Make the Most of Your Hospital Stay
You'll probably be in the hospital for about forty-eight hours if you have a normal delivery. If you have a cesarean, you'll most likely be discharged on the fourth or fifth day after delivery. In either case, you want to use the time in the hospital to get back your strength while you get acquainted with your new baby.
If at all possible, get yourself moved to a private room (most hospitals offer private rooms for a surcharge). Phone calls, visitors, and your baby's wakings will interrupt your sleep often enough; add another mother, her baby, and her guests into the mix, and you're likely to go home more tired than when you entered. Also, your partner will probably not be allowed to stay overnight if you have a roommate.
Grand Central Station
Even if you snag a private room and limit your visiting list, your hospital room can seem like a busy train station. Expect to see your midwife or doctor and nurses, your baby's pediatrician and nurses, a lactation consultant, and aides or volunteers who deliver food. You'll also get impromptu visits from the florist, janitorial staff, and hospital administrators, as well as various repairmen who arrive just as you are falling asleep.
If you've had your baby at home, your midwife will typically stay with you for several hours after the baby is born, taking both your and your baby's vital signs, cleaning up, and making sure you get something to eat. She'll be back again the next day to check you and your baby, make sure breastfeeding is successfully underway, and to assess the home situation — if the house is a wreck and there is no food in the refrigerator she'll probably suggest that you need a little more help.
Whether you have a hospital or home birth, you need to limit the number of visitors and restrict how long they stay. Your hospital room or home should not become everyone's favorite new hangout — no matter how anxious family and friends may be to see the new arrival. You need the rest and you and your baby don't need the germs that visitors may bring.
Include the Siblings
If you have an older child or children who will be visiting you in the hospital, have the new baby taken to the nursery before the older child arrives. Even if the baby is staying in the room with you, this is the time for the baby to stay for a short time in the nursery so that you have an initial one-on-one with your older child.
Your older child needs lots of hugs and reassurance from you. Let her play with the buttons on your bed. Have a small gift for the big brother or sister. Then send the child with your partner to the nursery to get the baby (your child can help push the bassinet down the hall). You might even want to ask the child to help return the baby to the nursery when it's time to leave.
Limit the visitation to no more than an hour, less if your older child is under two — she'll get bored, and you need the rest.
It's hard to think about food during labor, but if you've had a vaginal delivery, odds are that you'll be starving the minute that baby gets out. You've just completed a marathon-type event, and your body has used every calorie available. Hopefully you packed some snack items in your overnight bag. Your partner or family can also bring some food in, but take it easy, even if you're craving something hot and spicy. Your body is still getting back to normal and you don't want to complicate digestion.
Check out the hospital menu. When making your choices your first concern should be calories — you burned many more calories than you took in during labor, briefly putting your body into a state of starvation. The creation of breastmilk also burns calories; you'll use about 500 calories a day more than a woman of your size who is not breastfeeding. So circle at least two items in every category on that menu to cover your caloric bases. Circle anything you think you might possibly want to eat — you're better off having too much rather than too little.
Try to pick a lot of high-protein foods, since your body needs the protein to repair itself. Yogurt, milk, pudding — circle them all, as breastfeeding moms need the equivalent of five glasses of milk a day. Look (and you may have to look hard in some hospitals) for fresh fruits, salads, or vegetables. Constipation is a danger for you because your digestive system slowed down during labor and will take a while to get going again.
Beverages — check all of them, as long as they are decaffeinated. You need to drink at least twelve eight-ounce glasses of fluid daily to replace those lost during labor, keep your stools soft, prevent urinary tract infection, and establish a good milk supply.
During your hospital stay your first priority should be getting as much sleep as you possibly can. For the next several months — and possibly years — your nights will not be your own, so sleep now.
Talk to the nurse. Tell her how much sleep you missed during the labor and how tired you are. Ask her to only wake you for your baby's feedings and not to take your temperature. While some nurses won't be able to grant this request because it is against hospital policy, you should still ask. It will help your case if your provider (midwife or doctor) makes the request as well.
First Line of Defense: Hospital Medical Staff
Your nurses are responsible for monitoring your vital signs: your blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature. Any variation from the norm might indicate the beginnings of an infection or excessive bleeding, and their primary task is to watch out for that. Follow-up care includes making sure other things are proceeding normally, including breastfeeding, the healing of your episiotomy or perineum tear, and the firmness of your uterus (which may need massaging).
The nurses' second most critical task is to make sure that you urinate. They will harass you about urinating at a time when you wish they would just leave you alone. They will get clearly annoyed if you forgetfully urinate and flush the toilet without telling anyone.
The first trip to the bathroom will probably not be something you are looking forward to. It may feel fine, or it may hurt because your urethra was banged up during the birth. You may also find that once you get there you simply can't pee, either from fear of pain or because of damage to your perineum. You may feel like you're on fire. You can help avoid this burning feeling by spraying warm water while you urinate (the hospital will probably give you a bottle for this purpose).
The first bowel movement can also be scary; your muscles relaxed during the birth and you will have to push a lot harder to get a bowel movement out. After giving birth, the idea of doing anything like pushing seems crazy, and pushing against stitches — if you have them — hurts. Ask for a stool softener to take for the first few days — it can't hurt and may help a lot.
In addition to the nurses, your midwife or doctor will be in to check on you, and your pediatrician (or the hospital's pediatrician, if yours is not available or does not see children at that hospital) will check your baby. The pediatrician will make sure that the baby appears healthy physically and that there are no obvious deformities, heart problems, or physical concerns that are easily corrected if detected early. The pediatrician will also be evaluating breastfeeding — how it's going so far, and whether you are nursing frequently enough (regardless of whether your milk is in yet) — and will recommend a lactation consultant if necessary.