Congratulations on having a baby! You’ve learned all you can about labor and delivery, but you don’t feel confident that you’ve prepared for your time in the hospital after giving birth. What do you do?
The moments directly after your child is born are so critical for bonding with your new precious baby. But the thing is, many hospital deliveries involve staff who are not trained to protect this time.
Before I start, I want to make it clear that I haven’t personally experienced a Caesarian delivery. (BTW, if you have had a c-section, you are a champion. Whether a c-section was your original plan or not, you underwent major surgery just to meet your baby, and you are awesome.)
With that said, much of what I say here stands whether you have a vaginal birth or a c-section, but it may need to be modified slightly to fit your medical needs.
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I want to tell you all the experience I’ve gathered after having three children. Hopefully this info will make the first few days after birth a better bonding experience!
1. Immediately have contact with your baby after birth.
You want to know the best way to establish breastfeeding after birth? Or just how to bond with your baby directly after birth?
Ask the doctors and nurses to delay many of the things they usually as soon as a baby is born.
Want a successful breastfeeding experience? Preparation makes a huge difference! Check out Milkology, an online course from a certified lactation consultant. This course tells you everything you need to know for breastfeeding success in only 90 minutes.
There is no reason to weigh and measure your baby just as soon as he is born. There is no need to immediately bathe, poke, and prod a baby. What a disconcerting way to come into the world!
In fact, my second two were laid on my chest just as soon as they were born! Yes, they’re messy and covered with …stuff… called vernix, a whitish, yellowish waxy film. My babies being immediately thrown on me was still a beautiful experience.
2. Delay cord clamping.
This is another more progressive tip that’s become more normal over just the past few years.
When your baby is first born, her umbilical cord is still attached to the amniotic sac (which you’ll birth a few minutes after birthing the baby. Much easier, but possibly still a little painful). Don’t let the doctors clamp or cut this cord as soon as the baby is born!
Wait several minutes for the cord to stop pulsing. This means that all the blood that was in the cord is now in the baby, which greatly increases her internal iron stores.
Since iron tends to be low in breastmilk, delayed cord clamping can make the difference in your child not having iron deficiency (although an iron supplement for baby is a good idea too).
And even when you’re finally ready to do the cord clamping and cutting, there’s no reason it can’t be done with the baby still snuggled up on your chest.
3. Delay bathing your baby after birth.
We’ve already established that your baby is likely to be covered in vernix (unless he was born late).
But don’t be in a rush to get the baby washed off! Experts now recommend delaying baby’s first bath for a day or two, allowing the vernix to absorb into the skin. This practice protects your baby’s immune system, internal body temperature, and blood glucose levels, three critical components for newborns.
4. Don’t be freaked out when you start shaking uncontrollably.
You may have already experienced this at some point during labor, but soon after giving birth, it is likely that you’ll experience sudden, wracking chills. You’ll be shaking and your teeth will be chattering (This can happen whether you had a vaginal birth or c-section).
These chills are probably caused by the sudden hormone changes that occur after birth. They’re a little freaky, but just stay calm and know they’ll pass soon. If you can’t hold your baby while they’re going on, just pass her over to Dad until you’re feeling better.
(NOTE: If you have body aches and you have a fever, this is NOT normal. You need to talk to your provider and make sure you don’t have an infection developing.)
5. Protect the golden hour by setting boundaries with family beforehand.
Golden hour? What’s that?
The golden hour is the hour directly after giving birth. It is absolutely critical to getting the best start you can with your baby.
During this hour, no one else should be in there with you and your baby besides dad. Unsnap the shoulders of your hospital gown (or one of these cute and functional Labor and Delivery gowns) and unwrap your baby. Cover the two of you with a blanket and just cuddle up.
In the meantime, do what you have to to keep excited family and friends from coming in early. Tell hospital staff your intentions and make it clear to your family that you will not be accepting visitors immediately after the baby is born. My suggestion is that you set this boundary with family well before birth, not the day of.
If you have a take-charge relative or friend who also respects your wishes, you can put them in charge of keeping people out, if need be.
6. Once you are allowing visitors, still require respect for you and your baby.
I get it: family and friends get super excited about new babies, and everyone wants to hold and touch them.
But you set the boundaries you’re comfortable with. If you don’t want anyone else to hold the baby at first, that’s your prerogative.
Be really careful about infections getting to you and your baby too. Don’t let anyone (including yourself) kiss your baby’s lips. If someone is sick, they should wait several days before meeting the baby. Yes, it sucks, but it’s better than the alternative.
