From birth, your doctor will check your newborn’s vital signs: their breathing, their heartbeat, the color of their skin, their reaction to stimulations and their movements.
This test, called the Apgar test, gives scores between 0 and 10. Most babies receive a score between 7 and 10. The test is run again five minutes later to verify the first result. It can improve significantly in the meantime.
Going back home
When you bring your baby home for the first time, it turns your world upside down and you usually feel helpless. Even if you had been feeling ready for a while, you will soon realize that your knowledge and your skills will be facing a huge challenge.
During your first weeks with your baby, you will experience a lot of different and intense emotions. Within a few days, you will go from being a childless woman to being a mother discovering a wonderful little being. Although they will probably be very quiet during the first days, you might be a little frazzled by all the efforts needed for this new learning experience.
And even if you consider the superhuman effort required by birth, you will understand that your baby is going through the biggest trauma of their life. Don’t be too hard on yourself and give yourself some time to adapt. Your new status of parent is about to hatch!
If this is your first child, you have everything to learn: how to feed them, how to hold them in your arms comfortably, how to pamper them, how to understand what they mean when they cry, etc.
Height and weight
If your baby was born at term, between the 37th and 42nd week of pregnancy, they will measure, on average, between 45 and 55 cm, the equivalent of 18 to 21 inches and their weight could vary between 2,500g and 4,300g (5 to 9 pounds).
Babies can loose weight during their first weeks of life. It is perfectly normal. In general, they lose 5% to 10% of their initial weight. This weight loss is caused by the shock of birth and by the small amounts of milk taken. Don’t worry, they will put their birth weight back on between their 8th and 15th day.
At birth, a baby can have a pink or purplish skin depending on their origins. Usually paler, their hands and feet can remain blue for over 48 hours after birth. We must give their body some time to adjust its temperature.
If their skin is mottled, it should get back to normal when their internal thermostat finds its balance.
You will soon notice that your baby’s skin is incredibly soft. Smooth and translucent in certain places, it is so thin that it shows their blood vessel network. Wrinkled in other places, it can start peeling.
When the baby is born, their skin in covered with the same white polish that used to protect them from the water in their mother’s womb. Their skin will absorb this substance, called vernix, during the following hours or the following days.
Some newborns are also covered in a small duvet called lanugo that will also disappear during their first weeks of life.
Jaundice usually affects full-term babies. It appears 2 to 3 days after the baby is born; the baby’s skin will become yellow and the color will intensify by the hour. Commonly called newborns jaundice, the neonatal jaundice or neonatal hyperbilirubinemia affects 60% of full-term healthy babies and 80% of premature babies. It reaches its peak after 3 or 4 days and disappears after a week. It can last more than a week in premature children.
Jaundice is caused by the elevation of the bilirubin concentration in their blood. Bilirubin is the yellow breakdown of heme, a component of the red blood cells and is usually eliminated in the stools. Sometimes a too large amount of bilirubin is reabsorbed in the intestines and it causes jaundice.
Usually declared before leaving the hospital, jaundice can be detected by a blood test that will confirm its gravity. If you notice that your child’s skin is yellow when you go back home, contact your doctor or take your baby to the clinic. A more notable jaundice is usually found in infants who drink less or whose intestines are not working as well.
Back in foetal position
During these first few weeks of life, you will see that when your baby sleeps, they go back to their foetal position. Their natural instinct is bringing them back to this reassuring position. A lot of infants keep this habit for a while, especially when they are all curled up with their loving mother!
The umbilical cord
We call umbilical cord the tube that feeds your baby and links them to the placenta. When it is cut at birth, it is white. It dries and darkens as the days go by. The nurse ties it up with a big plastic clip to ensure coagulation. In time, it will dry up and heal to finally fall by itself after 7 to 30 days.
How to take care and clean the belly button and the rest of the umbilical cord
Clean the contour of the belly button with cotton or a cotton swab soaked in warm water several times a day until it healed completely. To prevent moisture and irritation, the belly button must always be dry and free of gauze or bandages. The rest of the cord can detach partially on a period of 2 to 3 days with or without a few drops of blood. If it only slightly leaks, it is not dangerous because the cord will fall off and its healing will continue normally. On the other hand, if a smelly discharge comes out of the belly button, you should contact your doctor.
The shape of their head
Your baby’s head will seem, at first, bigger and heavier than the rest of their body. It is only an illusion, but you should still manipulate their head very carefully and hold it in permanence. Make sure that your baby can move their head right and left. Stay alert and change the head’s side often when your baby sleeps to avoid a stiff neck.
