Newborn care

What to expect on your baby's first night

Here's what brand new babies are like, and what they do, in their first 24 hours of life.

What to expect on your baby's first night

Photo: iStockphoto

If you're pregnant, you've probably been thinking a lot about your labour and delivery. And you've probably read a bunch about surviving the first few months with your little one. But what about those first 12 to 24 hours after birth? What happens then? (Note: The following applies to babies born with no major health concerns, at the hospital.)

You'll likely be moved from the delivery room to a room on the maternity ward, where you'll spend the first day and night of baby's life.

There, you may hope to get a bit of rest. But even if you get lucky enough to fall asleep in your oh-so-comfortable hospital bed (not) while baby is snoozing beside you in a bassinet, it probably won't last. It's common for mom and baby to be woken up by their nurses every few hours, says Leigh Baetz-Craft, a perinatal registered nurse of 32 years who has worked in Toronto-area hospitals, and is currently chair of the Maternal Child Nurses Interest Group at the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. It might seem counter-intuitive—and a little frustrating—to be woken up. But it’s important that both your and your baby's vital signs, such as your blood pressure and heart rate, are checked regularly. The nurses will monitor your bleeding and healing. They may also check your bum for hemorrhoids, which is super fun.

Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the nurses will likely also ask you when you last fed your baby, often to ensure mom isn't under the impression that feeding should be strictly scheduled, or avoided overnight. "We're encouraging parents to feed baby no matter the time," says Baetz-Craft. "To baby, there is no such thing as night, just the need to eat every few hours.”

Some babies will sleep through all their checkups and seem disinterested in feeding; others will wake frequently, cry a lot and only seem happy while sucking or eating. That said, Baetz-Craft says she often sees similar behavior among all newborn babies. “They are awake and alert for the first few hours after birth—a great time to bond and do skin-to-skin with a parent—and then they become really sleepy and fall asleep,” she said. Baetz-Craft says she hasn't noted differences between babies born to moms who had an epidural compared to non-medicated birth, nor between vaginal birth and C-section.

Toronto mom-of-two Gwen Matsell delivered her firstborn in a hospital and her second at home. She remembers both of them sleeping for hours after coming into the world—and she was grateful for the naps. “They are so calm and quiet in the beginning,” she said. “I remember letting them both sleep a lot on that first day and then trying to get them to breastfeed at night.”

When your baby's 24 hours are up, if you're in hospital and delivered vaginally, it might almost be time to head home. Your nurses will also be watching for at least one urination and one excrement from baby within the first 24 hours. This is often a requirement for both patients (yep, you too!) before they can be discharged and sent home. Next step: Get ready for the dreaded night number two.

This article was originally published on Nov 15, 2020

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