When we’re pregnant, we read the books and charts about pregnancy, we talk about how we’re feeling, we talk about what the birth will be like… But what happens next? Lisa Clegg, a regular Essex Baby blogger and author of ‘The Blissful Baby Expert’ talks us through the first couple of weeks. What are you expecting your first few weeks to be like if you’re pregnant? What were your first few weeks like if you’re a mum already?

During the first few weeks of motherhood there will be so many new things you will experience, and so many questions you will want answers to. Here is a list below of some of the common subjects parents think about initially.

Midwives/Health visitor

Once you are discharged from hospital, your midwife will come and visit you at home. If you live in a busy city or town it is highly likely you will have more than one midwife and will see a different one each time. She will ask you questions when she visits and check both yours and your baby’s health to make sure you are both ok and happy with the way things are going. Don’t be afraid to bombard her with questions. It is much better to ask than struggle on, when a simple answer could help make things easier for you.

If you are having problems breastfeeding, she will be able to give you details of your local breastfeeding counsellor, who will come out and do a home visit.

She will also do your baby’s Guthrie (or heel prick) test on day seven. A few drops of blood are collected and sent away to test for a metabolic disorder called Phenylketonuria or PKU, as well as cystic fibrosis and screened for some other conditions too. You will be given a leaflet that explains them all in more detail.

Around about day 10, you will be discharged from midwife, provided all is well with you and the baby.

Your local health visitor will then be given your details and will contact you within a couple of weeks to come and do a home visit. She will introduce herself and give you details of all the local baby clinics where you can go to get your baby weighed, and meet other mums.

Fontanelle

The fontanelle is the soft spot on the top of your baby’s head where her skull hasn’t yet fused together. Unbeknown to a lot of people there is also a smaller fontanelle towards the back of the baby’s head, which is much less noticeable and very hard to find. The main reason your baby is born with these two openings in the skull is to allow her head to mould and fit through the birth canal during labour, something that wouldn’t be possible with a totally fused skull. It also allows room for your baby’s brain to grow in the first year.

The posterior fontanelle, at the back of her head, generally closes within three months of birth. The anterior fontanelle is on the top of her head and starts to close when babies are around six months, and is usually totally closed by the time they are 18 months.

The fontanelle on the top of your baby’s head usually appears flat as part of the shape of her head – you may notice it ‘pulsing’ if your baby doesn’t have a lot of hair. This is totally normal and nothing to worry about. It may also bulge slightly when she cries. However, a fontanelle that bulges persistently should be looked at by a doctor as it may indicate increased pressure inside the head. Equally, a significantly sunken fontanelle should also be seen by a doctor, as this generally indicates dehydration.

Cord/Tummy peg

You may be unsure what to do with your baby’s cord or tummy peg. This area needs to be wiped gently all around the remaining cord a few times a day when you change your baby’s nappy. Use a clean cotton pad and some cool boiled water to clean off any dry blood. Don’t use wet wipes, creams or any other antiseptic wipe in this area unless advised by your doctor.

The remaining cord generally falls off between days seven to ten and you will most likely just find it in your baby’s nappy as you go to change her. If your baby was overdue then the likelihood is that it may come off earlier, but if it still hasn’t fallen off by the time your midwife wants to discharge you around day ten, she will probably give it a helping hand. Once it does fall off, your baby’s ‘tummy button’, as they are widely known, may be a bit weepy and gooey for a couple of days. Clean as directed above at every nappy change, ensuring that you give a really firm wipe now, as any remaining little bits that do not get cleaned off properly can make her tummy button red and sore and may cause an infection.

Reflexes

There are some natural reflexes that your doctor will test for possibly at birth, but certainly at the six-to-eight-week post-natal check up:

*Rooting reflex: If you stroke a newborn baby’s cheek, she will immediately turn in that direction with her mouth open ready to suck. This helps her locate the breast or bottle and you can use this reflex to gain her attention and encourage feeding even if she is sleepy. It lasts for three to four months but may persist when they are sleeping.

*Sucking reflex: A newborn will suck when the roof of her mouth is touched, e.g., with the nipple or bottle teat. This reflex is present at birth and lasts two to four months when involuntary sucking takes over.

*Startle/Moro reflex: If your baby is startled by a sudden or loud noise, or a feeling of falling, she will extend her legs, arms and fingers, arch her back, draw her head back and then draw the arms back with fists clenched into the chest. This Moro reflex lasts four to six months.

*Walking or stepping reflex: This works best after the fourth day. Hold your baby upright on a table or flat surface, under her arms standing her up. She should lift one leg and then the other as if walking ‘steps’. This reflex is present from birth, and lasts for varying amounts of time, but usually disappears around two months and comes back much later when they are close to learning to walk.

*Palmar grasp reflex: When you touch the palm of your baby’s hand, her fingers will curl around and cling to your finger (or any other small object you place in her hand).
You may also notice that she will curl her feet and toes when they are touched.

