What should you expect after birth?

A whole lot. Seriously! Delivering a human being out of your body is no joke! I’m going to give you a little run down of what to expect right after the main event.

Vaginal Birth:

When your baby is born vaginally, you can expect to be handed the baby to hold fairly quickly. While the Baby-Friendly recommendations are that baby is placed skin-to-skin immediately after delivery and that baby remain there until the first feeding is accomplished, this isn’t what happens in reality. In most hospitals, baby is delivered and placed on mom’s abdomen (on top of the gown) and dried off with a blanket (fairly vigorously). Baby remains here typically two minutes or less and then is whisked off to the warmer where baby is fully dried, suctioned, measured, etc. After several minutes baby is usually returned to mom to hold (hopefully barely wrapped so baby can easily be slipped inside mom’s gown to lay skin-to-skin).

In the first hour after birth, babies are usually very alert and looking around very inquisitively. These babies are usually fairly quiet. (However, some babies are pissed and are screaming very loudly to let you know.) Sooner or later baby will start exhibiting feeding cues (it may be later if baby is screaming). Feeding cues look like baby sticking his tongue out repeatedly, turning his mouth to the side like he’s looking for something, and sucking on his hands. If your baby is doing this, this is a good time to help him find the breast. (Read here about feeding cues.)

All of this usually is started while your legs are still in stirrups and the doctor is doing any repairs or the nurse is cleaning you up and putting on the high-fashion mesh undies and ice packs. You’ll also be subjected to mild torture known as fundal checks (the nurse “mashing on your tummy” to make sure your uterus is firm and that your bleeding is normal). The blood pressure cuff will go off periodically, as well. Usually the lactation consultant will visit you shortly after delivery to help you achieve the first latch.

If this sounds intense, it definitely can be. But it’s also a very sweet time for the new family and the most alert the baby will be for days. He is just as excited to meet you as you are to meet him. Don’t be pressured into letting the visitors into see the baby in this Golden Hour. They waited impatiently all of the hours you were in labor, so they can wait impatiently for another hour. You won’t get this first hour back! Turn the phone off and soak in the wonder of your new baby. And, don’t worry if baby doesn’t feed in this first hour (if blood sugar isn’t an issue. Read this post if it is). Sometimes babies need to go through the recovery sleep first before they’re ready to get down to the business of eating, especially if they’ve had a rough delivery. They’ve got lots of reserves and can wait a few hours to get started feeding.

Cesarean Birth:

When your baby is born via c-section, your first sight of baby will be when your doctor lifts baby to peek over the drape that is raised just below your breasts to shield you from the view down below (and also because it’s a sterile field). The baby will then be handed to the nursery nurse who will take him over to the warmer where baby is fully dried, suctioned, measured, etc. Baby is usually then swaddled and handed to dad to hold until mom is all put back together. (Mom’s arms are usually out to her side like a “t” so the anesthesiologist has access for blood pressure and IVs.) In some hospitals, dad and baby wait in the recovery room for mom. Once you are all stitched up and cleaned up, you are wheeled to the recovery room where you can begin skin-to-skin. Once you’re plugged into the monitors and are basically comfortable, the nurse will probably place your baby skin-to-skin inside your gown.

In the first hour after birth, babies are usually very alert and looking around inquisitively. These babies are usually fairly quiet. (However, some babies are pissed and are screaming very loudly to let you know.) Sooner or later baby will start exhibiting feeding cues (it may be later if baby is screaming). Feeding cues look like baby sticking his tongue out repeatedly, turning his mouth to the side like he’s looking for something, and sucking on his hands. (Read here about feeding cues.) If your baby is doing this, this is a good time to help him find the breast.

Sometime in this first hour mom may start feeling pretty crappy: very nauseated and may even start vomiting (even though nothing is in your stomach) and also very itchy. All of these are lovely side effects of the anesthesia. Your nurse will be monitoring your blood pressure and bleeding closely. She’ll be giving you pain medicine, nausea medicine, and sometimes something for the itching.  You’ll also be subjected to mild torture known as fundal checks (the nurse “mashing on your tummy” to make sure your uterus is firm and that your bleeding is normal). Usually the lactation consultant will visit you shortly after delivery to help you achieve the first latch.

If this sounds intense, it definitely can be. But it’s also a very sweet time for the new family and the most alert the baby will be for days. He is just as excited to meet you as you are to meet him. Don’t be pressured into letting the visitors into see the baby in this Golden Hour. They waited impatiently all of the months of pregnancy, so they can wait impatiently for another hour. You won’t get this first hour back! Turn the phone off and soak in the wonder of your new baby. And, don’t worry if baby doesn’t feed in this first hour (if blood sugar isn’t an issue. Read this post if it is). Sometimes babies need to go through the recovery sleep first before they’re ready to get down to the business of eating, especially if they had a rough delivery. They’ve got lots of reserves and can wait a few hours to get started feeding.

The Takeaway:

Birth is an amazing and intense event. The first hour after birth is not only very special, but also important to get breastfeeding off to a good start. Your job: learn about skin-to-skin, plan on limiting visitors, and enjoy the first hour with your new baby. Here is a great video on skin-to-skin. Read this article that explains why limiting visitors is so important.

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