So, you just had a baby. Woah! All the prepping, unsolicited advice from strangers, imagining what this moment would look and feel like, and it’s finally here. Processing that can be a lot for any new parent. You may feel a mix of elation, anxiety, excitement, and fear as you drive off the hospital campus and head home. After all, you can’t exactly pack the attending nursing staff up with you when your partner loads the car up to head home (even though you may desperately want to). Leaving a team of professionals at the hospital who was able to answer every new parent’s concern with ease can feel daunting when heading into your baby’s first night at home.
You’re on your own with this new tiny human, and you and your partner are tasked with keeping them alive, safe, clean, happy, and did I mention alive? Even with all of the baby book prep in the world, nothing compares to the second you head home as a family of three. It feels overwhelming and a little intimidating. That’s all normal and okay. Chances are, in the information-overloaded society we’re all a part of, you’ve done your fair share of Googling up until now. So what can you expect on your baby’s first night at home? Your experience may differ vastly from a friend’s, but there is comfort in knowing this whole parenting thing is a shared experience, and you will survive the unknowns!
Expect to be on an adrenaline high, combined with extreme fatigue on your baby’s first night at home.
Everyone’s birth experience is different. Maybe you went into labor naturally, and things progressed quickly. You may have met your baby a few hours after walking into the maternity ward. Or perhaps you were induced and camped in your hospital room for several unending days. Whichever way you brought your baby into the world, you can bet you will be on an endorphin high once they arrive.
When you walk into your home for the first time with your new bub, you have to make the best decision for yourself and your family. For new moms who are sore and need to recover as well as care for their new baby, that could mean welcoming your baby home to a full house of support from family ready to meet the little one and marveling at those tiny toes or it could mean coming home to an empty, quiet space and (actually) sleeping when the baby sleeps.
It’s a good idea to envision your ideal homecoming and be flexible if that plan changes once your baby arrives and your feelings shift.
Expect to ask for help.
Whether you’re relying primarily on family, friends, or your partner in those first few days home from the hospital, asking for help is so very important. When I got home from the hospital, I needed help stepping in and out of the shower, preparing food, changing my clothes, and getting up and down the stairs. Are you pumping or using formula to feed your baby? Great news, your partner can tackle some daytime and middle-of-the-night feedings. Exclusively breastfeeding? Maybe your partner focuses on all of the diaper duty while you focus on the feeds. Remember that everyone wants to see you happy, healthy, and thriving in this new role. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help. You need to be the best version of yourself to care for your baby, which likely means accepting the kindness and assistance of those around you.
Crying: Expect tears (the good, the bad, and the ugly).
Tears. Happy tears, sad tears, ugly, blotchy, big tears. This applies to you and baby!
Your emotions are going to be all over the place. I can’t understate this enough. On one of our first nights home, I looked at my son’s tiny hand wrapped around my thumb, and the tears started to flow. When my husband asked why I was crying, I explained how his finger would have a wedding band on it one day, and he would move out to start his own family. Again, he was probably five days old at the time. I know how absurd this sounds, but don’t underestimate the power of new-parent/postpartum hormones. It’s your first night home with your new baby and it’s normal to feel lots of different emotions.
Some babies will be crying a lot too, and other babies don’t cry much at all. Every baby is different, but in general, it is normal for infants to cry for two to three hours per day in total for the first six days. Normally they will stop when their needs are being met. If you feel like your baby is crying more often than this, check to see if your baby has a dirty or wet diaper, is hungry, is cold or overheated, is in pain (needs burping), or is overstimulated. Oftentimes, holding your baby, doing skin-to-skin, or offering the breast or bottle will calm your little one. If your baby continues to cry for no obvious reason after meeting their needs, your baby may have colic. Consult with your pediatrician if you have concerns.
Sleep: Expect your baby to sleep, a lot.
It is often hard for new parents to know how long and how often a newborn will sleep. Remember, every baby is different. It’s not recommended to have your baby on a set schedule at first, and many newborns have their days and nights confused. Medical research finds the average newborn sleeps much of the day and night, waking only for feedings every couple of hours. Generally, newborns sleep a total of about eight to nine hours in the daytime and a total of about eight hours at night. That’s a lot of sleep! Try not to be startled or nervous if your baby is sleeping more than you anticipated, but also be prepared for broken sleep. Also, if your baby is sleeping longer than three hours your first night at home, it is recommended to wake them for another feeding.
