You've been waiting for this day for months: Now you finally get to meet your new
baby. But like many new parents, you might not have a clear idea of what that meeting
will be like.
Wondering how your baby will look and what he or she will do after arriving? Read
What Your Newborn Looks Like
You probably have visions of a robust bouncing baby, but in reality many newborns
are tiny, wet creatures when they first arrive. Often their heads are slightly pointed
as a result of passing through the birth canal. This is only temporary — the
head will take on a rounded look within a few days. It may surprise you that a newborn's
head is so big compared with the rest of the body.
Your baby also may look scrunched up since the legs and arms have been kept bent
at the knees and elbows while in the womb. After months of growing in ever-tightening
close quarters, this is perfectly normal. The limbs will straighten out as your baby
Look at your baby's tiny fingers and toes. You'll notice the paper-thin —
and sometimes long — nails.
Your baby's skin may look somewhat red, pink, or purple at first. Some babies are
born with a white coating called vernix caseosa, which protects their skin from the
constant exposure to amniotic fluid in the womb. The vernix is washed off with the
baby's first bath. Other babies are born very wrinkled. And some, especially premature
babies, have a soft, furry appearance because of lanugo, a fine hair that develops
while in the womb. Lanugo usually comes off after a week or two.
Rashes, blotches, or tiny white spots also are common on newborns. These usually
clear up over the first few days or weeks after birth. The doctor will examine your
baby within the first 12–24 hours of birth and make sure that any rashes or
spots are normal.
Remember, your baby's appearance will change a lot over the next weeks. The limbs
will extend, the skin tone will probably change, and the blotches will disappear.
Right after birth, an Apgar
score will evaluate your baby's health. This routine test measures a baby's responsiveness
and vital signs. Five factors are checked: heart rate, breathing, color, activity
and muscle tone, and grimace reflex response.
Babies get a score of 0–2 in each category, and the five results are combined
to get the Apgar score. The evaluation is done again at 1 minute and again at 5 minutes.
This quick and easy test is given mainly to see if a baby needs help breathing. A
score of 7–10 is generally considered normal. If your baby gets this score,
no special actions are needed. A lower score means some extra help, such as giving
the baby oxygen, may be needed.
Your newborn will go through a few other quick procedures, which may include:
clearing the nasal passages with a suction bulb
weight, head circumference, and length measured
eye ointment or drops given to prevent infection
The medical staff will dry your baby and place a blanket around him or her. All
of this happens very quickly. Before you know it, your baby is in your arms for some
special bonding time. After a first breastfeeding attempt, it's time for a few more
procedures, usually after about 10–30 minutes.
While the mother rests in either the birthing or recovery room, the baby goes to
the nursery for a thorough bath. Usually the father can come along. Your baby will
get a vitamin K injection
to help the blood clot properly and prevent a serious bleeding disorder. Your baby
also may get a dose of hepatitis
B vaccine, with your consent.
Other tests vary from one hospital to another. Your newborn may get a blood test
to check blood sugar or bilirubin levels. If problems are found, the baby may need
immediate medical attention.
Also, a newborn
screening blood test is done before the baby leaves the hospital to look for PKU
hypothyroidism, and other diseases that need to be diagnosed early in infancy
to ensure successful treatment. All babies should have a hearing screen before leaving
the hospital so that problems are found early.
With a vaginal birth, the average newborn stay is about 48 hours. With a cesarean
delivery, it is about 96 hours.
What Your Baby Does on the First Day
Many parents are surprised to see how alert a newborn really is. Right after birth,
a newborn's eyes are open quite a bit and babies spend a lot of time studying faces
— especially their parents'. Your baby may turn or react to the sound of your
voices. Your baby is using all of the senses, including smell and touch, to further
identify and become attached to you.
Your newborn will cry, sleep, and at times will look directly into your eyes. Although
the vision is blurry, your baby can best see something (such as your face) that is
about 8 to 15 inches away. Your baby will grab onto your finger if you place it in
his or her palm. And of course, your baby will want to eat.
After initially being very awake, most newborns get sleepy for about the next 24
hours. It's important to wake them to feed every 2 to 3 hours so they get used to
the process and start eating well. If a mother is breastfeeding, this is also the
best way to encourage her milk to come in.
Feeding Your Baby
A woman who's breastfeeding
can begin as soon as her newborn is placed in her arms. Her milk probably won't fully
come in for another day or two, especially for a first-time mom, but babies do get
nourishment from colostrum, a precursor to actual breast milk. For some women colostrum
is thin and watery; for others it is thick and yellowish. As your baby sucks on your
breast, this action triggers hormones to tell your body that it's time to make milk.
Some babies (especially premature and smaller babies) have a hard time latching
on or getting enough suction to nurse from the breast. A nurse, breastfeeding counselor,
or lactation consultant can help you and your baby overcome any hurdles. Even if breastfeeding
is going smoothly from the start, it's still helpful to learn as much about it as
you can from a breastfeeding specialist.
Initially, you will probably be feeding your baby about every 2 to 3 hours around
the clock. If you bottle-feed your
baby, you can usually begin within the first few hours of life.
Having a baby is a life-changing experience. Don't be surprised to find that you
go through a broad range of feelings. You may feel everything from relief to concern
to anxiety to pure joy. And your feelings may change suddenly and unpredictably. And
a new mom has just been through quite a bit physically. There's a good chance you'll
be exhausted, and both parents may start feeling the effects of sleep deprivation.
Every parent reacts differently. Some mothers "forget" the difficulties of labor
as soon as they catch a glimpse of their newborns. Some feel high levels of energy
driven by the excitement of finally having the baby. Still others feel sad and may
have baby blues or the more serious postpartum
A physician, nurse, or counselor can help parents understand their emotions after
the baby arrives.
Friends and Family
Try to keep the first day simple. Contact close friends and family members, and
ask them to pass the news along to other friends and relatives. This will free you
to spend more time with your newborn.
It's fine to have your loved ones meet the baby the first day. Grandparents or
siblings can meet the newest family member and start to bond right away. But avoid
a parade of visitors in and out of the room to keep the baby's first day quiet and
low-key. Parents and baby need plenty of rest and quiet bonding time.
It's also wise to limit visitors in the first few weeks to protect your baby from
infections. Whenever visitors come, make sure they are not sick, and have everyone
wash their hands before touching the baby.
If There's a Problem
If your baby is born with a problem or arrives prematurely,
this can be a difficult time. The hospital's medical team is there to help. If you're
not up to talking with a doctor yet, don't be afraid to ask your partner or another
close relative to do so. The medical staff will be sensitive to your needs.
For many parents, talking with a counselor or clergy member brings some comfort.
Many support groups are available to give you the emotional backing you'll need. Don't
hesitate to ask for help.
When your baby is born, you'll begin an entirely new phase of your life. Take the
time during your baby's first days to enjoy this new beginning.