Some manoeuvres performed during labor can temporarily change your baby’s head shape. Don’t worry; it will get back to its normal round shape after a few weeks.
At birth, the bones of their skull are not yet welded and are very flexible. At the top of the baby’s skull, there is a little diamond-shaped membrane. This soft spot that forms a little hollow when your baby sits is called the fontanel. It joins definitively at the age of 10 to 18 months.
Most newborns have grey or blue eyes. Their color will change during the first year to take their definitive color. The tears only appear around the third or fourth week. Don’t worry if you don’t see them right away, you will see them enough later!
If your little boy was born at term, his testicles should’ve already moved down into the scrotum and have a purplish color. Your paediatrician will confirm this when he examines Junior.
You will notice that the foreskin (excess skin that covers the tip of the penis) is attached to the gland (the bulb of the penis). Never move this skin or force it to detach. It is not necessary to force its expansion because it could be painful and hurt your child. In more than 90% of the cases, boys will naturally have expanded by the age of three years.
Note that circumcision is not recommended unless your religious beliefs order it or by an extreme concern for hygiene. Circumcision is extremely painful for your baby because it involves cutting some or the entire foreskin.
It is possible, for a little girl, to have swollen labia minora for the first 2 or 3 days after birth. She can also have a white coating (vernix caseosa) on her labia and vulva. Gently wipe the excess but don’t clean it completely because it serves as an antibacterial protection. You could be very surprised when your daughter has a mini-menstruation caused by the hormonal surplus transferred by her mother after birth. It will only be a few drops of blood and only on the first week. It is normal and it will only happen once.
Birthmarks are different from one baby to another. These pink or reddish marks are located between the eyes, on the eyelids or on the bottom of the neck. They become whitish when you press them and can get darker when your baby gets angry or when they cry. This type of staining usually disappears during the first years of life.
Blue and cyanotic stains located on the upper buttocks or lower back may disappear or decrease in intensity with time, around the age of 3 or 5 years old. When they are very dark, like strawberry birthmarks, they can be permanent.
Succedaneum bumps are the result of oedema and a visible accumulation of blood under the scalp at birth. The use of forceps or ventouses during labor doesn’t usually lead to brain damage.
Pimples and spots
In the hours following birth, many babies develop little white spots. Usually located on the nose and on the chin, these little spots are caused by the blockage of the sweat glands and slowly disappear over the first few weeks. As for the pimples that don’t seem to disappear and are larger than a pinhead, they come from an accumulation of fat and dirt in the pores. No treatment is required; expect a delay of 1 to 2 months for the pimples to disappear naturally.
Sneezing and hiccups
At the very beginning of their young life, your baby sneezes a lot. They needs some time to adapt to their new environment and the hairs that protect the inside of their nose are not yet developed. Thus, they can sneeze up to 10 or 12 times a day to release the secretions in their nose that disturb their breathing.
Hiccups usually occur after feedings. It is not painful and it disappears after a few minutes.
Not too hot
A newborn needs to be warm but not too much. You will soon learn to understand their desires. Do they hate being hot or do they like to be wrapped in a blanket?
Usually their room temperature should be between 20 and 24°C (68-75 F). For the rest of the house, rely on how you feel. If you are comfortable, they will be too. It is better to add a blanket on their bed than to raise the room’s temperature. Let them breathe and move and don’t wrap them too tightly in blankets.
Periods of sleep and awakening
You will get the feeling, at first, that your baby sleeps all the time. In fact, they can sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day because they need to but soon their sleeping habits will change and they will need to sleep less. They awakening periods will last longer and their sleeping periods will shorten. If hunger can wake them up 6 to 8 times a day, they will sleep again quickly as soon as they will be fed. As they grow up, the urge to see you could replace the urge for a midnight snack. If this is the case, maybe it is time to move on to the next stage.
You may have to wake up small or premature babies if the times between feedings are too long.
Through the night
That’s every parent’s dream… But reality is different. You are the one who must adapt, not your baby. In fact sleeping through the night for a baby means sleeping five hours in a row between 11:00 p.m. and 7 in the morning. This will only happen when your baby has a defined schedule, around 3 or 4 months old, even 8 to 10 months old for some babies.
All kinds of theories on how to place your baby in bed appeared over the years. Today, however, paediatricians agree that from birth, a baby should be placed on their back, on a firm mattress. The position on the back is recommended because it reduces the risks of choking compared with the positions on the side or on the tummy. Don’t leave anything besides a blanket in their bed and place it in a way that will not obstruct breathing. Avoid pillows and other objects that will make it difficult to move. Place your baby away from the protection borders so that their face does not get buried and stuck.