Straight after birth
For the past nine months, you’ve been imagining your bub’s appearance — but you might not have expected a blue and bruised-looking babe, with perhaps a pointy head. “Being squeezed through the birth canal can leave some babies swollen and misshapen,” says Rebecca Byrne of the National Childbirth Trust, UK. “A baby’s skull is made of plates that move to fit through your vagina, and delivery can mould her head into a cone shape. This should return to normal within a few days.” If your delivery involved ventouse or forceps, this moulding can be more extreme.
C-section babies generally look prettier, having avoided the “big squeeze”. You’ll be given your baby to hold as soon as possible. If you’ve had a C-section, you might find this too uncomfortable, so she might be given to your husband and held close to you.
Until her circulation gets going, your baby’s skin may be tinged purple or red. She’ll certainly be slippery from being in amniotic fluid and her hair may be matted with goo. Be prepared for the jellied, bloody stump where her belly button should be — this is what’s left of the umbilical cord once it’s been clamped and cut. The stump will dry up and fall off during the next week.
While labour itself is unpredictable, there are standard postbirth procedures. The medical team will weigh, measure and examine her, count her fingers and toes, look at her eyes, ears, mouth and the soft palate, and make sure she looks normal and is moving and breathing properly.
Your little one will also be given the Apgar test — one minute after birth and again five minutes later — to identify if she needs extra help adjusting to life outside the womb. Named after Dr Virginia Apgar, who devised it in 1952, this test is used to assess whether a newborn needs extra medical care, such as suctioning of the airways. It is not an indication of your child’s long-term health or development.
During the hospital stay, your baby will receive the BCG and hepatitis B injections. Babies will also get their hearing tested. Healthy babies are observed for at least 24 hours in hospital, where the paediatrician assesses their ability to feed, pee and poop, before being discharged. Usually, the paediatrician will see your baby again within a week of birth, in his or her clinic, to assess her development.
What baby will be doing first
Although she might come out crying, a baby is usually wide-eyed and alert immediately after birth. “She’ll be looking for you,” says UK midwife Sue MacDonald. “Her vision is fuzzy, but she will recognise your voice and smell. Some babies instinctively try to find your breast, but if it was a stressful birth, your child might not want to feed immediately. It can take time to get used to being in the world.”
You can help the bonding process. “If possible, as soon as your baby is born, put her onto your bare tummy or chest to get some skin-to-skin contact and keep her there for at least half an hour,” Atkins advises. “This early contact has been shown to boost mother-baby bonding, reduce crying and help get breastfeeding established.”
But don’t worry if this connection takes a while — all babies (and mums) respond differently. After about an hour, newborns tend to go into a long, deep sleep and might doze for much of the next 24 hours, although you could also find yourself feeding her every three hours.
Most babies also have their first “poop”, called meconium, around 12 hours after birth. Unlike normal poop, this is blackish, tarlike and doesn’t smell because it is made up from materials digested while your baby was in the womb. Your baby will pass a varying amount of meconium over the first two to three days.
When it’s time to go home
Most hospitals let new mums stay for two nights if it was a straightforward delivery, and up to four days if you had a C-section. So, the doctors have finally discharged you and now it’s straight into 24-hour mummy-hood.
Whether you are driving home or taking a taxi, put your baby in a car seat. It is the safest way to travel, and if you are caught without a child seat in your car for your infant, you could receive up to three demerit points. Babies tend to sleep on the move, so the journey home might help her to nod off.
However, although it might be tempting to carry the car seat into the house and leave your sleeping baby there, experts advise against it. Sleeping in a semi-upright position can cause pressure on her neck and restrict breathing, so once you’re home, take her out of her car seat and lay her in her cot or on a mattress.
You need to trim her toenails
Even though an infant has tiny finger and toenails, she can scratch her face easily and badly. It is important to keep baby’s nails short. Trim them with baby nail clippers. The best time to do so is when she is asleep.
When your baby cries
Always pick your baby up when she cries. “You can’t spoil a newborn,” midwife Sue MacDonald asserts. “She is not manipulating you or trying to trick you with her crying. This isn’t setting a pattern for the future.”
Babies cry because they are trying to communicate and get your attention. If her needs are met, she will stop crying.
One of the hardest jobs is working out what the various cries mean. Often, your baby’s body language can be clues to how she is feeling — for instance, yawning and blinking at the same time indicates tiredness, while stuffing a fist in her mouth or rooting (moving her head towards anything that touches her face and attempting to find a nipple) often indicates hunger.
Next, we bring you New baby boot camp—babycare 101
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