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Bringing your baby home for the first time can be a scary prospect.
In fact, the first 24 hours followed by those first few days and weeks are like a step into the unknown, and it's easy to feel as if you're doing everything wrong.
'Becoming a new mum can be exhausting, especially if you have had a difficult pregnancy or a long labour,' says registered midwife Lesley Gilchrist - the co-founder of My Expert Midwife, a skincare company for babies and pregnancy.
'It is key to remember not to put too much pressure on yourself in the first few weeks and months. In the very early days try to keep friends and family who are visiting to a minimum. This will also help you to spend more time together as a family and help you and your baby to establish a good bond.'
And try not to worry. Everyone feels out of their depth at first and there's lots of advice and support available to help you adjust.
Tips for coping with being a new mum
Even if you had a straightforward birth, you will probably feel sore and tired for the first few days. Hormonal changes can also make you feel anxious and tearful.
Though your focus will be your newborn baby, it's important to remember to take care of yourself when you become mum. From getting as much sleep as possible to making sure you're eating properly, the following suggestions should make it easier to cope.
- Make sure that there's someone around to help out. If your partner can't take paternity leave, then find out if he can take a few days' holiday instead. If you're a single mum, ask your mum, sister or a friend if they can stay for a couple of days
- Sleep when your baby does. Newborns rarely sleep for more than three to four hours at a stretch, so it's important to take a nap whenever you get the chance
- You must eat and drink well, particularly if you are breastfeeding. Don't feel bad about relying on ready meals or takeaways if you don't have the time or energy to cook
- Give yourself a break from the housework. Now is the time to let the ironing pile up and leave the dirty dishes in the sink. If anyone offers to help around the house, then let them!
- Don't put yourself under too much pressure. Forget about being the perfect mum, getting back into your jeans or playing hostess to friends and family. Instead, get lots of rest and concentrate on doing as little as possible!
- Remember that it's normal to feel anxious, confused and overwhelmed. Ask friends, family or your midwife for advice and don't be afraid to admit if you're finding things difficult.
How much do newborns sleep?
Newborn sleep is a baffling thing and in those first few weeks, it can be at it's most challenging.
Newborn babies need a lot of sleep, but unfortunately, this sleep doesn't happen in manageable chunks like ours. Expect them to sleep for up to 18 hours a day for the first few weeks, but they'll be in a constant state of waking and dozing to really keep you on your toes.
'New-born babies sleep for varied amounts of time,' warns Lesley. ' Anything from eight hours to 18 hours can be normal. There is no right amount that a baby should sleep for and they will most likely sleep and wake for short periods.'
'A baby will wake frequently to feed, especially if they're breastfeeding and the reason they do this is because regular feeding increases the milk supply in the breasts.'
To start, your little one will struggle to stay awake for more than two hours at a time and babies often love sleeping most in your arms, which makes it even tricker for you to catch 40 winks!
The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot, crib or Moses basket in the same room as you. These have the advantage of being smaller and more lightweight than a full-size cot, so you can easily move your baby from room to room.
If you're short of space you might not have room for a cot in your bedroom, but you should be able to accommodate a Moses basket or crib.
How much and how often do you feed a newborn?
Deciding on whether to breast or bottle-feed your newborn is completely your own decision and you should do whatever works best for your family.
Health professionals do advise that you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months of their life, as your breast milk is specially designed to give your baby all of the nutrients they need to grow healthily - you don't even need to give them water!
Breastfeeding your newborn
If you are planning on breastfeeding your newborn, don't worry if you feel like you can't get the hang of it right away. It can take new mums days or even weeks to feel comfortable trying breastfeeding positions and encouraging their little one to latch on.
'The key to successful breastfeeding is the establishment of a good milk supply, via the early and regular stimulation of the breasts,' says Lesley. 'Breast stimulation is achieved when a baby feeds or when a mother expresses her milk. To ensure a good supply, the breasts should be effectively stimulated 8-12 times every 24 hours.
'For a healthy full-term baby, these "episodes of stimulation" need not be evenly spaced. Rather than trying to feed according to a schedule, new mums should breastfeed by responding to their baby’s cues, (such as lip licking, hand sucking, rooting and crying).
'Responsive feeding recognises that breastfeeds are not just for nutrition, but also for love, comfort and reassurance between mother and baby. Exclusively breastfed babies cannot be overfed or spoiled by having too many feeds or cuddles.'
Bottle feeding your newborn
There's a lot of equipment involved in bottle feeding a new baby, so make sure you stock up on all the bottles and sterilising equipment as soon as possible.
When bottle-feeding your newborn ensure their back and neck are always supported, with them sitting fairly upright in your arms. The trick is to gently brush their mouth and cheek with the teat of the bottle, this will encourage them to take the teat in their mouth.
If you are starting a newborn on formula, offer 30-60ml (2oz) per feed for the first week, and expect them to go around three hours between feeds. Your baby's appetite will vary from day to day, so offer more if they finish a feed quickly or seem hungry.
When should newborns have their first bath?
Newborn babies are usually washed in hospital soon after birth, but some mums prefer to delay this process until the baby is at least 12 hours old - this is known as delayed bathing and is believed to have several health benefits.
