Your newborn baby’s first few weeks: What to expect when you get them home

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.

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

Newborn screenings

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 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
  • Gutherie test

    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
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Phenylketonuria
  • 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 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 effect 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.

    Newborn baby poo

    Newborn babies poo a lot, so it’s good to get your head round what’s coming for you! 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’s some generic signs you can look out for to make sure everything is normal.

    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. Also, it’s important to make sure you change your baby every time they have done a poo – that’s a must!

    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.

    Bathing your newborn

    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.

    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.

    Newborn 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.

    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.

    Newborn feeding

    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.

    Once you are in the swing of breastfeeding, 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.

    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.

    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.
  • We’d love to hear about your baby’s first few weeks! Let us know in the comments below