It’s a girl! It’s a boy! (Or maybe it’s even both, if you’ve had twins). Your newborn baby has arrived, and your life has forever changed. Here’s what to expect during your newborn baby’s first month of life.
Those first few weeks with your new baby can be magical, but they can also be hard. Learning how to feed your baby, help her sleep and understand her constant needs can keep you on your toes — or asleep on your feet. But if something is troubling you today, don’t worry too much. You might be surprised how different some parts of your baby’s life can be from one week to the next at this stage.
Month 1: Your Baby’s Development
More on Your Newborn’s First Month of Life:
Here’s something to help ease your mind: Life for your baby is pretty simple right now. All that really matters to her is eating every couple of hours, sleeping safely and frequently, having a clean diaper and getting lots of love. That’s it. But for you as a new mother and all that involves, life may feel considerably more complicated. So focus on just those essentials — your baby’s basic needs. They’ll be plenty to keep you busy as you slowly get the hang of things.
This is the time to put laundry, cleaning and other chores on hold as much as you can. Ask your family or friends for help. Order dinner in if you can, or ask a friend to bring you some of hers. Don’t bother keeping up with email. Consult your health care professional or a lactation consultant if you need some help in the feeding department.
How Does Baby Look?
Despite what movies might have you believe, newborns don’t emerge from the womb picture-perfect — it often takes a few weeks or months for your baby to turn into the angelic-looking cherub you might have been expecting. From a flattened nose (you try squeezing through a birth canal and see if your nose comes out cute as a button!) to a cone-shaped head (especially prominent if you were pushing for a long time), your child is beautiful as she is, and your newborn baby’s appearance will change quickly over the following weeks. You can ask your doctor about any features that might concern you.
Right from the first day, your baby has a set of reflexes designed to protect her and ensure she gets the care she needs (even if your parenting instincts haven’t kicked in yet). Some of these early reflexes include the rooting reflex (which helps her locate the breast or bottle for feeding), the sucking reflex (to help her eat), the Palmar reflex (this is the one that makes her grip your finger when you put it in her palm), and the Moro reflex (the jumpy reaction she has when startled). You can try checking your baby for these and other first-year reflexes, but keep in mind that your results may vary and will probably be less reliable than those of the doctor.
All of your baby’s senses are at work from the moment she’s born, including:
- Vision. Her puffy eyes may match yours. But unlike yours, your brand new baby’s eyes are swollen from delivery, and perhaps the protective antibiotic eye ointment administered right after birth. Her vision is a little blurry — but she’s able to see your face and other close-up objects. Just be sure to hold them 8 to 12 inches in front of her, which is her range of vision. You may also notice that her eyes sometimes cross. That’s because the muscles that control eye movement aren’t yet fully developed and is nothing to worry about.
- Hearing. While her hearing isn’t completely developed, your child is already familiar with your voice and other sounds that she heard often in the womb.
- Taste. Her sense of taste is highly developed, and she can differentiate between sweet and bitter — with a preference towards the sweet stuff (breast milk and formula fit the bill perfectly).
- Smell. Soon after her arrival, she’ll recognize your scent.
- Touch. This sense is the most developed at birth. Through touch, your baby learns the softness of your face, that nothing is more rewarding than a cuddle, and that she’s loved by those who care for her.
Being squished in your uterus and then pushed through the narrow birth canal means your baby’s body will be kind of scrunched up for some time. Her hands are in little fists, and her arms and legs are tucked closely to her body. No worries. Her muscles will relax during the next few weeks.
Swollen Sex Organs
Worried about that swollen scrotum on your baby boy or those swollen labia on your little girl? It’s perfectly normal and temporary. They’re due to hormones of yours still circulating in your newborn’s body. They’ll be down to baby proportions before you know it. Those same hormones are also responsible for any milky discharge leaking from the nipples (a possibility for both boy and girl babies) and vaginal discharge (which can sometimes be tinged with blood). As with the swelling, the discharge should go away within a week or two.
Though your baby may have weighed in at 7 pounds at birth, don’t be surprised if she drops some weight (about 5 to 10 percent). The reason for the decrease: normal post-delivery fluid loss. Your newborn’s weight should stop dropping by the time she’s 5 days old. By around 10 to 14 days (and sometimes sooner), she’ll regain and surpass her birth weight. Check in with your doctor if you’re breastfeeding and can’t tell if your baby is getting enough milk.
