You've been waiting for this day for months: Finally you 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 on.
What Your Newborn Looks Like
Although you may have visions of a robust bouncing baby, reality
may not match that image. Many newborns are tiny, wet creatures
when they first emerge. 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 appearance 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 have one of several possible
appearances, looking 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 generally 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
Remember, your baby's appearance will change dramatically
over the next weeks as he or she grows. The limbs will extend, the
skin tone will probably change, and the blotches will
Immediately after birth, your baby will be evaluated through an
to determine his or her state of 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.
The baby is given a score of 0-2 in each category, and the five
numerical results are added together. This total is called 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 the
baby needs help breathing. A score of 7-10 is generally considered
normal, and if your baby receives this score, no special actions
usually need to be taken at that time. A lower score means some
extra measures, such as giving the baby oxygen, may be needed
Your newborn will go through a few other quick procedures, which
- 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, and 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 is taken to the nursery to receive a thorough bath.
Usually the father is allowed to come along. Your baby will be
given vitamin K, by injection, to help the blood clot properly.
Your baby may also receive a dose of
Other tests vary from one hospital to another. Your newborn may
be given a blood test to check blood sugar levels. If the level is
too low or other problems are discovered, the baby may require
immediate medical attention.
blood test will be drawn before the baby leaves the hospital to
look for PKU (phenylketonuria), congenital
, and other diseases that need to be diagnosed early in infancy to
ensure successful treatment. It is recommended that all babies have
a hearing screen before leaving the hospital so possible problems
can be picked up early on.
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 to get
something to eat. If a mother is breastfeeding, this is also the
best way to encourage milk to come in.
Breastfeeding or Bottle-feeding
If a mother has decided to
, she can begin as soon as her newborn is placed in her arms.
Although your milk probably won't fully come in for another day
or two, especially with first-time mothers, the baby does receive
nourishment from your 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 produce
milk. These first feedings are great practice runs for both mom and
Some babies (especially premature and smaller babies) have a
hard time latching on or getting enough suction to nurse from your
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
Initially, you will probably be feeding your baby about every 2
to 3 hours around the clock. If you will be bottle-feeding your
baby, you can usually begin within the first few hours of life.
Having a baby is a major, life-changing experience. Don't be
surprised to find that you go through a broad range of feelings.
You may experience everything from elation to concern to anxiety to
unrestrained joy. And your feelings may change suddenly and
unpredictably. In addition, the mother has just been through quite
a bit physically. There's a good chance she'll be
exhausted, and both parents may start feeling the effects of sleep
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
experience baby blues or the more serious
. A physician, nurse, or counselor can help parents understand
their emotions after the baby arrives.
Friends and Family
Although you want to share your good news with the world, a good
rule of thumb is to keep the first day simple. Make calls to close
friends and family members, and ask them to pass the news along to
other friends and relatives. Having a network of callers 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 tranquil 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
because of the possibility of exposing your baby to infection.
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
, this can be a difficult time. The hospital's medical team is
trained to offer professional recommendations and discuss options.
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 enter an entirely new phase
of your life. Take the time during your baby's first days to
savor this new beginning.
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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