And remember, you just went through perhaps the most intense physical experience of your life. On top of that, you have a very small person who needs you 24/7. You’ll need naps during the day. Don’t be afraid to tell people visiting hours are closed.
7. Avoid swaddling.
I know. Mind blown.
“But Samantha!” you say. “Everyone talks about how important swaddling is. And do you know how many hours I spent wrapping a blanket around a doll trying to figure it out?!”
Hear me out. I know the benefits of swaddling: the baby is tightly held like when she was in the womb, she’s kept warm, etc. But when she’s in such a tight little bundle, especially when you add a little hat on top of it all, you’ve got pretty much no access to touching her. You baby needs contact with you.
This is not the most flattering picture of me ever. I was about two days postpartum with my first baby and I’m thinking I hadn’t brushed my hair. The point I’m wanting to make though is the way I’m holding little Leia. Between the gown and the swaddle wrap, there’s really not a lot of contact between us.
Fortunately, there’s another way to help your baby feel warm and safe: skin-to-skin.
8. Use skin-to-skin contact to help establish breastfeeding.
If you’re planning to breastfeed, your baby will naturally crawl to your breast on his own! Of course, you can help some, but it’s amazing to see him in action. Check out this beautiful video of a baby’s first breastcrawl:
See how mother and baby are undressed (besides a diaper)? This arrangement helps your baby find the breast and increases oxytocin (the “bonding” hormone) levels for both of you.
Ideally, your baby will establish breastfeeding within an hour after birth. This behavior is more likely to be delayed, though, if you had an epidural (one of many reasons I preferred my natural births!)
RELATED: Natural birth or epidural, which should you choose?
And don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal that you’re only producing colostrum at this point. You won’t have “real” milk for 3-5 days; instead, you’ll produce only a thick, yellowish liquid for your baby to eat. This thicker liquid is actually ideal for your newborn, who is just learning to suckle. As long as everything is going as normal, he does not need any extra water or formula.
9. Be ready for the first time you stand up.
Eventually, you’re going to have to get out that hospital bed and go pee. If you had an epidural, you won’t be able to stand or feel your legs for a while. Don’t try to get up by yourself! And when you finally are able to get up, you are likely to be nauseated and light-headed at first. Just be ready.
Even if you had a natural labor, you still just pushed a baby out! Make sure there is a nurse there to help you (God bless nurses), and be ready with the “fancy” Peri-bottle you’re given. Pat, don’t wipe, after rinsing everything off.
And the best thing you get to do for yourself after labor? Take a shower! You’ve never felt the need for a shower the way you do after labor. You’ll feel like a whole new person.
There’s a good chance the L&D nurses will want to know you can poop before you go home, too. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Do yourself a favor and take the dang Colace.
RELATED: How to take care of yourself postpartum – 6 tips
10. Let dad experience skin-to-skin too.
What are you going to do with your baby while you’re taking that first shower? If you’re lucky, Dad is there to take over while you’re gone.
The great thing is, skin-to-skin is a great experience for baby and daddy too. His chest might be a little fuzzier than yours, but it will still help both of them to release oxytocin and to regulate your baby’s body temperature, breathing, and heart rate.
11. Know upfront that the second night is usually harder than the first.
When your baby is very first born, you are pumped full of all sorts of hormones. You are likely super excited to meet your new baby, but if nothing else, you just went through a huge experience. You’ll be tired, but likely not sleepy. So when your little one wants to eat every hour or two (which is perfectly normal for a newborn), it’s no problem.
But by the second night, all that adrenaline has worn off, and you are exhausted. All you really want is to sleep, but now there’s this brand-new person whose very life depends upon you.
And on top of that, your baby may have been pretty chill the first day, resting from her own huge experience, but by the second day, she’s more with it and probably a bit more vocal about her needs.
So you have a hard combination: sheer exhaustion from you and complete neediness from your baby. It can be difficult, but you’ll get through it. Just put your baby back in her little bassinet when you need to (go ahead and swaddle for that) and let someone else be in charge of the baby when possible and just snatch what rest you can.
Conclusions on postpartum care immediately after birth:
Childbirth may seem like the end of a long journey (goodbye, pregnancy heartburn!), but it’s really just the beginning of a much longer journey with your new baby. I hope this article prepares you to make the most of your first few days with baby.
Don’t forget, if you’re reading this while still pregnant, I can help you plan for your Perfect Natural Birth! As a mom of three who has had two unmedicated births, I have the experience to tell you what you need to know to have a successful, drug-free labor and delivery. Get your copy of the Perfect Natural Birth Toolkit and start preparing now!