After forty long weeks (give or take a few), your little one has arrived and is now a 1 week old baby! The first week of life is full of joys and struggles as both of you are adjusting to so many new things.
Now outside of the womb, your baby has mastered breathing, is getting used to the idea of feeding, and is feeling the new sensations of their digestive system in action for the first time. In this first week you are adjusting to sleep deprivation, learning your baby’s cues, diaper changes, feedings, and the overwhelming feelings of new parenthood.
Before birth, everything was done for them, in a temperature-controlled womb where hunger, thirst or even the urge to poo did not exist.
The amazing development of your infant over these past nine months is just the beginning of a journey that now continues outside your body.
Over the next 25 years, he will develop into a mature human adult, but right now, in these early days of life, you realize that birth is not the end, but the beginning of the incredible transformation you will both make.
This series will describe what you can expect to happen each week in the first year, as your baby moves from helpless infant to burgeoning toddler.
From feeding and sleeping, to leaps and milestones, follow along with typical human baby development.
The first hour after birth
Weighing an average of 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds) and measuring around 51 centimetres (20 inches), your full-term baby is capable of amazing things immediately after he takes his first breath.
When placed directly on the mother’s belly, an alert and uncompromised newborn will use an in-born “stepping” reflex . This reflex simultaneously massages the uterus to help it firm up and propels him to the breast.
Over the next hour or so, he will progress through a series of nine instinctive behaviours before attaching to feed. Breastfeeding within the first hour is recommended by the World Health Organization.
These instinctive behaviours are laid down deep in the primitive brain and are present in all newborn mammals.
By allowing the new parent(s) and baby to be together, uninterrupted, in the first hour, we can utilise these natural instincts to improve breast/chestfeeding outcomes and enhance bonding.
Read more about the 7 huge benefits of an undisturbed first hour after birth.
If your baby was born by c-section, your first opportunity for skin-to-skin contact might have been while still in the operating theatre, while in recovery, or once you were back in your room, depending on your circumstances and hospital policies.
Your newborn from head-to-toe
Your newborn baby might have a “cone-head” from his trip through the birth canal. The fontanels (“soft spots”) allow the bones of the baby’s skull to mould and overlap to fit through the maternal pelvis. This will mostly resolve within the first few hours of birth and be completely resolved within the first few days. You can read and see pictures of What Happens To Your Baby’s Head During Birth.
Babies can have lots of hair or be mostly bald. They can be born with dark hair or light hair. It is very common for baby hair to fall out and come in a lighter color, though some babies keep their hair and it may also stay dark. This is going to be based on your family’s genetics.
Newborns may also still have some lanugo, a fine downy hair that grows all over the fetus’s body to help protect his delicate skin while in the womb. They start shedding this hair as they near 40 weeks gestation, but there may still be some of this “peach fuzz” on your baby’s shoulders, ears, and back. It will naturally fall off in the first weeks.
Almost all babies’ eyes are a dark grey-blue color at birth. They may change color over the first weeks, but some infant’s eyes take up to a year to settle on their permanent color.
The whites of your baby’s eyes may have some broken capillaries from the squeeze through the birth canal. These appear as bright red spots and can take a few weeks to resolve. These are normal and are nothing to worry about.
There can also be a yellowish tinge in the baby’s eyes due to jaundice–read more on this common condition later in this article.
Your baby’s skin is new to the air and it is very normal for some normal rashes to appear in this first week. Newborn acne and erythema toxicum—a rash that is seen in up to half of all healthy newborns are common. Contact your midwife or doctor if you have concerns.
Vernix is a white, waxy substance that most newborns have at birth. It is present to protect the baby’s delicate skin in the womb and also has some other important functions including helping your baby maintain his temperature. There is no need to wash this substance off your baby. Read more about vernix here: Wait To Bathe Hospital Policy–Should You Delay Your Baby’s First Bath.
Dry and peeling skin is also a normal skin condition seen in newborns. If your baby was born later than your due date, you may see some peeling skin right away. Other babies have peeling skin in the first week. If it is looking particularly dry you can use a natural oil like coconut, olive, or jojoba to moisturize your baby’s skin. Avoid any lotions that contain alcohol or perfumes/scents as baby skin is very sensitive.
The nipples of both girl and boy newborn babies may be swollen and can even secrete a milky substance known as “witches’ milk”. This is normal and is because of the leftover hormones that the fetus was exposed to while still in the womb. It will resolve within a few days.
The umbilical cord
Immediately after birth, the umbilical cord is still attached to the placenta and to your baby. It is a bluish color and is pulsing with the blood that is continuing to provide rich oxygen and important cells to your baby as they transition to using their lungs and taking their first breaths.
