Your new arrival may have a few surprises in store for you.
1. He looks a bit funny
Far from the pictures of chubby babies you’re used to seeing on every magazine cover, website and pamphlet you’ve read throughout your pregnancy, your newborn’s looks may come as a surprise.
He’ll be quite red and wrinkly and may even sport a fine covering of hair over his body called “lanugo” (this will go away over time). And if you had a vaginal birth, his face may look a little squashed. He’ll smooth out soon enough though.
2. The first poo will surprise you
For the first few days your baby’s stools consist of meconium, a sticky greenish black substance that lined your baby’s intestines during pregnancy. To clean it up, wipe your baby’s bottom with a ball of cotton wool dipped in water and coat your baby’s bottom in petroleum jelly so that it’s easier to remove the next time.
3. He's will be hungry
Don’t be talked into giving your baby cereal in his bottle by well-meaning family “to help him feel full” – your baby is going to need a feed every two to three hours and starting him on solids early is very dangerous.
“After birth your baby will need sustenance to grow and develop and since his tummy is still very small, he will take in enough nutrition to see him through just a few hours before needing another feed,” says baby expert and coauthor of Sleep Sense Meg Faure.
4. He won't sleep through the night
Yes, your new baby will sleep a lot. But he’ll also wake up a lot. “Newborns will wake at night as much as they do during the day for nutritional reasons. The newborn baby has been used to having nutrition ‘on tap’,” says Meg. Expect your baby to wake up as often as every two to three hours in these early days to feed.
5. He can't see very far
For the first few weeks of his life, your baby can only focus on objects 20 to 30cm in front of him. This actually encourages your bonding as it’s just about the exact distance between his face and yours while you feed him.
6. You don't have to bath him every day
Because your baby won’t be doing much in these early days (and because that baby skin is so delicate) you won’t need to do a full bath every day. A quick wipe down of the important bits is all you need to keep him clean. This is called top and tailing – where you use a piece of damp cotton wool (dipped in cooled, boiled water) to wipe your baby’s face, bum area, arms and folds of skin. Use a different piece of cotton wool for each part of the body.
7. Always go fragrance-free
If you decide to bath your baby be sure to use baby products that are free of any fragrances. That newborn skin isn’t used to being out in the world yet, and the last thing you want to do is irritate it.
8. He is noisy!
For such a tiny thing, your baby can make quite a racket. Besides the crying, he’ll be grunting, groaning, snorting, and more. Newborns’ nasal passages are still quite narrow, and trapped mucus leads to some pretty strange sound effects at times. Clear his nose out with a good saline spray. Newborn babies also sneeze a lot.
9. You may not fall in love with him right away
After nine long months of pregnancy, you may expect the moment you first meet your baby to fill you up with instant and overwhelming love. But for some moms, it doesn’t happen this way, and that’s completely normal.
Bonding can take a while – remember that much like pregnancy and childbirth, it is different for everyone. There’s no right way for bonding to happen, so give it time. If you still feel this way after a few weeks, or you have very negative feelings towards your baby, be sure to talk to your doctor to rule out postnatal depression.
10. His skin may peel
After floating around in a pool of “water” for quite some time, your baby’s exposure to dry air can play havoc with his sensitive skin. Around his second or third day, you may notice his skin become flaky as it adjusts to life outside the womb. This will rectify in a short time.
11. He won't make a poo every day
It’s common for newborns to pass stool as often as seven times a day, or as infrequently as once in seven days. And he’ll grunt and groan as he’s making that poo. This is normal, and doesn’t mean your baby has diarrhoea or is constipated. As long as your baby is feeding well and wetting his nappy often, there’s nothing to worry about.
12. He will cry, a lot
Crying is your baby’s only way of communicating with you, so expect a lot of it. At first this will be a bit overwhelming, especially as he’ll cry when he’s hungry, hot or cold, tired, feeling lonely and more. After a while you’ll figure out how to respond to each kind of cry. For now though, it’s trial and error.
13. He could have boobs
While slightly disconcerting, swollen genitals and even the appearance of breasts is normal. Those hormones that plagued you throughout pregnancy also have an effect on your baby, and these will disappear after a few weeks. You may also notice a pink discharge in your little girl’s nappy for the same reason.
14. You simply cannot spoil him
Your newborn needs to feel loved and secure, and his crying is not a way to be naughty. Hold him often, cuddle and talk to him, feed him on demand and respond to his every cry. You are not spoiling him, but laying down foundations for a strong bond.
15. Leave that stump from that umbilical cord alone!
It’s one of the nastier parts of newborn parenting, and you probably can’t wait for that unsightly umbilical cord stump to go away. But pulling on it in an attempt to hurry the process along is only going to prolong it, and can even end up in infection. The best way to encourage that stump to fall off is to keep it dry.
16. His eye colour will change
All babies are born with dark blue eyes, and change to their true colour with time. What colour his eyes will settle on really depends on the amount of melanin in the iris. You’ll notice the most dramatic change in eye colour between six and nine months, so get your fill of those baby blues while you can!
17. He must spend time on his tummy
Tummy time is a must, even for tiny babies. “Newborns should spend time on their tummies to strengthen their back muscles. The first gross motor task a baby has is to uncurl and develop his back muscles and the best way to do this is by ensuring he has some tummy time when awake. Newborns should not, however, sleep on their tummies,” advises Meg.
18. He can identify you by smell
Your baby’s sense of smell developed in the womb, and as a result it’s one of the strongest senses present at birth. In fact, your baby’s sense of smell will help him identify you, as he can recognise your scent by the time he’s a week old. This is another way that nature ensures a special bond between you.
19. He is different to a “baby baby”
Newborns don’t do much, really. For the first six weeks you’ll be kept so busy by your little bundle, but all he’ll really be doing is sleeping, crying, drinking milk, pooping, and sleeping, crying, drinking and pooping some more. It may feel a little like a thankless job, but once baby passes the six-week mark and “wakes up” a little you can expect coos, gurgles and more activity.
20. It goes quickly
While it is the most difficult thing you’ve ever done in your life, this crash course in parenting is a wonderful time. Soon you’ll be getting more sleep and feel more yourself. But you won’t have these first few days with your baby ever again, so try to enjoy it – somehow.