About your newborn baby’s first weeks of life
Newborns spend their first weeks of life adapting to their new environment.
The outside world is very different from the womb, where 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 plenty of cuddles, smiles and gentle talk.
Your newborn baby’s appearance in the first week of life
Your newborn baby’s appearance will change over the first week.
If your baby’s head is a bit cone shaped or uneven after journeying through the birth canal or because of a vacuum-assisted birth, it should round out during this first week.
Any swelling around your baby’s face and eyes should 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. 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 baby’s face looks yellow and you think it might be jaundice.
Your baby’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 baby 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 baby’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.
Sometimes newborns have enlarged or swollen and tender breasts. They might also have a milky nipple discharge. This happens when newborns have high levels of oestrogen and/or prolactin in their bloodstream. These conditions usually go away by themselves within a few weeks.
Feeding and sleeping in the first weeks of life
Newborns have tiny tummies and need to feed frequently. Most spend a lot of time sleeping, but they’ll wake up every few hours to feed during the day and night.
Most newborns feed every 2-3 hours, and they have around 8-12 feeds every 24 hours. If your newborn baby is healthy and born at or after 37 weeks, it’s best to follow your baby’s lead with feeding.
Sometimes feeds might last up to an hour, especially if your baby is breastfeeding. Most babies will give you cues to show that they’re hungry. For example, they might seem more alert, move their mouth and tongue, bring their hand to their mouth and suck on their fingers or hands.
Newborns usually wake by themselves 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 can take a while before you see a pattern or routine of feeding and sleeping. And it helps to remember that your baby’s feeding and sleeping pattern will change as your baby grows.
In the first few weeks, looking after yourself is important. This means eating well and doing some physical activity. It also means taking opportunities to rest whenever you can, like when your baby sleeps. Getting help from family and friends can make a big difference too.
Development in the first weeks of life
Your newborn baby is learning a lot as you spend time together every day. Their brain is growing and developing as they see, hear, smell and touch things in the world around them.
Your baby will close their hands in a tight fist and startle at sudden loud noises. They’re also likely to have sudden, involuntary jerky movements while asleep. These jerky movements are typical in newborns.
Bonding and communicating in the first weeks of life
You can communicate with your newborn baby using your voice, touch and sight. Gentle touch, cuddling, smiling, talking and looking into your baby’s eyes communicates important information about your baby’s place in the world. This also helps your baby 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 baby’s needs with love, warmth and care. Bonding and attachment are vital to all areas of your baby’s development, including brain development.
Common health concerns in the first weeks of life
Breastfed and bottle-fed newborns typically lose weight during the first 5 days after birth. This happens as they lose excess fluid. This weight loss shouldn’t be more than 10% of their birth weight. After 1-2 weeks, most newborns weigh more than they did at birth. If you’re concerned about your newborn’s weight, talk to your GP or child and family health nurse.
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 baby’s eyes if they’re red and sticky.
Newborns 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 seek medical help
If something doesn’t seem right and you’re worried about your baby, 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, your baby is taking half the normal volume or number of feeds in a 24-hour period or vomits more than half of 3 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 weeks of life
Newborns might cry because they:
- want you close for reassurance
- are hungry or tired
- have a wet or soiled nappy
- feel too hot or too cold.
If your newborn baby is crying, you can try feeding, changing their nappy, holding them skin to skin, cuddling or rocking, speaking or singing in a soothing voice, giving them a warm relaxing bath or putting them down for a sleep.
Remember that it’s normal for newborns to cry. Comforting your baby will help them feel safe and secure.
When to seek help for crying
Colic is when babies cry and fuss a lot, for no obvious physical or medical reason. If your baby is crying a lot and can’t be settled or you’re having difficulty 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 or grunting
- is crying for long periods of time.
Baby health check-ups
Your nearest early childhood centre provides free check-ups for your newborn baby, usually at 2, 4 and 8 weeks after birth.
When you go for your baby’s check-ups, it’s a good time to ask questions about anything, including rashes, vomiting and 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.
At your baby's health check-ups you can also talk to health professionals about how you’re feeling and coping. They can help you get extra support, if you need it.