Once you get through the physical and emotional intensity of childbirth, you are left with the most exciting yet daunting proposition there is in life: responsibility for the care of a newborn baby – a newly arrived tiny human.
From this moment, your life changes irrevocably; your new child is entirely dependent on you. For first-time parents it is a journey into entirely uncharted territory, while for those who have already had a child it may nonetheless still feel like a new experience. First-timers and experienced parents alike, it is normal to wonder what is normal and what’s not normal; it hardly matters how many times you’ve been through the experience.
Here at My BabyManual, we have made it our mission to provide answers to the questions you need to ask in the first twenty-four hours of your baby’s life. Let’s face it, regardless of how elated you feel you are still going to be tired, anxious and eager for reassurance. Read on for help about adjusting to the reality of life with your precious new life.
What should a newborn look like?
Newborns are not all the same and their size, complexion and proportions will vary from family to family. However, you can be certain of a few things: a newborn will have a head that is disproportionately larger than its body (relative to adults); it will have little to no neck; it will have short limbs and a round tummy. The head may be slightly misshapen too, but this is to be expected as it has just endured a long journey down the birth canal, often for longer than ten hours; soft spots on the skull called fontanelles have evolved to allow this.
At birth your baby will be covered in a thick white substance called vernix. However, this washes away and your baby is likely to have normal toned skin. The skin may sometimes have a bluish tinge, but this is normal.
It is also normal for your child to have scratches, bruises or some areas of discolouration after delivery. Your baby has just experienced life’s greatest journey and very probably has also been poked and probed by all manner of obstetric instruments and healthcare specialists. Bear in mind that if your baby has been born prematurely her skin may appear more transparent and may even be covered in a fine downy hair called lanugo.
Your baby may have little pimple-like white dots on her face. These are called milia. They are perfectly normal and will soon fade.
As for baby’s hair, if she has any at birth, the colour can vary of course and may change over time. The same is true of eyes. Children with African or Asian ancestry are most likely to have brown or dark grey eyes while mixed race children can have many different eye colours; and Caucasian children will probably have dark blue eyes. But eye colour can change over the first few months.
How much sleep will baby need?
You are likely to be exhausted, but fortunately your newborn will require a lot of sleep as well. Most new babies sleep between 15 and 18 hours a day. However, you are unlikely to enjoy a long stretch of shuteye. as most newborns sleep in blocks of two to four hours, regardless of the time of day. If you can, try to nap when your baby sleeps, even if it’s only for a metter of minutes.
How often will baby need feeding?
Newborns have tiny little tummies that are not much larger than your average sized blueberry. However, they are very efficient at digesting breast and formula milk and it is common for a newborn to breastfeed eight to 12 times in a single 24-hour period.
This means that you can expect your baby to feed every two to three hours. However, this will vary from newborn to newborn and some may engage in cluster feeds followed by long periods of sleep.
It is a good idea to let your baby lead the way in the feeding regime. If she is healthy, she will tell you when she is hungry and will wake when she needs to be fed – keep her close by so that you can respond to her instructions! If your baby has received any medication or has a medical condition, you may need to wake and prompt her for her feeds.
How much sick is normal?
It is perfectly normal for newborns to vomit and to vomit regularly. For a start, baby may vomit the last bits of amniotic fluid that were ingested in the womb, as well as mucous from the lining of her stomach. This mucous can become stuck in the back of the throat and can make them appear as if they are choking. However, this is usually nothing to worry about and making your baby a little more upright can help ease her through this discomfort.
It is also normal for new babies to regurgitate some of the milk they ingest. This is nothing to worry about. Most vomiting is fine. However, seek help if vomiting is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Vomit that is discoloured a tinge of yellow, orange or green
- Fewer than six wet nappies in 24 hours
You should also seek medical help if your baby vomits any blood. However, even this may be normal as newborns do swallow blood during delivery and may ingest it while feeding from cracked or bleeding nipples.
What about baby’s first poo?
Your baby’s first poo will be black like tar and completely odourless. It is called meconium. Don’t get too excited though, once bacteria begins to colonise the gut with the first feed, it will develop a more usual faeces smell.
If the first poo doesn’t arrive within the first 24 hours following delivery, the hospital will look for any sign of intestinal blockage or a stuck stool, called a meconium plug.
You should seek immediate help if any of baby’s first poos are white, clay-coloured or red as these could be the sign of a problem such as liver disease.
When should I bathe baby?
Your baby should not have a bath straight after birth. Instead the midwife will wipe her down. If she has a white covering called vermix on her skin, this will be left on as it is a great natural barrier to help keep your baby’s skin clean and infection-free.
However, it is generally fine to give healthy full-term babies a bath any time from two hours following delivery. Just be sure that the water temperature is suitable and that the room is not too cold. Your midwife can help you with this. Remember, there is no need to give your baby a bath any time during the first week; it may prove more convenient for you to just ‘top and tail’ as and when necessary.
How should baby sleep?
It is a good idea to always have baby nearby when either of you are sleeping. Also, for the sake of safety, keep to the following rules:
- Place your baby on her back to sleep
- Place your baby in a cot or moses basket in the same room as you
- Use a new, firm and flat mattress
- Don’t put anything extra in with your baby, i.e. toys
- Ensure there is no loose bedding in the cot or moses basket
- Use a room temperature thermometer to ensure the room is not too warm or too cool
Visits from friends and family
We all want to introduce our newborn to friends and family as soon as possible; but, it can be wise to give yourself a bit of space in the first 24 hours after delivery.
The first day of life is probably too soon to introduce a baby to friends and all but the most intimate of family members (although this is, of course, at your discretion).
However, it is important to keep some space and having your partner act as a gatekeeper is a great way to achieve this. It is important that you bond with your baby and the best way to do this is to create a private space. Crucially, keep any friend or relative who has a cold or virus at bay; your baby doesn’t want to catch anything unnecessarily and there is nothing wrong with making people wait a few days or weeks.
How much do newborns cry?
It is normal for newborns to cry for a total of around two hours a day. However, crying can mean many things, including the following:
- I’m hungry
- I want to be held
- I’m tired
- I need changing
- I want some attention
- I’m too hot or cold
When you come to the end of your first 24 hours with your newborn, whether you are still in the hospital or at home, you will have achieved something fabulous. So congratulate yourself and take your first steps into Day 2.