Your newborn baby is completely reliant on you. Unlike, say, a newborn foal which struggles to its feet almost the second it’s born, a newborn human is uniquely vulnerable. Your baby will require you to do everything for her – to carry her, feed her and keep her safe and clean. She won’t even start to try to walk until she’s nearly a whole year old. During her first year, the neurons in her brain will make millions and millions of connections. In this year, more than any other in her whole life, she will absorb more and learn more than she ever will again. The amount of love and care you give her during this time is of huge importance. Science shows clearly now that this foundation will impact on her ability to become a happy, independent and resilient adult.
The fourth trimester describes baby’s first 12 weeks, or three months, of life – it’s a period of attachment. Your baby is learning about you, and you are learning about her. Parenting experts recommend that babies are carried a lot, and fed on demand, as they were in the womb. Newborn babies needs are the same wherever they are born in the world and have not changed over the centuries despite the many changes forced on them by various customs and ‘parenting’ experts.
Remember: You can’t ‘spoil’ a newborn baby. When you meet their needs, you are helping them develop their brains and helping them to grow in an optimal way.
Your newborn baby will probably have a big head, no visible neck, big bodies and tiny arms and legs. She might have a pointy head from coming through your birth canal. Her skull will have soft spots on it – known as fontanelles. Her hands and feet may be a little blue at first as well. She may be bald or have a surprising amount of hair. If she’s Caucasian her eyes will probably be dark blue – and get their adult colour much later. Most babies of African or Asian descent have dark grey or brown eyes. Babies of African or Asian descent tend to be born with an initially paler skin tone that darkens as they get older. Some interracial babies may have what looks like a bruise near their bottom. This is called a Mongolian blue spot and is normal, fading over time.
She may be covered with a greasy white goo known as vernix – and premature babies will have this too, probably along with fine downy hair called lanugo. However, babies who are born post-term often lose the vernix and can actually have dry wrinkled skin. Vernix is like the waterproof fatty cream swimmers cover themselves in when swimming long distance as it protects the skin as it is immersed in water from long periods. When a baby is overdue the vernix gradually disappears and baby’s skin gets wrinkled from soaking in the womb fluid.
Yes, your baby will have what’s called an Apgar test immediately after her birth which is an assessment of their breathing, heart rate, colour and responsiveness. Your baby is not removed from you for this assessment as midwives and doctors are very experienced at assessing babies at birth. If all is well she will be dried and handed straight to you so you can begin enjoying skin to skin contact together. This precious time should not be interrupted for at least an hour after birth so that you can begin to get to know each other and your baby can adapt to life outside the womb. It is better for baby’s weight to be checked after you have had this time together but occasionally she might be weighed within minutes after birth so you can then have this uninterrupted contact. Then she will be weighed and measured (length and head circumference), heart and lungs, spine, hips (this can all be done while she is in skin contact with you) - the midwife at the birth and later the hospital pediatrician and obstetrician check you both before you are discharged from a hospital. If you have a homebirth in the UK, your midwife will do all these checks.