Newborn babies sleep a lot — just not all at one time. Expect your baby to sleep about 14 to 17 hours a day or more, waking frequently for feedings. It can be up to 19 or 20 or under 14, though the National Sleep Foundation says newborns need 14 to 17 hours. The “average” newborn sleeps about 16.5 hours between daytime and nighttime snoozing, though there’s a wide range of what’s normal. Breastfed babies typically need to eat every two to three hours, and formula-fed babies (or those who take a combo of breast milk and formula) usually eat every three to four hours.
Feed your baby on demand, rather than by the clock, though. After a month, you may be able to spread out feedings a little more. This can take some getting used to for new parents, especially if you factor in the time it takes to feed the baby and then help her get back to sleep. Then repeat and repeat some more. If you are breastfeeding, try to pump some breast milk so your partner or a friend can take a shift occasionally. One good strategy that you’ve heard a zillion times by now: Try your best to sleep when she sleeps. It will make a difference, even if you just get a cat nap.
When your baby is in dreamland, be sure she is sleeping in 100 percent safe conditions: placed on her back on a firm mattress with no pillows, blankets, stuffed animals or crib bumpers, to reduce the risk of SIDS.
How Much Milk Baby Needs
Babies eat a lot during those first few weeks — at least eight to 12 times (or more) in a 24-hour period. Chalk it up to her tiny tummy size and the incredible growth, both physical and mental, that she’s undergoing these first weeks and months. Since your breasts and baby don’t come with a built-in meter, it can be difficult to gauge if and when your baby’s had enough to eat. But there are a few clues: If your baby seems happy, her weight gain is appropriate for her age, and she’s making enough dirty diapers (eight to 12 on any given day), she’s probably getting enough.
That said, breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally — and there are plenty of feeding tricks to master and issues to solve in these first few weeks, from the breastfeeding latch to mastitis and other common breastfeeding problems. Need more help? Check these breastfeeding 101s along with some bottle-feeding basics.
Tracking Dirty Diapers
Speaking of dirty diapers, you can expect a whole lot from your newborn’s bowel movements in the first few weeks. First poops are usually black and sticky — that’s the meconium that filled your baby’s intestines while in utero. That will transition after a day or two to greenish yellow stools, and a few days a later to “regular” baby poops. Prolific poop — at least five diapers a day for breastfed babies, sometimes more — is normal during the first month. Your baby’s poop should look mustard yellow, green or brown, and it’ll be pasty or seedy.
By about week 6, the number of poopy diapers may level off, and your baby might even skip a day or two between BMs.
Month 1: Your Baby’s Health
There’s no doubt that newborns cry — it’s how they communicate! Whether you have a calm baby or a fussy one, you’ll start to get used to all the variations of those little whimpers and wails this first month. In fact, crying can be a sign a baby is healthy. If your little one doesn’t cry much, especially when you know she may need something, see your doctor right away.
But what if she seems to cry all the time? Some babies just cry more than others. Studies show that 80 to 90 percent of babies have daily crying sessions from 15 minutes to an hour that are not easily explained. Sometimes these sessions are predictable — in the evening or after a busy day out of the house, for example. Sometimes they just pop up like an unexpected summer storm.
Make sure she isn’t hungry, doesn’t need a diaper change, and hasn’t had something uncomfortable happen, like a thread wrapped around a toe or a scratchy tag bothering her neck. If all that is in check, help her through it the best you can: Rock her, walk her, sing to her or cuddle her. It may take several tries to help her calm down. But if you feel yourself losing patience or are just plain worn out, it’s okay to put her down somewhere safe like her crib for a few minutes. She may even surprise you and drift off to sleep by herself.
Some parents wonder if their baby has colic. A colicky baby will often have symptoms beyond simply crying: Balled-up fists, tightly closed or wide open eyes, knees pulled up to her chest, flailing limbs, gas and short bouts of held breath are all common. Doctors usually diagnose colic using “the rule of threes”: three hours of crying, three days a week, lasting for at least three weeks. About 1 in 5 newborns has crying spells that are severe enough to be called colic.
