If you're preparing to welcome your first grandchild, or it's been a while since you had a baby in the house, this blog post is for you. There are safety recommendations that have changed in the past 20 or 30 years, so I'll be going over some of those as well as giving you some recommendations on how to best support the new family as they welcome this new little baby, without feeling like you're stepping on their toes.
I am a postpartum doula and a certified lactation counselor. I have spent years working in the homes of new families in the weeks and months after their baby arrives. I'm also the creator of New Parents Academy, for lots of must know baby info follow me on Instagram. I'm also the creator of the online courses Expecting 101 and Expecting 101...You're Adopting! which have helped over 1,000 people prepare for life with new babies. They're both broken down into chapters so that all of this important information doesn't feel overwhelming. I like to think of it as a roadmap for preparing for and welcoming your new baby!
Let's jump right into what I call the newborn refresher. I'm going to touch on six things here that you might have forgotten in the last 25 or 30 years and guidelines that might have changed since you had kids.
1. Crying is the baby's only form of communication
I explain it to new parents this way: it's as if the baby is born speaking a different language. If you're listening to this and watching right now, you likely speak English. Your little grand baby is going to be born fluent in crying, but keep in mind that the baby is just communicating the only way that he knows how. This can be difficult for new parents and new grandparents, because we often associate crying with pain, but for a baby who only communicates through crying, that crying could be anything. This is important because crying often adds stress to new parents.
So as grandparents, one of the most helpful things that you can do to build the confidence of new parents is to help them to remember that their baby is just getting his point across in his native language. Your encouragement can make a huge difference. They will be wondering if they're doing things right. They'll question their actions, but your encouragement makes a big difference.
2. The baby will lose weight after birth
So you might remember this and you might not, but it's totally normal for the baby to lose weight after he's born. So your little grand baby might be born weighing 7 pounds, 14 ounces. And when he's discharged from the hospital, likely two days later, he might weigh 7 pounds, 10 ounces. Let me help you to understand what's normal and what's seen as a cause for concern, when it comes to weight loss.
The pediatrician or the doctor at the hospital will let the parents know what they are comfortable with, but they typically don't want the baby to lose more than 7-10% of their birth weight. And usually the pediatrician does not want to see weight loss after the baby is four days old. So again, if in those first few days, the baby's weight is going down, that is not necessarily a reason for concern. It's after day four, that you really don't want to see weight loss. And the pediatrician generally wants the baby to be back to her birth weight by the time she is two weeks old. I include this information so that you're not surprised if you hear weight loss mentioned. And also because it helps to under number three on our list...
3. A sleeping baby often needs to be woken up
Why? Because remember the baby lost weight after birth and needs to get back to her birth weight by the time she's two weeks old. This is important! Just because the baby is asleep does not mean she's not hungry. Listen, your grandchild is going to be adorable. When that baby is all cozied up and lying there so peacefully, you're going to think he looks so cozy and wonder why the heck mom or dad is waking him. We cannot depend on a newborn baby to eat when she needs to, to gain the weight she needs, because babies lacking the calories to thrive are often sleepy babies. So how will the new parents know when to wake the baby? When they leave the hospital they'll likely be told to feed the baby every two to three hours, or when she's showing cues that she's hungry. This doesn't mean that every time the baby cries, she should be fed. I cover what all those cues are and what they should be looking for when the baby's crying to determine what's going on in my online courses. But here what I wanted to help you to understand is why they keep waking this adorable sleeping baby. And that's because they've been given that directive to wake the baby every two to three hours, or when she's showing cues that she's hungry. They're waking the baby to get her back to her birth weight by the time she's two weeks old and they will likely continue to wake her after that, to ensure that she's eating enough each day, to continue to see the weight gain that the doctor wants to see.
4. Sleep recommendations for babies have changed to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Babies should always be put to sleep on their back and never on their belly. When baby is able to turn from back to belly on his own, then it's okay for him to sleep on his belly, but even then he should always be put to sleep on his back. The American Academy of Pediatrics is clear about this recommendation and since that what they call the "back to sleep movement" has started, the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has decreased dramatically. Babies should sleep in a crib with no blankets or pillows. That's right. No blankets. So what about the swaddle?
It is okay for baby to be tightly swaddled in a receiving blanket until he begins rolling from back to belly. Even after that happens, blankets are still not to be in the crib. How do you keep the baby warm if there can't be blankets in the crib? For this reason, parents now use wearable blankets. There are many different ones on the market, like the halo sleep sack or the nested beans zen sack. This is just another thing that has changed and I think it helps to know that this is what we now use in place of a blankets to cover baby and keep him warm when he's in the crib.
Crib bumpers are no longer recommended due to an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, so this is another place where things have changed. And this is definitely a newer guideline because even 12 years ago, when my twins were born, I was using a crib bumper. That is not the case anymore.
5. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast or formula feeding until baby is six months old
For the first six months babies should be exclusively fed breast milk or formula. Solid foods and cereal should not be introduced until the baby is six months old. A link to obesity and increased allergies have been shown when solids are started early and cereal should not be put in the bottle. Now I know that when I was a baby 40 something years ago this was the recommendation, but that is no longer the case and definitely not recommended. There are rare occurrences, though! If the baby is being seen by a GI specialist cereal in the bottle might be recommended, but again, this is not the norm. And baby does not need to drink water until he is six months old. Breast milk and formula contain all the water that the baby needs, so mom or dad doesn't need to be worried about giving baby water in addition to what they're taking in through breast milk or formula.
