Birth Experience + Life as a New Mom

Incredibly our baby boy Luca is already 6 weeks old!  Will share a bit about my birth story, life as a new mom and some things that have helped me so far in this special adventure, and then get back to some recipes (once I find time!).
Birth Experience
As a first time mom, I was anxious that I wouldn’t know when I was in labor (vs. when it’s a fake-out w/ Braxton Hicks or other early labor signs).  Also at 40 weeks and counting, I was starting to get nervous about having to induce since Kaiser’s policy is they typically will require induction just after 41 weeks, and while I would
have induced if necessary (as my outlook was focused on ‘healthy mom, healthy
baby’ and staying flexible in terms of how and when he would come), I was hoping that baby would come on his own w/ less upfront intervention.  I continued to stay very active walking 4-5 miles a day, doing prenatal yoga and also started drinking raspberry leaf tea a couple times a day (who knows if it really works to speed things along but figured it couldn’t hurt).  The week leading up to labor I also started to get what felt like strong stomach cramps (akin to menstrual cramps), and usually would feel these during my walks, but since the cramping was sustained for a period of 20 minutes or so and didn’t come and go in waves, I knew that they weren’t labor contractions.
Then on Thursday Dec. 7th after a day of doing a great prenatal yoga class, going on a long walk, doing some Costco shopping and more, at around 9 pm I started to feel contractions.  At first I wasn’t totally sure they were labor contractions, but b/w feeling the ‘wrap-around’ sensation that they often describe where the contraction pain wraps from belly to low back, and noticing that they were starting to come and go in waves, we started timing them and sure enough they were definitely labor contractions.  I was then in labor all night and while I definitely couldn’t sleep (I hear that some people can sleep in early labor), I could find some relief in bouncing on an exercise ball, which mitigated the low back pain and taking warm baths (the latter can supposedly slow contractions, but I wanted to use some hydrotherapy before getting to the hospital since Kaiser doesn’t have baths).  I had already had an appointment scheduled for Friday morning at 10 am and knew that especially with first time moms labor can be long and they will often send you home if you aren’t far enough along so tried to stay at home as long as I could and before getting to the ‘5-1-1’.  Surely enough during my 10 am appointment they confirmed that my contractions were every 3-5 minutes but still just shy of 2 cm dilated so they recommended I go home.  I had been in labor for 12+ hours and was already in quite a bit of pain, but did decide to go home for a few hours.  Thankfully when I returned at 3 pm – at this point really hoping to get an epidural ASAP –  they admitted me to labor & delivery.
I got the epidural at 5 pm which for me worked like magic.  Like many women, I was on the fence about the epidural w/ fears that it might increase need for C-section w/ spiral of intervention and wasn’t thrilled that after administering it, your mobility is limited, but I’m so glad I went for it b/c it immediately relieved contraction pains altogether. I was still in labor for another 12 hours or so and from that point on didn’t feel any pain until it came time to push; I even managed to get some rest.   I did ultimately opt for Pitocin as well to speed along contractions given I was at 4 cm dilated for many hours and while they also offered to break my bag of waters when even with Pitocin dilation was slowly progressing, I’m glad I opted against that (I was feeling well post epidural and baby was stable so felt in no need to further speed along).  Soon thereafter I was almost fully dilated and ready to push.  Now came time for the hard part and I honestly was not mentally prepared at all for how hard pushing would be.  I had effective movement, breathing and coping techniques for contractions, but I could not tap into effective breathwork to sustain me throughout the pushing where I would finish one burst of pushing totally breathless.  If I’m blessed to have another baby, I will better prepare breathing techniques for this final phase.  Like many new moms, I reached a point midway through pushing (which took 1.5 hours despite his head being very low) where I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to push my baby out, but thankfully was very close, and right after they called in the OBGYN, he seemed to come out quickly in one fell swoop.  Our sweet baby boy – Luca Andrew Rosenthal- came out on Saturday Dec. 9th at 6:50 am at 8.5 lbs, 22″ long with a healthy cry.
They quickly suctioned him and put him skin-to-skin with me, but then minutes later we had a big scare.  About 10 minutes after birth, my husband Marcus was holding our baby Luca’s finger when he noticed that Luca was starting to go limp.  He then turned to the nurse and said he wasn’t sure if the baby was breathing and I noticed he started turning blue, and at that point they whisked him away to the warming table and called a code blue.  The entire NICU team (~15 doctors and nurses) was rushed in and we thank our lucky stars that they were able to resuscitate him.  And I’m so thankful that despite my natural leanings, we opted for a hospital birth where emergency care arrived super quickly.  While even the doctors were very surprised that a full term (in fact extra full term as he came at 41 weeks) baby with a healthy birth weight and strong cry at birth would suddenly lose consciousness a few minutes later, they did discover that he likely had pneumonia and was thus given antibiotics for the first week.  Thankfully he showed such strong resilience and every day in the NICU was getting healthier and healthier, and was fully healthy by the time we took him home after his first week.  We could not be more grateful to the wonderful Kaiser team and all our family and friends who helped during the challenging first week.  I’ll never forget the moment where I saw the anesthesiologist on her lunch break a couple days after she resuscitated Luca and we hugged teary eyed when I thanked her for saving Luca’s life (and for administering the epidural which helped me so much).  She replied that she was just doing her job and that she was thinking about us on her way home from work.  Overall, we felt very loved and cared for, and it’s during these times of true emergencies that it’s special to note how your community, and even kind strangers (we had friends of friends who we never met before house us in their guesthouse near the hospital for 5 days so we could be close to the NICU after we were discharged), shows up to support you.