Though there are strategies for soothing baby’s cries, including those of colicky infants, sometimes nothing seems to work. A few things the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests: swaddling baby, applying firm pressure to her tummy, changing your diet if you’re nursing in case there’s a food sensitivity or gas, offering a pacifier, holding baby, running a hair dryer or other noise-maker that might remind her of sounds in the womb, etc. The best thing you can do to get through colic is to try to stay calm and take turns with a partner or caregiver in giving your baby attention.
While colic usually starts around week 2 or 3 of a baby’s life, it most often peaks in severity around week 6. By month 3 or 4, your baby likely won’t be crying any more than any other baby. So remember, when you think you can’t take much more crying: It’s just a stage!
More Health 101s This Month:
Umbilical cord healing: Whether your baby came into this world via a vaginal birth, C-section, or speedy side-of-the-road delivery, all newborns have one thing in common: a stumpy, shriveled umbilical cord where the belly button should be. The umbilical cord stump should fall off within the first few weeks of your little one’s life; until then, make sure to keep it clean and dry. Give your pediatrician a call if you notice foul-smelling discharge or the site still looks open and raw two weeks after the cord has fallen off.
Umbilical hernia: You might notice odd-looking bulges and bumps on your babe’s belly when she cries or moves in certain ways. What you’re likely seeing is an umbilical hernia — and don’t worry, it’s not dangerous. When your baby was receiving nutrients through her umbilical cord (back when she was still inside of you), a thick bundle of blood vessels entered her body through the middle of her abdomen — creating a small circular hole in her stomach muscles. Often, that gap remains for a short time after birth, causing the intestines to bulge out when your child strains. Small umbilical hernias usually resolve themselves within a few months, larger ones in a couple of years. In fact, most doctors won’t recommend surgery for a hernia until age 6 or 7 years old.
Circumcision care: If you chose to get your baby boy circumcised, you might be wondering just what is normal when it comes to his penis. Like the healing umbilical cord, a newly circumcised penis should be kept clean and dry — that means no baths until your baby’s circumcised penis heals (it’ll take about seven to 10 days). Some oozing and even occasional bleeding around the surgical site is totally normal; in fact, it’s part of the body’s natural healing process.
Month 1: Baby Milestones
Here are some baby development milestones you can expect your child to hit during month 1.
Most babies will be able to:
- Lift head briefly during supervised tummy time
- Focus on a face
- Bring hands to face
- Suck well
Half of babies will be able to:
- Respond to a loud noise in some way
Some babies will be able to:
- Lift head 45 degrees when on tummy
- Vocalize in ways other than crying
- Smile in response to a smile
Month 1: For Parents
Welcome to your new life as a parent! You’ve made it through many weeks of pregnancy and then childbirth — and you now have a bundle of joy to show for it. That also means you may have a host of postpartum symptoms to show for it, too — from hemorrhoids, incontinence and vaginal soreness (especially if you had a perineal tear or episiotomy during delivery), to constipation, backache and sore nipples (especially if you’re breastfeeding). As your body recovers and your newborn settles into a routine, you will start to feel human again. In the meantime, try to put your aches, pains, fatigue and worries aside and enjoy this wonderful time with your new baby. Gaze into her eyes, stroke her soft skin, smell her sweet scent and know that life will never be the same again — for good reason.
Your Postpartum Body
The experience of labor and delivery is so physically grueling that the first six to eight weeks postpartum are considered a “recovery period.” You’ll need all the help you can get this month as your body mends and you adjust to life with baby — so try to baby yourself too as much as you can by eating right, getting rest and enlisting support from family, friends and maybe even paid professionals (studies show that doulas and lactation consultants can help moms bond with baby and breastfeed).
If you had a C-section, you’ll also have surgery to recover from. Anesthesia and blood loss can leave you feeling weak the first few days, and your incision may continue to feel sore and sensitive for at least four to six weeks. Cover it with a light dressing, wear loose clothing, and take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or Aleve if the pain lingers (just check with your doctor first). You’ll need to scale back your activity and avoid putting strain on your incision for a while to encourage healing — though as soon as you feel able, try to take short walks around the house to encourage circulation (it can also help to relieve any discomfort you might be feeling from gas and constipation).
