The First Forty Days and Nights
Excerpt from Chapter 25

pregnant woman

The first forty days and forty nights are remarkably special, and pass quickly. It is a time of bliss and challenge as you, your baby, and your partner adjust to your new lifestyle. It is an intensely adoring, tender, and blessed time, as most fathers find themselves falling head over heels in love. Their awareness becomes concentrated. They become captivated and take delight in every movement and sound their baby makes.

Immerse yourself in the experience. Spend time with your baby and your partner. Gaze upon your baby. Hold your baby. Be brutal in cutting out extraneous activities, and give yourself time to unabashedly and exclusively enjoy your baby, your partner, and this extraordinary beginning you share.

If this is your first baby, you will be adjusting to your new role as father and family man. If you already have a family, the whole family is adjusting to the new dynamic. Because every child is different, each child is a unique and new adventure. Give yourself lots of unstructured time to get to know your baby and adjust to your new lifestyle.

OTHERWORLDLY

Babies remain otherworldly for the first few weeks after birth. They are in the world, but are not yet quite here. Because your baby has just emerged from the womb, you are adjusting to the new order after birth, and so is your baby. (From here on, the masculine pronoun is used to refer to your baby since no appropriate pronoun refers to both sexes.) Before birth, your baby was held in the fetal position and wrapped securely by the womb, where it was dark and warm. Other than the beat of your partner’s heart and breath, sounds were muffled.

A newborn baby has never known hunger, cold, sight, or light. Your baby was immersed in water in the womb, so he is also adjusting to the effects of gravity and air. During your baby’s last few months in the womb, his movement was tightly restricted. Swaddling him is familiar and comforting, since he is used to being in a tight, warm space. Too much freedom of movement can startle or distress babies. Using a receiving blanket to swaddle your baby before you lay him down helps him go to sleep more quickly and sleep longer.

A newborn cannot support his head. When you pick up or hold your baby, support his head. But babies are resilient. You don’t have to be overly cautious. Relax and enjoy your infant. William, an experienced father, said it like this: The first baby is kind of like glass. But the second one is kind of like rubber.

During this otherworldly phase, you will be getting to know your baby, and he will be getting to know you. When you hold your newborn, he does not yet know where his body ends and yours begins. Your body and his body are blended into one experience for him.

It is a great gift to your baby if you eliminate as many distractions as possible. But it is a greater gift to you if you eliminate distractions and focus on the job at hand—getting to know your baby and adjusting to the new order.

BREASTFEEDING OR BOTTLE-FEEDING: SUPPORT YOUR PARTNER’S CHOICE

Most women choose to breastfeed (nurse) their baby, but some choose to bottle-feed. If you have an opinion on how your baby should be fed, express yourself, but do so in a way that gives your partner the freedom to find her own path. Feeding is one of the primary activities in caring for the baby. Whether your partner breastfeeds or bottle-feeds, she needs your committed support. When your partner feeds the baby, make sure she is comfortable. Wedge pillows to support her arms and head; offer fluids and nutritious snacks.

Some women have demanding jobs that prevent them from breastfeeding. Others cannot nurse because of a chronic health problem, and some need medication that is harmful to the baby and therefore nursing is contraindicated. Some women want to nurse, but have so many difficulties with it that they cannot establish the practice. Others simply do not want to nurse. They prefer to have their partners and other people involved with the feeding, and choose not to tackle a job that no one else but the mother can do.

Nursing has become such a charged issue that women who do not or cannot nurse may feel guilty or judged. Every woman has to navigate the way she has chosen. No woman should be judged for doing it the way she has to do it. Since the beginning of humankind, some situations have required that babies get milk from other sources than their mothers. If a baby is loved and nourished, that’s all that matters. Everything else pales by comparison.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NURSING

Nursing is a tremendous undertaking of time, dedication, and energy— more than either of you can possibly imagine. Your partner can spend eight hours (or more) in a twenty-four-hour day nursing. Nursing is a full-time job. It is also a practice and an art. While breastfeeding is natural, it does not necessarily follow that your partner will intuitively know how to do it. She needs instruction and support, as well as lots of fluids, good nutrition, and rest to successfully nurse.

Even though it may appear that a mother is just sitting and nursing, a nursing mother burns more calories and uses more energy than a man who works in construction. Give her this special time, to the best of your ability, without resentment or criticism. Your baby will flourish because of it. And the favor will be returned to you and your family a hundredfold.

It takes your partner and baby several weeks to become established in the art of nursing. Your partner may have times when she doubts her ability or desire to nurse. Your rock-solid confidence in her ability can support her through those times and make the difference between a successful, long-term nursing experience or a shortened, frustrated one.

Nursing is beneficial to mother and baby, and it helps the mother recover from birth. In order for your partner to have a letdown and release the milk from her breasts, her body must release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin helps the uterus contract back to its normal size and reduces postpartum bleeding, as well as engendering feelings of love in your partner. However, oxytocin cannot be released if your partner is anxious. Both mother and baby become fretful if your partner is having difficulty with her letdown.

If your partner is having trouble establishing nursing (and most first-time moms do), your calm, stable attendance can make the critical difference. Encourage her to seek help from a lactation specialist, La Leche League, a postpartum doula, or another experienced nursing woman. It takes about four weeks for a woman and her baby to establish the art of nursing; after that it becomes easier for both of them.