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Meeting Your Baby and Recovering: The First 12 Hours

Hours one through six after birth

Of course your experiences will depend on your labor and birth and local procedures, but here is what usually occurs in your first 12 hours after birth.

1-2 hours

As long as he is well, your baby can be placed in your arms, and you can cuddle him and make the most of these first magical moments. The doctor or your partner will cut the umbilical cord after a few minutes, or once it stops pulsating. You may feel elated, relieved, or just exhausted. Don't be alarmed if you start to vomit, shake vigorously, or feel too exhausted to even hold your baby at first. These are all very normal post-birth sensations.

If your baby is fine and you want to breast-feed, put him to the breast, but he may just nuzzle at first. Snuggle him close, skin to skin: the warmth of your body is all he needs right now. At 1, 5, and 10 minutes, your baby will be observed and given an Apgar score. He will be wiped with a soft towel and his fingers and toes checked. He will then be weighed and his head circumference measured. He will also have a hearing test in the first hours.

But you also have work to do. As soon as your baby is born, you have to push once more to expel the placenta. You'll have milder contractions that detach the placenta from your uterus. After about 10 or 20 minutes (sometimes longer), you'll be done.

If your perineum tore, or you had an episiotomy (a cut to ease your baby out), you may need stitches. You'll be given a local anesthetic, unless you already have an epidural, so you don't feel a thing. Your partner can hold your baby and sit close by while you are stitched.

2-3 hours

Time to refuel: many women say their first drink of water and snack after giving birth are the best they've ever tasted... enjoy.

If you're feeling fine and there are no concerns about your condition, you'll likely be moved to the room on the maternity ward where you'll spend the remainder of your time in the hospital. You'll be taken there in a wheelchair with your baby in your arms. (In some hospitals, you'll never leave the room where you deliver; some labor and delivery rooms are designated as postpartum rooms, as well.)

3-4 hours

After the exertion of giving birth, you'll be sweaty, sticky, and in need of a shower, which you can have now if you didn't have an epidural. Ask a nurse or your partner to walk with you if you're wobbly. Afterward you'll feel like a new woman and can put on a breast-feeding bra for comfort.

5-6 hours

Off to the bathroom? The first time you urinate it can sting, especially if you had stitches, so pour a cup of warm water over your perineum as you urinate. The hospital needs to know everything is in good working order before you leave its care. You'll need to use sanitary pads to soak up the vaginal blood loss (lochia).

7 hours

This might be the first chance you've had to look at your baby's tiny toes, scrunched-up legs, or fine head of hair. There may be traces of greasy vernix on his skin. Perhaps he has long, flaky fingernails that need trimming or a downy fuzz of hair called lanugo on his back. He's unique and gorgeous.

8 hours

If your baby is awake, he may be hungry. At this stage, you're producing nutrient-rich colostrum, a fluid containing antibodies. Position him at the breast: he should open his mouth wide and take the entire areola, known as "latching on." Breast-feeding stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, which contracts the uterus. This can cause afterpains, more noticeable in second and subsequent births, which can feel like contractions. The only consolation is that with each contraction, your uterus-and hence your abdomen-shrinks back down.

9 hours

If you're up to it, you might be ready for visitors, either at home or on the unit, to admire your baby. Don't let them tire you out, though.

10 hours

Your baby's newborn checkups will take place when he is between 4 and 48 hours old. A staff pediatrician at the hospital will examine him from top to toe; listen to his heart, check his hips (and testes in a boy); and ask about the contents of his diapers.

11 hours

In many hospitals, you can spend your first night as a new family together, since rooming-in with the baby is a common practice and new dads often sleep over. This lets the nurses see how mother and baby interact. If you need to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep after a long or difficult labor, a nurse can collect the baby from you.

12 hours

After a whirlwind of agony, ecstasy, and sheer hard labor, you need to rest when you can. If your baby is sleeping, fend off visitors, draw the curtains around your bed, or take the phone off the hook, and sleep.

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