After the excitement of labour and birth, you suddenly find yourself alone with this new human, midwives, doctors, and nurses all gone. ‘How can this be?’ you think, as you look at tiny stranger in your arms. ‘How can I be in charge of this creature when I have no idea what I’m doing?’
The good news is that your baby and you will probably spend most of the first 24 hours sleeping. Although it’s tempting to just stare at your beautiful baby for hours on end, you really should get some sleep. It’s a necessary way to start the babymoon, the period of laying in, bonding as a newly shaped family, and recovering your energy.
But, what next? Here’s what you need to know for your baby’s first week.
Your baby’s colour
What it looks like: A newborn’s hands and feet are usually much paler than their torso and face, even looking a little bluish.
What’s happening: There is some incredible stuff going on inside your baby’s little body. From the moment they start breathing air, everything inside starts to change – the blood vessels that brought them oxygen through their umbilical cord aren’t needed anymore and start to shut off. The pressure in their lungs is now different. Their heart structure actually changes, changing the way blood is pumped through their body. So, as their insides morph and change, their blood is sent to those areas that need it most – their internal organs while the parts of their body that don’t need as much – their hands and feet – get a little less.
When to act: If their abdomen or face turn blue, that is cause for immediate concern and action.
Your baby’s sounds
What it looks (sounds) like: There will be some strange sounds coming out of your newborn in the first few days. By far the most alarming one sounds a lot like a cat trying to bring up a giant hairball. Or, like an exorcism. I always act this out when I’m teaching my prenatal classes (it’s one of my most charming moments) so that parents understand what it sounds like. If you’re not prepared for, it can be a terrifying thing to hear coming from little angelic bundle.
What’s happening: Your baby’s lungs in utero were full of fluid and the little munchkin is just clearing it out. If you hear this noise, just roll him/her onto her side and rub her back as she works it out.
When to act: If your baby seems to be actually choking and struggling for air, it is cause for immediate emergency action.
Your baby’s breathing
What it looks/sounds like: Much like the scariness of the exorcism sound described above, a newborn’s breathing pattern can also be a little frightening if you’re not expecting it. Your little muffin might be breathing, breathing, breathing and then… STOP….. long pause….. and breathing, breathing, breathing. It’s that stop and long pause that can be, understandably, alarming. Don’t panic: wait a few seconds. Again, I demonstrate this for clients in my classes (it’s a bit more charming than the hairball act).
What’s happening: As their insides get organized, their breathing does too. This means that, unlike our breathing, which is rhythmic and regular, a newborn’s is erratic and irregular until they get it sorted.
When to act: If your baby appears to be actually struggling for breath, it is cause for immediate emergency action.
Your baby’s eating
What is looks like: Your baby just wants to be on you all the time, sucking non-stop. You don’t even think he’s actually getting anything from your breast and is just soothing himself.
What’s happening: Just that. Your baby was literally a part of you a few short hours ago. Your breathing, your sound, your warmth, the smell of you – YOU are your baby’s home, and what your baby needs and wants. About all that sucking: before your breast milk comes in (usually around day 3), your baby will be getting colostrum (a.k.a. liquid gold). It has everything your baby needs and is highly concentrated so he doesn’t need much.
BUT – even when your baby isn’t ‘eating’ it’s no reason to take them off the breast. The act of sucking is, in itself, performing an important function. It is stimulating the release of hormones that lead to the production of breast milk. So, the more baby sucks, the better it is for you milk production. Not only that, but it also releases oxytocin, that amazing happy hormone that made your uterus contract in labour. In the postpartum, it still keeps your uterus contracting and reducing the risk of hemorrhage. All that oxytocin also reduces the risk of postpartum depression, and promotes bonding with your baby.
Your baby’s pee and poop
What it looks like: In the first 24 hours, your baby should have one pee and one poop. Because your baby hasn’t consumed much liquid yet, the first pee will be very small and probably be tough to detect in a disposable diaper. Rip off a small piece of toilet paper and put it in the diaper to make it easy to detect the pee.
Your baby’s poop for the first few days will be a very thick, black, tar-like substance called meconium. Meconium is the product of what your baby ingested in the womb. And that stuff is suuuuuper sticky.
Use this pro tip to save you and your baby’s tush some grief: before you put on their first diaper, rub some olive oil on their skin over the entire area. The meconium will slide right off and you won’t need to scrub that tender skin. Reapply olive oil for as long as the meconium sticks around, which will be for a few days or until your baby’s tummy starts processing its new diet.
Your baby’s warmth
New parents are often tempted to overdress a baby, especially in our cold winters. The thing is, if a baby is too warm (or too cool), it can interrupt their sleep patterns. Sleep patterns are connected to eating needs so everything gets out of whack. Babies need one more layer than you do – no more, no less. So, if you wear a t-shirt and a light blanket to sleep (2 layers), then your baby needs to wear 3 layers – perhaps an undershirt onesie and two sleepers, maybe a light cap too. However, don’t use blankets or loose-fitting clothing for your baby.