Bringing your newborn home for the first time and being alone with him is a defining moment but don’t panic – you’ll quickly learn many new skills, as will your baby. To help you through those first few days, here’s a guide as to what’s normal for your newborn, and when you need to seek help.
Breathing and colour
Spending time cuddling and looking at your baby is a great way for you to get to know each other. It also means you’ll notice changes in the normal things he does. Your baby will breathe in different ways, depending on what he’s doing:
- During feeding you might find that he snorts and snuffles, with either quicker or slower breaths than normal
- When he’s sleeping soundly, his complexion may look pale
You’ll probably find yourself checking to make sure he’s still breathing. Everyone does this – and usually for longer than we admit to!
“I was always checking her breathing at first, and accidentally waking her up to make sure she was okay,” says Hannah, 40, mum to Rebecca, 20 months.
Seek medical help if your baby:
- Is having difficulty breathing
- Is making grunting noises
- Looks blue, mauve or grey in colour
Crying is your baby’s survival instinct and it’s designed to get your attention. There are many reasons why your baby might be crying – the most common ones are:
- He’s hungry
- He’s tired
- He needs a nappy change
- He needs winding
- He’s too hot
- He’s too cold
- He’s lonely
Watch out for sudden changes to your baby’s normal sound or pattern of crying, and if you suspect he’s unwell or in pain, call your GP.
Over-heating can be dangerous, but letting your baby get too cold isn’t good either – the ideal room temperature for a baby to sleep in is 16-20ºC
Check your baby’s warmth by feeling his skin around the nape of his neck. The normal temperature of a baby’s body should be 36.4ºC-37ºC, which should feel tepid to the touch.
If your newborn has a temperature, always see a doctor.
To keep your baby safe at night and reduce the risks of SIDS (cot death)
- Always put baby to sleep on his back
- Keep the room temperature at 16-20°C
- Don’t let him overheat – thin layers of clothing are best
- The safest place for your baby to sleep is in his own cot. He should sleep ‘feet to foot’, that means his feet to the foot of the cot
- If you want to co-sleep safely, make sure you aren’t extremely tired, haven’t been drinking alcohol or smoking or taking drugs. Don’t let your baby sleep on a pillow, under the duvet or next to a radiator
- Make sure you keep your baby in a smoke-free atmosphere
Your baby may sleep more or less than your friend’s baby, sleep for long periods at a time, or nap for shorter bursts. In the beginning, each day may bring a different pattern.
If your baby does have a long period of sleep, say 5-6 hours, then he’ll need to feed more frequently for the next few feeds to catch up. If he won’t settle, take him out for a walk or a drive, as motion can often help.
“When I brought my baby home from the hospital he slept for hours on end. After a few days I was really worried, because he was sleeping more and feeding less, so my health visitor told me to wake him every three hours for a feed. It turned out there had been a lot of ‘sleepy babies’ because of the hot weather,” recalls Tailor, 30, mum to Eddie, 7 months.
“We were completely clueless when we brought our newborn home.”
“When we took our baby home from hospital, her dad and I looked at each other and said, ‘Now what?’ We were totally clueless and thought that if anyone realised how little we knew, they’d take her away from us!”
Kate, 28, mum to Lucy, 8 months
As long as your baby’s gaining weight, then ‘posseting’ after a feed isn’t something to worry about.
In the beginning, your baby’s tummy is small, and empties quickly, so don’t be concerned if all he wants to do is eat!
A useful guide is that your breastfed baby may feed 8-12 times during one day and night, and your bottlefed baby may feed every 1-3 hours, but this isn’t set in stone.
Some feeds will take longer than others, and may vary in the amount taken.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby, you may worry about whether or not your baby’s getting enough milk – see the peeing and pooing section, below, for advice on this.
This is where your baby brings back milk during or after a feed. Your baby may or may not regularly do this. Either way is not unusual.
As long as your baby’s gaining weight, then ‘posseting’ after a feed isn’t something to worry about. It will happen less over time. Slowing down feeds with little breaks, and sitting him up after feeds can help.
Occasionally, if breastfeeding is causing very sore nipples, blood may be ingested with breast milk and appear in your baby’s vomit. This will settle when your nipple recovers, and isn’t a worry.
If there’s blood in vomit at any other time or your baby’s violently sick, seems to be in pain, or you’re worried, call your GP.
Your baby’s head will roll and flop until he develops greater strength and co-ordination in his neck and shoulder muscles.
While there’s no perfect way to hold your baby, ensure you’re gently supporting his head by cradling it in your arm or straddling it across your hand.
Crosshead: Rashes and spots
Your baby can develop skin rashes and spots that, typically, look like pimples on the face, neck or upper body. The spots look worse if he gets too hot or cries.
There’s no need to do anything about them – they should diminish and disappear completely by around 8-10 weeks, leaving no marks.
Milia, or milk spots (tiny white/yellow spots appearing across the nose and chin), are caused by overactive oil glands in your baby and maternal hormones. These are harmless and will disappear on their own.
Germs in the home
Germs are part of normal life, and exposure to them strengthens immunity.
Keep your baby’s environment clean and ensure bottles are sterilized, but don’t worry about every tiny thing he comes into contact with. Common sense will prevail – if visitors have a cold, they shouldn’t cough or sneeze over your little one and giving their hands a quick wash before holding him is important.
Jaundice (yellow) skin in your newborn is common in the first two weeks. If it persists, your health visitor or GP will arrange a blood test, just to check that all is well.
“All four of my children suffered jaundice,” says Alyson, 39. “Charlotte had it for three weeks, and I was told to give her plenty of fluids and keep her in a sunny room where possible.”
Caring for the umbilicus
The little bits left around your baby’s navel – or umbilicus – from where the umbilical cord was cut will gradually dry and shrivel, before falling off about 10-14 days after the birth. You may feel squeamish about cleaning the umbilicus, but it won’t hurt your baby.
Clean the area with cooled, boiled water twice a day, and keep it dry, folding the nappy underneath it. Sometimes the area may bleed slightly, or ooze. This is normal until it dries out. If it becomes red or smells very offensive, alert your midwife or health visitor.
“I was concerned about my son’s vomiting.”
“I used to worry that my son had thrown up too much milk and wonder if I should give him an extra bottle. Once I was paying for shopping in the supermarket and he projectile-vomited all over the chip-and-pin machine!”
Talia, 30, mum to Euan, 1
“The advice we got on feeding was overwhelming”
“I received so much advice about when and how to feed my son, I got confused. So for a few days I wrote down when he fed and showed it to my health visitor, who said it was fine.”
Sally, 23, mum to Eric, 9 months
“Our baby had a reaction to my own sweat”
“I cuddled my newborn through her first night, which was a July scorcher. The next morning I noticed some red blotches on her skin. It turned out that the sweat on the palms of my hands was reacting with her skin and aggravating the heat blotches.”
Melissa, 40, mum to Amelia, 6 months