Updated: Apr 25
What to expect in the first 3 months after birth - and - baby development in the first 3 months
AUTHOR: Lee Reicheneder
The first 3 months is a crucial time frame for the development of the baby and for adjustment to life in your new roles as a family unit. Much of this occurs during the first 6 weeks post birth; however, this development and adjustment doesn’t stop once baby or family hit 6 weeks post-birth.
Within the first 24-48 hours post-birth, the blood volume in the divine birthing being (you) will return to pre-pregnancy levels and you will often pass large amounts of urine as the estrogen in the body dissipates. By day 3 (72 hours after birth) the body often starts to produce breast milk, but don’t worry, the body will produce a substance known as colostrum for baby during the time your body works on creating breastmilk. Colostrum is amazing stuff too – this substance provides your baby with antibodies, water, protein, minerals, fat, carbohydrates, and even vitamins to nurture your baby’s needs.
After birth, the discharge of a substance called ‘lochia’ will occur and may continue for several weeks. This is like a period and it is often recommended to wear maternity strength menstrual pads during this time frame. The discharge of the substance lochia from the body is usually separated into 3 stages. The first stage often involves discharge that is red consisting of blood and endometrial tissue – generally, this all just looks like a heavy period. The second stage occurs a few days post-birth and it can be spotted by the change in your lochia – it will change from red to brownish in colour with some red. Then the final stage will usually commence at the end of the second-week post-birth. During the final stage you will notice that the discharge has changed in colour to a yellow-white, but there still may be some blood present for several weeks after the birth. Contrary to popular belief this process can taper off (make you think it’s stopped) for hours or days and then return during those several weeks (usually around 4-6 weeks, give or take depending on your individual bodies). Another thing to be aware of is that bleeding can sometimes increase between days 7-14 post-birth.
During the first 3 months, your newborn may create significant demands on your energy levels, time, and even your emotions as a new parent. If you don’t have access to family, friends, or village-like assistance this can seem even more demanding and can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. It is quite normal to feel more emotional, upset or just a bit more ‘down’ than usual around the 3rd or 4th-day post-birth. This is called the ‘baby blues’ and it is believed to affect 70-80% of those divine birthing beings post-birth. It usually lasts for 48 hours, but sometimes it can last for up to 6 weeks. You might experience increased stress or anxiety, rapid mood swings, difficulty concentrating, exhaustion, overwhelmed by the responsibility, feeling dependant on others, and may even notice that you just don’t feel like you are coping. But this is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to apologize for. In fact, it is normal and is believed to be a result of the hormonal changes within the body and of course the BIG transition you are going through as the new amazing parent that you are. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly depending on how you look at it, the incidences of baby blues have been demonstrated in some studies to be less in those who birth at home compared to in a hospital.
Now sometimes the emotional state of either parent can be much more significantly affected and the contributors to this can also vary significantly as can perceptions of experiences. However, it is believed that 20% of parents may find they are struggling with depression and/or anxiety post-birth, which is a bit more than the ‘baby blues’ and support by a mental health professional is important. For these parents, the signs and symptoms can be gradual, but they are significant and can last from weeks to years post-birth. If there has been an experience with postpartum depression with a previous baby the chances of experiencing this with a subsequent baby are estimated to be between 50-80%. The sooner you can acquire support for this the better, so it is important to recognize signs.
