The First Few Weeks
The first few weeks are a time when you're just learning to become a parent. Getting to know your new baby and trying to figure out what is normal can leave you with many questions.
All newborns are unique, but they generally have similar characteristics. Some can be a little scary to a new parent, however, they are perfectly normal. Read on to find out more.
Babies are born with “soft spots” or “fontanelles” which are spaces between the bones of the skull that allow for these bones to slide over one another during birth. This is called molding. Your baby’s head may be shaped like a ‘cone’ for several days after birth. The soft spot at the back of the skull is the “posterior fontanelle” and is usually closed by 2 – 3 months of age. The front soft spot is called the “anterior fontanelle” and is usually closed by 18 months of age.1
It's important to always place your baby on their back to sleep. To prevent the development of a "flat head", vary the direction of their head placement in the crib, one day place them with their head at the top end of the crib and another, the bottom end of the crib. Babies tend to turn their heads towards the room, as there are more interesting things to look at. Changing the direction of your baby's head will more evenly distribute the mattress pressure to both sides of their head. It’s also important to offer tummy time while your baby is awake. This will promote healthy growth and development.12
Your baby’s scalp may also appear to be scaly and dry which is known as “cradle cap”. This can be treated by applying some baby or mineral oil to help loosen up the scales, then brushing gently with a soft, baby brush. This condition usually goes away on its own, even without treatment.2
Your baby’s eyes will be bright and clear, but you may notice they go a little cross-eyed at times. This is simply due to immature muscles that require a little time to strengthen and is not a sign for concern. A newborn sees things best from 8-12 inches away. This is the perfect distance to see their parent's face while being held.3
You may notice some clear to slightly cloudy discharge from one or both of your baby’s eyes. This is caused by a blocked tear duct and is very common amongst newborns. Almost all resolve on their own without any intervention. Keep the eye clean by using a warm, wet washcloth and gently massage from the inside of the baby’s eye towards the outside of the eye. Use a different, clean part of the washcloth each time you touch the eyes, especially when you go to the second eye. If the drainage becomes thick, green or yellow, moves to both eyes when it was only in one eye, causes swelling or redness around the eye area itself, or seems to cause your baby discomfort, contact your health care provider.4
A baby’s skin can vary greatly from one baby to another. Some babies are born covered in a thick, white substance called vernix, while others have very dry and peeling skin. A generalized newborn rash is common, as is baby acne and milia, which are tiny white dots across the nose. The baby may also have a covering of very fine, silky hair called lanugo on their skin, most commonly found on the forehead, back, shoulders, and cheeks. None of these conditions require treatment and all will resolve on their own.2
The average time for separation of the remaining umbilical cord is 1 to 3 weeks. There is no need for concern if there is just a small amount of bleeding from the umbilicus. Keep the area clean and dry, watching for signs of infection such as a strong foul odour coming from the cord, yellow or green discharge from the site, or if the area becomes inflamed (red and swollen). Contact your health care provider if any of these symptoms are present.2
You may notice that your baby’s breasts (both with boys and girls) and their genitals are a little bit swollen after birth. Baby girls may even have a small amount of bleeding or white mucousy discharge from the vagina. All of these are caused from mom’s hormones and the swelling will go away once the hormones pass through the baby’s body.5
The incision will be tender and red for the first few days, and there will be swelling which should start to decrease in about 48 hours. Your baby boy may come home with gauze wrapped around his penis, which will be coated with petroleum jelly. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions on how to care for your son’s circumcised penis, but here are some general tips to follow6:
- Clean the area with water whenever it gets soiled, especially with stool then apply petroleum jelly to the incision to keep the gauze from sticking to it, and
- Use petroleum jelly along the incision line, to protect the incision and keep it soft while it is healing.