A favorite product to help with your baby’s sleep? The Portable Owl Baby Soother is impressive. It’s dynamic because you can use it in your bedroom, secure it to your baby’s car seat for road trips, and also place it in the baby’s nursery once you transition them to their crib. It plays two lullaby melodies and two nature sounds so there is plenty of variety to help soothe your babe to sleep!
Expect to have baby-swaddle amnesia.
At the hospital, the nurses may look like ordinary people dressed in scrubs and comfy, practical sneakers. But don’t let appearances fool you. They are actually highly-skilled baby swaddling ninjas that can tuck and fold your newborn into a baby burrito right before your eyes. Try as you might to master their techniques, you may just completely forget how to swaddle your little bundle of joy when they wake up at 2:30 in the morning on your first night home.
Is the swaddle too tight? Too loose? Did you tuck in all the right places? You will likely forget the best swaddle methods and that’s okay. Thankfully there are some great swaddles on the market like the HALO Sleepsack Swaddle. It will save the day (or night) for new parents by taking the guesswork out of how to properly swaddle your baby. Swaddling is often considered ideal because it provides your baby with warmth and comfort while preventing them from wriggling free. It’s believed that newborns sleep so well in a swaddle because it reminds them of the snugness of the womb.
Along with a small basket of newborn diapers, rash cream, wipes, and a spare outfit handy within arm’s reach, I recommend having an extra swaddle on hand as a backup. Diapers can leak and accidents happen! This brings us to the next expectation of baby’s first night home.
Feeding: Expect to feed your baby often.
At first, babies need to eat about every two to three hours to help them get enough nutrition and to grow, but because of their tiny stomach size, they won’t be eating much. To put things into perspective, their stomach is no bigger than the size of a toy marble on night one! Whether breastfeeding, formula feeding, or supplementing, it’s essential to look out for hunger cues. While crying is a common one, it is usually a late sign of hunger. There are many other signs to be aware of. Over time, you will likely be able to identify patterns in your baby’s developing personality. But from the start, here are a few typical hunger cues in babies:
- Licking lips
- Sticking tongue out
- Rooting (moving jaw and mouth or head in search of breast)
- Putting their hand to their mouth repeatedly
- Opening their mouth
- Sucking on everything around
Diapering: Expect to go through a lot of dirty diapers!
If you feel like an amateur when it comes to diapering, you’re not alone! But believe me, in a week, you and your partner will both be absolute pros. Practice makes perfect, and with your new babe, you’ll get plenty of practice time in. Babies younger than a month old may have three to four bowel movements daily and typically wet at least six or more diapers a day. Over the first few days of life, newborns will continue to pass meconium which is black and tarry-looking. After a few days or so, the stool should no longer be black. The color should gradually change from black to dark green and then yellow if you are breastfeeding. If you are formula feeding, it is normal for a baby’s poop to remain green.
If you are ever concerned with the frequency or color of bowel movements, it’s always smart to contact your pediatrician. Think of your pediatrician team as an extension of the amazing hospital staff who helped you when you first met your baby. You will come to know the doctors and nurses well over the next few years, and through all of the sniffles, skinned knees, and fevers, they will never judge you for asking questions as you learn how to best care for your little one.
Expect to feel flustered on baby’s first night home, but know you are doing a great job.
Hey, you and your partner just did one of the most incredible things humanly possible. You created a life, and that little love is now here, earthside.
When you feel overwhelmed on night one, give yourself some grace. As corny as the saying, “does this thing come with an instruction manual” sounds, it sure would be nice if they did. Like all new stages in life, a learning curve comes with a newborn baby, but every experience, hiccup, and misstep will provide you with knowledge. After all, your hormones are raging, you are recovering from a major physical event, and you are likely very swollen and exhausted.
There is no instruction guide to parenting, but if you approach your baby (and yourself) with tenderness and love, everyone will be ready to conquer the first night at home with confidence.