Q&A: newborn how-tos?

Nancy writes:

"I've been enjoying your site for months now, and finally our babies are here.  Yes, twin girls, born 3 weeks ago today!  They are lovely and fun - and I am a nervous first time mom.  I would love to see a posting about "what the heck do I do now that the baby is HERE??" panic that I feel on many days.  I'm getting the hang of living with less sleep and am learning to respond to their needs, but honestly... is there a list of things I "should" be doing at this early stage, or is it really all about keeping them fed, dry and cuddled, and the rest takes care of itself?

Ok, I'm an engineer, and I'm used to procedures and data and all that stuff.  These babies have rocked my world in a really good way, but I'm kind of lost without my procedures and data.  I realized pretty quick that logging their feedings and diaper contents was satisfying my data collection needs but was making me crazy and stressed, so I've cut that out now that they've surpassed their birthweights and I know they're well fed and content.  I'm having a really tough time letting go of the need for procedures though, or some basic "how-to" guide.  Is there such a thing for little babies?  For how long do they count as "newborns"? Several people (including members of our local moms of twins club) seem to indicate the first two weeks are the hardest -- so I feel good for all of us getting through them.  But what now?  The Wonder Weeks book doesn't kick in til 5 weeks.

Am I being to anal retentive?  Have you any advice? There are so many knowledgeable moms who read and comment on your site. Everyone had to have started off as a nervous new mom though... what did you do back then?"

Well, my mother* says, "If, at the end of the day, you're alive and the baby's alive, you're doing an excellent job." And I have to agree with her. The first 8 to 12 (OK, 14 or 20) weeks are just about keeping your head above water. Is everyone (including yourself) fed? Diapers changed? Some semblance of sleep happening? No bodily pain? Then you're doing everything right.

Honestly, there's nothing you need to be doing at this age. Babies like movement, and it's good for them, so if you could wear them around some it would be nice. And playing music and singing to them would make them happy, too. But at this age they're really just working on getting organized, growing, learning that their needs will be attended to, learning what love is, and being snuggled. Everything else is, at best extraneous, and at worst overstimulating**.

I think that because you know you like checklists and data, you should start keeping track of something that's interesting and is going to vary, but won't stress you out like the eating did. I guess I'd go for poop, because it changes so much in the first 12 weeks. Both of my kids changed the frequency of their poop every time they hit a growth spurt (3 and 6 weeks and 3 and 6 months). You could make a number of interesting graphs and charts of the poop, especially with two kids.

I can't speak to twins, because I haven't had them, so I'm going to ask the moms of multiples to comment about the two-week thing. (Linda, Hedra, Jody? Everyone else I've forgotten?) With both of my singletons 6-8 weeks were the worst, but maybe it's different with twins. (A postpartum doula friend of mine swears that there's some major digestive thing that must happen around 6 weeks, because she has yet to see a baby who doesn't go through a cranky stage that's accompanied by excess gas or spitting up at that age. She thinks it's a normal developmental blip that passes as inexplicably as it comes for most babies. So I'm going to guess twins hit that same thing, too)

But right after that nasty 6-week age it seems like the babies start to organize themselves a little more in terms of sleep and eating. You can start some kind of routine based loosely on feeding them every few hours, making sure to fit in a trip outside every day to maintain your own sanity. Then by 4.5 or 5 months or so the bedtime routine is solid for them and they may even be taking solid naps during the day, and it all seems to make sense.

I think that if you're looking for something to do (which amazes me because at 3 weeks with my first singleton I could barely put on my own socks) your time is going to be best spent by observing your girls to start to figure out their personalities and what they like and don't like, how they respond to different kids of touch and stimulation, how they like to fall asleep, etc. Having this knowledge of them is going to pay off for the rest of their lives, so it doesn't hurt to start looking for clues early.

Did anyone have anything resembling a routine at 3 weeks? I guess I can't imagine, since the babies are still changing daily at that age. But I know some of you are more structure-oriented than I am and probably came up with something that helped you feel more proactive about the minute-by-minute interaction. If you did, please share with Nancy.

* I know you guys must get sick of hearing about my mom all the time. She's not perfect, of course, but she does have a lot of common sense, and she's extremely sympathetic to mothers in the trenches. It's made my life much easier that she doesn't suffer from that rose-colored amnesia plenty of grandmothers seem to be struck by as soon as their children become parents.

** I just spent a full 5 minutes trying to figure out how to punctuate that sentence correctly. Editors/pedants in the crowd, what would you have done?