About your newborn’s first week of life
Newborns spend their first week of life adapting to their new environment.
The outside world is very different from the womb, where it’s dim, the temperature is constant, and noise is muffled. You can help your baby get used to the outside world by giving them warmth, love, security, attention – and lots of cuddles and smiles.
Your newborn’s appearance in the first week of life
Your newborn’s appearance will change over the first week.
If your newborn’s head is a bit cone shaped after journeying through the birth canal or because of a vacuum-assisted birth, it should round out to a more normal-looking shape.
Any swelling around your newborn’s face and eyes will go down within a few days. If your newborn’s face or head has been bruised – for example, after a forceps birth – the bruising will disappear. Newborns with bruising are at risk of newborn jaundice. Let your midwife, GP or child and family health nurse know if the skin on your newborn’s face looks yellow and you think it might be jaundice.
Your newborn’s umbilical cord will gradually dry, become black and then fall off, usually within the first 10 days. Try to keep the umbilical cord clean and dry. If the area around the umbilical cord looks red or is sticky, let your midwife, GP or child and family health nurse know.
Your newborn might have one or more birthmarks, either at birth or later on. Birthmarks are common and usually don’t need medical attention. But if your newborn’s birthmark concerns you or if it changes, it’s a good idea to have it checked by your GP or child and family health nurse.
Feeding and sleeping in the first week of life
Your newborn will sleep most of the time, waking up every few hours to feed. Newborns can’t ‘sleep through the night’. They have tiny tummies, so they need to wake and feed often.
Most newborns feed 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 newborn is breastfeeding.
Newborns usually wake for feeds. But some might need to be woken for feeding – for example, newborns who have lost a lot of weight, are very small, or are jaundiced.
It’s likely to be a while before you see a pattern or routine of feeding and sleeping.
In the first few weeks, looking after yourself is important. This means eating well and doing some physical activity, and also resting when your baby sleeps, which will help you catch up on sleep. Getting help from family and friends can make a big difference too.
Development in the first week of life
Your newborn is learning a lot as you spend time together every day. Their brain is growing and developing as they see, hear, smell and touch the world around them.
Your newborn will close their hands involuntarily in the grasp reflex and will startle at sudden loud noises. They’re also likely to have sudden jerky movements while asleep.
Bonding and communicating in the first week of life
You can communicate with your newborn using your voice, touch, sight and smell. Gentle touch, cuddling, smiling and gazing communicates important information about your newborn’s place in the world, and helps your newborn feel safe and secure with you.
During this first week, you’ll also start getting to know how your baby communicates with you using baby cues and body language.
Bonding and attachment are about always responding to your newborn’s needs with love, warmth and care. And bonding and attachment are vital to all areas of your child’s development, including brain development.
Common health concerns in the first week of life
It’s normal for newborns to lose weight during the first five days after birth. This happens as they lose excess fluid. This weight loss shouldn’t be more than 10% of their birth weight. Most newborns regain their birth weight after 1-2 weeks. If your newborn has lost too much weight, they might have to be readmitted to hospital until they’re feeding well and gaining weight each day.
It’s common for newborns to develop sticky or discharging eyes during the first few weeks of life. The most common cause is blocked tear ducts. This issue usually gets better by itself, but gentle eye cleansing and massage will also help. It’s best to have your GP or child and family health nurse check your newborn’s eyes if they’re red and sticky.
Newborns can develop all sorts of rashes, which usually aren’t serious. But if your newborn 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 seek medical help
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 newborn:
- isn’t feeding – for example, your newborn is taking half the normal volume or number of feeds in a 24-hour period or vomits more than half of three feeds in a row
- has fewer than 6-8 wet nappies per day
- seems irritable, lethargic or very tired all the time or is hard to wake for feeds
- has pale or yellow skin.
Crying in the first week of life
Newborns might cry because they:
- are hungry
- have a wet or dirty nappy
- feel too hot or too cold
- want you close for reassurance.
If your newborn is crying, you can try feeding, changing their nappy, cuddling or rocking, speaking or singing in a soothing voice, or giving them a warm relaxing bath.
And if your newborn is crying a lot, remember that it’s normal for newborns to cry. Comforting your newborn will help them feel safe and secure.
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 newborn:
- 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.
After the first week: baby health check-ups
Your nearest early childhood centre provides free check-ups for your baby, usually at two, four and eight weeks after birth.
When you go for your baby’s check-ups, it’s a good time to ask questions about anything, from rashes to vomiting to crying. You could write a list of questions before the check-ups so you don’t forget to ask the nurse anything you want to know.