What to expect in the first few hours with your baby

What to expect in the first few hours with your baby

After the intensity of labor, meeting your newborn baby for the first time is an overwhelming experience. You’ll be relieved, proud, amazed, and sore in equal measure. Thanks to a rush of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’, you’ll also be head-over-heels in love. This article explains what to expect in the first few hours with your baby.

Love at first sight

Those first precious moments with your baby are intense – fuelled by a rush of hormones designed to promote bonding and a desire to protect. Meeting your newborn makes those nine months of pregnancy and the stress of labor all worthwhile. Skin-to-skin contact is a beautiful way to start bonding with your baby straight after birth, but don’t worry – not all mums feel an instant bond. Your love will grow with your baby.

First touch

As soon as possible after delivery, your midwife will place your newborn onto your chest. This close contact allows you to gaze into your baby’s eyes, have a look at their features, and give them their very first comforting cuddle; all important steps in getting to know each other. As well as providing emotional benefits for both of you, incredibly this first embrace has many physical health benefits for your baby. It helps to regulate their body temperature, glucose levels, and respiratory rate and the bacteria on your skin will kick-start their immune system by enabling the colonisation of your baby’s skin with beneficial bacteria. It also promotes their instinctive desire to breastfeed.

First Bond.

Both mother and baby benefit from being in contact immediately after birth. Give your baby your full attention during this precious time. Gaze at his face and let him hear the voices of his parents that he has already learned to recognize in the womb.

Lay your baby on your chest, tummy to tummy, cheek to breast, skin to skin. Cover your baby with a blanket, and your body heat will keep him warm better than any elaborate hospital equipment.

After holding your baby close to you after birth, let him breastfeed right away.

Place your baby in a face-to-face position, adjusting your head and your baby’s head so that your eyes meet. Enjoy this visual connection during the brief period of quiet alertness after birth.

Remember to talk to your newborn during the first hours and days after birth; a natural baby-talk dialogue will develop a bond between mother and baby. Voice-analysis studies have shown a unique rhythm and comforting cadence to the mother’s voice.

First feed

Soon after birth, your baby will try to find your breast to feed on, turning their head towards the smell of your milk and opening their mouth if something touches their lip. Latching on and sucking may take a bit more practice, but your midwife should be on hand to help you both.

The first few days of breastfeeding are the most important, as your baby reaps the benefits of ‘colostrum’. This thick, yellow substance is the first milk you produce. It provides all the nutrients your baby needs in a highly concentrated form. As your baby’s tummy is about the size of a marble, they only need a few teaspoons a day, but this amazing milk provides an array of benefits:
  • It’s the perfect food – easily digestible, with all the protein, fat, and vitamins your baby needs
  • It passes on your antibodies and friendly bacteria to start building their immune system and a healthy gut
  • It’s a laxative that helps clear your baby’s bowels of meconium.
Breastfeeding ‘on-demand’ will help you to produce all the milk your baby needs. It also stimulates contractions, which will shrink your uterus and help to prevent excessive blood loss. It’s not always easy to get breastfeeding right the first time, so make sure you take advantage of all the help your midwife can offer in the early days.

“Skin-to-skin contact is a beautiful way to start building the bond straight after birth”

First checks

It’s reassuring to know that within the first 72 hours of your baby’s life they should be closely examined to ensure they’re healthy. The first check, carried out in the first few minutes of life, is called an Apgar score. It helps your midwife or doctor to decide if your baby needs immediate medical help, by assessing things like skin color, heart rate, and reflexes. It is not used as an indicator of longer-term health issues, and if your baby is otherwise healthy, there’s no need to worry about a low Apgar score.

Other postnatal checks include eye health, ears, heart, hips, and testes for boys. Hearing is checked by making clicking noises in your baby’s ear and listening for an echo. It’s painless and often done while your baby’s sleeping. Your baby will also have a ‘heel prick’ test when they are 5–8 days old. A blood sample is taken from their heel and tested for metabolic disorders like phenylketonuria (PKU), Medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD), cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, and congenital hypothyroidism.

Weight is also carefully monitored. Although it’s normal for a baby to lose weight in their first week of life, your health visitor or midwife will monitor their weight to make sure everything is ok.

How to hold a newborn

Picking up and holding a newborn can be quite daunting at first. They’re so precious and tiny. The main thing to remember is to support your baby’s head at all times. Apart from that, it’s about finding a way that’s comfortable for both of you. Why not try these common holds?

Cradle hold: Back of neck, head, and spine are all supported by the arm and wide-open hand. The other hand supports the bottom.

Snuggle hold: Chest-to-chest with one hand supporting the back of the head and one hand under their bottom. Turn their head to one side so as not to obstruct their breathing.

Face-to-face hold: Hold your baby in front of you with their legs on your stomach. One hand under the head and one supporting the bottom. Great for interaction.

Rugby hold: With baby curled around your waist, and their legs stretched out behind you, draw them close, using one arm to support the back and neck and the opposite hand to support the head.

Belly hold: Chest and belly draped over your arm, head resting in the elbow crease and hand supporting the groin.

Umbilical cord care

You may be surprised to learn that your newborn has a 2–3cm stump of umbilical cord remaining on their tummy, often secured by a plastic clamp or tie. It has no nerve endings, so your baby can’t feel a thing, and all you need to do is to keep it clean for a week or so until it drops off. Don’t feel tempted to pull it off; let it come away naturally. Your midwife or health visitor will check the stump regularly for infection, but talk to them if you have any concerns.

Next steps

  • If you have any queries or concerns about your newborn, or your own health and well-being, make sure you speak to your midwife.
  • It’s important you get time to rest and bond with your baby in the early days. Get your partner to manage visitors, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • You’re probably going to feel quite sore at first, so ask for help when you need it and take it easy. It’ll help you to recover quicker.
  • Breastfeeding is the most important skill you can master in the early days. Your midwife will have tons of tips on techniques to make it easier; make the most of their help while you can.

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