Unless you and your baby enjoy it, there's no need to bath your baby more than once or twice a week to begin once you are at home. Instead many mums find it easier to 'top and tail' - keep their baby's face and bottom clean throughout the day.
'Newborn babies have delicate skin,' explains Lesley, 'therefore bathing your baby infrequently will help maintain healthy skin by not stripping their body of the natural oils and good bacteria on the surface.'
Choose a time when your baby is awake and seems content. Pick a warm room to ensure your little one is comfortable and it's handy to get everything ready beforehand. You'll need a bowl of warm water, a towel, cotton wool, a fresh nappy and, if necessary, clean clothes.
Hold your baby on your knee securely or lay them on a changing mat. Take off all their clothes, apart from their vest and nappy, and wrap them in a towel to keep them warm and snuggly. Then, using warm water and cotton wool, gently clean your baby's face and then remove their nappy to clean their genitals.
Keep talking to your baby throughout the experience, the more they hear your voice the more comforted they will be. Finally dry them off with a fresh, soft towel and re-dress them.
Use very few products on your baby's skin in the first few weeks, advises Lesley. 'This is because they can contain perfumes and chemicals which can disturb the pH balance and remove protective oils and bacteria that are naturally produced by your baby.
'As your baby adapts to the outside world, they will develop resistance and be able to tolerate their environment and a wider range of products.'
When they're ready, you might find our guide to the best baby baths useful.
How often should newborn babies poo?
It can vary a lot but it could be up to several times a day. And some babies poo after every feed.
'During the first few days their poo is black/ dark green in colour and sticky like tar and called meconium,' says Lesley. 'As your baby becomes older they will probably start to poo less frequently and you will learn your own baby’s habits and be able to predict when they are most likely to poo.'
There are a few different factors that will determine what your baby's poo is like, for example, how old they are or how they are being fed, but there are some generic signs you can look out for to make sure everything is normal.
How often should I change my baby's nappy?
'It is best to change a baby’s nappy as soon as you know they have poo-ed as leaving them with poo next to their skin can cause soreness and lead to skin breakdown and nappy rash,' says Lesley
Make it part of your routine to change your baby before or after every feed - although this isn't necessary at night if it will disrupt her sleep.
What should my baby's poo look like?
For the first few days, newborn baby poo will be dark green or black and very sticky. This is called meconium, and it's made up of a mixture of amniotic fluid, bile, water and mucus that your baby has swallowed during his time in the womb.
Within a few days, this should clear. If your baby is breastfed their poo should then become soft and bright mustard yellow in colour. If they're bottle-fed, their poo will be bulkier and pale yellow or light brown in colour.
Newborn baby week-by-week development
Babies develop at very different rates but here are some of Lesley's key milestones to watch out for:
Week one: Your baby will be able to briefly focus on your face, but it is thought their vision is a little blurred for the first few weeks. When laid on their tummy, a baby can often briefly hold up their head themselves too.
Week two: Your baby should have regained their birth weight. It is normal for babies to lose weight after birth due to them establishing feeding routines and sometimes passing a lot of meconium in the first few days.
Week three: You may start to notice that your baby can hold their head up unaided for longer periods when placed on their tummy. You may also see that they notice your voice and certain noises around them.
Week four: You may find that they start to look and study your face more intently as their eyes become more used to focusing.
Tests and screenings for newborn babies
Over the first six to eight weeks of your baby's life, you will be offered some different screening tests to make sure they are developing healthily.
Your midwife will visit regularly until your baby is around two weeks old and carry out some of these tests. If she is happy that all is well with you and your baby she will then hand over your care to a Health Visitor, who is based at your GP Surgery.
Initially, your Health Visitor will visit you at home, but after the first visit, you will need to bring your baby to regular baby clinics, so that their weight can be monitored and you can ask questions or discuss any concerns. Here are some of the tests and screenings you and your little one can expect!
Newborn physical exam
The day after you leave the hospital a community midwife will visit you at your home. A typical visit will last around 30 minutes, and she will arrange to visit you again within a few days.
The first time she visits your midwife will want to do the following:
- Check your baby's weight
- Make sure that the umbilical stump is healing well
- Check that your baby is feeding well. If you are breastfeeding she may want to make sure that your baby is latching on correctly
- Feel your tummy to make sure that your uterus is shrinking back to its normal size
- If you had a C-section or needed any stitches she may want to check that you are healing well with no signs of infection
When your baby is between six and 14 days old you will be offered the neonatal heel prick test, known as the 'Guthrie test'. This involves making a tiny pin-prick in the heel of your baby's foot and collecting a drop of blood, which is used to cover four absorbent circles on a piece of card. This test is used to screen for some very uncommon health problems, including:
- Cystic fibrosis
Parents are usually only contacted if there's a problem, but results are available from your GP or Health Visitor.
Newborn hearing screening
If your baby is delivered in a hospital you may well be offered this hearing test as soon as your little one is born, or your midwife will do it in the first few weeks of your baby's life.
One to two babies in every 1,000 are born with permanent hearing loss in either one or both ears. It's important to find out if your baby has any hearing problems as soon as possible to ensure this doesn't affect any other parts of their development.
To test that your baby's hearing is on track, a small soft-tipped earpiece is placed in your baby's ear and gentle clicking sounds are played. When an ear receives sound, the inner part (called the cochlea) responds. This can be picked up by the screening equipment.
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