Your Newborn: What Happens in the Hospital
In order to help you understand what the medical staff is doing to care for your child (and you!), here’s what happens before you leave the hospital.
Immediately After Birth
After the baby is born, the umbilical cord will be cut; often, the doctor will ask your significant other if they’d like to do the honors. Newborns can’t control their body temperature, so if your baby appears well after birth, the baby will be placed directly on your bare chest after being dried off in order to get your body heat. The baby will also be covered with a warm towel or blanket. This is called skin-to-skin contact. Your baby will be most comfortable on your chest since the baby is already familiar with your heartbeat, your scent, and your warmth. This helps your baby transition to being a newborn and will help the baby feel calm, maintain his or her body temperature, prevent low blood sugar, and help him or her to learn to breastfeed. Skin-to-skin holding can be done regardless of your feeding preference.
As long as you and the baby are doing well, the baby will be left on your chest for up to one hour. The medical team will perform an Apgar assessment in the first five minutes of life to evaluate your baby's heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflex response, and color. The baby’s footprints will also be done while you are holding your baby skin-to-skin. The baby will be weighed after this time as it is very important for him or her to have this uninterrupted time with you.
Babies tend to be very alert right after they’re born, so it’s a good time to begin breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that, if possible, the baby "be placed and remain in direct skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately after delivery until the first feeding is accomplished."
Newborns are born with the ability to latch and breastfeed. This is a reflex that they are born with. When given at least one hour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin time most will latch on their own and begin to nurse. Some babies may require some assistance with getting a proper latch. The nurse can help you and your baby get started.
It’s important to start breastfeeding while in the hospital and to breastfeed often; if you wait a couple days it can become much more difficult for the baby to learn how to latch on.
Eye Drops and Other Preventive Measures
In the first hour or two of your baby’s life, the nurse will put antibiotic drops or ointment in the baby’s eyes. This helps prevent eye infections that could be caused by a variety of bacteria the baby could have been exposed to during birth.
The nurse will also give your baby a shot of vitamin K; this helps the baby’s blood to clot.
Nursing staff is available to help you care for your baby while in the hospital – including bathing, diaper changes, feeding, etc.
During the hospital stay, your baby will also receive their first pediatric exam.
Toward the end of baby’s first 24 hours, the medical team will prick their heel for a few drops of blood. This is to test for phenylketonuria (PKU), hypothyroidism, and other disorders. In Pennsylvania, hospitals are required to screen newborns for 33 different disorders. Your baby will also have a hearing test.
If you've decided to have your baby boy circumcised, it will be done prior to discharge, unless you’re planning to have it done privately.
If you’ve had a vaginal delivery with no complications and your baby is doing well, you’ll likely be released from the hospital within 48 hours. If you had a C-section, your stay will likely be within three days.