Parenting journal: Life with a newborn

Owl has been with us for three weeks now, weeks that have been as expansive as an eon and as fleetly evasive as her own involuntary smiles. I said that pregnancy time was as elastic as travel time: everything is so new, the minutes and hours and days mean something more than they do in everyday life. Looks like parenting life (especially at this early stage) may be the same way.

one of those priceless, ephemeral, involuntary smiles
(she won’t learn to smile on purpose until about six weeks)

Ada at three weeks old, sleeping and smiling

Everything is constantly changing, but we’ve settled into a little bit of a routine by now. I wouldn’t say it’s a regular schedule — I don’t think babies do schedules — but we’ve arrived at a general understanding of what each day will probably look like. Obviously every baby is different and every family is different, so ours is just one example.

During this period our lives revolve around two goals: my recovery and Owl’s well-being. I wrote about recovery in my last post, and at this point, just over three weeks out, my status is definitely improving. As to Owl, although she is clearly growing and developing, her habits have stayed more or less the same since she got here: she sleeps a lot (14-16 hours/day is typical for newborns), eats a lot (every 2-3 hours), and pees/poops a lot (11-21 diapers/day is average; she’s definitely overachieving!). Our days center on my rest and hers, my meals and her feedings, and the changing of her diapers. I didn’t realize before I took a lactation class that babies have very small stomachs and that’s why they need to feed so often: when they first come out, their stomachs are about the size of a grape! As they get older their stomachs expand of course, but it’s a truism that all newborns do is sleep, eat, and poop. Milk in, pee and poop out. It’s a round-the-clock cycle and that is how it is supposed to be.

Let me walk you through what a fairly typical day might look like. We’ll start at 8 a.m. just for the sake of starting somewhere (though as I said, it’s not a set schedule).

Lisa and Ada sleeping

All three of us are asleep with the blackout curtains keeping the light from getting in. At some point Owl will start to fuss and Erik will pick her up and change her diaper while I get up and pee. Then I’ll come back to the bed and set up the pillows and bolster for side lying feeding. When we’re all ready Erik will position Owl next to me. Sometimes it takes her some time to latch onto the breast (which can frustrate her, which then requires soothing); sometimes she gets it on the first try. After she’s settled Erik is free to do whatever he needs to do for about 20 minutes until she’s finished. For the first feeding of the day usually this means he’ll draw back the curtains to let in the light (which helps a lot with waking us all up, not to mention it was good for the jaundice Owl had in her first days at home) and then he’ll go to the kitchen and start putting together my breakfast which is typically a calorically rich spread: some kind of smoothie, a meat/cheese/veg omelet, and sweetened oatmeal with both raisins and fresh fruit.

Turkey and veg omelet, fruit smoothie, pears and oatmeal

When Owl is done feeding, Erik will burp her and change her diaper while I get in position for the second side. Sometimes, especially after a feeding, Owl likes to make a lot of poop while she’s being changed, and then Erik might go through several diapers at once because he’ll think she’s done and she’ll have other ideas. (I think our record is five diapers in a single changing session — that one had pee, projectile poop, and a bit of spit-up as well, just to keep things memorable!) She’ll feed on this side for usually a shorter time, maybe about 10 minutes. Then it’s time for the second round of burping and diapering. (It’s recommended to feed from both breasts in each session, to encourage balanced milk production, since the body makes milk on a supply-and-demand basis. However, Owl’s gotten less interested in the second side these days, so we just alternate for each session.) A full-bellied Owl is usually very happy and sleepy so Erik will swaddle her up and put her back in the bassinet. Sometimes she needs a little more soothing before she’ll fall asleep completely, or else she’ll rest briefly and then want another diaper change or some more soothing, but other times she’ll just go straight to sleep and will sleep for several hours.

Three-week-old Ada all swaddled up

While she’s sleeping we’ll take care of the necessities like eating and using the bathroom, and if she’s having a good long sleep there might be time to do other things too — like writing or napping — but sometimes there’s barely enough time after eating and peeing before she wakes up and wants to eat again.

When they say newborns eat every 1-3 hours, you don’t get all those hours in between feedings, because that time interval includes the time it takes to feed her, change her, and soothe her when needed. So even if you’re feeding every few hours, the reality is it can feel like the feedings are back-to-back because there’s so little time to do anything else in between. 

A note on diapers: Owl goes through a shocking number of them every day, truly shocking. We have been signed up for a compostable diaper service since the beginning, but in the first couple of weeks Erik had to make several runs to the store because she had gone through everything we’d ordered — even during the second week when he massively increased our order to try to keep up with her! Basically she poops/pees a lot to begin with, and then she also hates sitting in a soiled diaper (I don’t blame her!), so we (mostly Erik) are constantly changing her.

A mere four days’ worth of dirty diapers!

Diapers in green compostable bag

All day long, we feed her and feed ourselves, change her diapers and use the bathroom, and we all nap when we can. They say to sleep when the baby sleeps but it’s surprisingly hard advice to follow, even when we’re very tired, because there’s always a feeling, as soon as she goes to sleep, of now I can finally get xyz done! We have to remind ourselves and each other to resist that urge to be “productive” because as soon as a fussy night comes along, we will really need that extra sleep. Even with naps, most days there’s time for me to take a shower, Erik to run an errand if he needs to, Erik to get to the dishes, laundry, and other minimal housework (with me chipping in whenever I can), and for us all to spend time — even if only a little time — with visitors when we have them. But there’s not much time for anything else. When my mom came to visit us at the hospital she gave us a congratulatory card and it took me I think something like five days to even get around to reading it. With such a new baby, time, energy, and focus are all in short supply, and the priority needs to go to taking care of me and taking care of Owl (taking care of Erik, unfortunately, is not as high on the list which is another reason I’m so glad we have family support).

This is what my hair looks like every day now. It’s the feeding-after-showering-without-blowdrying look.

Lisa with hair sticking up

Around what I would normally think of as dinnertime we start transitioning to more of a night schedule. The curtains get closed up again, we dim the lights, we leave laundry aside until the next day, and we get ourselves ready for sleep. Owl generally sleeps for longer stretches at night, but it’s harder for us to get up to feed her — we get very groggy, as one gets in the wee hours! — and she’s often fussier and has a harder time latching on during these more trying hours of the day. If she’s going through a growth spurt she might feed a lot more often and be a lot fussier, and then things are a lot more frustrating that night and more tiring the day after. If she’s not cluster feeding, then around 1-3 AM, or whenever it makes sense, I’ll stay up and eat a substantial snack. Thankfully, growth spurt or no, Owl nearly always gives us at least a four-hour stretch of sleep just before what you would normally think of as morning — say 7 or 8 a.m. — and that is just enough to hit the reset button, allowing us to start the next day fresh. (Well, fresh-ish!)

Compared to a normal adult schedule this is pretty punishing, but compared to many new parents I think we have it really easy. We are very fortunate to have a calm baby who is doing everything she’s supposed to as far as growth and feeding habits, and who sleeps comparatively very long stretches. On top of that, Erik is able to devote himself totally to taking care of me and Owl — which he does beautifully, generously, and patiently — and both of our families have been really lovingly and diligently keeping us fed and helping with things like dishes and errands. Without this tripod of support (cooperative baby, wonderful partner, active community) I’d be so much more exhausted and unhappy and far less able to treasure this time with Owl while she’s so tiny — not to mention I would certainly not be blogging at three weeks postpartum!