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Pregnancy: Your baby's first hours

Of course you'll want to spend time bonding with your baby during those first moments of life. But your child will also need a few tests before leaving the hospital.

Good things do come to those who wait.

Now your nine months of waiting are over. You're about to meet your baby. But you may wonder what will actually happen once your baby finally arrives.

To help you prepare, here's a rundown of what to expect during your child's first minutes and hours of life.

First cries, first breath. Don't be worried if your baby takes his or her first breath quietly. Many babies don't cry right after birth. Still, whether or not your baby debuts with cries, your doctor and nurses will closely watch your baby's breathing.

If your baby has any trouble, they'll take steps to help. Often the only response needed will be to rub your baby's body. That helps the child be more alert, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

First test. At one minute and again at five minutes after birth, your doctor will check your baby's general condition. This is called an Apgar test. It measures your baby's:

  • Heart rate.
  • Breathing.
  • Muscle tone.
  • Reflexes.
  • Color.

Each area is given a score. Then the scores are totaled.

Ten is a perfect total score. Most babies have an Apgar score of 7 or more by five minutes after birth. And that means they're adjusting very well to life outside the womb.

First separation. Inside the womb, your baby received oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord. But once your baby emerges, the cord can be cut. This may be done by your doctor or another person you'd like to have the honor.

First hat and blanket. Your baby will arrive wet with fluid from the womb and can easily become chilled. A nurse will dry your baby off, wrap your baby in a blanket, and put a hat on his or her head.

First chance to bond and breastfeed. If your delivery is trouble-free, you'll be able to spend the first hour or so after birth getting to know your baby. Most babies are quite alert during this time, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. These first moments are an ideal time to hold, nurse and (of course) admire your baby.

First measurements, medicine and other safeguards. Your baby will likely be weighed and measured right away.

Also at some point in your baby's hospital stay, your baby may:

  • Get a shot of vitamin K. Newborns typically have low levels of this vitamin. It is needed for blood clotting.
  • Be treated with medicated eyedrops or ointment. This medicine protects newborns' eyes from bacterial infections that can be contracted during delivery.
  • Have a tiny sample of blood drawn. Doctors use this sample to detect many different diseases—such as phenylketonuria, or PKU—that are impossible to spot without a blood test. Left untreated, these diseases may cause serious problems, such as an intellectual disability, or even be deadly. But most babies receive a clean bill of health.
  • Very likely have a hearing test. This test finds out how your baby responds to sounds. It uses an earphone or microphone placed in your baby's ear. Finding any hearing problems early can cut the risk of serious language and speech problems.
  • Have a hepatitis B vaccine. This shot protects your baby from a dangerous virus. That virus can cause a lifelong infection and serious liver damage.

First congratulations. You're the recipient here, rather than your baby. You can expect many well wishes after your baby's birth and—with all the milestones in your child's future—for many years to come.

Reviewed 9/28/2023

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