8 truths you need to know BEFORE your baby is born

newly born baby laying on mom's chest; title says "8 truths you need to know before your baby is born"

We, as a society, do a craptastic job of preparing families for baby’s first couple weeks of life.

The families I see are often overwhelmed and confused.  We make you focus on all the gear and accessories and stuff before your baby is born… when what we really need to do is talk about the reality of what you’re in for.

Because of this, I feel it’s my job to give “my” families some warning about the normal-but-possibly-scary stuff that happens in the first few days of baby’s life.  

And since you’re reading this blog, you’re officially one of “my” families too.

So without further ado…

Truth #1: Not all babies latch right away, even if you do everything “right”.

Freshly newborn baby on mom's chest, not yet breastfeeding

That’s right, you could watch all the videos, take all the classes, do all your research, have an “easy” and “natural” birth and immediately put your baby skin-to-skin the second they’re delivered… and your baby still might not latch.

It doesn’t mean they’re broken.  It doesn’t mean you did something wrong.  It doesn’t mean you didn’t try hard enough.  It happens.

Usually babies who won’t latch right away are either too knocked out or shell-shocked from birth to wake up enough to eat… or they’re still so full of amniotic fluid that they need to get it out before they can take anything in… or there’s something else going on that’s preventing them from latching.  

Lots of stuff can resolve itself in those first 24 hours. Take a deep breath, protect the milk supply and give it a little time.

If this happens to you remember that you can always hand express colostrum and spoon feed it to baby in those early hours after birth.  Just because baby isn’t latching doesn’t mean baby can’t eat!

Truth #2: Breastfeeding is fiddly and awkward, at least to start.

new mother tries to put her nipple into breastfeeding baby's mouth

Yes, breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed babies.  But if you’re like most people having babies in the US these days, you likely didn’t grow up watching babies breastfeed.  

So if you’ve really never seen someone breastfeed before, how can you expect to be able to do it flawlessly from day one?

I could hand anyone a baby and a bottle and even if they’d never done it before, they’d know how to bottle feed.  That’s what we see all the time- on TV, in movies, in real life, and even in toy form when we’re young.

But breastfeeding?  Some of us were lucky enough to grow up with a younger sibling who was being nursed, but usually that’s the extent of it.

Breastfeeding is a learned behavior.  If you’ve never done it, and your baby has never done it, it’s gonna take some trial and error to figure out how to do it.

(And first timers, you’re not the only ones that have problems.  I see “experienced” parents all the time who have forgotten how much supporting and adjusting is required with a newborn!)

Truth #3: Babies aren’t lazy, they’re smart.

newborn baby wearing sunglasses and a swimsuit, relaxing in a pool float

If you give a newborn two choices, they will always pick the one that requires the least effort on their part. 

Want an example?

Given the choice, many newborns will prefer drinking from a bottle to drinking from the breast.  Bottle feeding requires less work and gives  immediate gratification.

Sometimes a doctor or nurse or Aunt Susan will see this kind of behavior and proclaim “what a lazy baby!” but think about it.  When given a choice between two options, don’t you usually pick the one that requires less effort? If you could walk 10 miles to the store or drive 10 miles to the store, wouldn’t you drive?

It is SMART to conserve your energy.  It’s advisable. We tell adults to do it all the time.

So why do we label a baby “lazy” when they do the same thing?  

Your baby isn’t lazy. They’re a freaking genius.

But sure, maybe the easy way isn’t always the best way; that’s when you as a parent step in and use your lifetime of knowledge to guide that baby a la “I’m your parent and I know what’s good for you.”  

Truth #4: Your baby is used to being tucked in a ball.

This one is a twofer! 

Part 1: 

Pretend you’re thirsty and about to gulp down a big glass of water.  You’d throw your head back, tip your chin up towards the sky and extend your neck, right?  

Now try tucking your chin down into your neck.  

Can you drink like that?

Not well, that’s for sure.

Babies can’t drink well that way either… but they’ve been crammed in that position for so long that you’ll probably need to help them to move into more of a gulping position when they’re nursing.  

If baby is latched with a tucked in chin, gently tug their hips/bum down towards their feet to help them stretch that neck out.

Part 2: 

I know that “back to sleep” has been hammered into you at every turn.  

If you birth in a hospital you’ll probably be expected to keep your baby in a bassinette near your bed, but I am warning you now- some babies will not put up with that.  

Baby will be fed, changed, and asleep but once you lay them down, BAM, they’re crying again!

Your baby has been held by you their entire life

I’ll say it again.

 Your baby has been held by you literally their entire life. 

They’ve never had to lay flat on their back before… and they’ve never been alone.  Some babies don’t mind it at all and others will lose their little minds every time you try it.

Do yourself a favor and spend a few minutes now learning safe techniques for skin-to-skin.  