Postnatal Mental Health Warning signs:
More irritable than usual
Sadness and/or crying
Feelings of guilt
Loss of libido and lack of interest in everything
Changes in weight (weight loss or weight gain)
Changes in appetite
Always feeling tired or always wanting to sleep
Never being able to sleep
Difficulty focusing on things
Struggling to make decisions
New or increased fears or phobias
Not comfortable with dealing with the baby (either in lack of confidence and/or lack of feelings)
In some instances, parents may experience some, all, or none of the above but experience the following which may indicate other mental health difficulties requiring support:
Recurrent and/or intrusive distressing recollection of events
Increased negative feelings such as anxiety or flashbacks when exposed to a location, items, pictures, videos, or people connected to a distressing event
Avoidance of things, locations, or people connected with a distressing event
Avoidance of thoughts or topics related to a distressing event
Inability to recall important aspects of events such as the birth or another relevant event
Diminished interest in activities that were once enjoyed
Outbursts of anger
Exaggerated startle response
Physiological reactions to being exposed to things that relate to the distressing event (sweating, racing heart etc)
Feeling baby is better without you
Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Please remember that if you do experience these difficulties or feelings this does not and will never make you a bad parent, nor will seeking help; in fact, it makes you an amazing parent for recognizing your struggles and seeking help. Employing the services of a Doula during pregnancy, birth, and/or postpartum has demonstrated to not just positively impact on pregnancy and birth journey, but also the postpartum journey with higher rates of breastfeeding, improved maternal competence, improved family bonding and even reducing the chances of postnatal mental health difficulties.
While experiencing all the significant emotional and physiological changes in the first 3 months your baby is experiencing a wide range of changes too. In fact, during the first 3 months of life they:
Take their first breath of oxygen (oxygen was previously transported via the umbilical cord – this is another reason to avoid cutting the cord if the baby needs help taking that breath)
Do their first poo called meconium soon after birth (soft greenish-black tar-like substance – these change to a yellowish colour over the first week of their life)
Pass 20-30ml of urine (around 1 wee) in the first 24hrs
Pass 100-200ml of urine (1-6 wees a day) over the first week of life
Start to notice faces and recognize the sound of your voice
Start to bring hands in the range of their eyes and mouth
Start turning their head to the sound of noises and voices
Begin to move their head from side to side while lying down
Smile for the first time
Learn to hold their head up
Enjoys close contact with parents and others (babywearing is great)
Begin to display a range of reactions to different voices or noises (loud, angry, unfamiliar)
Begin to coo, gurgle or squeal to communicate with others
Begin to follow slow-moving objects with their eyes (eye-tracking)
May begin reaching for things or swiping at dangling objects
May begin to push themselves up when lying on tummy
Begin to display different cries for different needs
Learn to make eyes contact when held
Begin to show interest in items and people
As you can see this is quite a lot of developing your little one will do over the first 3 months of life. So, what are some things you can do over those initial 3 months to support yourself, your family and your baby? Below we run through some of the things to consider.
Resting as much as possible, you could do this with your baby to enhance bonding
Ensure you are drinking enough water and eating lots of nutritious meals
Playing simple games of ‘peek-a-boo’ with your baby and talking to them frequently
Babywearing to provide that contact, encourage eye contact and communication
Providing hanging toys like mobiles to encourage baby to reach for objects and improve eye tracking abilities – change these toys often to support stimulation and interest
Place large pictures including basic patterns low on the walls for baby to look at
Provide tummy time with a toy to encourage baby to move head and other simple movements like reaching for items, pushing themselves up or other movements.
Sing songs (singing some of the same repeatedly is great) to help support speech development and bonding between yourself and baby.
Babies love schedules just not breastfeeding schedules – breastfeeding on demand can improve breastfeeding success; don’t fret if you can’t create or stick to a schedule either, often babies will have their ‘own’ schedule (times they tend to fall asleep or feed) and once you notice these it can be much easier to create a schedule if you want to do this. One of the hardest things to cope with as a parent is that babies won’t always fit into our schedules no matter how great they are. The pressure placed on yourself trying to make a schedule work can at times create undue stress when you could be enjoying your baby and family. Just relax, enjoy your baby, get to know your baby and you will often find a schedule creates itself on its own as you find your own rhythm together as a family unit.
Don’t push yourself to be perfect; be proud of those track pants, rock that unbrushed or unwashed hair, ignore that pile of washing or dishes needing to be done – unless you find enjoyment doing this. If you can try to employ a Doula they will help significantly. A Doula can come in cook meals for your freezer and table, they can clean, care for the baby while you shower, care for other children while you rest and more. Many are happy to accept payment plans. Alternatively, you could enlist friends or family members to assist you with this.
Cuddle baby and get lots of rest; rest is important for your body to recover from birth and it is important for the baby to support development. Baby needs 14-17 hours of sleep per day.