It takes between 7-10 days for a circumcision to heal. During this time, If you notice any of the following, take him to the nearest Emergency6:
- The incision bleeds more than a few drops after the procedure
- Your baby does not pass urine within 12 hours of the procedure
- There is a greenish or foul-smelling discharge
- Your son develops a fever or looks sick, take him to the nearest emergency room
Babies have very sensitive skin, especially in their diaper area. The most common cause of a diaper rash is from urine and stool sitting against their bottoms. The best way to prevent a diaper rash is to change dirty diapers often. If your baby does get a diaper rash, use warm water and a mild soap to wash the area or use alcohol-free unscented baby wipes. Alcohol-based wipes can be more irritating to a sore bottom as they can cause a burning sensation. Allow a few minutes with the diaper off to air dry then apply a thin layer of unscented barrier ointment, such as petroleum jelly or a zinc-oxide based cream, to protect the skin. Remember to avoid using baby powder, talc and cornstarch as this can cause respiratory problems. Contact your Health Care Provider if the rash is severe or is worsening despite treatment.7
For baby girls, remember to always wipe front to back and to clean skin folds really well so that stool doesn’t get trapped against the skin.2
Breastfeeding can be a special way for you to feel close to your baby. The World Health Organization (WHO), Health Canada, the Dietitians of Canada, and the Canadian Pediatric Society all agree that: Breastfeeding - exclusively for the first six months and continued for up to two years and beyond with appropriate complementary feeding - is important for the nutrition, immune protection, growth, and development of infants and toddlers.13 Your newborn needs to feed at least 8 or more times in 24 hours, including through the night, which means you may need to wake your baby up to feed in the night in the early days. Remember, your baby’s tummy is only the size of a cherry for the first 2 days and the size of a walnut at about 3-4 days. By the end of the first week, it has grown to about the size of an apricot and an egg by the end of the first 3 weeks. Your baby needs frequent, small amounts of breastmilk at each feeding.8
Your baby may lose weight during the first few days of life. Typically, infants reach their lowest weight within 3-4 days of birth. Infants usually show a pattern of weight gain by day 5 and regain their birth weight by about 10 days of age. Your child’s healthcare provider can use a growth chart at your baby visits to keep track of your child’s growth pattern over time. This includes measuring weight, length/height and head circumference. It is not necessary to monitor your baby’s growth in between regular baby visits with your doctor.
Your baby should have enough wet and dirty diapers according to his/her age:
- Day 1-2: at least 1-2 wet diapers and at least 1-2 black or green stools (poop)
- Day 3-4: at least 3-4 wet diapers and at least 3 brown, green, or yellow stools
- Day 5-7: at least 6 pale yellow, heavy wet diapers and at a least 3 large, yellow, soft and seedy stools. This should continue until at least 3 weeks of age.
- 3 weeks and beyond: at least 6 heavy wet diapers; the frequency of stools can vary widely. Some babies will stool several times a day while others may only stool once every few days. Both are completely normal.8
If you don’t think your baby is having enough wet and dirty diapers, especially in the first few days after coming home, please contact your Health Care Provider.
Babies need Vitamin D for healthy growth and development of strong bones and teeth. A daily Vitamin D supplement of 400 IU is recommended for breastfed babies starting at birth until 2 years of age. Healthcare providers may recommend up to 800 IU per day. Continue with this supplementation until your baby stops breastfeeding or turns two years. Vitamin D for babies is sold in liquid form at pharmacies.11
Jaundice is very common in newborn babies. A yellowing of the skin and sometimes the eyes from a build-up of bilirubin will be seen because the newborn’s liver can’t break it down fast enough. It is usually noticeable between 1 and 4 days after birth. Bilirubin is a substance that comes from the breakdown of red blood cells and is usually eliminated from the body in the stool (poop). Feeding your baby (especially breastfeeding) early and often during the first few days of life will help prevent this build-up of bilirubin, because your baby will poop more often. The breast milk will also help give the liver the energy it needs to break down the bilirubin and help remove it from the body in the stool. Your baby’s bilirubin levels will be checked before you go home to make sure they are not too high. If needed, your baby will be treated with phototherapy. At home, contact your baby’s doctor if they appear sleepy all the time, refuse feeding or the jaundice seems to be getting worse.9
When babies are first born, their circulatory system is a little immature and you may notice that your baby’s hands and feet may feel cooler than the rest of their bodies. The hands and feet may even look pale with a bluish/white colour when they are first born. A good rule of thumb to remember when dressing your new baby is to apply one more layer of clothing than you need. Babies are not able to shiver to keep warm or sweat to keep cool the way that adults can, so keep this in mind while dressing your new baby. When you are undressing your baby, if you notice that they are sweaty and very warm, you may be overdressing them. Overheating infants is a known risk factor for SIDS, so it is important to keep them comfortable, but not too warm.10
Last modified on: August 4, 2023