly restless period
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, I would frequently wake at around 1 a.m. to a flurry of jolts and kicks coming from Madame Herself. Unsurprisingly, that trend continued after birth, and around 11-3 a.m. or so was a clearly defined restless period for Elvie. She would wake, I would nurse her, but she would not settle back down and go to sleep for more than ten minutes or so at a time, and she wouldn’t nurse again. She would sleep in my arms sometimes, but I try to avoid that as I don’t want to create habits that I don’t intend to keep up. (In-arms sleeping OK, middle-of-the-night in-arms sleeping, not OK.) She would eventually chill out just as it was time for her to eat again, so we’d each sleep maybe half an hour before one of us would end up waking the other for a feeding. This continued for most of her first week before suddenly disappearing on day six or seven. I wish I could say that I did something to “fix” this, but I think she just ironed it out on her own. For the past two nights, she has nursed and gone right back to sleep in her bassinet. She is now eating every 3.5-4 hours at night, so that means I’ve had two nights of at least two 2.5-3.5-hour stretches of sleep. Thank goodness!
the baby blues
Whatever they are. In my case, I think it was called “lack of sleep” and “unmet expectations” and “rampant hormones”. Elvie’s nightly fussy period combined with my slower-than-usual recovery combined with the normal postpartum wonkiness made for a really terrible week for me. There was a lot of crying, a lot of thin skin, and a very short fuse that could barely handle the normal household noise by the boys, let alone escalated levels of sound like skirmishes or arguments or when someone simply fell down and hurt themselves.
I bounced back very quickly after Anselm’s birth, and fairly quickly after Clive’s, so I was expecting (since I hadn’t, you know, almost bled to death) a similar experience this time around. For the last few weeks I have been earnestly looking forward to sleeping for more than forty-five minutes at a time without getting up to pee, being able to climb the stairs without huffing and puffing, sitting the boys on my lap without unbearable hip pain, and just the general feeling of wellbeing that comes from suddenly being 20 lbs lighter.
Instead I felt snappish, exhausted, wanting to hide from everybody and work on Elvie Kate’s lackluster nursing (more on that later) without interruptions and questions and “can I see the baby?” Just being honest, here. It broke my heart how much I really just wanted to be alone, an occurrence which, as I learned with Ephraim, leads to a vicious spiral of guilt and resentment and then more guilt.
Fortunately, Jeremy is well-versed in the postpartum crazies and would remind me gently and constantly that I wasn’t really myself, that my hormones were still stabilizing, and that what I was feeling would fade and I would feel normal again soon. I desperately needed to hear that, and a lot.
After two nights of, if not regular, than certainly much-more-normal-than-I’ve-had-in-months sleep, I can honestly say that I am feeling completely different–much better, not snappish, not weepy, and I actually made lunch today for everyone and enjoyed doing it, which is just really saying something about my mood in general and how many steps closer to normal a couple of extra hours of sleep will get you.
I’m a firm believer in starting good habits as soon as you can. We don’t co-sleep–it just doesn’t work for us–so I try to avoid it even as a last resort during these tough first few weeks. I try to even out time for baby snuggles and time for Elvie Kate to sleep on her own while she will do it easily. I consider it a courtesy to my kids–to not start their expectations for sleep one way (i.e. exclusively in my arms) and then change it later when I get tired of it or it becomes too difficult to maintain. She’s in her sleepy newborn phase (we’ll see how long that lasts) and if she will sleep on her own in her bassinet, then that’s what I let her do.
Our other major focus for these first few weeks is making sure she is taking full feeds when she nurses. This is difficult for a few reasons, the greatest of which is because it requires a lot of my attention to make sure she’s awake and swallowing and not dozing. This means that multitasking during nursing–like watching TV or looking at my phone–inevitably means I stop paying attention to her and suddenly she’s asleep and I have no idea how long she’s been asleep for. And waking her back up is a bear. Most of the times she’ll wake back up and latch on but then just sit there looking around and doing nothing (Clive did this too and it was incredibly annoying.) So we give up. Then an hour later, she wants to nurse again, because chances are she barely ate anything the last time around. This is not a big deal in the daytime, but at night it’s killer.
I half-heartedly tried to cut out distractions during her first week, but sometimes I would get bored and default back to my phone. Which, predictably, ended up in a lot of feedings turning out like I described above. Add this to the fact that my milk coming in brought a ridiculous level of oversupply and engorgement (would someone please inform my body that I only had one baby? When Anselm was born I was engorged for over a week and it was miserable) and the whole process was just plain difficult. I needed her to nurse and I needed her to nurse the amount she needed so my body could catch on. For the entire first week, her poops were a marked, frothy green–the tell-tale sign of a fore-milk/hindmilk imbalance, caused by the oversupply and the frequent half-feedings that I’m sure were totally made up of just foremilk.
