Congratulations! After 9 long months, you're finally holding your precious new baby in your arms. Here's what to expect...
Your baby has been curled up safe and warm in your womb for 9 months and now has to get used to a much different environment – the outside world. The temperature changes constantly (in your womb it was consistent), it's brighter and noisier. But with the right nurturing, your baby will learn to adjust to her new environment over the next few days.
Bonding with baby can happen immediately, or over time. Don't worry if you struggle to bond in the beginning, you'll both get there.
Your baby loves being held close to you where she can hear the familiar sound of your heartbeat, smell you, feel your warmth and hear the reassuring sounds of your voice. When she isn’t close to you, she may feel insecure and cuddling her is the quickest way to soothe her crying.
Newborn babies cry because it's their only way of telling you that they are in need of care – feeding, cuddling, changing or sleep. If your baby cries non-stop for 3 or more hours every day, for no apparent reason and she cannot be consoled, she may have colic. It's stressful but take heart, it will pass.
Swaddling your baby is also a great way to soothe her as being held tightly in a warm, soft blanket gives your baby a similar feeling of being snug in your womb.
You'll be wondering about routine. Your newborn (from birth to 6 weeks) will sleep a lot. Her total sleep time during a 24-hour period should be 18 to 20 hours. At this stage your baby has no diurnal (day and nighttime) rhythm, which means there is no difference in the number of hours she sleeps in the day or during the night. Read more here about newborn sleep.
Where baby sleeps – with you in your bed, in your room or in her own room – is entirely up to you... just make sure you take all necessary safety precautions.
If you're told your baby has physiological jaundice and needs to be kept overnight, don't freak out. It's quite common and your baby will be fine in no time.
If you had a premature baby, you may have experienced extra challenges. All the best and hang in there! Remember not to compare your baby's developmentwith other full-term babies' for the first few years, but don't worry, she'll catch up soon enough!
Feeding your newborn
In the first couple of days your breasts will produce colostrum, and not actual breastmilk. This is referred to as “liquid gold” for many reasons, the main one being that it is exactly what your baby needs right now as it’s packed with energy and antibodies.
Your breasts will only fill with mature milk from the second or third day after birth and now your baby will feed more frequently. It's best not to wake a sleeping baby to feed her – wait until she is hungry.
Breastfeed your baby where you are comfortable to sit for a while and allow her to feed until she spontaneously stops drinking. Don't pull her off the breast or stop a feed while she is drinking – this could hurt your nipple or may lead to underfeeding.
At this stage babies 'need-feed' every 2 to 4 hours and you'll fall into a natural routine. Your newborn should be nursing 8 to 12 times per day for about the first month – your newborn's tummy is very small, so it can only take small quantities at a time.
Frequent feeding helps to clear the bowel of meconium – baby's first 'poo'.
Frequent feedings also will help stimulate your milk production during the first few weeks. By 1 to 2 months of age, a breastfed baby will probably nurse 7 to 9 times a day.
For some moms and babies, breastfeeding comes naturally. For others, it can be a challenge. But we have many articles to help you through it, and you can always call a lactation consultant or specialist nurse to help you.
Your newborn's health
Tiny babies do seem really fragile and you will automatically do everything you can to protect your baby. It's true that young babies are susceptible to infections and we must protect them against harmful germs.
Breastfeeding is nature's way of giving your newborn live antibodies. Always wash your hands before starting the feed, and simply wipe your nipples with a clean cloth. If you choose to formula feed, make sure that you sterilise dummies and bottles.
It's also important to take your baby to the clinic for scheduled immunisations and advice about baby care.
Caring for baby
There is lots of help out there if you're confused about (or scared of!) changing a nappy, bathing your newborn, cleaning the umbilical cord, winding baby, strange bumps and gooey eyes, and just caring for your newborn in general.
If for any reason your baby starts to cry more than usual, if the pitch of her cry changes, or she has a temperature and becomes very listless, sleepy or lethargic or refuses to feed, immediately see a doctor or go to the clinic.
There are a number of you things you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS, for instance to avoid smoking around your baby, and to wait with soft toys, soft pillows and duvets in the cot until she's much older.
Stimulating your newborn
Your job in the early days is to facilitate your baby's transition from the calm, quiet, comfortable womb to the noisy, bright and less comfortable world. She does not need a lot of stimulation, nor will she want it. In fact she'll be sleeping most of the day and night.
Try to create a calm environment for her, and don't let her be awake for more than 40 minutes at a time or she could become overstimulated, making it difficult to calm her down again.
Go with the flow
This newborn time with your baby is the getting-to-know-you stage. Babies are not born with a list of instructions – while some babies enjoy being cuddled and swaddled, others like their blankets loose with their arms free.
A new mother learns what her baby likes and dislike by trial and error. She is also learning her baby's personality, appetite, sleep and awake pattern. Enjoy this honeymoon phase with your baby – don't rush it and don't try to be superwoman, entertaining guests and expecting your home to be perfect.
Neither should you expect to be supermom, no matter how many books or magazines you have read. Motherhood is a huge adjustment and takes almost a lifetime to master! Take one day at a time.
Look after yourself & take whatever help you can get!
During these first 6 weeks, sleep or take a nap with your baby when you're feeling tired or lie down when you breastfeed. Your body needs to recover from the birth and readjust to not being pregnant any more.
Your breasts may feel uncomfortably full, you may have a c-section scar or episiotomy stitches, and your hormones are being re-programmed – which can mean some strange mood swings – from elation to downright misery!
When family and friends offer help – accept it! Tell your husband (partner) how you are feeling so that he understands you and can help you. If you have granny or someone else coming to stay to help, make sure you chat and be clear on how she can help.
To ease you all into your new life, here's a list of things to consider when bringing your new baby home. And a few fun facts about your newborn and videos to show you your baby's fascinating reflexes.