There can be a number of surprises in store during the first weeks with a new baby, writes Deirdre Rooney
You carry your bundle for nine months, you labour for days, you push for hours - then finally, you birth your new baby. Instantly, all the aches and pains and discomfort of pregnancy are worth it in that perfect, tearful moment you hold your baby for the first time. But then you notice your baby's head - it's long and cone-shaped and looks nothing like the pictures of newborns on TV… The shock kind of disturbs the beautiful moment. But it's a good introduction to life with a newborn when shocks and surprises come to define your first few weeks together.
From baby's first sticky black poos, to your own painful and swollen breasts, so much happens to both parties in this new relationship, it can be overwhelming. So, to clear the way for quality bonding time with your little one, prepare yourself for what you can expect in the early weeks - from both you and your baby.
1Baby's head - On TV, babies are handed to their mothers in the delivery room, clean, wide-eyed and practically cooing. In reality, your baby will be bloodied, with a scrunched up little face and a head that looks like it's been stretched. This is perfectly normal. Babies' skull bones are soft to accommodate squeezing through the birth canal in a vaginal delivery. This moulding can make the head elongated or misshapen. The shape will correct itself as the soft spots close. Babies born by caesarian section don't go through the birth canal, so their heads are regular shaped on delivery.
2Sore boobs - Around two or three days after the birth, your milk will come in. You'll know because your breasts will become full and heavy, sometimes sore, and you may even start leaking. Your breasts will feel hard to the touch, and these symptoms may last for up to 10 days after delivery. Using cold compresses after feeds can help reduce swelling, and also massaging the breast between sucks may help drain them. Removing the milk relieves the pain of engorgement, so feeding your baby often will help. If you're not breastfeeding, just use the cold compresses for a few days to ease the pain, until your body stops producing milk.
3Baby's swollen genitals - If you're not aware that it's perfectly normal, the sight of your newborn's swollen genitals the days after birth can be a little startling. But it is all perfectly natural. Babies get an extra dose of your female hormones before they come out, causing their genitals to swell. They can also be born with extra fluid in their bodies, which collects in the genitals. The swelling should go down after a week or so.
4Pelvic floor - Model and TV presenter Chrissy Teigen has been telling motherhood like it is ever since she had her first daughter Luna in 2016. Taking to Twitter a week after her daughter was born, the now mother-of-two wrote, "No one told me I would be coming home in diapers too." Chrissy is of course referring to the continence problem many mothers have. Pregnancy can weaken your pelvic floor, leaving you with less control over you bladder. It can improve with time and exercise, and until it does, be aware that even a burst of laughter or an almighty sneeze is all it takes for you to leak.
5Baby acne - Within the first few weeks after birth, some babies may develop red spots or pimples on their face (nose, forehead, cheeks). It's called baby acne, or neonatal acne. It looks very similar to teenage acne, but it doesn't need to be treated. The mother's hormones can stimulate baby's sebaceous glands on the skin, which can lead to breakouts. Milia, which are like tiny whiteheads on baby's skin, are caused by this, and the more inflamed version of this is baby acne. It may be a little unsightly, but it will clear up in a few weeks or months.
6Afterpains - Just when you think you're done with contractions, bang - they're back. After birth, your uterus contracts as it returns to its pre-pregnancy size, and the contractions cause cramps which are known as afterpains. Cramping is strongest in the first day or two after delivery, but should taper off after day three. Breastfeeding can actually make the pains a little more intense, as baby's sucking triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin which causes contractions.
7Changing eye colour - The colour of your baby's eyes in the first minutes after birth won't last as exposure to light changes affects it. Most Caucasian babies are born with dark blue eyes, and this usually changes from between six and nine months, although itb can still change up until three years of age. Most babies of African or Asian origin are born with dark grey or brown eyes, with their true colour established after the first six months.
