This belongs to a series of 5 articles dealing with child birth and the medical system in Sweden – from both a man’s perspective but also from a woman’s perspective, thanks to direct input from my wife. The reasons for writing the series are presented on the start/summary page^ where all 5 articles are linked.
It took about 30 minutes for Rune to stop screaming just after being born. We started to get a bit worried, but we knew that he had also probably been awake throughout the 11-hour birth. He had been instinctually working together with his mother while in the same time wondering what’s going on. For a 9-month old, that’s a tough day, so no wonder he was a bit grumpy. Plus, breathing isn’t exactly something he was used to either.
Crina had lost more blood than is usual during the birth. This had me rather concerned for a while, but the midwives assured us that she will be fine. After the monumental effort she had been through, I was surprised to see her so alert, especially as I was slowly falling apart.
Never in my life had I abandoned myself in such a way. I hadn’t eaten since the day before, and it was almost 23:00. I lived through the birth with air and water alone. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, I was beginning to realize just how starved I was. Luckily, the Swedes had something special in store for us…
The fabulous post-birth celebratory snack! We had heard of this tradition. We had been told by multiple people that knew how it is to give birth in Sweden that it’s going to be among the best foods we would ever eat. But first, it was time to go to our room at the baby hotel.
The baby hotel is one of the most kick-ass things about giving birth in certain countries, including Sweden. This was the only thing we actually had to pay for so far, but it was at an amazing price for the value. We stayed there for 3 nights. The stay included two main meals per day, a breakfast, snacks and soft drinks. There was a good selection of courses, most of them microwaveable, available 24-7. All I had to do was to go to the fridge, pick whatever, whenever, warm it up and eat it in the kitchen or, take it in the room to serve the wife who was busy with the breastfeeding.
But here’s the real kicker: 24-7 support from midwives at the push of a button! Yeah, that’s right. There was a red button next to the bed. Minutes after pressing it, round the clock, a midwife would come and help us and answer any questions. So, paying roughly 180 Euros, grand total, for all of us for 3 days is arguably one of the best deals in the Universe.
We arrived in our room at roughly 23:30. It had its own bathroom, two side-by-side beds, a small bed-on-wheels for Rune and a baby nest, a table and two chairs. On the table, we had a “baby start pack”, consisting of diapers, some cremes and a couple of other baby-related products.
Important: first-time parents can find a baby hotel to be of great help. Even if it is expensive, getting a good start especially when it comes to breastfeeding can make all the difference during the coming days and weeks. If such a thing isn’t available in your country, perhaps other similar services are (for example midwives that come to your home, or health centers where you can go with first-time parent questions).
A bit before midnight, shortly after we had entered our room, a nurse came with the most wanted snack on Earth. It was more than I expected. On the platter were four slices of bread with cheese and ham, some vegetables, two glasses of sweet, bubbly cider and a little stick with a small paper Swedish flag (awwwww!). This was almost a dinner.
We ravaged the plate, trying to remind ourselves to also enjoy the sublime taste of the food. It really was very good, but I have to confess that us being famished probably contributed to the fact that, to this day, we still consider that simple midnight dinner to be among the best meals we’ve ever had.
We found this wonderful tradition to be cute, considerate and respectful towards parents. This is a country that celebrates its families more than I could have imagined. Even though it wasn’t me who gave birth and went through a titanic effort, I felt like a hero that’s being offered the royal banquet.
A few practical matters followed. Two midwives came and politely asked us if they can weigh Rune. Pay attention: this was roughly 3 hours after our boy had been born and, if we wanted, we were allowed to wait with the procedure until later. We looked at Rune. He seemed to be sleeping soundly, so we agreed weigh him now. They brought the scale in the room and that’s how we found out that Crina had been tucking a 4 kilos baby in her little belly. With the weighing done, the midwives quickly left us well enough alone.
Compare this to countries where they take the baby away from the mother shortly after birth and slam the poor creature in a glass container. I find those procedures to be utterly barbaric. I try not to make strong statements on this site, but I cannot contain my disapproval towards those who are ignorant enough to think that treating a baby that way is even remotely humane!
Whatever excuses they have, it’s the 21st century and Sweden, a country with record-low infant mortality, should be living proof that the “stick the baby in a jar” method has absolutely no medical benefit. Although perhaps it does have some economic benefit for drug companies and who-knows else, since it gives the poor kid his or her first major trauma. Oh, and for those claiming that light therapy requires the baby to be isolated in an aquarium away from the parents, guess what: in Sweden they bring the light treatment to the family’s room. Yes, technology can be amazing if used right.
Important: if the birth would have taken place at home, nobody would take the baby away from the parents. As a fragile being taking the first breaths, the warmth, smell and comfort of a parent’s skin is of critical importance. As Rune slept on Crina’s breast, he could hear her heartbeat, the same heartbeat that he had heard for several months already. He was no longer inside her but even so, he knew that his mother was nearby. Even if as adults we cannot remember those moments, the brain’s development is based on all the feelings that it experiences. Even if a baby is not able to understand what’s going on in the surrounding world, it is most definitely able to feel fear or comfort and these leave a lasting imprint on the very foundation of the baby’s neural patterns.