The day he was born in the NICU and now
The day he was born in the NICU
My recovery
Immediately after delivery, I was not surprisingly exhausted.  Not only was there the emotional challenge of having a baby whisked away to the NICU, but I had been in labor for over 30 hours without eating or sleeping much, and I was profoundly exhausted the day he was born.  Overall while I was very tired at times throughout the first week, the most intense part of the recoveryprocess for me was being able to sit down for the first few days. As for pregnancy weight, very unexpectedly I lost almost all my pregnancy weight immediately after baby was born and was fully back to within a couple pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight just 1 week after delivery.  I believe this is very atypical and it may be in part genetic as my mom had a similar experience with some of her births, and given a newfound appetite that came with breastfeeding I was eating more than ever.  Now I am starting to progressively get more active (in early weeks was mostly walking 2-3 miles, and I’m just now starting to jog again and do some gentle yoga, and will start some core work soon to strengthen my notably weaker
core).  I’m also continuing to eat very healthy and have been especially craving warm soups, sweet potatoes, fried tofu and/or chickpeas, nutritional yeast on everything, oatmeal/ granola, lots of healthy fats (avocado, nuts and nut butters, coconut oil, etc.), and coconut water.  I’m also very much enjoying herbal lactation teas from Yogi tea that are supposed to help with relaxation and milk supply. I still am drinking
coffee every morning, which many recommend abstaining from during breastfeeding but I love my coffee and it is very much helping me during these first couple months of reduced sleep.

Life as a new mom
On my birthday reveling in this beautiful card

I feel very spoiled to have my amazing husband as full time support right now, which I think makes the adjustment to parenting a much more positive experience relative to those who are navigating a lot of the early weeks on their own.  He is a true partner
who changes almost all the diapers (even in the middle of the night), helps soothe and comfort Luca, reads and plays with him and so much more.  He infinite patience and sense of humor is so nourishing to both of us.  And we are able to trade off watching him to allow each other to take some deep naps or go for solo walks / bike rides to get in some rejuvenating adult solo time too.  While I have always been big on self care, during these early weeks of significant sleep reduction and the challenges of developing confidence to care for our baby, it has been so critical to help stay in a positive place and especially to cultivate patience.  On the topic of sleep, during the first couple weeks at home I was sleeping an average 3 hours at night, but had an incredible surge of adrenaline and was doing everything they advise against– namely cleaning the entire house, cooking and more.  As a lifelong 8+ hour sleeper, I was very nervous about surviving on little sleep but the hormones do kick in to sustain round-the-clock feedings.  I did try to slow down a bit, and now thankfully he is starting to sleep in longer ~4 hour stretches (fingers crossed this will stick around) so starting to get a solid 6-7 hours of sleep at night, which these days is great!