Oh, and she hates nursing on my right side. All of the kids have hated that side at first. What gives? I don’t get it. She is getting over that, thankfully. They all have, after the first couple of weeks, but man, the interim is tough. If keeping a sleepy newborn awake to eat is bad enough, imagine trying to get them to stay awake and nurse on a side they don’t want to nurse on. Switching from a cradle hold to a football hold for that side eventually worked; she’s still not as keen on it as the left side, but things are improving.
I’ve been pumping just a little before feedings (the engorgement is gone but I can tell I’ve still got an oversupply going on at the moment) so there’s not so much foremilk to fill up on, and I’ve also made it my priority to put down my phone and spend her feedings keeping her awake and also just soaking in her newborn moments. These early feedings are long, long long and they can be boring, but they can also provide a lot of time for reflection and the kind of energizing thought processes that, as an introvert, I find indispensable.
I’m happy to say that her poops have now gone from green to the normal yellow–and I’m not sure how much influence the evened-out feedings have had on the aforementioned nightly fussy period, but the addition of one and the disappearance of the other did coincide.
Four babies exclusively breastfed and each one has been completely different. If you’re a new mom trying to breastfeed, hang in there. These first few weeks are tough, even if you’ve been around the block. It gets better. (I am reminding myself, too.)
Elvie Kate was 7 lbs 14 oz at birth (Thursday) and 7 lbs 7 oz when we left the hospital (Saturday). My milk came in late Monday night, and on Wednesday (six days old) she was 7 lbs 10 oz at her doctor’s visit. Wednesday evening I started pumping before nursing/focusing more on full feeds, and by Friday morning her poop was yellow again. I weighed her Thursday on our scale and it said she was eight pounds. I’m not sure how accurate that is. We go back in this Wednesday for a weight check.
She’s been having trouble with a goopy right eye. I’ve been massaging the tear duct as directed by the hospital pediatrician, but last night I tried putting breastmilk on it. It was much clearer today. She’s the first of our babies to have trouble like this, so this is new territory for me.
For me, I started this pregnancy at 154 lbs and lost 7-8 lbs during the first trimester. I was 178 when Elvie Kate was born, my highest weight for all four pregnancies by six pounds. On Thursday I was back down to 159. Before you throw things at me, let me say that I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight with Ephraim by just a few weeks post-partum, but then gained ten pounds back while breastfeeding over the next couple of months. It’s something I have to watch out for.
A nursing headache has already struck this week, probably from staring down at her and trying to keep her up while she eats. Medicine won’t touch these headaches, which I’ve had while nursing all four kids. A neck/shoulder massage from Jeremy and being very careful to not look down constantly while nursing took care of it.
My blood pressure was high after delivery and has remained on the high side this week. I’m hoping the better sleep of the past two nights has helped.
I tried half-caff coffee today for the first time and it didn’t seem to bother her. (Anselm was highly sensitive to caffeine.) I’m going to continue to watch her carefully for signs of sensitivity. I’ll probably stick to half-caff unless absolutely necessary (because I’m sure there will be those days) just to be on the safe side. I drank full caffeinated coffee while breastfeeding both Ephraim and Clive with no trouble or adverse effects on them, but after Anselm, I’m once bitten twice shy.
The boys are absolutely smitten with Elvie Kate. Ephraim loves to tell her stories or to explain simple, ordinary things to her like what she is doing at the moment, or how many of her brothers are presently in the room, or the sort of toys she has waiting for her when she’s ready to play. He also loves to share his my (blankie) with her, which is saying a lot, because he is fiercely protective of it.
Clive doesn’t talk to her much, but he loves to look at her and thinks she is very pretty, and is frequently concerned about her whereabouts if she’s sleeping in another room.
Anselm loves to look at the “baaaay-beeee” and give her kisses, or give kisses in her general direction if he can’t reach her. He hasn’t tried to poke her eyes yet. I guess this is the difference between presenting a new baby to a two-year-old versus showing one to an eighteen-month-old, which is what I’ve always done in the past.
All of them have been very forgiving of and flexible with my mood over the past week, thankfully. Despite the emotional and hormonal upheaval, there has been consistently a deep feeling of satisfaction and contentment whenever I happened to have all four children in the same room.