It was a magical first night. Despite the midwives’ advice to sleep, Crina could not, which isn’t uncommon for mothers. I managed to grab a few hours here and there, but would often wake and help Crina with whatever she needed: water, questions, changing Rune’s first couple of diapers (we had some help with this from the midwives, and they also showed us a good position for washing his behind, above the sink).
And speaking of washing – they don’t recommend bathing babies until they’re at least one week old. There are multiple important reasons^ for this, such as the protective “wax” the infant is born with. Another reason is the “stump” of the umbilical cord. In Sweden they allow it to fall by its own accord, and getting water in that area isn’t indicated during the first few days.
Rune had made an attempt to breastfeed during the first few hours of life, which is one of the most important reasons why over here they do not take the baby away from the parents (ever). Those first reflexes of the infant help the mother trigger lactation. After that, he slept for about 24 hours.
The next day we had a good breakfast and tried to get some sleep back. We also spent some time talking or chatting with family, close friends and a few other people about the birth. I made sure to keep Crina well fed and hydrated, as we were told this is very important for her milk production.
During the second night, Rune started to wake up and breastfeed. We called the midwives several times, just to make sure he’s always latching correctly. We received advice from several different women, from different shifts. This gave both of us a wide variety of methods to make sure that Rune feeds correctly. For example, they taught us how to remove him from the nipple if he doesn’t take it correctly (by inserting our little finger next to the nipple). I helped as much as I could in positioning him and making sure Crina can lie or sit comfortably.
Important: a baby that doesn’t learn to latch properly from the first days can mean a great deal of trouble later on. For example, the baby may start biting, a behavior that may take a while to change and can lead to sore nipples. Or, lactation might be affected. Making sure that breastfeeding works well should be treated almost as seriously as the preparations for birth, because breastfeeding is the most natural and healthy way a baby can eat.
Rune went through his first medical test during our second day at the baby hotel. They checked if he has jaundice. There was a little bit, but nothing serious, so he needed no light therapy. We ate and we relished in the spectacle of him sleeping “quietly” – babies often make weird (read: funny) sounds after birth, until their respiratory system clears up. He started to feed every now and then, increasing in intensity and duration.
During the third night, we got a bit worried regarding Crina’s lactation. After his solid, long sleep, Rune entered his “feeding frenzy days”, something that we had read about in the brief but excellent “new parent brochure” that we found in the “baby start pack”. He was feeding almost non-stop, sometimes exhibiting signs of frustration with the breast.
However, the midwives assured us that even though he might not get much from the breast during the first few days, Rune is well-equipped to survive with less milk than Crina could currently provide. This was information that was already known to us. Crina had to endure through his feeding frenzy, because Rune’s frustration is what would help in stimulating lactation. The more time he spent at the breast, the sooner and more the lactation would increase.
Important: in normal conditions (not talking about mothers who can’t breastfeed due to various medical reasons), babies do not need artificial supplements (aka formula) in addition to the mother’s milk. The infant can drop as much as 10% in weight (Rune dropped 7%) without any problems whatsoever. Moreover, introducing supplements increases the risk for digestion problems (colic) and other issues. There’s an even worse situation: relying solely on supplements deprives babies of natural, healthy nutrients. And, according to this^ amazing discovery^, the child is capable of requesting antibodies from the mother through saliva. The mechanism makes total sense: a certain amount of saliva is reabsorbed by the breast, and this saliva contains instructions for the mother’s body. The mother then produces the required antibodies and administers them to the child during the next breastfeeding. Isn’t our body amazing? Good luck doing this with formula.
Rune’s desire to eat was almost comical. Sometimes, he would “attack” the breast. He would squirm himself into the breast while whining a little bit. He didn’t need to cry though. We were there at all times and we co-slept for the entire duration. We didn’t even use the baby nest after the first night because he wanted to almost constantly be at Crina’s breast. Our worries transformed into soaring satisfaction when, after one period of feeding, we saw a drop of milk hanging from his lower lip.
Throughout our 3-day stay at the baby hotel, they came two or three more times to perform various tests. I wasn’t exactly thrilled by this, but I guess it’s good to know if your baby has a problem earlier rather than later. The tests didn’t seem to disturb him too much. They checked heart, lungs, eyes, head, testicles, feet and skin (a little jaundice, but again, nothing that wouldn’t go away in a week or two, they thought).
A psychologist also visited us. She wanted to check how Crina is feeling after the birth and to warn about the impending post-trip (oxytocin) crash called “the baby blues”. The psychologist gave us a bit of preventive couple counselling regarding the upcoming few “might be difficult” days and weeks. Post-partum depression^ is not taken lightly in Sweden.
Then, it was time to go home. As we were heading for the car, a unique, never-felt-before emotion came over us. A mix of joy, hope, relief and determination. It moved us towards the future, bringing tears in Crina’s eyes.