In just a few minutes, the cord turns white and limp as the blood finishes entering your baby’s body and the placenta detaches from your uterus. Ideally, you will wait to cut the cord until this point. The benefits of delayed cord clamping are well-researched and this practice is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Over this first week, the cord stump will continue drying out and turn darker in color as it heals. In as early as five days and in as late as 14 days it will detach (much like a scab on a skinned knee) and your sweet baby now has a belly button!
Keep the cord stump clean and dry to prevent infection. Bathing your baby is fine as long as the area around the umbilical stump can be dried thoroughly Some parents may feel more comfortable giving a sponge bath as needed until the bit of cord falls off and is healed completely.
For more detailed health information on how to care for your baby’s umbilical cord stump you can read Umbilical Cord Care For Your Newborn’s Stump.
Your baby’s testicles may be quite swollen at first. This is because of the hormones he received as a fetus in the womb. Both testicles should be descended at birth, but if they are not this usually happens on its own in the first few months.
You should not retract the foreskin for cleaning or any other purpose. Read more about the decision of circumcision and care of the newborn penis is our article Should Your Son Have A Circumcision?
Baby girls can have what is termed “pseudomenses”. A bit of blood or blood-tinged mucus can be discharged from her vagina in the first week. This is a totally normal occurrence and is also from leftover maternal hormones that she received while a fetus in the womb.
Newborn fingernails are soft and flexible yet they grow quite quickly and can leave scratches on your baby’s face or on your breasts. You can carefully trim them with newborn safety nail clippers or file them down with an emery board. It may be easier to do this while they are in a deep sleep so that their hands are more relaxed.
Everything about your precious baby’s abilities as a newborn is a clue about what he expects in these few days and weeks. Being in your arms, being close to the sound of your heartbeat, and being nourished by or on your body is what your baby is ready for and how he can best learn about the world around him.
- Newborns can focus best at 8-12 inches away–this just so happens to be the distance your baby will be away from your face when feeding at the breast. If bottle-feeding this is the distance you should replicate.
- Babies from birth to several weeks old can see color—reds and greens are more distinct than blues.
- Babies highly prefer to look at human faces more than anything else. They also prefer sharp outlines and bold contrasts.
- They also have a better vision toward the edge of the visual field than the center (again—think about the position you hold your baby during feedings).
- Make sure to “switch sides” if bottle-feeding as this is important to eye development.
- Strabismus, going “cross-eyed”, is normal until 2-4 months of age and happens quite often in the first month or two.
- The American Optometric Association has a list of milestones for normal infant vision development.
- Newborns are calmed by the sound of a heartbeat. They are soothed when held on your or your partner’s chest.
- They prefer and recognize their parents’ voices right away.
- Babies can remember stories and songs that they heard in utero! They begin hearing at 25-26 weeks gestation.
- All babies respond to high-pitched voices. All people (even young children and people from all cultures) speak in higher-pitched voices when talking to babies instinctively.
- The smell of amniotic fluid on the newborn’s hands help guide the baby to the breast as the Montgomery glands on the breast secrete a substance that smells like amniotic fluid.
- Breast milk and mother’s sweat contain some of the same odors as amniotic fluid.
- Mothers can identify their babies by smell alone shortly after birth and babies prefer their mother’s breast pads, neck, and underarm odor.
- The fetus has taste buds at the end of the first trimester while still in the womb.
- The flavors of the foods you eat while pregnant are transmitted into the amniotic fluid.
- Newborns prefer sweet flavors and breast milk is quite sweet!
The first feeds
Once attached to the breast, your baby takes the first precious drops of colostrum.
Colostrum will seed his digestive system with vital bacteria, support his vulnerable immune system, as it’s exposed to the outside world, and activate his digestive system.
Over the next 36 hours or so, the small amounts of colostrum will gradually stretch his stomach, stimulate his bowels, and slowly introduce his body to digestion.
Your baby needs nothing more than what your body provides.
If you decide to feed your baby with formula, you can find helpful information in our article, How To Get Started With Baby Formula.
By the time your milk comes in (between days 3 and 4) babies are waking to eat regularly every two to three hours and some even more frequently.
It’s likely you’ll be at home with your baby when a marathon of feeding begins around days three to five.
This can be alarming, especially if those around you doubt you have enough breast milk to satisfy your baby.
It’s really important to understand that frequent feeding is how your baby stimulates this transition.