*Babinski’s/Plantar reflex: When the sole of a newborn’s foot is gently stroked from heel to toe, their toes will flare upwards and the foot turns in. This reflex lasts between six months and two years, after which the toes curl down when the sole is touched.

*Tonic neck or fencing reflex: When placed on their back a baby will turn one way with opposite arms and legs extended and flexed – en garde!

Sticky eyes

Sticky eyes are very common for babies in the first few weeks and are due to blocked tear ducts. You may find yellow/white mucus in the inner corner of the eye and the lids may be stuck together when she has slept for a while. Clean each eye with cotton pads and cool boiled water, taking care to use a separate piece for each eye. Wipe from the inside corner (closest to the nose), outwards. You could also try squirting a bit of breast milk into her eye if you are breastfeeding. It has amazing healing powers and will more often than not clear up a sticky eye. Squeeze a few drops into the affected eye before each feed over a couple of days. If the mucus is more of a green colour, and the eye looks particularly red, then see your GP as soon as possible as it may mean your baby has an infection that needs treating with antibiotics.

Milk from baby’s breasts

This is very normal in a newborn baby (boy or girl), and is due to the influx of hormones your baby receives via the placenta just before they are born. You may notice the nipple leaks a white substance and her breasts may be swollen. Mention it to your midwife or health visitor if you are worried but as long as you don’t squeeze it then the swelling should go down on its own and the milk dry up. You may also notice that a baby boy may have swollen testicles and a baby girl swollen genitals and even a discharge coming out. Again, this is usually nothing to worry about but mention it to your GP if you are not happy and need some reassurance.

Jaundice

Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition in newborn babies that causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Other possible symptoms include dark urine and pale-coloured stools instead of bright yellow or orange.

Jaundice is caused by the build up of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance produced when red blood cells are broken down. The liver should filter the bilirubin from the blood and change it into a form that allows it to be passed out from the baby in stools. In newborn babies the bilirubin can build up too fast for the liver to filter it all out, causing jaundice. This can occur for two reasons: newborn babies have more red blood cells than adults and the red blood cells have a shorter life span, and the breakdown and removal of bilirubin is slower in newborn babies than in adults as the liver is still developing.

Jaundice is one of the most common conditions that can affect newborn babies. It is estimated that 6 out of every 10 babies will develop jaundice (this rises to 8 out of 10 in babies born prematurely), although only around 1 in 20 babies has levels of bilirubin in their blood that are high enough to require medical treatment.

Most cases of jaundice in babies do not require treatment as the symptoms normally pass within 10–14 days (although in a minority of cases symptoms can last longer. Two out of three of my children had jaundice after birth. My daughter’s jaundice disappeared within a few days but my son’s hung around for a good two weeks, improving on a daily basis.

Mothers are usually advised to ensure their baby is feeding regularly and taking in enough fluids, and not left to go very long stretches between feeds (over 6–8 hours).

Subjecting your baby to a daily dose of sunlight is also very effective too, as the light on the skin helps to break down the bilirubin and encourage the jaundice to pass. A daily walk or lying your baby on the carpet or in her basket in the sunshine that is coming through a window or door in the house is also an idea if you don’t feel up to going out. If she still remains jaundiced 14 days after birth then her bilirubin levels will be checked again and action taken if needed.

Baby blues

After the birth of a baby, just over half of all new mums experience the ‘baby blues.’ In my experience it usually happens between days three to seven post-birth but can take up to two weeks to take effect. Many find that they are very emotional over a few days and seem to cry over the tiniest of things or even nothing at all! You may find it impossible to cheer up no matter how much you try and find this frustrating as you can’t understand the cause.

The baby blues are thought to be caused by the hormonal changes in your body after the birth of your baby. For many of us the baby blues tend to coincide with the time that your breast milk comes in. This is usually a stressful time anyway if you are breastfeeding because your breasts will be feeling so painful and engorged that your baby will be possibly finding it more difficult to latch on.

I distinctly remember my husband walking past the nursery on day four after our daughter was born. My milk had come in and latching on was proving very difficult for my baby on a breast that she had previously been used to being soft and accessible. He backtracked and came in immediately as soon as he saw both me and the baby in floods of frustrated tears! For me the baby blues only lasted a day or two with all three of my children, which is the norm.

If after a couple of weeks you are still feeling very overwhelmed and out of control then it is worth checking your feelings against the signs and symptoms of post-natal depression (PND).

(If you are following any advice, for example post-natal exercises listed on the EssexBaby website, or anything related to health and wellbeing for you and your children (e.g. advice from other mums or bloggers about weaning or childcare) we always advise you to discuss these with your GP or health care provider first as Essex Baby Limited cannot be held responsible for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any inaccuracy or error within its website pages.)