by Esther Rastegari, RN/BSN, EdM
Many new-parent problems are the result of exhaustion. As you try hard to be a good parent, your own basic needs may get pushed to the side-lines. If you forget to nourish your own body, it can turn on you, leading to difficulty breast-feeding, increased pain levels, and impatience with your partner, the cat, and even the baby herself. While it is important to attend to little Kira's needs, you too need to get some rest, take in food and fluids, deal with any post-delivery pain, and allow time for your body to heal.
If there seems to be little time for taking a shower or even using the toilet, then something needs to give -- better the laundry or the white-glove cleaning than your patience or your health. Now is the time to cash in on any offers of help from friends or relatives. While they may want to "ooh" and "aah" with baby Marcos, what you really need is vacuuming, dishwashing and cooking help. Resist the temptation to feel guilty about taking care of yourself. It's OK, as long as your baby's needs are met as well.
No one is truly prepared for new-parent fatigue. Being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is a grueling schedule. Newborns need around-the-clock care, and many infants seem to prefer to be especially active between 1 and 4 am, a time when you may not be your perkiest. This is not the time to be shy about accepting help.
If this child is your first, rest whenever the baby sleeps. If you are formula feeding and have a partner, consider taking shifts. If both of you are up for every bottle and diaper, you will expire in stereo.
If you are breast-feeding, try to get help in between feedings, so you can take a nap. You won't see 8 hours a night for a long time, so you have to learn to catnap.
If you have another child who is home with you during the day, keep special toys or videos for times when you need the additional help and rest and can't give her your full attention. Consider an indoor picnic: spread an old tablecloth on the floor, and let the older child sit and watch a video while she eats. When it's done, just shake the tablecloth outside for easy clean up.
If you don't have an answering machine, now might be a good time to get one. That way you won't be disturbed every time the phone rings. Otherwise, consider shutting off the ringer when you're resting. Even if you don't sleep, lying on the sofa with your feet up and listening to soft music can allow your body to rest and recuperate a bit.
Pain takes a great toll and makes the world a bleaker place. Research studies have shown that keeping on top of pain is far more effective than waiting until the pain is "strong enough" to take medication. This means taking the pain medication around-the-clock, as directed, not waiting until the pain gets to a certain level, by which point the medication may not be very effective.
Pain related to delivery is short-term. Taking prescribed medication around-the-clock for a few days is unlikely to cause a problem. If the medication is a narcotic, it may cause constipation, so be sure to continue taking stool softeners and drink a lot of water to help avoid this problem. Few women need a narcotic beyond the first few days.
If the pain is related to an episiotomy or to tearing, use a sitz bath several times a day. Most large drug stores carry a "portable" sitz bath. It is a plastic basin that is placed on the toilet after lifting up the seat. Instead of using the IV-like tubing to provide a continuous flow of water, just use a pitcher to fill it with warm water.
Even sitting in it a few minutes at a time can increase the circulation to the perineum and speed healing. Ask your doctor to prescribe a vaginal foam that relieves the pain and itching that often sets in as the stitches are healing.
Pain interferes with your ability to move comfortably, relax, heal, and bond with your new baby. Reducing your pain level is part of taking care of yourself, and allows you to be a better parent.