The first 10 days after the birth of your baby are called the 'kraamperiode' - the maternity period. During this time you are recommended to rest as much as possible, and concentrate on recovering from the birth and getting to know your baby. It is very important to recuperate properly, to give you strength for the coming weeks. Make the most of the wonderful system here and get some rest! I stayed downstairs in a single bed in our sitting room for the first week: it meant I was in the middle of things and yet still resting, and it also meant that at night my husband (who had to go back to work after 3 days) got some sleep so he could function and support us all during the day.
You and your baby will be under the care of the midwife and the kraamzorg. The midwife will visit you the day after the birth, and then will visit you, depending on how things are going, a further 3 or 4 times. The kraamverzorgster will be responsible for daily checks on you and the baby, which are mainly colour, temperature, feeding and weight, and the position of the womb (by pressing on your tummy they can feel if it is contracting properly back into place), blood loss and stitches, if you have had them.
How you feel will depend to a great extent on what your birth was like. Everyone feels physically tired, but you can feel anything from immense elation and happiness to absolute dejection. And sometimes both within the same five minute period. In the Netherlands you have support to help you and your baby and your partner come to terms with the new arrival, and to give you physical and emotional care in the first few days. I will say this: a natural birth does mean that your body gets to produce all its incredible natural endorphins into your system - I was absolutely high as a kite for the first few days after my births! I couldn't sleep, in fact: while my angelic newborns were snoozing away at night, I was busy writing books in my head and thinking away like mad! I recommend in this situation having a best friend living in a different time zone that you can ring up at 2am! Certainly it is vital that you and your partner try to get some rest when you can, that you take up any offers of help (with food, care of other children etc), and that you make sure you spend time together getting to know your baby. If you are having the baby on your own, make sure you spend time with friends and family with whom you feel comfortable and supported.
Stitches, though not exactly pleasant, are in general less awful than they sound. At some points they are naturally extremely uncomfortable - peeing is definitely made less painful by taking a bottle of warm water with you to the loo and pouring it over yourself as you pee (sorry about the details guys, but it really helps). Bizarrely, sitting on hard chairs is less painful than sitting on soft chairs, so actually the fewer cushions the better. Your kraamverzorgster will keep asking you whether you have managed to have a poo yet. Terrifying though the prospect of a first poo is after stitches, it is actually less bad than you expect, and afterwards you will feel much better. Some stitches are dissolvable, but if they are not, after about 2/3 days, the stitches will start to hurt a lot more as they heal and pull at your skin. Don't panic, this is quite normal and means that they are healing well. The midwife will usually come and remove them on about day 3 or 4, which isn't very pleasant but you feel immediate relief afterwards which is wonderful!
With a first baby, there is usually no milk for the first couple of days, only a substance called colostrum , which contains lots of lovely antibodies for the baby. The midwife and kraamzorg will encourage you to put your baby to your breast frequently, so that you and the baby get the hang of it, the baby gets this colostrum and the breasts get stimulated to produce milk. This is of important, but it is also vital that you do not panic that the baby isn't getting any milk, or if right after birth the baby doesn't necessarily want to drink. Some babies take to the boob immediately, but lots of babies have swallowed amniotic fluid and are feeling rather sick after birth and are distinctly unimpressed with the whole thing. With first babies in particular (with subsequent babies the milk often comes in immediately) it is often a while before they are really getting anything much from the breast - it is more a question of practising and getting those nice antibodies. Many new mums lose faith in their breastfeeding because they think their baby's not getting anything: keep faith in your miraculous body and keep at it, and you'll get there! The kraamzorg will help and encourage you, and can answer any questions you might have.
When the milk comes in, it's usually very obvious! On day 2 or 3 for a first baby, it's very common for your breasts to suddenly ' engorge ' - i.e. turn into a good impression of Jordan overnight. This can be very uncomfortable, and it's absolutely vital that you have a really good strong supportive nursing bra with no underwiring (Hunkemoller do very sturdy not-too-hideous ones) to support them. Do, do, wear a good supportive bra all the time, even in bed: it really makes a difference to the short-term comfort and the long-term perkiness of even the smallest breasts! You will probably be advised to put cabbage leaves in your bra to soothe engorged breasts. I objected to this, and refused to place vegetables in my underwear, but I have it on good authority that it helps, and that Spitskool is an excellent cabbage for this as the leaves are easy to remove. Breast pads soaked in water and then put in the freezer then wrapped in a flannel I found the best solution. Sometimes your boobs are so rounded that the nipple becomes hard to latch on to: if this is the case it's best to express a little into the cup (or lots in the shower, this can ease the pain) so that the nipple and breast are a little softer and easier for the baby. If you are someone who produces tons of milk, you may need to express a little before feeding anyway to prevent the baby from choking on a fountain of milk. There is a very distinctive 'prickling' feeling of your milk coming down (unhelpful in shops, very helpful when you have an expectant baby nicely latched on). If you are having problems with this ' let down reflex' , make sure you are really comfortable with lots of pillows, get the baby latched on, and then lie back and RELAX, and after a little while you should start to feel that tell-tale prickling sensation.
