So your bundle of joy has finally arrived—congratulations! Amidst all of the flurry of excitement around preparing for a baby, going through labor and delivery, and receiving well wishes from friends and family, you may not have given much thought to what happens after you leave the hospital.
Congratulations! You’re a parent! Now what?
First-time parents are full of anticipation, excitement, and fear surrounding taking care of a newborn. When do you feed? How much sleep does the baby need? What should I look for when determining if my baby is healthy or not? What growth and development patterns are normal, and which symptoms require medical attention? These fears can quickly spiral out of control, particularly if sleep-deprived parents don’t take proactive measures to become informed and more confident in their decision-making abilities.
Take a deep breath, dear parents. Here are some things you need to know to get through those first few months, and you can take comfort in the fact that millions have had similar thoughts and fears; they navigated their way through first-time parenting as well. Here’s what you need to know about your newborn’s health:
Your newborn may look a little funny
No thanks to Hollywood film and television, we go into parenthood expecting to see a plump, rosy-cheeked angel emerge from the birth canal. Most of us are very surprised to see something that resembles an an alien in the hours after birth. Not to worry; as your precious bundle adjusts to life outside the womb, they will change into that angelic package right before your eyes. Give it a few hours!
Prepare to hear some crying
While grown-ups consider crying a sign of emotional distress, this is not necessarily the case for newborn babes. Crying is their form of communication with you; it’s a signal to pay attention. You must go through a mental checklist every time you hear this command; is it time for a nap? Is this a hunger cry? Does a diaper need to be changed? Could there be a gas bubble? Eliminate these potential issues one by one to determine the cause, and if the crying hasn’t ceased, it might be time to call your pediatrician.
Your newborn’s eye color will change
Many parents wonder when do babies eyes change color after birth. This usually happens between six to eight months of age. This is not cause for alarm; this eye color is determined by the amount of melanin present in the eye, which changes as a baby grows. There is no need to call your doctor unless your baby’s eyes are different colors or if they continue to lighten over time.
Handle the head and neck with care
A newborn’s neck muscles are not well-developed after birth, and you’ll need to support both the head and neck when you are handling and comforting him. Support both neck and head when picking up and putting down and transferring baby from lying down to being held and vice versa. As your baby grows, around three to four months, you’ll see a significant difference in neck strength as your baby begins to lift his head and react to stimuli around him.
Be mindful of sleep patterns
It is not expected that a baby will sleep through the night, but they do sleep for several hours at a time. As new parents, it will take some time to get used to your newborn’s sleeping patterns; consider recording sleep times and durations, as they will help you create a workable schedule for both of you. A few well-placed naps for mom and dad here and there will help you retain your energy and handle anything that baby throws at you when he decides to wake and interact with the world around him.
When you lie baby down for a nap or the night, make sure you are placing him on his back in a crib that has a form-fitting sheet. No stuffed animals, blankets, or other soft surfaces should be in the crib with the child, as they are considered choking or suffocating hazards.
When to call a doctor
Every parent has anxieties about raising a child, and for first-timers, these worries can become obsessive. Know that you can call a pediatrician for advice almost anytime and that you should contact a doctor if your baby experiences the following:
- Fever above 100 F
- Crying that is inconsolable or that has continued for hours with no apparent reason
- A lack of interest in eating for over 24 hours
- Lethargy or unresponsiveness that is indicative of illness
- Severe diarrhea that could result in dehydration
- Difficulty breathing, coughing, congestion that is indicative of illness
Trust that gut, parents. You are your child’s best advocate. As you get to know your child and his unique traits and habits, you’ll begin to pick up on signs and signals that could point to illness, and you’ll be able to act promptly to get the proper care needed to ensure that your precious child thrives. You are on one of the most exciting and rewarding journeys that life has to offer you; cherish every moment, and look forward to the joys and surprises that parenting will bring.