Your newborn's first week: what to expect

Your newborn's first week: what to expect

About your newborn's first week of life

Your newborn spends his first week of life adapting to his 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 her warmth, love, security, attention - and lots of cuddles and smiles.

Changes in your newborn's appearance in the first week of life

Your baby's appearance will change over the first week.

If your baby's head is a bit cone shaped after his journey 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 baby's face and eyes will 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. Babies with bruising are at risk of newborn jaundice. Let your child and family health nurse know if the skin on your baby's face looks yellow and you think she might be jaundiced.

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 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.

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 babies need feeds 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 baby is breastfeeding.

Your baby will usually wake himself when he needs to feed. But some babies might need to be woken for feeding - for example, babies 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 sleeping when your baby sleeps, which will help you catch up on sleep. It's OK if you need to ask family and friends for help too.

Development in the first week of life

Your baby is learning a lot as you spend time together every day. Her brain is growing and developing as she sees, hears, smells and touches the world around her.

Your baby will close his hands involuntarily in the grasp reflex and will startle at sudden loud noises. He's also likely to have sudden jerky movements while asleep.

Bonding and communicating in the first week of life

Your newborn recognises your voice - after all, she has been listening to you from inside the womb for the past nine months. You can communicate with your newborn using your voice, touch, sight and smell.

Your baby will have his own ways of communicating with you using his behaviour - even though he can't smile just yet. During this first week, you'll start getting to know your baby's cues and body language.

Lots of gentle touch, cuddling, smiling and gazing will help your baby feel safe and secure with you. This helps to promote bonding and attachment and healthy development. It's also good for your baby's brain development.

Common health problems in the first week of life

Weight loss
It's normal for your baby to lose weight during the first five days after birth as she loses excess fluid. This weight loss shouldn't be more than 10% of her birth weight, though. Most babies regain their birth weight after 1-2 weeks. If your baby has lost too much weight, she might have to stay in hospital with you for a little longer to make sure she's feeding well and gaining weight each day.

Sticky eye
It's common for babies to develop sticky or discharging eyes during the first few weeks of life. The most common cause is blocked tear ducts, and this usually gets better by itself. Gentle eye cleansing and massage will help. But it's best to have your GP or child and family health nurse check your baby's eyes if they're red and sticky.

Newborn babies 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 see your GP or child and family health nurse
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 baby:

  • isn't feeding - for example, he's 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

It's normal for newborns to cry, but it can be stressful if you don't know what your baby is trying to tell you. Your newborn might cry because she:

  • is hungry
  • has a wet or dirty nappy
  • feels uncomfortable (too hot or too cold)
  • wants you close for reassurance.

If your newborn is crying, you can try feeding him, changing his nappy, cuddling or rocking him, speaking or singing in a soothing voice, or giving him a warm relaxing bath. If your baby is crying a lot, it doesn't mean you're doing a bad job as a new parent.

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 baby:

  • 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.
Crying is a newborn's main way of telling you what she needs. You might like to print out our illustrated guide to settling a crying baby, and stick it up somewhere handy.

After the first week: baby health check-ups

Your nearest baby health 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.