The first moments…
“If you’ve had a normal delivery with no complications, and your baby needs no immediate medical attention, he can be delivered straight on to your chest,” says midwife Vicki Scott, who runs new-parent support classes. Skin-to-skin contact helps regulate his temperature, heart rate and breathing.
Unless you’ve stated in your birth plan that you don’t want it, you’ll be given an injection of a drug called syntometrine in your leg as soon as you’ve given birth, to help deliver your placenta more easily.
Within a minute of the birth – and then again five minutes afterwards – your baby will be given an APGAR score to determine his health and whether he needs any treatment. The test measures Appearance (the ‘pinkness’ of your baby, indicating good oxygenation), Pulse (a fast heartbeat is good), Grimace (how well your baby responds to a stimulus such as running your finger gently up the sole of his foot), Activity (does he have good, active muscle tone?) and Respiration (are his breaths and cries strong?). A score of 0-2 is given for each point. If your baby receives 8 or more in total he is in excellent health.
Your baby’s cord can be clamped and cut straight after birth, although some parents ask that the cord is not cut until it stops pulsating. You can specify in your birth plan if your partner would like to be the one to do the honours.
Your baby will now get his very own ID bracelet. He’ll then be put in a nappy, and if you want, dressed. Of course, you can dress him yourself if you’d like to.
“Straight after birth you may be feeling ecstatic and elated or, if the birth has been long and traumatic, simply too tired, exhausted and overwhelmed to want to hold your baby right away,” says midwife Catharine Parker-Littler, Midwifery Director at www.midwivesonline.com.
The first hour…
Being left alone with your baby for the first time might completely freak you out – or be a relief! Either way, try to relax into it. This is your special time to enjoy those first magical hugs with your bundle of love. Look into his eyes; soothe him with your familiar voice and marvel at those perfect tiny pinkies! If your baby has had a traumatic birth and seems distressed, rock him gently, sing and speak to him and make him feel loved and reassured.
If your baby wants to suckle, let him at every opportunity. He quickly recognises the smell of your milk and it’s a great time to begin to establish breastfeeding, and for him to get the goodness of your colostrum, the thick, creamy first-milk you produce at this stage.
“The midwife will carry out an all-over check on your baby, counting his fingers and toes, checking his palate (the roof of his mouth), fontanelle (soft bone on the top of his head), genitals and spine, and will be also be monitoring his breathing,” says Catharine Parker-Littler.
If you need stitches after your birth, these will be done at this point. “If you have a small tear you may or may not require stitches, but if you’ve had an episiotomy you will definitely need some. These are usually done by the midwife or doctor, soon after the birth and always using a local anaesthetic,” says Catharine Parker-Littler.
Your baby will be given an injection of vitamin K in the thigh, as a deficiency of this vitamin can cause internal bleeding in infants. Again, you can opt to refuse this in your birth plan if you wish.
He’ll also be weighed before you leave the delivery room. If his weight is unusually low he may receive extra monitoring to make sure there are no problems.
The second hour…
You could be taken to the post-natal ward at any time from one to six hours after the birth, depending on the condition of yourself and your baby. If you’ve given birth in a LRDP (Labour, Delivery, Recovery, Postnatal) room, however, you will stay there until you’re discharged.
If he hasn’t already fed, your midwife will encourage and help your baby to suck now, and show you what to do, too.
Expect some bleeding – this is completely normal. “Blood loss after the birth is like a heavy period, and can last from two to six weeks. Your midwife will provide some maternity pads for this, although you may prefer to bring your own. You may need help when going to the toilet for the first time following the birth. If you’ve had stitches, you may find it soothing to pour a little warm water (not hot!) over yourself while you wee, to prevent stinging,” advises Catharine Parker-Littler.
Some hospitals serve toast and tea after birth but that often depends on how busy the ward is. “Find out beforehand if there’ll be food available or get your partner to bring in snacks. You’ll probably be famished,” says Vicki Scott.
Close family may be allowed to visit soon after the birth, but do tell them you’re tired if they outstay their welcome!
What happens next?
If you’ve had no problems during labour and birth and all looks well postnatally, you can go home a minimum of six hours after the birth, although many first-time mums stay on for 24 hours or more.
After a caesarean, you usually stay in hospital for three days or more. Your midwife or a paediatrician will complete a post-natal check on you and your baby, before allowing you home. Then you’re off – with your gorgeous baby in tow!
Your community midwife and health visitor will be informed and you’ll be visited at home within the next couple of days.
“My son was handed to me and the midwife dimmed the lights and left us alone. I couldn’t believe how much I loved this little person in my arms. He fed right away and we both stayed awake all night staring into each other’s eyes.”
Leanne Stocks, 24, from Leeds, mum to Zachary, 18 months, and Nathan, 7 months
“When I first set eyes on Lucy, I couldn’t believe how dainty she was. It was amazing knowing this tiny person trusted me implicitly, and there was also a sense of familiarity, as if I’d known her all along.”
Sam Thewlis, 32, from Sutton Coldfield, mum to Lucy, 2