With second and subsequent babies, breastfeeding is usually easier to get started (also girl babies are quicker at getting the hang of it, frequently). It is very important, however, for busy distracted second-time-mums that they get enough rest and enough recuperation time for their milk supply. Most of all, trust your body. Babies lose weight after birth, but they are designed to do this, and should get back to their birth weight by approximately a week (first babies are usually slower than subsequent babies). Trust your body to produce milk, rather than constantly panicking about your milk supply. In that first wonderful bewildering week, put your baby to your breast whenever he/she seems alert and ready to have a go. The kraamzorg are very experienced and will give you excellent advice. If you have very strong views yourself on schedules or demand feeding, do discuss these with the kraamzorg and you can usually find a comfortable middle way that keeps everyone happy.
When you start breastfeeding, sometimes your nipples can get very sore. This is particularly true if you have inverted nipple(s), in which case they are just very sensitive. It may also happen if the baby is not latching on properly (always check for the pouty bottom lip), but is also common if you have the baby on for very long periods of time right at the beginning. If you have one nipple that is very sore, you can build up the time on that breast gradually, and allow the other to compensate. Sore nipples usually resolve themselves after a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I found letting them have air (which, rather inelegantly, does mean wearing a feeding bra open with them poking out - best not for visitor moments) helps.
If you are having problems with breastfeeding, the first port of call is your kraamverzorgster. If she can't help you, she may refer you to a lactation consultant ( lactatie deskundige ). The health authorities here are very keen on stimulating mothers to breast feed, and will offer as much help as they can to encourage breastfeeding. Personally, I believe sometimes the best person to help you is simply someone comforting who has breastfed several babies themselves, and not necessarily a professional - your own mother or grandmother, mother-in-law or friend. For new mothers living abroad, this is often difficult, but there may well be someone who can help you - do consider asking a trusted and confident friend if need be.
There are also other things that can interfere with breastfeeding - such as a baby having a tongue tie, which prevents him/her from extending his/her tongue far enough to latch on correctly. If you think this might be the problem, make a fuss and get it looked at as soon as possible by a doctor, as it is only a tiny operation to put it right, and you should be able to breastfeed afterwards - you do need to be proactive. Keep on asking for help if things aren't going well, and you will get it!
There may of course be other reasons that you are unable to breastfeed, or have decided not to. The midwife and kraamverzorgster should then be supportive of your situation, and help you to get to grips with bottle feeding. Breast feeding has great benefits, of course - but bottle fed babies still grow up happy and healthy too! Don't let the very pro-breastfeeding attitude of the health authorities make you feel inferior or judged. A large number of women in this country who breastfeed only do so for the first 2 or 3 months before returning to work, although some continue to express - so there are plenty of bottles around.
Now is the time to send out your birth announcements! You may find once you have done this that you receive lots of lovely parcels of presents - what it does mean is that, especially if some are coming from overseas, you will have a doorbell ringing at all sorts of weird times of day as the different postmen/women arrive. If you really want a peaceful rest in the afternoon (e.g. if this was specified on your geboortekaartje: see the section on birth announcements in Clothes and Equipment above) and there will be no-one else home, then hang a notice on your door saying 'AUB niet aanbellen tussen ... en .... uur' - then they will probably take the parcels to a neighbour. If you have a nice neighbour who is home during the day you can always arrange this specifically with him/her.
People will of course want to come and see your baby: if you feel like showing him/her off, do so, although do be sensible about not offering to cook dinner etc. Having people round when the kraamzorg is there can be good (unless she's about to check your stitches!) as she can open the door and make tea and you won't have to get out of bed.
If a member of your family has come over from abroad to be with you during birth and/or see the new baby, don't feel pressured into doing anything you don't feel like. Make the most of them being there by handing them the baby for an hour so you can sleep, or asking them to pop to the supermarket and/or make some dinner for you all. Don't feel like you have to put on a show, that the baby has to be perfect, or that you need to be displaying what a great mum you are already. This is a very special (and exhausting!) time for you and your partner and your baby, and you deserve to do it exactly as you like. My mum in fact stayed in a B&B when she came over when our first child was born - which meant that we had some time in the evenings and at night on our own, and that we didn't have to worry about the baby keeping her awake. She stayed with us when our second child was born, so she could help with our energetic toddler. For where your visitors can stay in Leiden , see Hotels and B&Bs under Where to Go.