What to Expect After Birth

The big day is just around the corner and after months of excited anticipation, your new baby is about to arrive. You may be well versed in any situation that might arise in the last couple of months of pregnancy, but have you given any thought to what happens immediately following birth? As you can imagine, the delivery room may be a whirlwind of frenzied activity, and it's good to know what sort of thing you can expect to happen around you and your baby at this time.

What Happens to Your Baby After Birth

If you've had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you can expect that your baby will be immediately placed with you on your chest for some skin-to-skin contact. If you've had some complications or a c-section, however, your baby may be placed in a radiant warmer to keep her warm while doctors and nurses assess her condition and perform tests. Don't worry, though — you'll get that skin-to-skin bonding time soon enough.

You may want to delay cutting the umbilical cord for at least a minute after birth. New research shows that during these first few moments, your baby may receive some essential nutrients from the placenta — specifically, she'll get more red blood cells and thus higher iron levels, meaning a lower risk of anemia.

Establishing eye contact with your newborn is also a good thing to do soon after birth. Babies usually open their eyes for the first time shortly after birth, and are usually very alert during the first hour. Delivery room nurses will apply an antibiotic ointment or solution to your baby's eyes, which will cause some temporary blurriness, but you are welcome to request that they delay this slightly while you bond with your baby.

Breastfeeding After Birth

Because your baby is so alert in this first hour, and assuming you're enjoying your first skin-to-skin moments, this is often a great time to try breastfeeding for the first time. Not only is this a wonderful bonding opportunity, but also your baby can benefit from consuming the colostrum, which is the nutritious fluid your breasts produce before the milk comes in. For more information about these first feedings, check out our newborn breastfeeding guide.

If you decide to try breastfeeding immediately after birth, it can help your uterus start to contract, as well as slow heavy bleeding. It may take some time for your baby to find the nipple and begin to suck, but your nurses can assist you at first. While you recover, you can also request a lactation consultant for guidance and tips.

Apgar Test and Bathing

Doctors or nurses will give the Apgar test to your baby right after birth to evaluate your little one's general condition and to check if there are any immediate concerns about her health. You can expect this test to happen in the first minute after birth, and again after 5 minutes, and she'll receive a score of between 0 and 10 based on the following factors:

  • A (appearance): her skin color will be checked to make sure she is a normal, healthy color

  • P (pulse): her heart rate will be checked

  • G (grimace): this tests her reflexes and how she reacts to stimulation

  • A (activity): this tests ensures your baby is making active, spontaneous movements

  • R (respiration): newborns respirations are more rapid than adults, so your baby's breathing should be somewhere between 30 and 60 breaths per minute

You may want to request that your nurses delay your baby's first bath for a few hours after birth. Newborns arrive covered in a substance called vernix, which moisturizes and protects them. Ask that they rub the vernix into your baby's skin so she can get the most benefit from this natural moisturizer. Then, after a few hours, you may feel well enough to assist the nurses for your baby's first bath.

What Happens During Your First Hours as a Mom

You may have had a birthing plan in place and read everything you could about labor and delivery to make sure everything goes smoothly for your baby, but what about you? No matter how you delivered your baby, you'll probably be tired and a bit emotional. There are a variety of concerns for women after labor, so here are a few things to keep in mind and put you at ease about what to expect after giving birth.

After the baby comes, you'll deliver the placenta, and then you'll be stitched up in case you've had a C-section or an episiotomy. While the hospital staff carries out tests on your baby, you may be enjoying early skin-to-skin time, or she may be taken to a radiant warmer. After delivery, you can choose to allow your baby to stay in the nursery while you sleep and recover.

You may have lost significant amounts of blood during labor, so you may experience dizziness or lightheadedness. For this reason, if you would like to shower, make sure you have the assistance of a nurse or your partner to prevent falls. You'll also not be allowed to walk with your baby in your arms until nurses are sure you'll be steady enough on your feet. If you do feel like walking around, you'll be able to go for a stroll with your baby's bassinet through the hospital halls.

Final Checks

Before you and your baby are ready to head home, you'll both be given some final checkups, including some screening tests and immunizations for your baby. Your doctor and healthcare staff will want to make sure you are healing properly and that you're as strong as possible before you leave their care. You'll also need to fill paperwork to request a Social Security number and a birth certificate, but it's OK if you're not entirely decided on a name yet.

In general, for a healthy, vaginal birth, you can expect to remain in the hospital for 24 to 48 hours before you're discharged. For a cesarean birth, you'll probably be kept under supervision for about two to four days as you begin to recover from surgery. Check the chart below for more facts about your baby's first hours.

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