Truth #5: All babies lose weight after they’re born.

young baby laying on a baby scale, being weighed

Yes, even the babies who are eating copious amounts of colostrum (early milk) or formula right from the get-go.  It sounds scary, I know! But think about it. They’re born all full of amniotic fluid, and they’ve got to get all that out of their system pretty quickly.  

If you get any IV fluids during labor (and most folks do… in one recent survey 62% of respondents said they had IV fluids during delivery ) your baby will get those fluids, too.  These “overhydrated” babies are generally freaking adorable!  They pee out the excess fluids fast, making it look like they’ve lost an alarming amount of weight in the first 24 hours.  

So don’t let baby’s weight loss mess with your head.  It’s gonna happen.

Truth #6: That second night/third day is gonna be a freaking nightmare.

looking over the shoulder of a new mother, holding her crying newborn baby

Your squishy little lump of a newborn is gonna be really sleepy in their first couple of days “earthside”.  Birth is overwhelming for you and it’s rough on them, too.

But around 48-ish hours after birth, your baby is going to act possessed… and you will have your introduction into the wonderful world of cluster feeding.

Babies who are cluster feeding act like they’re starving.  

They’ll latch on for 45 minutes, fall asleep, and when you unlatch them they’ll go berserk and insist on latching back on.  

They won’t sleep for longer than an hour.

They just want to eat and eat and eat.  If you don’t know what’s happening it’s scary.  

So what’s happening?

Your baby has to order their food! 

Cluster feeding is their way of telling your body “I’m here, I’m out, I made it, make me milk”.  They’re calling the pizza place over and over, waiting for delivery.

This lasts 24-48 hours… and it usually stops when the milk comes in (when ALL the pizza gets delivered at once).  

Cluster feeding can be REALLY scary if you don’t know it’s coming! Keep an eye on your baby’s pees and poops. Listen for swallows (usually a tiny “kuh” sound through the nose in early days).  Get help if you need it.

Truth #7: You're not gonna get any sleep.

new mom lays in maternity bed, looking at newborn baby sleeping in the bassinette nearby

I know, you’re rolling your eyes and saying “duh Rachel, I know this” but I remember what it’s like.  

You’re miserable and uncomfortable at the end of pregnancy and your rational brain knows newborns don’t sleep much but there’s still a tiny little voice inside you that’s going to say let’s get this birthing thing over with and then we’ll get some rest.

But really, you don’t.  Even if you send the baby to the nursery overnight you’re probably going to wake up in a panic 14 times wondering where they are.

Even if baby is asleep near you, your brain is going to keep waking you up to make sure they’re still breathing.

Even if your mother-in-law takes the baby so you can go upstairs and rest, your ears will be straining for your baby’s noises because how do you know, like really know everything downstairs is fine?

Which leads me to my final point…

Truth #8: Your brain is going to function differently for a while.

tired and upset mom holding a newborn breastfed baby

I know this one is logical because you understand that there are a lot of hormone changes that happen after birth, but please, listen to me.  

Things are gonna get REALLY weird.  

You know your ability to make rational decisions?  To look at a situation and assess it appropriately?  

That’s probably gonna fly out the window for a while, whether you like it or not.

Once you deliver that baby your brain is hard wired to protect that baby at all costs.  

This means that you’re going to have a physical reaction when the baby cries. It’s like a fire alarm going off in your brain.  There will be a little tiny voice telling you “everything’s fine, he’s perfectly safe, he’s just a baby and babies cry” but most of your brain will be yelling DANGER DANGER DANGER!  

You’re not going to want to react illogically when baby is crying, but you will. Being told to calm down isn’t going to help.  KNOWING this is gonna happen will help everyone in the family.

And there you have it.  You’ve now the beneficiary of Rachel’s things-you’ll-be-glad-you-knew-about schpiel. 

I sincerely hope these warnings make the first couple of weeks with baby smoother for you.

Now… go get some rest while you still can!

Picture of Rachel O'Brien, MA, IBCLC

Rachel O'Brien, MA, IBCLC

I'm an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, a Certified TummyTime™ Method Professional, a writer, a mother of three, a fierce advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights, and a lover of Cadbury Mini Eggs. My life's work is helping families to meet their breastfeeding and chestfeeding goals- whatever they may be.

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2 thoughts on “8 truths you need to know BEFORE your baby is born

  1. Hello. I have my exam in October, and the plan is to start my own business. I am also on the verge (30 days ) away from being a 1st time mother and I also a nicu a nurse. So I am in the mist of first, and reading your blog has help. I will continue to do so.
    My question to you is WHERE DO I START? lol. there is so much to do think about. I have some time, and I also need to focus on study mg, but if you could point me in the right direction that would be great.

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