6. Breastfeeding can be tricky in the beginning
Mom's milk usually comes in three to five days after delivery. Inside my course, I talk all about those first few days and how to best ensure that mom's body is getting the message to begin producing milk. But what I want to show you here is that although her milk is not in, her body still produces exactly what the baby needs and that is called colostrum. Mom's body makes colostrum prior to her milk coming in and colostrum is amazing. It's like this teeny tiny little protein shake. There's not a lot of it but it packs a powerful punch. Inside of my Expecting 101 course, I teach my expectant parents all about how the size of a baby's belly increases as the baby gets older and how that correlates with milk production.
This teeny tiny little protein shake is perfect for the baby because baby's belly is tiny at birth. It's only the size of a cherry. So the small amount of calorie packed colostrum is exactly what the baby needs.
So now that you understand when the mom's milk comes in and what happens prior to that, I just wanted to give you some advice about supporting a new mom during this time, as it is often a bit challenging.
So first of all, I would recommend reminding mom that she and the baby are both doing something that they've never done before. This is new to both of them. It can feel challenging, but that reminder can really build the confidence of a new mom. Encourage mom to reach out to a lactation consultant if she feels she needs, or if she has questions or is struggling. They can make a world of difference and are often covered by insurance. And try not to say things like, "he looks hungry" or "are you sure he's getting enough to eat?". These kinds of statements could do a lot of damage to a new mom's confidence. So if there is the concern there, having that recommendation about contacting a lactation consultant can be really helpful because they're going to do things like a weighted feeding to check and see how much baby's taking in and help mom to understand if there is an issue. One other thing about breastfeeding is that when mom is breastfeeding, there are no dietary restrictions. I understand that this was not always the case, but unless it has been determined that the baby has some kind of allergy to dairy or anything else, mom is not restricted in what she can eat and she can even drink coffee and alcohol. If you have questions about this, check out this video right here, where I talk more in depth all about those things.
Before you go, let me share this. As a postpartum doula, I work overnights usually from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. So I get to take care of these new babies and help get things in order while new parents get some much needed rest. Very often when I arrived late at night, the grandparents have been there during the day helping the new parents. I often hear from new parents, the things that are really helpful that their parents or in-laws are doing and some things that might be a bit frustrating. So I wanted to share some secrets from the inside and to do that, we're going to talk about three truths about helping the new parents.
1. Helping the new parents might have very little to do with holding the baby
You might realize this already, or it might come as a surprise, but I think it's important and that's why I mentioned it. I'm sure you're excited to meet this little baby and to get to spoil him or her. The time will definitely come when the new parents are so glad to have you cuddle that baby so they can sneak out for a date night or just get things done around the house. But in those first few weeks, they are trying to get to know their baby to understand his or her cues, as well as operate on little sleep. The best help you can give might be to throw in a load of laundry, fold what's in the dryer, or run out to the grocery store to grab whatever they need. By doing this, you are taking to do's off of their list, which is a tremendous help and leaves them more time to get to know their baby or even to take a nap.
2. Having the new parents make a list is helpful
This is the solution to the number one complaint I hear new moms mentioned about their parents or in-laws. Here's how it's usually goes. When I arrive, they'll tell me that their mom or dad was there today and he or she really wanted to help. And they kept asking what needed to be done, or if they could do this or that this new mom is trying to figure out why her baby is crying or what he or she needs. This new mom is exhausted and she's easily frustrated. So when her well-meaning parents ask many questions, she might just snap and she doesn't mean to. And often by the time I get there late at night, she feels so bad for doing so. One workaround for this that I found is to have the new parents make a list, an ongoing to do list.
It doesn't mean this is a grandparent's to do list. It's just a list of things that need to be done. That way, when you're there, you can take a look at the list. Maybe they have a return that needs to go back to Target and you're happy to swing by there on the way home. Maybe the plants need to be watered or they need dinner started by having this list. You can pick and choose if you'd like to help in some way, without feeling like you're bombarding them with questions.
3. Their baby, their rules
As new parents, your kids might do things that you think is just crazy, but the reality is they make the rules. Your son or daughter might do something like ask you to take off your shoes as soon as you walk in the house. You might insist that the baby's cold and they're saying that the baby's temperature is totally fine. They might ask you to get certain immunizations before you can be near the baby and these are just a few examples. There could be other things that seem totally nuts to you. I assure you, they're doing the best they can and making the decisions that they think are the right ones. But, you being supportive helps build their confidence as a new parent and that is such a gift.
Before we go let me say, congratulations! The fact that you've taken the time to read this blog post, speaks to what an amazing grandparent you're going to be. Can I ask a favor? If you found this blog post to be helpful, I would love if you would tell all of your friends who are preparing for life as grandparent. And don't forget to follow me on Instagram @newparentsacademy. I'm always sharing must know baby info to soothe and care for that new little baby in your life!