We are spoiled.
By we, I mean women in modern society who give birth in hospitals. Don’t be insulted; I was spoiled too. The first two days after baby is born, the nurses pretty much do everything for you – from changing diapers to helping baby latch onto your breast to walking you to the toilet to help you relieve yourself. Even when baby was rooming with my husband and I, we could summon the nurses at any time when we couldn’t handle baby’s crying.
As baby’s first month-versary approaches, I recall that time in the hospital wistfully; a time when there would always be someone to pick up the slack, someone reliable you could hand baby to without complaints. That time is now gone.
Without a confinement nanny or my parents or mother-in-law around, my husband and I made it through the challenges of our first month with our newborn, with some tears (mine), sweat (his), and endless pee and poop (baby’s).
Challenge: Feeding Mommy
One of the most important conditions for life, especially if you’re Singaporean; eating right was the first challenge I foresaw post-labour. As such, I had made an elaborate meal plan based on confinement menus of local caterers as well as food recommendations to support breastfeeding and post-natal recovery. Since I was useless in the kitchen, my husband was to be the chef.
It wasn’t always possible to follow my meal plan – my husband could not find lotus root at any of the supermarkets, and we discovered that broccoli gave me gas, which could be passed to baby through breastfeeding, so we struck that off the list. Preparing 3 meals a day also took a toll on my husband, so we gave in and ate out a couple (or more) times with baby. But overall, the meal plan and exhaustive groceries stock-piling we did really paid off and allowed us to sustain our bellies with minimal headache.
If you don’t want to spend $2000 on confinement meal catering after birth, I would be happy to share my <$1200 meal plan with you. I just hope you have someone to cook the meals for you.
Challenge: Feeding Baby
Whether you are breastfeeding or using formula, you will encounter some speed bumps before establishing a smooth routine with baby. I chose to breastfeed, which some would say takes more work, though in my case, it didn’t seem like difficult at first. When the nurses brought baby to me for breastfeeding the first time, he took to my breast fairly well (considering the normal pain that you can expect from a hungry creature drawing milk from one of the most sensitive points on your body). I remembered thinking, ‘This isn’t so bad! What were all those women complaining about?’
Ha. Those women would have the last laugh on me yet.
By the time baby and I were home and far away from the on-call nurses, breastfeeding suddenly took on a new level of pain. One of my nipples became blistered, and the other breast didn’t seem to be giving baby any milk. He was only wetting 5 diapers a day, and most of it was poop. Later, we found out at the doctor’s that he was jaundiced and needed to be wetting at least 8 diapers a day.
I freaked out. I felt so bad that I was dehydrating my baby and that I wasn’t fulfilling my motherly duties. I went online and scoured the forums for solutions. I massaged my aching breast, put a warm compress to it, iced my nipples, and was about to order a lifetime supply of breastmilk tea when I found a lactation consultant who paid home visits. She wasn’t available until Monday (it was Saturday night when I texted her), but she was kind enough to give me advice to get me through till then.
That Saturday night though, baby kept crying no matter how often I put him to the breast. I convinced myself that he was not getting any milk (since I hadn’t seen any squirting out) and must have been starving. I joined my baby in his tears. Finally, I decided to give him formula rather than let him starve. At 1am, I begged my husband to go to the 24-hour store around the corner to get some. He didn’t think it was necessary, but he went anyway (bless him for that). True enough, after going to all the 24-hour stores in the area, he returned home empty-handed. By then, baby had fallen asleep; from sheer exhaustion of crying or actually satisfaction from a meal, I will never really know.
Come Sunday morning, we went to the store to get a syringe to try syringe feeding. I used my breast pump for the first time and was elated when I saw those precious white drops escaping from my nipple. I was producing milk!
The syringe feeding went well, maybe too well in fact, because baby actually threw up (not spit up; it was projectile) from the excess.
Since then, I have been taking fenugreek pills and eating papaya everyday to help my milk supply, and I pump in between feedings when I can stay awake. Also, my milk has come in – which means that there is actual solid-coloured thick milk, not just the translucent, thin milk – and I experience let-down so I know there’s plenty of milk for my baby.
My takeaway from this that as a new mother, you are likely to panic and question yourself a lot in the early days. Try not to let it overwhelm you and don’t believe everything you read and hear; just because one woman’s baby sneezed and developed pneumonia does NOT mean that your little one will. Chances are that sneeze was just a sneeze, and that weird brown spot is just a birthmark, not a skin disease. Babies are tougher than you think.
Challenge: Take it all in stride
As I write this now, I just changed baby’s diaper and am nursing him in my lap. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been doing this forever, then I realize it’s only been less than a month that I’ve had him. Sometimes I look at him and feel like I would explode from all the love I have for this little man. Then the next moment I feel like I would put my head through the wall if he cries any longer. Everyone tells me it gets better. My husband especially, says that since we decided to do this, we have to get through it, so we might as well choose to enjoy it. He’s right.
Every time you hold your little one, remember that he’s growing and will, one day, no longer fit into the crook of your arm. Every time you get peed or pooed on (the score as of now is 5 pees and 2 poos), know that you will enjoy telling that story to the first girl he brings home to meet you. Take all that you can get now, because it really will not last that long, in the grand scheme of things.
I will try my hardest to remember this tonight when baby wakes me up with his wails of hunger at 2am, and again at 4am, and again at 6am.