One minute they are in your body, the next minute they aren’t. It’s pretty insane when you think about the moment of birth, when the baby who grew from a speck of cells inside of you, is now an individual, still very much dependent on you, but now distinctly their own--although tiny--person.
Experienced parents will tell you that babies are born with a particular personality, and that looking back, traces of that personality were evident as early as birth. Some strong-willed tots emerged from the womb with mighty wails from their freshly-initiated lungs, and more pensive kids met the world with a quiet awareness. It’s one of the greatest lessons I personally have learned as a parent— that there is so little about my children that I can control. They are who they were when they were born.
Still, newborn babies share many common characteristics. The various newborn reflexes that have been identified are the same in babies the world over. Many of these reflexes are designed as survival mechanisms, or to facilitate finding and latching onto the breast.
Newborn sleep cycles, those initial smiles and coos, the surprisingly tight grasp of a baby’s hand around your finger (or strand of hair— ouch!) We take classes during pregnancy and read books to prepare ourselves for life with a newborn, but often most of our learning comes from on-the-job training. They teach us how to be their parents.
And there are some things the books don’t tell you, or even if they did, you may have glossed over. So here are five newborn facts you may not know, that may help you as you meet and learn to care for your new baby:
1. Babies sometimes take a while to breathe. When babies are born, it can take about ten seconds—sometimes longer— until they begin to breathe with their lungs. Because the umbilical cord is still attached to the placenta, which at this point, is still attached to your uterus, your baby continues to receive oxygen through the blood that is traveling from the placenta to your baby. As soon as the umbilical cord is cut, the placental oxygen supply is cut as well. (This is one reason why parents and care providers choose to delay clamping of the cord, so that baby receives as much blood from the placenta as possible.)
Babies can appear blue or purple in color for minutes after birth; once their bodies are fully oxygenated, they begin to “pink up.” Parts of their bodies, especially their extremities, can still appear bluish after birth, but this usually improves after their circulatory system begins to mature.
2. Babies benefit from the breast even before your milk comes in. Your breasts don’t begin to fill with milk until around 2-3 days after birth, sometimes even longer. However, babies benefit from latching onto the breast as soon as they are born, if possible, and then every few hours after that.
At birth (and sometimes during pregnancy), you produce colostrum, a concentrated form of early breastmilk that contains antibodies and nutrients. Even though it may not seem like they are getting much from the breast, colostrum is usually all your baby needs until your milk comes in. Plus, the very act of sucking at your breast puts in your baby’s “order” for milk later on. The more your baby latches on, the more your body gets signals to produce milk. So if you intend on breastfeeding for any length of time, have someone help you get a good latch going and get lots of nursing practice!
3. You may want to opt out of that first bath. Not yours— a nice, hot shower after labor can feel like heaven! I’m talking about your baby’s first bath. Many hospitals have changed their policies to delay bathing newborn babies for at least 24 hours, or not at all. Here are some reasons why you may want to wait to bathe your baby:
4. Newborns are noisy. Your baby's cries can feel like the loudest sound on earth. But newborns are noisy when they sleep, too. They grunt and grimace, whimper and yelp. All while they are sound asleep. While it is important to respond to your baby's cries and offer immediate comfort, you may be unintentionally waking a baby who is actually asleep!
If your baby is due for a feeding soon, look for cues like rooting or sticking their hands in their mouths. These are more reliable sign of hunger than the noises you hear when they are actually asleep. If you co-sleep with your baby, you may find that you become more quickly familiar with the noises she makes, and begin to anticipate your baby's needs before she begins to cry.
5. Newborns learn with their hands. You may look back on photos of you as a baby, hands covered by cotton drawstring baby mittens, and assume that mittens are a must for your baby registry. This thought is confirmed when your baby’s dagger-like nails are already scratching up her cheeks with red marks just days after birth. Or maybe you feel she needs mittens to keep her hands warm.
However, baby development experts now advise to ditch the mittens. Babies learn by touch, and when their hands are covered by mittens, they miss out on valuable tactile learning time. Instead, use a baby nail file to shorten and smooth out their nails, and allow them to explore their new world through their sense of touch.
So let those baby hands free!
I am a certified labor(birth) doula and professional postpartum doula serving Boise, Eagle, Meridian, and the greater Treasure Valley.
Need help preparing for birth or need help with your baby? Let's talk!
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.