A new baby: the first days and weeks

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Newborn baby
Bringing your baby home for the first time can be a scary prospect.

In fact, the 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.

Try not to worry, though, everyone feels like this and there's lots of advice and support available to help you adjust.

The checks

Who will come to see me after the birth?

The day after you leave 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.

What checks will she carry out?

The first time she visits your midwife will want to do the following:
  • Check your baby's weight (you will need to undress your baby so that she can do this)
  • 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 6 and 14 days old you will be offered the newborn 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
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Phenylketonuria.

Parents are usually only contacted if there's a problem, but results are available from your GP or Health Visitor.

How many times will she visit?

Your midwife will visit regularly until your baby is around two weeks old. 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 his weight can be monitored and you can ask questions or discuss any concerns.

Your baby

How often should I change my baby's nappy?

Newborn babies tend to poo several times a day, so it's important to change your baby's nappy regularly to prevent nappy rash and irritation.

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 - and as soon as you notice she's done a poo.

What should my baby's poo look like?

For the first few days, your baby's 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 his poo should then become soft and bright mustard yellow in colour. If he is bottle fed, his poo will be bulkier and pale yellow or light brown in colour.

What should my baby wear?

Make your life easier by dressing your baby in a vest and sleepsuit. You will probably find that she needs clean clothes at least once a day, but there's no need to give her separate clothes for day and night.

When you take your baby out for the first time, make sure she is well wrapped up in cold weather and has layers that can be easily removed if it's warm outside.

How often should I bath my baby?

Unless you and your baby enjoy it, there's no need to bath your baby more than once or twice a week to begin with. Many mums find it easier to 'top and tail' instead.

This means using warm water and cotton wool to gently clean your baby's face and genitals, before drying him off with a warm, soft towel.

How much sleep does my baby need?

Newborn babies need a lot of sleep. Expect her to sleep for up to 18 hours a day for the first few weeks, and bear in mind that she will struggle to stay awake for more than two hours at a time.

Where should my baby sleep?

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.
- Should my baby sleep with me?

How often should I feed my baby?

If you are breastfeeding your baby, it's a good idea to feed on demand to begin with as this will help to build up your milk supply. After the first few days, many babies feed around every three hours, although at this stage it's important to offer the breast whenever he needs it.

If you are starting a newborn on formula, offer 30-60ml (2oz) per feed for the first week, and expect him to go around three hours between feeds. Your baby's appetite will vary from day to day, so offer more if he finishes a feed quickly or seems hungry.
- Breastfeeding - a practical guide

Your health

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.

Continued below...

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.

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