Are you expecting? Quickly approaching your due date? You’re probably finding yourself wondering what to expect in the weeks or even months after your little one’s arrival.
Those night-time feeds, the new sleep-schedules, that first Christmas or birthday! We understand how exciting the future currently looks.
What you may not have considered, however, is what to expect in those precious first 24 hours after you’ve given birth.
In order to help you feel a bit more familiar with the likely events of your first day post-birth, we at The Parents Class have decided to put together a post detailing what to expect, for both you and baby.
What happens straight after birth?
Bonding with your baby
One of the first things you can expect after the birth is your newborn child being placed on your chest.
A magical moment, this skin-skin contact has been shown to maximise mother-child bonding in what’s called the ‘Golden Hour’.
You can specify that you want this uninterrupted hour of skin-to-skin contact with your baby in your birthing plan.
During this first hour, it is also worthwhile trying breastfeeding. Not only can this be a wonderfully bonding experience, but your baby will benefit from feeding on the colostrum (the nutrient rich fluid your breasts produce after birth).
Beginning breastfeeding during ‘Golden Hour’ can also help your uterus contract and slow any heavy bleeding.
If you’re struggling to breastfeed after birth, your delivery nurses will be able to help. You’ll also be able to request a lactation consultant.
Along with skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding, another way of maximising bonding immediately after birth is by establishing eye contact with your baby.
Newborns usually open their eyes a short time after they are born and will be able to see only up to 8-10 inches away: the perfect distance for gazing up into your eyes.
You may find that delivery room nurses apply an antibiotic solution or ointment to your baby’s eyes which can cause temporary blurriness in their vision.
You can request that this be delayed in order for you to establish eye contact with your newborn, an important process in your bonding with them.
At intervals of a minute and five minutes after birth, doctors will conduct what’s known as an APGAR test, where they’ll check your baby against five criteria:
- Appearance – your baby’s general appearance will be checked to ensure they are a normal, healthy colour.
- Pulse – your baby’s heart rate will be checked to ensure a stable beat
- Grimace – your baby’s reflexes and reaction to different kinds of stimulation will be checked
- Activity – your baby will be checked to make sure they are making spontaneous, natural movements
- Respiration – your baby will be breathing more rapidly than you (about 30-60 breaths per minute compared with 12 to 18 breaths per minute in adults). Nurses will check to ensure that their breathing is as it should be.
The test is scored 0-10, with 7 or more considered very healthy. 98% of newborns reach 7 on the Apgar test within five minutes.
You’ll be offered a vitamin K injection for your child fairly soon after they’re born. This is to help prevent a rare disease called haemorrhagic disease of the newborn.
Your midwife should’ve already discussed the injection with you during your pregnancy.
If you’d prefer for your baby not to have the vitamin K administered via injection, they can also receive it orally, although they will need more doses.
Bathing and the vernix
After they’re born, your baby will be covered in a substance called vernix, a white greasy substance designed to moisturise and protect their skin.
Rather than your baby being bathed immediately, it’s worth considering whether you’d want this substance to be rubbed into your baby’s skin so that they can get access to all of its moisturising benefits.
The NHS recommend that this substance be left on the skin as it can also protect against infection during the first few days.
How long before I can take baby home?
Depending on whether there have been any complications before, during or after the birth, you’ll probably end up spending around 24-48 hours in hospital before returning home.
If you’ve had a Caesarean section, your stay will likely be longer.
The reason for this length of stay is usually just for the sake of monitoring you and your baby’s health and wellbeing in the hours after birth.
You’ll need time for any anaesthesia to wear off and so that you can be checked for any tears to your perineum, any vaginal bleeding, and to make sure your uterus returns to its pre-birth size.
During this time you’ll likely be moved from the delivery unit to a post-natal ward where you’ll be able to rest and where you’ll continue to be monitored.
All being well, you and baby will be able to return home!
How will I feel after birth?
After birth your hormones will be undergoing enormous fluctuations and it should be acknowledged that you’ll feel a variety of intense emotions in the hours after your little one’s arrival, not all of them necessarily good.
It’s worth remembering that while birth is an amazing and beautiful event, it is also enormously stressful, tiring and potentially painful. Feeling mixed emotions about birth, yourself or your baby is completely understandable.
A very common experience for mothers after birth is feeling what’s known as the ‘baby blues’. This is where mothers who’ve just given birth feel especially emotional, irritable, low or anxious as their bodies adjust to huge hormonal changes.
However, it’s important to differentiate between ‘baby blues’ and postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression can manifest as a complete disinterestedness in the world around you, feelings of complete hopelessness, memory loss, an inability to stop crying and more.
While there can be some overlap between the symptoms of ‘baby blues’ and postnatal depression, the latter is much more serious in severity and can persist for much longer.
It’s important to speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor as soon as possible to get help if you think you may be depressed.
It can also be useful to connect with other new mothers in the first few weeks after birth to help you feel looked after during the early days of parenthood.
The Full Antenatal Course with The Parents Class, for instance, includes a newborn meet up once you and your course-mates’ babies have arrived.
This can be a great way to discuss any worries, compare experiences and generally feel supported as you adjust to your new life with your baby.