What to Expect: A Baby's First 24 Hours of Life

Mom looking down at newborn.jpg

Congratulations! After hours of labor, you finally get to see your newborn for the first time. While you may be ready to cuddle up with your bundle of joy and take a snooze, you and your baby have a busier schedule for the next 24 hours than you may have anticipated.

Here’s what you can typically expect during your baby’s first 24 hours of life outside the womb. Remember – every baby and mom is a unique situation so every experience is a little different. Procedures and testing will be different for C-sections, premature births or newborns born with other medical conditions.

Baby’s First Hours: What to Expect

The first few hours after your baby is born will be emotional and a bit chaotic as your doctor and nurses examine and evaluate the health of your newborn. Here is what you can expect for the first few hours following the birth of your baby:

Seconds After Birth

Seconds after your baby is born, a cry should sound out, kick-starting the lungs. Moments later, amniotic fluid and mucus will be cleared from your newborn’s mouth and nose to ensure both nostrils are fully operational. Your baby should begin to breathe on his/her own.

First Five Minutes of Life

Minutes after birth, your baby will undergo a number of tests and evaluations to ensure he/she is properly transitioning to life outside the womb. The umbilical cord will also be snipped during these initial minutes after birth.

  • Apgar Score: Your newborn will receive an evaluation of his/her vital signs and physical responsiveness, and an Apgar score will be given based on this evaluation. During these initial tests, a nurse will check the heart rate, listen to the lungs, assess color, monitor activity level and test reflex response. An Apgar score between zero and ten will be given based on this evaluation.
  • Umbilical Cord: Soon after birth, the umbilical cord will need to be cut. To do this, your doctor will place clamps in two places. Most obstetricians will offer to have the father, or another loved one snip the cord if they prefer.

First 10 Minutes of Life

Placenta delivery is the last stage of childbirth and can last anywhere from five to 20 minutes or more. You can expect to feel mild contractions, which are working to separate the placenta from the uterine wall. After you deliver the placenta, any tears will be stitched up.

First Hour of Life

Your newborn will receive a few protective measures to prevent medical issues shortly after birth. Then, your infant will be diapered, capped and wrapped in a blanket, and you will be encouraged to try breastfeeding during this time (if you feel up for it). Most newborns are fairly alert following birth, so this is a good time to begin bonding.

First 2-3 Hours of Life

As long as you are both well, you and your baby can spend the next couple hours bonding. During this time, a nurse will record the Ballard score, which is given based on your child’s length, head circumference and chest circumference to confirm gestational age. The nurse will also check the pulse, feel the abdomen, verify finger and toe count and ensure genitals have formed properly.

Remaining Hours Before Discharge

New mothers who delivered via a routine vaginal delivery will stay in the hospital with their newborn for 24-48 hours. During this time, nurses will help you learn how to care for your newborn and help you prepare for life at home with a baby.

First 4-22 Hours of Life

During the first four to 22 hours of life, your nurse will probably help you with many of your baby’s firsts - such as his/her first bath and diaper change. You will also learn how to properly hold and swaddle your newborn, and how to care for his/her umbilical-cord stump and his circumcision site if you opted for this procedure.

Breastfeeding mothers can expect to nurse every two to three hours. Many hospitals have lactation consultants to check on progress and assist if you are having difficulty.

First 24 Hours of Life

Within the first 24 hours after birth, your baby will be formally evaluated by a pediatrician. During your newborn’s first physical, the pediatrician will check for malformations, look for any signs of infection, check for jaundice, monitor breathing and ask about feedings. Additionally, the doctor will listen for heart murmurs, check to make sure the bowels are functioning properly, examine the genitals and check for any swelling or soft spots of the head. Your baby will also be screened for metabolic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, through a small blood sample.

Hospital Discharge

Prior to being discharged from the hospital, your baby will be weighed again. It is common for your newborn to have lost weight since birth, so don’t be alarmed. Your baby will also receive a hearing test by monitoring brain activity in response to sound.

Once the hospital staff confirms you have a car seat, you are finally off to settle in at home with your new baby. Don’t feel prepared? Don’t panic - most new parents feel overwhelmed. Try to relax and enjoy the first few days of life - you’ll be parenting like a pro in no time!

Find Support

Even after discharge, the UnityPoint Health team is here to support you in your continuing care journey. Talk to your doctor for any questions or concerns.