Hello, stranger

It's a precious, amazing - and mysterious! - new life you hold in your arms. Here's a preview of what life with your newborn might be like in the first few weeks

The big, wide world takes getting used to for a tiny baby. At first, your baby may seem a very unpredictable creature, sleeping for hours on end one day and fussing through the next, feeding at odd intervals and crying for no clear reason.

It’s all part of being a new little person.

Sleep
Though some newborns sleep as much as 20 hours a day, many more don’t. And even babies who sleep a lot do it, at first, in small stretches around the clock. Some seem to sleep most during the day, and are wakeful and unhappy at night, making afternoon naps for you an absolute essential!

Though all new parents yearn for more sleep, a newborn who sleeps too much worries health professionals. A new baby’s stomach is tiny and needs refilling often, and these early days are important for establishing your milk supply. If your baby often sleeps longer than four hours between daytime feeds, you may be advised to wake her up every three hours for feeding.

Gradually, the stretches of time awake during the day will lengthen, and the time awake at night will decrease. Sleeping through the night may still be months away, but with any luck you’ll begin to get at least one longer stretch at night. It’s amazing how good four straight hours feels to a new mom!

Feeding
There’s no simple timetable to tell you how often your baby will want to eat. While every two to three hours may be common for a breastfed newborn, babies go through growth spurts and fussy times of the day when they want to feed more frequently. “Cluster feedings” is a term used to describe a common newborn pattern of feeding very frequently over the course of an hour or two, followed by a good stretch of sleep. Many parents find life easier if they stop watching the clock and trust their baby to tell them when she’s hungry.

For every parent who worries that the baby is feeding too often, there’s another who wonders if the baby is feeding enough. After the fourth day, watch for six soaking wet diapers as an indication that baby is getting enough milk. (See Breastfeeding Basics or Formula Feeding for more help with feeding your baby.)

Did you ever think you’d be counting wet and dirty diapers? You’ve probably already seen your baby’s first bowel movements — the sticky, greeny-black meconium. Over the first few days that changes gradually to yellow or orange seedy stools if the baby is breastfed, or to more solid brownish bowel movements if the baby is formula-fed.

In the first month, your baby should have at least one or two good bowel movements a day. Some babies have many more — one with every feeding is not uncommon. After the first month, your baby may continue to stool frequently, or only every few days. As long as the stools are soft, both patterns are normal.

Feeding to a baby is more than just nourishment. Safe and warm in your arms, feeling secure and content, your baby learns that he can trust you to meet his needs, and that his world is a safe place.

Crying
All newborns cry, most more than their parents expect. Some sensitive souls cry more and harder right from the start, and an unhappy few top the scale and are said to have “colic.”

Why do babies cry? We all know the obvious reasons — hunger or pain. But newborns can also cry from fatigue, or from anything that makes them feel “not quite right.” Sometimes they just need the reassurance of being held and comforted.

Though we can’t always figure out what is upsetting our crying babies, it’s important to respond. Crying is a communication from your baby to you — she needs to know someone is listening!

And public health nurse Saleha Bismila suggests, “If you respond early, when you hear that first little sound that tells you your baby is unhappy — if you pick her up or touch her then, she may settle more easily.” Research shows that babies who are comforted promptly when they cry actually cry less as toddlers.

Swaddling
To swaddle your baby, wrap her like a burrito:

1. Open a large receiving blanket and lay your baby on it diagonally. Move slowly and talk quietly to your baby as you wrap her.

2. Bring one corner across her chest and tuck it under her body. The baby’s arms are tucked alongside her body.

3. Fold up the bottom.

4. Secure the whole bundle by wrapping the last corner across her shoulders and behind her back.

The magic connection
Looking after the basics — feeding, changing, bathing — is demanding work. But as the days go on and you become more confident, there are more moments when you can just enjoy being with your baby. And your baby will have more moments when she is awake and calm — ready to check out her new world. Take advantage of those lovely lulls, Saleha urges. “That’s a good time to look at your baby, touch and talk to her. The best toy for your newborn is your own face, so hold your baby close so she can see you.” One day soon, she will reward your efforts with her first heart-melting smile!

Remarkable reflexes
Babies have inborn survival instincts which produce different reflexes:

Moro or startle reflex. If a baby is startled by a loud noise or abrupt handling, he will throw up his arms. Babies sometimes also do this for no apparent reason when they’re lying on their backs.

Grasping reflex. If you put your finger or any object in the baby’s palm, he will grip it so tightly that if he gripped with both hands, he could support his own weight if lifted. Don’t try it though, because babies lose this ability quite quickly after birth.

Rooting reflex. This one helps babies find food. Stroke one of his cheeks and he’ll turn his head in that direction and search with an open mouth for a nipple.

Your newborn, head to toe
Maybe your baby beatiful and amazing though she is, doesn’t look quite like you expected? Here’s what’s normal:

My head may be an odd shape at first because it was moulded during labour to fit through the birth canal. It will soon round up on its own.

My skull has two soft spots, or fontanelles (one front, one back). They will close over in the next two years.

My nose may be crooked and my eyes puffy from being born.

I might have fine hair called lanugo on my body. Don’t worry, it will fall out.

After nine months in water, my skin may be peeling, especially around the ankles and wrists.

If I am born with a creamy white substance called vernix on my skin, you can either wash it off, or let it absorb in.

I may get lots of blotches and rashes, but most disappear quickly. If I have a stork bite on my eyelids or neck, it will gradually fade away.

My breasts (and scrotum if I am a boy) may look swollen. This is from Mom’s hormones and will subside.

My umbilical stump looks nasty, but unless it gets infected it doesn’t hurt. Keep it clean and dry; in a few days or weeks it will fall off and I’ll have a proper belly button.