So much so, if your baby is sleepy and won’t wake properly to feed, you may need to pump your milk a few to several times a day to mimic the typical feeding pattern at this stage and to support your milk supply. Reach out to a certified lactation consultant for more guidance or if you have other feeding questions.
Most babies lose weight in the first week – and regain it in the second.
This is not anything to be concerned about unless he loses more than 10% of his birth weight.
If you had IV fluids during labour or birth, that’s also worth taking into consideration, because it can artificially inflate a baby’s birth weight, meaning a larger newborn weight loss need not be of concern.
At this stage, those caring for you will want to see that your 1 week old baby is:
- Latching well and removing milk efficiently
- Waking often enough to feed frequently
- Producing enough wet nappies and bowel motions for this stage.
Although it might be suggested that you begin topping up with baby formula, increasing breastfeeds and complementing with your own expressed breast milk are usually all you need to do.
You can find out more in our article, Newborn Weight Loss – 6 Things You Need To Know
First Wet Diapers
Your baby is supported by extra fluid, which has been stored to hydrate his body in these first days of life.
He also has special fat stores to fuel his body, until the breasts transition to producing mature breast milk (often known as your milk “coming in”).
Your baby’s kidneys, liver, bowel and bladder will take their first steps in processing his food and excreting his waste.
In his first 24 hours, your baby may urinate just once, but you’ll see his wet nappies increase by one more every day until he reaches at least five heavily wet disposables in 24 hours.
First Bowel Movements
Your baby will have his first poo within the first 24-36 hours—if he didn’t have it soon after birth!
For the first few days, the laxative effect of the colostrum will help to expel the sticky, black meconium before your milk comes in. This poo can be hard to clean off your sweet baby’s skin so once you have your baby home you can keep some coconut oil or olive oil handy to slather your baby’s diaper area between diaper changes to make this much quicker and easier!
The last of the meconium turns a greenish-brown, and you’ll begin to see greenish-yellow “transitional” poo between days 2-4.
Around day four, mustard yellow, liquid stools are typical of a breastfed baby and you will change diapers 5-8 times a day.
Your one week old baby is likely to be feeding at least 8-12 times in 24 hours, with feeding sessions taking as long as an hour.
Get the low-down on baby poo – here are 11 interesting facts parents should know.
How long your baby sleeps is a big topic for new parents. Normal baby sleep patterns may look much different than what you might expect.
After the physical demands of labour and birth and the first feed, your baby’s first sleep will be for about a stretch of four hours. After that baby will be spending some time at the breast every 2-3 hours and sometimes even more often as they are learning the skill of feeding and nursing.
Many babies develop the common condition of jaundice between days 3-7. Frequent nursing will help this (usually normal) condition. Jaundice may make a baby more sleepy and harder to rouse. Read more on how to wake a sleepy baby. If jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes) appears in the first 24 hours, alert your healthcare provider.
Ideally, by day two or three, he will be sleeping less and feeding more.
He will quickly move into a stage of frequent feeding and unsettled sleeping, which accompanies your milk coming in.
Once your milk supply has been established and your baby is over his birth weight he can sleep a 4-5 hour stretch in a 24-hour period without needing to nurse.
The first nights
With no circadian rhythm to guide him, your one week old baby will behave much the same day and night.
You can expect this is the way things will be for the next few months. Having realistic expectations about your newborn sleep patterns is important as it is common for new parents to feel some pressure to get their baby to “sleep through the night”.
Sleep deprivation is one of the most difficult challenges for new parents, but understanding what is normal for a baby and their development can help you learn a new way to get the rest you need. Read more in our articles, Baby Has Night and Day Mixed Up? Here’s What To Do and Baby Night Waking – Is It Normal For Babies to Wake At Night?
By feeding around the clock, your baby is programming your milk production to meet his growing needs, and fuel his rapid recovery from birth.
It’s the start of intense and exciting growth in the first three months of life.
Still very immature compared with other mammals, your 1 week old baby will undergo a huge development in these first few weeks, taking him from a foetus to an infant. The experiences that he has as he is nurtured by you and begins using his senses to take in the world around him are shaping his brain development and he is already learning new skills every day.
Your baby’s brain is growing and developing and at the same time your brain has changed. Research shows that the maternal brain changes to become more responsive to infants’ cues and needs. Your brain has changed in order to be a more responsive caregiver!
Many refer to this period as the ‘fourth trimester’ and there are ways you can ease the transition for him and prepare for good self-care for you. Remember to get the support you need as you recover from the labor and birth and you take the time to learn about each other over these first few weeks.
Learn more in our article The Fourth Trimester – 8 Ways To Create A Great One For Your Baby.