Immediately after the birth your first responses and interactions with your baby will probably be the most important that ever occur. Its tiny and vulnerable body will stir many emotions in you.
In the days following the birth there will be dramatic swings in your hormone levels which may cause you to feel tired, irritable, depressed and even tearful. This is sometimes called the "Baby Blues" and can last anywhere from three to five days after the birth. You can still be a little emotional for a few weeks after the birth but this will subside.
It is an exhausting undertaking looking after a newborn and it would be a good idea to organise a support crew of family or friends to help you through the first two or three weeks to lessen the load.
It may sound obvious, but try to get as much sleep as possible. When your baby is sleeping, take the opportunity to have a nap as well - don't use the time to catch up on housework - you'll soon get overtired and stressed.
Some mothers bond and fall in love with their babies straight away while others take a little longer. Both responses are normal and often maternal feelings grow over time as you get to know your baby. If you are worried about your feelings towards your baby then it might be advisable to see your health care provider such as your Plunket Nurse, midwife or doctor. Never feel you are alone.
Your baby's appearance
Some newborn babies are completely covered in a greasy substance called vernix and some only have it on their hands and face. Vernix protects the baby's skin from the drying effects of the amniotic fluid. It also eases the baby's delivery and offers some protection from minor skin infections. Some hospitals clean it off immediately while others leave it to be absorbed or rubbed off naturally.
The top half of your baby's body may look paler than the lower half. This is because your baby's circulation takes some time to stabilise - there is nothing to worry about.
Birthmarks are common and will usually soon fade.
Sometimes there is a downy hair on your baby's body. Known as lanugo hair; it covered your baby's body while it was in your uterus. It usually rubs off within a couple of weeks. More permanent hair will appear later.
Your baby's head will be quite large in comparison to the rest of the body -about one quarter of your baby's length. It may appear to be long or pointed at birth, but this due to a process called moulding where the skull bones overlap temporarily to allow the head to move more easily through the birth canal.
Occasionally there is swelling on one or both sides of the head, and this may increase over the next few days before subsiding over several weeks.
Your baby will have two soft spots, or fontanelles, on top of the head where the skull bones have not fused together yet. The smaller at the back will close in about six to eight weeks. The larger front fontanelle closes over the next 12-18 months. A tough membrane protects both.
Hands and Feet
These are always slightly more bluish than the rest of the body because of the baby's primitive circulation. Also your baby's nails may be long and sharp. You can nibble off the tips so the baby doesn't scratch itself, but don't cut them.
Sometimes your baby's eyes may become sticky due to a discharge. This can be cleaned away with cotton wool moistened with cool boiled water but you should see your health care provider to be safe.
Your newborn baby may not be able to open its eyes straight away due to puffiness caused by pressure on the head during birth.
The eye muscles grow stronger usually within a month so your baby may squint or look cross-eyed. If this is still the case after three months though, you should consult a doctor.
Your baby's care
Your newborn baby will be given a thorough medical examination to make sure everything is okay. Immediately after the birth a measurement system (the Apgar System) will be used to assess your baby's breathing, heart rate, skin colour, physical reflexes and muscle tone. Each one is scored from 0-2 and the total represents your baby's score.
Your baby's weight, length and head circumference are also recorded at birth.
What your baby can do
Your newborn baby can respond to sound and light. They also have primitive relexes like the startle reflex where the baby blinks, cries or throws its arms outwards to a sudden loud noise. Some other reflexes include the baby being able to grasp tightly, and when held upright with their feet on a flat surface, the baby will try to walk.
Soon after birth the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. The remaining stump usually falls off within 6-10 days.