You might feel like you’ve just gone twenty rounds with a sumo version of Mohammed Ali, but when you see your baby for the first time you’ll most probably feel a unique rush of emotions with exhaustion tempered by relief, exhilaration and joy. This emotional cocktail will probably be enough to sustain you for a while after birth so that you can get to know your baby and, if you’ve chosen to breastfeed, get breastfeeding underway. Your baby will be very alert for the first hour or so after birth, so the more of that time you can spend with her, the better.
If there are no complications the midwife should be able to place the baby on your stomach almost immediately after birth, giving you both precious first moments of skin-to-skin contact. Very soon afterwards, when the cord has been cut and your baby given a health check and a clean-up, you should be able to start breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to bond with your new baby, besides stimulating milk production, breastfeeding releases ‘love hormones’ that make you feel contented and loving towards your child, while for baby the sucking, physical contact and maternal scent are calming and reassuring.
Don’t worry too much about knowing what to do, your baby has a natural reflex to root for your breast and suck. It may take a while for you both to get the hang of things, or she may latch on and settle in straight away. You midwife will be able to help you work out a feeding position that works well for you both.
If your partner is present for the birth the first hour is a good time for him to be involved, holding and cuddling the baby while your carers help you deliver the placenta, clean you up after the birth and repair any tears and so on. If you’ve been under a general anaesthetic for a caesarian you might want your partner to have bonding time with the baby before you come round.
If you are in hospital, after the first hour together your baby will probably be whisked off for a more detailed examination and a bath, giving you time to collect yourself and spend time with your partner and get in touch with close relatives. Some of the postpartum aches and pains may now be more noticeable without your baby to distract you: the hospital staff should be able to help you with ice packs and painkillers if necessary.
Birth is also tiring for your baby and she’ll most likely sleep in long stretches for most of the first twenty-four hours. While your hormones will draw you to your baby and you’ll want to spend lots of time holding and cuddling her, you also need plenty of rest, so if at all possible try and enjoy the peace and quiet (unless you’re unlucky enough to be stuck on the labour ward surrounded by the ongoing birthing dramas of other mothers) – it might be the last chance for plenty of sleep in quite some time.