We are savoring the moments together with our cute little man and are often in awe that we made him:).  He is a voracious eater, a very observant and alert baby, loves to sleep on his mom and dad, and is even starting to crack some early smiles.  He also will cry at the top of his lungs during almost every diaper change and often will have a couple hours at night when he is fussy and we try our best to soothe him (bouncing on the exercise ball seems to work best right now for us) – sometimes w/ success and sometimes we look at each other helpless as we are still figuring out how best to soothe him (and yes we’ve read The Happiest Baby and try the ‘5 Ss’).  A couple times a week or so I’ll have moments when he is crying for a while and I recognize that I am at the end of my patience and need help, and rely on Marcus or whoever else might be around for some relief.  During this time it’s key to ask for help, and on this note we’ve also been accepting most help offered, especially in terms of food delivery.  We also tried to minimize visitors to immediate family only during the first couple weeks (and max of one set of visitors in any given day) and just started branching out and seeing friends in the past couple weeks.  We’re starting to venture outside more for longer walks which he loves, and he is also starting to vigorously exercise with very active arm and leg stretching sessions so we suspect he will be very active like his mom & dad.
Some things that have helped 
During pregnancy, my husband and I read quite a few books on minimalist parenting and were trying to not buy too much stuff, and to embrace hand-me-downs and whittle down purchases to what we really needed.  Here are some tips and items that have really helped us as well as some things I was evaluating that I’m glad we didn’t get.
1. Hand me down clothes – We literally did not have to purchase a single item of clothing and Luca already has more than he needs.  His grandma (known as Gigi) and my dear colleague Ambra donated so much clothing that he is all set through at least 6 months.  We also got gifted so much clothing so my advice would be to embrace hand-me-downs and hold off on buying any clothing,
2. Used or store display items – While there were some items that I wanted to buy new for safety reasons (especially carseat), we bought some great items used through Craigslist / Nextdoor including:
Uppababy Vista stroller – yes this is the uber premium Cadillac of strollers that retails for $800 new and we managed
to get this for $550 by buying a store display through a local seller that specializes in lightly used or store display baby gear.  We are very happy with this stroller so far as it navigates the cracks in the road well and we are also using the bassinet for him to sleep in sometimes.
Uppababy Vista bassinet stand – there was no way I was going to pay $150 for such a simple piece of furniture but we managed to get this used from Nextdoor for $40.  It is a nice option though we are still finding that our baby prefers to sleep on us or in the Fisher price Rock ‘n play more.
Luca Monte glider + ottoman – given the sheer number of hours that you are breastfeeding in any given day, investing in a good, comfy glider that will help with postural alignment and feeling comfortable is helpful. I was drawn to the Monte gliders after trying one out in a local upscale baby store and learning about its sustainable production, but at $1500, was grateful to find one used in my neighborhood in great condition for significantly less.  It’s extremely comfortable and the model I got happens to be named Luca 🙂
3. Hands free pumping bra – I was naive and did not envision I would be pumping at the hospital while in fact I
needed to stimulate my milk supply, especially with a baby in the NICU who was not able to start breastfeeding until day. This hands free pumping bra made pumping so much easier and should be very useful when going back to work.
4.Halo Sleep Sacks (the easier swaddle) – After reading up a ton on infant soothing and safe sleep measures, swaddling is not surprisingly at the top of the list, but it is not easy! Luca tends to break most of his swaddles with his strong arms and legs and the halo sleep sack has been so helpful as both an easy outfit to get on, velcro swaddle, and
unzip for middle of the night diaper changes.  The only thing to consider is the newborn size seems to run a bit smaller than they say as our baby already outgrew them at 9 lbs and 22″ and we needed to size up to a small.  UPDATE: We since have tried the ‘Love to dream’ swaddle and like it even better!  It doesn’t bunch up near his face and keeps his arms up in the soothing position he likes.
5. Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play – This lightweight bassinet alternative is so helpful to move around to different rooms to
have baby with you throughout the day, and Luca likes to sleep/ nap in it too.
6. Medicine ball – This was absolutely essential for me as pain relief during labor and our baby still loves when we bounce on it, which is one of the top things that soothes him.
7. Moby wrap – My dear friend Britt gifted this to us and Luca loves being in it, especially on his dad.  Given it’s really a long piece of fabric, it’s hard to understand why it is $50, but hey it works!  Since I’m more petite, it’s not enough back support for me to wear throughout the day and will try the Ergo once he’s a bit bigger (right now he’s not liking the Ergo but suspect he might soon).

8. Cushioned lounger – Admittedly this is not really necessary as it’s somewhat duplicative with the Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play as something to have him nap in, but it’s fun to have him right up on the couch or bed with us in it and he likes lounging in it.

9. Books: The First Forty Days– Beautiful read with self care tips for mama

Some things I got or evaluated but didn’t really need:
1. Breastfeeding pillow – I got the ‘my breast friend’ and had tried the boppy in the hospital but ultimately I find that any pillow will work.  It’s important to have quite a few pillows around to get the right support for both mama and baby, but at least for me I didn’t find that a special breastfeeding pillow is necessary
2. Bottle warmer – You can just add warm water to a bowl and let bottle sit for a few minutes to warm up
3. Infant swing – We were lent the 4 moms mamaroo fancy swing but at least for our baby it it too much stimulation at this point and he prefers just chilling in the much simpler Fisher price rock ‘n play.  Like most things, this will vary by baby as for my sister this was the only thing that he would sleep in.
4. Nipple cream – I got a natural vegan version and while it is made of great ingredients, for me the best relief is a hot shower and applying some breast milk, which per the lactation consultant heals the nipple (the human body is amazing and of course has a healing mechanism built in)
5. Diaper Pail (diaper genie): We just use a small regular garbage can and take it outdaily – so far doesn’t stink up the room.
And as I now have just under 3 months left of maternity leave, I am trying to keep in mind the following that I just read in Beautiful, Bountiful, Blissful:
Well I know this was a very long post but hopefully it will be useful to some new moms / new moms-to-be, and I’ll also be sharing some quick and easy recipes that I’ve been making in these early weeks soon.