OMG, here it is. It’s time to meet your new baby after all that build up. The type of birth you’ve had will determine how you have your first contact with your little one. If you’ve had a straightforward vaginal birth, your baby will probably be placed straight onto your skin. If you’ve had a c-section the paediatrician may do a check before you have a hold. But whichever way you meet, you’re in charge of this little girl or fella now, so let us calmly guide you through the first 24 hours of your life together.
Nobody can tell you how you’ll feel when you meet your baby for the first time, simply because no one knows. “Even though I'd been waiting nine months for Ava to pop out, nothing could prepare me for how shocked and surprised I felt,” says Christine Abbott, 31, from Preston, mum to Ava, 3 months. “At first I couldn't believe the hospital was leaving me in charge of this baby.”
Some women immediately experience an instinctive rush of love and protective feelings for their little one, while others feel nothing but sheer exhaustion, and are not very interested in meeting their baby. Everybody’s different. “Don’t have too many ideas in your head of what will happen when your baby arrives,” says midwife Margarita Atieh. “This is a new emotional attachment. Some mums take to things straight away like ducks to water, and others take a bit of time.”
You or your partner might choose to cut the umbilical cord – it’s a nice way for your partner to feel involved. And then it’s a good idea to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby asap. Your heartbeat, voice, body warmth and the smell of your skin will comfort him and encourage him to feel secure and warm, as well as help to initiate breastfeeding.
“The first time you hold your baby is the weirdest thing ever,” says Liz Quick, 25, from West Sussex, mum to Lexi, 7 weeks. “I thought to myself, ‘I made this. How on earth did this happen? She’s got my nose... Life is never going to be the same’. Every thought possible goes through your mind. It’s scary and overwhelming, but amazing, too.”
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Some women feel too shaky to hold their baby immediately following the birth and so their partner will have the first cuddle. Even if you have to have some stitches or feel a bit wobbly, your baby should be kept close by so that you can still see him and get used to having him around.
“When you have your baby there are so many emotions at once – fear, excitement, adrenaline ,” says Margarita Atieh. There’s lots going on around you that it can be a confusing time. “Relax, be patient, and hone in on your baby. Have lots of skin-to-skin contact, be selfish and empty your mind of other thoughts, like domestic chores.” Your hormones have been high from the birth, so you need time to just let everything sink in.
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By now you’ve probably realised that giving birth isn’t like it is in the movies. In the same way, your baby doesn’t pop out looking all perfect and perky. Your baby may look a little bruised or blemished and he’ll be covered in a creamy-white vernix and smears of blood. His head will probably look slightly longer than normal due to the pressure of the birth. Don’t worry, these things will settle down soon afterwards.
Your midwife or doctor will automatically assess your baby as soon as he or she is born, and at one minute old he’ll be given a score out of 10 for his wellbeing. This test is called the Apgar (named after the doctor who devised it) and it’s repeated again after five minutes.
Your baby will also be weighed and measured and given a thorough examination for any problems or abnormalities. This includes checks on reflexes, heart and breathing, the spine, hips, limbs, genitalia, anus, head, neck, mouth, ears, eyes and nose.
“A partner, or whoever is with you, will need to go home when it’s bedtime, as legally, visitors can’t stay on the ward all night,” says midwife Eleanor Copp. But nurses will be available for help with things like breastfeeding, so you won’t be completely on your own. “There won’t be someone with you the whole time,” says Margarita Atieh. “But there will be people around that you can call on.”
“I found the midwives a fantastic source of help and advice,” says mum Christine Abbott. “They’d seen everything before and heard every question imaginable. They showed me the basics like feeding and nappy changes. Ava had problems latching on in the early days and even after five times of asking for help they were still very patient and understanding.”
In 1968 the recommended duration of a hospital stay after giving birth was 10 days. It’s now two to 12 hours. But exactly when you get to go home depends on what kind of birth you’ve had. Midwife Eleanor says: “The decision is based on you being physically intact – that is, can you walk around ok? Can you go to the loo all right on your own?” If you’ve had an epidural, you might stay longer if you still don’t have all your feeling back or have a catheter in, and if you’ve had a c-section you’ll be in hospital longer while you recover.Whenever it’s time for you and your little one to leave, there’s one thing you must remember, “It’s the law that an infant must be in a car seat,” says Eleanor Copp. Hopefully you’ll have practised fitting it in your own car before the birth.
First moments at home
When you get home, it’s a case of seeing what happens. It sounds a bit scary, but actually you’ll find your baby will probably sleep a lot, so you’ll be able to get some rest too. “You just need to make sure wherever you want to sit is comfortable,” says Eleanor. “You may find lying down is easier at first if you’ve got a sore perineum. Go with your instinct about what to do, and just use this time to start listening out for your baby’s cues for feeding and so on.”
First home visit
If you’re still feeling a little phased, don’t worry; the cavalry is on the horizon. Your midwife will contact you within the first 24 hours, probably the next day after you leave hospital. You’ll have also been given an emergency number for the ward in case anything happens in the night. “If you’re really worried about being on your own, consider hiring a maternity nurse,” says Margarita. “Or you can call NHS direct if you’re concerned about anything health-wise.”
Post birth mum tips, from Liz Quick, 25, from West Sussex, mum to Lexi, 7 weeks:
- BEWARE of companies coming round the ward trying to sell you stuff – such as photos of your newborn – when you’re distracted.
- When your baby sleeps, try and grab some sleep yourself.
- Ask for a fan, I was soooo hot after giving birth.
- Change your clothes, a fresh nightie makes you feel better.
- Have visitors, but not for too long. Make time for baby-bonding.
- Ask for help from midwives for things like breastfeeding and, nappy changing, so you can get it right before you go home.
- Take painkillers when offered.
- Have biscuits, fruit and water within reach so you don’t have to get out of bed.
- Chat to other mums on the ward. I got talking to a new mum for 40 minutes early one morning and now she and I text every day and are great friends. It really helps that we’re going through the same things at the same time.
- Accept all the help you can get.
- Be prepared to burst into tears, just by looking at your baby.
- Try and get your husband to change the first nappy – a baby’s first poo is disgusting and they’ll be plenty more nappies for you to do!
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