8Bloody discharge - Whether you have a vaginal delivery or a caesarean section, you'll have some vaginal bleeding and discharge after birth called lochia. It's your body's way of getting rid of the extra blood and tissue in your uterus needed to help grow your baby. The colour and strength of the bleeding changes over the days. First it's red and heavy in the immediate days after your baby is born, then it turns brownish as it lightens, and finally it turns yellowish. Resting will help keep the lochia lighter. It can take up to six weeks for it to totally tail off.
9Baby has cold hands and feet - There's nothing snugglier than a newborn wrapped in blanket resting on your chest. It's cosy and comforting for you and your baby. But feel your baby's hands or feet and they're probably cold. There's no need to crank up the heating - a newborn's circulation system is still developing, and so blood is directed to vital organs, reducing heat distribution to hands and feet. If the baby is otherwise well, and warm on his torso, and shows no signs of distress, cold hands and feet are perfectly normal - they will warm over the following months.
10Bloodshot eyes - After pushing and huffing and puffing for what in some cases may be hours, birthing mothers put a lot of strain on their bodies - and not just on their cervix. The strain of pushing can sometimes burst the blood vessels (capillaries) in your eyes, and so blood can build up in the white part of your eye, leaving your eyes bloodshot. Thankfully, the effect is temporary and eyes should return to normal after a week or two.
11Baby's first poo - It was never going to be pretty, but the sight of your baby's first poopy nappy will likely have you calling for the nurse. A newborn's first bowel movement usually happens one or two days after birth. The first poo is called meconium. Unlike the poos that will follow, meconium looks like black tar, and has a similar consistency. It's made up of mucus, amniotic fluid and also everything baby ingested while in the womb. Poos will change to more typical consistency after a few days.
12Haemorrhoids - Even reading the word can induce wincing, but haemorrhoids (also known as piles), are another post-birthing gift of mother nature. The pressure of pushing in labour (and the stress of pregnancy) puts a strain on veins in the rectum, causing a vein to swell. The symptoms can include rectal itchiness, bleeding after bowel movements and sometimes pain. It's uncomfortable and irritating. Applying witch hazel to the affected area can help relieve symptoms. Also be sure to drink lots of water, and never, ever hold in a bowel movement for fear of pain - this may lead to constipation which will only prolong the haemorrhoids.
13Baby's tearless cries - From that first tiny wail in the delivery room (or wherever junior makes his entrance), your baby is born with a masterly command of crying. But if you look closely, you'll notice that there may be no tears to accompany the cries. This is perfectly normal, as their tear ducts are still developing. Most will start shedding tears at around two weeks, some may take a few weeks longer. In older infants, tearless crying can be a sign of dehydration, in which case you should consult your doctor.
14Baby blues - Between days three and five after birth, some mothers can start to feel very down. They can become tearful, emotional, and irritable. It's believed 8 in 10 mums experience these baby blues, and according to the HSE, they're so common, they are considered normal: "You might feel isolated, vulnerable and lonely. This may be due to a change in your hormone levels. The baby blues can make you feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster - you may go from feeling great joy to feeling great sadness." It's advised you talk to a person close you, and try and get as much support and rest as you can. The baby blues usually just last for a few hours or days. Post-natal depression symptoms, however, are much more pronounced and can affect 10-15pc of women in the first year. "Symptoms of postnatal depression may start as baby blues and then get worse," according to the HSE. "The symptoms may take some time to develop. Postnatal depression may be most obvious when your baby is four to six months old, and it can last for longer than three months. If not treated, it can last considerably longer." Mothers experiencing any of these symptoms are advised to see their GP for help, as the illness won't go away on its own.
15Baby's flaky skin - As well as a misshapen head, your baby comes out of the womb covered in a coating of a waxy-like substance called vernix. This white layer protects babies from amniotic fluid in the womb. Usually, a lot of it is wiped off before the baby is handed to its mother for the first time in the delivery room, but not all of it. As it begins to come off over the next few weeks, baby's skin becomes dry, and you may notice that it begins to peel in places (especially at joints like ankles and wrists). There's no need to apply any creams or moisturisers - it's perfectly normal and the peeling will stop within a few weeks.