From feeds to sleep, get to grips with your newborn’s first to-do list
Woah. Even after nine months of planning, nothing can totally prepare you for the overwhelming realisation that you are responsible for one very special little package. Exciting! Oh yes. Scary? That, too. But forewarned is forearmed – so read on for what you might expect from your baby’s ‘firsts’
First waking moments
All babies are unique, so there’s no telling exactly what she’ll do in her first moments. She may spend 20 minutes looking around and trying to adjust to her startling new environment, she may fall asleep immediately or root for a feed. Just be guided by her.
Once your baby is born, she’ll usually be placed straight onto your chest for her first feed. Many babies latch on immediately, but some need a little help to get into the right position. ‘Your midwife will help with that,’ says Gail Johnson, from the Royal College of Midwives. If you decide to bottle feed your baby, your midwife will show you how to sterilise your bottles and make up formula.
Being born is a tiring experience for everyone, your newborn included
After your baby has had skin-to-skin contact and a feed, your midwife will put her in a nappy. This will need changing within a few hours. Your midwife will show you how to hold your baby’s legs up, where to put nappy rash cream and how to avoid leaks. Some hospital units will provide nappies, but pack some in your hospital bag just in case. ‘If you’re not sure when to change your newborn, have a peek down the back of her nappy,’ says Gail. Your baby’s first bowel movements are called meconium and are a dark, green-black colour and very sticky. Once she starts drinking milk, her poo will change to a yellow-brown colour.
Being born is a tiring experience for everyone, your newborn included, so don’t be surprised if your newborn falls asleep soon afterwards. Your baby will be placed in a cot by your bed to nap. ‘Some pain-relief drugs, such as pethidine, could make your baby more drowsy,’ says Gail. ‘Even if she’s sleepy, you’ll be advised to wake her up at least every three hours for a feed.’ This may sound like a good time for you to sleep as well but, with all the hormones and adrenaline pumping around your body, it might not come easily. (Another one of your first experiences – the many worries of motherhood.) Try to rest and take it all in.
Your baby will be given a quick wipe down after birth to remove any amniotic fluid. ‘Midwives will try not to remove too much vernix – the waxy substance that covers your baby – as it protects her skin in the first few days,’ says Gail. It’ll be up to you when you want to bath your baby – you can do it while you’re in hospital, but many mums wait until they get home. The water should be around 15cm deep and 37ºC – use a bath thermometer to check the temperature.
If your delivery is uncomplicated, your stay in hospital is likely to be short and you’ll be ready for the drive home. The midwives should also make sure you understand how to feed your baby, who will be checked over by a paediatrician before you’re discharged. Avoid a car park grapple with your car seat by fitting it beforehand – by law, you can’t go home without it and you’ll have to show the hospital you have one. ‘You’ll need a rear-facing Group 0 car seat, which you secure using a seatbelt or with an ISOFIX system, where the seat is clicked into a base screwed into the car’s chassis,’ says doula Kerry Pocock. Staff may want to check your baby’s strapped in properly before you leave.
First Night at home
Woo hoo! Your first night at home with your newborn. It’s both exciting and also overwhelming. But, remember, she’ll sleep a lot at first, probably 15 hours a day (don’t get excited, it won’t last). She’ll wake for feeds every two or three hours. Dress her in a vest and babygro, and keep an eye on her temperature. You can check if she’s too hot by feeling her stomach. ‘Newborn circulation is slow, so her hands and feet may feel quite cool, but that doesn’t mean she’s too cold,’ says Gail. Keep a crib or Moses basket next to your bed so you can feed her easily. Cover her with a blanket, but ensure her feet are at the bottom of the basket so she can’t wriggle underneath the cover.
First Trip out
Apart from a nappy bag and muslins, babies don’t need much, especially if you’re only out for an hour or so. For the first time, pick a location close to home. ‘Go somewhere that doesn’t involve transport – your local park or café are good options,’ says Nicola. If the pram seems too big for your newborn, a sling is a much cosier way to transport her. ‘It’s normal to feel anxious about introducing your baby to the big wide world, so take along your partner, mum or a friend to help you stay relaxed,’ says Nicola.