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Your baby's world

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Birth is a shock to the system, and not just for you! For your baby, the birth has been exhausting, and they are now in an unfamiliar world.

The sense of space around them and the feeling of air on the skin is new and strange. While they were inside you, your baby's oxygen supply came through the placenta directly into the bloodstream.

The moment they emerge into the air, the change in temperature gives the lungs a signal to start working, and they will take there first gasp of air, usually accompanied by the first cry. As soon as your baby starts to breathe, the placenta stops working.

The umbilical cord, which links your baby to the placenta, needs to be cut so your newborn can begin life as a separate being from you. But it has already stopped functioning by this stage, so your baby won't notice that it has been cut. The cord has no nerves, so neither of you will be able to feel the snip.

A testing time

Immediately after the birth, the midwife or doctor will do the Apgar test. This is a quick and painless way of assessing your baby's wellbeing. It looks at five things: heart rate, respiration (breathing), muscle tone, skin colour and reflex response. The test is done a minute after birth and again at five minutes. Each of the five areas is given a mark between one and two, and the scores are then added together to give an overall total.

The maximum mark is 10, and babies who score between eight and 10 are fine, while those with a result of between five and seven may need a little help, such as a good rub to warm them up or a few puffs of oxygen to help their breathing. Newborns who score below five are more poorly and may need to be taken to the special care baby unit for extra help.

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You'll also be asked if you're happy for your little one to be given a dose of vitamin K. In very rare cases, newborns don't have enough of this vitamin, which means their blood doesn't clot properly. So all babies are offered an injection (or, occasionally, a dose given by mouth) at birth.

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