About your newborn’s first week of life
Your newborn spends his first week of life adapting to his new environment.
The outside world is very different from the womb, where it was dim, the temperature was constant, and noise was muffled. You can help your baby get used to the outside world by giving her warmth, love, security, attention – and lots of cuddles and holding.
Changes in your newborn’s appearance in the first week of life
Your baby’s appearance will change over the first week.
If your baby’s head is a bit cone shaped after his journey down the birth canal or because of a vacuum-assisted birth, it should go back to normal.
Any swelling around your baby’s face and eyes will go down within a few days. If your baby’s face or head has been bruised – for example, after a forceps birth – the bruising will disappear. Babies with bruising are at risk of newborn jaundice. Let your child and family health nurse know if your baby’s skin looks yellow and you think she might be jaundiced.
Your baby’s umbilical cord will gradually dry, become black and then fall off, usually within the first 10 days.
Your baby might have one or more birthmarks, either at birth or later. Common birthmarks like Mongolian spots, café au lait macules and salmon patches usually don’t need medical attention. But it’s good to have your GP look at any birth moles, infantile strawberry haemangiomas and port wine stains.
Feeding and sleeping
in the first week of life
Your newborn will sleep most of the time, waking up every few hours for a feed. Newborns can’t ‘sleep through the night’. They have tiny tummies, so they need to wake and feed often.
Most babies need feeds every 2-4 hours, and they have around 8-12 feeds every 24 hours. Sometimes feeds might last up to an hour, especially if your baby is breastfeeding.
Your baby will usually wake himself when he needs to feed. But some babies might need to be woken for feeding – for example, babies who have lost a lot of weight, are very small, or have jaundice.
It’s likely to be a while before you see a pattern or routine of feeding and sleeping.
Development in the first week of life
Your baby is learning a lot as you spend time together every day. Her brain is growing and developing as she sees, hears and touches the world around her.
Your baby will close his hands involuntarily in the grasp reflex and will startle at sudden loud noises. He’s also likely to have sudden jerky movements while asleep.
Bonding and communicating in the first week of life
Your newborn recognises your voice – after all, she has been listening to you from inside the womb for the past nine months. You can communicate with your newborn using your voice, touch, sight and smell.
Your baby will have his own ways of communicating with you – even though he’s not up to smiling just yet. During this first week, you’ll start getting to know your baby’s body language.
Lots of gentle touch, cuddling, smiling and gazing will help your baby feel safe and secure with you. This helps to promote bonding, attachment and healthy development. It’s also good for baby brain development.
Common health problems in the first week of life
It’s normal for your baby to lose weight during the first five days of her life, as she loses excess fluid. This weight loss shouldn’t be more than 10% of her birth weight, though. Most babies regain their birth weight after 1-2 weeks. If your baby has lost too much weight, she might have to stay in hospital with you for a little longer to make sure she’s feeding enough.
It’s common for babies to develop sticky or discharging eyes during the first few weeks of life. The most common cause is blocked tear ducts, and this usually gets better by itself. Gentle eye cleansing and massage will help. But it’s best to have your GP or child and family health nurse check your baby’s eyes if they’re sticky.
Newborn babies can develop all sorts of rashes, which usually aren’t serious. But if your baby has a rash, it’s best to have your GP or child and family health nurse check it out. Common rashes include cradle cap, nappy rash, heat rash, eczema, milia and dry skin.
When to see your GP or child and family health nurse
If something doesn’t seem right and you’re worried about your newborn, seek medical help. Contact the midwives at the unit where your baby was born, your GP or your child and family health nurse.
Seek medical help as soon as possible if your baby:
- isn’t feeding – for example, he’s taking half the normal volume or number of feeds in a 24-hour period
- has dry nappies
- seems lethargic
- has pale or yellow skin.
Crying in the first week of life
It’s normal for newborns to cry, but it can be stressful if you don’t know what your baby is trying to tell you. Your newborn might cry because she:
- is hungry
- has a wet or dirty nappy
- feels afraid
- wants you close.
If your newborn is crying, you can try feeding him, changing his nappy, cuddling or rocking him, speaking or singing in a soothing voice, or giving him a deep, warm relaxation bath. If your baby is crying a lot, it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job as a new parent.
When to seek help for crying
If you think your newborn is crying too much or you’re having trouble coping, speak to your GP or child and family health nurse as soon as you can.
In particular, seek medical help if your baby:
- has a high-pitched cry (like a cat’s)
- seems to have a weak cry or is moaning
- is crying for long periods of time.