Skip to main content

Newborn Phases During the First Hours of Life

In most of my postnatal consultations, I have discovered that many crucial aspects of starting well with your newborn are often not explained to mothers during their birth preparation sessions. These sessions can be expensive, so mothers naturally believe they are fully prepared to breastfeed when their baby arrives. However, they often feel unsure of what to do or how to start. That’s why my best recommendation is to have a specific antenatal breastfeeding session with a qualified IBCLC

Imagine how sad and upset I was after hearing some of their stories, which led me to dedicate an entire blog to this topic. Knowing in detail what will happen in those first hours is essential for you to stay calm, know how to react if necessary, and enjoy your breastfeeding journey. I’m sure that many mother’s breastfeeding journeys could have been completely different and more enjoyable if someone had mentioned to them some of the important areas that I’ll cover in this blog. 

Today I’ll discuss the stages your baby goes through after birth, what to do if your baby’s behaviour is not what you expect, and, as usual, I will share my top 5 tips for having the best start in your breastfeeding journey.

Which Phases Will Your Baby Go Through?

The first hours of a newborn’s life are important for the initiation, establishment, and maintenance of breastfeeding. The first latch within the golden hours is crucial for the baby’s adaptation to the outside world and for establishing the bond between mother and baby. Several studies have demonstrated that this first latch will have a direct impact on how your newborn latches and suckles at your breast. 

As healthcare professionals, it is our mission to protect both the mother and baby, facilitate this first latch, give enough time, and not interfere until the baby crawls and finds the mother’s breast. Babies know how to do it on their own; they just need to be given the time to do it. 

A newborn will go through different stages during the initial hours:

  • The first cry and initial adjustment: If all goes well, most babies cry immediately after birth. This cry helps clear the baby’s lungs of amniotic fluid, allowing them to take their first breaths of air. It also stimulates the baby’s circulatory system, facilitating the transition from fetal to neonatal circulation. 

  • Relaxation and skin-to-skin contact: When the newborn is immediately placed on it’s mother’s belly after birth, they feel safe and secure as they recognise the mother’s smell. The baby will stop crying and start to relax, opening their eyes and making movements with their mouth. This skin-to-skin contact should be done with the baby on top of the mother’s belly-chest in a prone position with the head turned to one side. It helps regulate the baby’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing. 

  • First breastfeeding attempt: During the first hour, many newborns show an instinct to breastfeed. The baby will start to move and crawl towards one of the mothers’ breasts, pushing up with their feed, and begin to suck. The newborn becomes familiar with the breast due to its smell. Some studies show that colostrum has a similar smell to amniotic fluid, making it a smell that babies can easily recognise. Additionally, during pregnancy, your nipple and areola become darker, which helps the baby find where the food is. This first attempt should happen within the first hour and can last for about 20-30 minutes.  
  • Second breastfeeding attempt: If the baby was unable able to latch during the first hour, we guide them towards one of the breasts. This doesn’t mean placing the baby at the breast, but rather guiding and helping them get close to the nipple and start feeding. 

  • Third feeding attempt: If we give the baby time to start sucking and the latch still isn’t happening, we then need to assist and help them to breastfeed, as it’s very important for them to breastfeed before they get to the next stage. 

  • Quiet alert state: After the initial breastfeeding attempt, the baby enters a period of quiet alertness. During this stage, the baby is awake and attentive but calm. This is an ideal time for parents to interact with their newborn through gentle talking, touch, and eye contact. The baby’s sense are highly receptive during this period, making it a perfect time for bonding. 

  • Resting period: Following the excitement and activity of the initial stages, the baby may go through a resting and lethargy period. This sleep is crucial for the baby’s recovery from the birthing process and for adjusting to the new environment. It’s also very important for the mother to have time to recover from the birth as well. This stage can last for about 12 hours, especially if the baby has breastfed, and it’s important to respect it. However, it’s also very important to encourage the baby to breastfeed, especially if the first feed wasn’t successful. If it’s impossible to wake them up, expressing a little colostrum by hand or giving syringes of harvested colostrum from pregnancy can help. 
My 5 Top Tips to Have the Best Start 

1. Stay calm and supportive: This calm environment helps the baby feel secure and loved.

2. Encourage skin-to-skin contact: This helps the baby keep their body temperature stable, avoiding the risk of hypoglycemia and weight loss due to spending too much energy and calories to stay warm. 

3. Avoid any separation: Make sure to write in your birth plan that you want your baby placed on your chest after birth for as long as you want. Procedures like weighing the baby can wait and don’t require separation from you. 

4. Follow the baby’s lead: Allow the baby to initiate breastfeeding naturally and be there to support and guide them if necessary.

5. Communicate with healthcare providers: Make sure to communicate any concerns or questions with the healthcare team to ensure you both are comfortable and supported.

The first hours of a newborn’s life are a crucial time to bond with your baby and breastfeed for the first time. By understanding the stages a newborn goes through and the importance of these early moments, parents can better support their baby’s transition into the world. Embracing these golden hours with patience, care, and love can make a big difference in your breastfeeding journey and in the start of a new life.  

Related content