What other changes to your body can you expect this month? Breast engorgement usually occurs two to five days after delivery: That’s when your milk comes in, causing your breasts to become rock-hard and tender. Be prepared with a warm washcloth to encourage milk flow, a comfortable bra and cold packs or heating pads that you can apply to your breasts as needed to help manage the pain and discomfort after nursing.
You’ll also experience heavy bleeding called lochia that will require you to wear sanitary pads until it tapers off — usually after two to four weeks. Contractions called after-pains that help the uterus shrink back to normal size also kick in after childbirth. Know, too, that it will take several months (or longer) to shed the baby weight entirely (and many new moms hold onto a few extra pounds after baby) — so don’t even think about it now, and be sure to talk to your doctor before attempting any kind of exercise.
While your focus these days is, naturally, on keeping your baby healthy, that becomes a whole lot harder if you don’t stay healthy yourself. So make your health a priority too. Turn in early for the night, and nap when your baby does — even if it’s just for 15 minutes, you’ll wake up feeling surprisingly refreshed. Keep a supply of easy-to-grab, nutrition-packed foods on hand, like cheese sticks, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit and ready-cut vegetables so you can graze frequently (know that your nutritional needs will be greater if you’re breastfeeding). Finally, practice bottle- or breastfeeding positions to minimize back pain; you might even want to treat yourself to a massage from your partner if you have one or a professional.
Your emotions will be put through the ringer too this month, thanks to fluctuating hormones and scant sleep — and you might feel weepy, overwhelmed, irritable and anxious as a result. These feelings are normal and usually go away within a few weeks after birth. But sometimes the feelings of depression linger and turn into something more serious, which is why it’s important to recognize the signs of postpartum depression (PPD). The AAP recommends that pediatricians screen for PPD at the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6-month visits, although many still don’t. If yours doesn’t (and especially if you think you’re suffering from depression), ask to be screened. Depression isn’t something you should just “suffer through,” and you definitely shouldn’t be ashamed to get the help that you — and your baby — need.
Every couple feels like a pair of walking zombies during their first month at home with baby (and often for much longer than that). Both of you are going through an emotional time, so share as much of the experience and work as possible. Although sex likely isn’t part of the picture this month, it will eventually get back to normal. In the meantime, give each other a massage, go on a walk, or have a quiet meal together, and show your love and appreciation through cuddling, hugging, kissing and kind words.
Things to Do With Your 1-Month Old Baby
You may think your itty-bitty baby can’t do much of anything, let alone play…but you’re in for a happy surprise. Even the newest newbie can bond with the most special person in their world — you. While you’re enjoying this one-on-one time, she’ll learn how to identify you by sight and sound at the same time you’re helping her to develop motor and cognitive skills.
All of the following activities cater to your one-month-old baby’s blurry vision (newborns are only able to see as far as their own arm’s length) and stimulate her social, visual and emotional development as well as listening skills. Choose a time when your baby isn’t hungry, tired or sporting a wet diaper, and stop if she keeps turning her head away (newborns can easily get overstimulated).
- Get silly. Infants are hard-wired to be fascinated by human faces since it ensures they can quickly zero in on and bond with those who care for them — so and make a few silly expressions at her (sticking your tongue out is a perennial fave). Here’s the best part: She may even try to copy you — even tiny infants can imitate facial expressions!
- Converse. Hold your baby close to your face, supporting that wobbly head and neck, and tell her a story, ask questions, or sing. The gentle back-and-forth of your “conversation” is what cements baby’s trust, since it conveys that you’re interested in her and can be counted on to respond to her. Mimicking her sounds encourages her to coo and gurgle all the more.
- Play ball! Shake a bright-colored (not pastel; babies this young see high-contrast patterns and colors better) ball or rattle next to her and she’ll turn her head to find it. This earliest version of “hide and seek” strengthens neck muscles — plus it’s adorable!
- Take a walk. Strap your baby into a carrier or stroller and head outside together. Describe the sights you see along the way — people, cars, dogs, houses. The fresh air and movement will benefit you both, plus the activity helps raise your energy levels.