During the first hours of life, your new baby is going through a number of processes and screenings. Here is what’s happening behind the scenes.
Congratulations on your new bundle of joy! Now that the hard part is over (or the easy part, depending on how you choose to look at it), you’re likely feeling exhausted and exhilarated, and all you probably desire is to hold your new baby. You may get to meet your little guy immediately, or he may receive his bedside checkup before he returns to you. Either way, after you have spent a few quality moments with your newest pride and joy, he will be swept off to the nursery to have his very first physical exam. But don’t worry, your little Prince Charming will be back in your arms soon enough.
While he’s away, baby will undergo a few examinations to ensure his physical, metabolic and hormonal processes are all functioning properly. He will be tested for conditions that could have long-term damaging effects unless diagnosed and treated early. As for you, take this time for some much needed R&R. You deserve it!
The first test your baby will receive is the Apgar. This quick, noninvasive assessment is based on your baby’s appearance and reflexes. It’s performed upon delivery right at your bedside, but in the excitement of the delivery room you might not even notice your baby has been evaluated. The Apgar score is used to determine a newborn’s health at birth but is not used to predict his future health.
Your baby is evaluated at one minute and five minutes after birth and given a score of 0, 1 or 2 in five areas: activity, pulse, grimace, appearance and respiration. Scores are added together for a maximum total of 10. Most babies rate from 7 to 9; a score of 10 is rare, but if baby’s score is less than 7, he may need help transitioning to life outside the womb.
Vaccinations, shots and measurements
At your bedside, your baby may receive a vitamin K shot to help with clotting, a hepatitis B vaccine, and antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection. His height and weight measurements and footprint will also be recorded, though if there are any concerns immediately after birth, these will wait to be taken in the nursery.
Cleaning up and reflex tests
After your little one’s temperature stabilizes at 98 degrees, he will be bathed for the first time. Then his reflexes will be assessed: his rooting and sucking reflexes to determine his ability to feed or take a pacifier, his grasping reflex, and his stepping and crawling reflexes (to make sure he’ll be able to develop these motor functions later in his development).
Vision and hearing
Your newborn’s vision and hearing may be tested for any possibility of eye disease or hearing problems. While his vision is not completely clear and will continue to develop over the next six to eight months, his eyes will be visually examined for infections and abnormalities, including congenital cataracts. His hearing is tested by recording electrical brain activity in response to various sounds or by listening for an echo in the inner ear.
During the newborn screening, a small amount of blood is taken from your baby’s heel to test for over 30 metabolic disorders—including sickle cell anemia, phenylketonuria (PKU), cystic fibrosis and congenital hypothyroidism—and measure blood-glucose levels. If you give birth in a hospital, screenings will be performed automatically. If you give birth at home, you should take your baby to the local health department to be tested within the first few days.
It is extremely unlikely that your little guy will be diagnosed with a disorder, but since many of the conditions can be severely damaging if left untreated, it is best to know as early as possible. The precise screenings your baby will undergo depend on your state of residence. Nearly all states in the U.S. require screenings for at least 21 different disorders; however, some states require more than others.
Staying in the loop
Newborn screenings may not have to be performed out of your presence. If you wish to have your baby in the room with you while he is being evaluated, just ask! Some hospitals actually encourage parental participation. But whether he is evaluated in the nursery or at your bedside, know that this will be a trying time for your little guy. The transition from the safe, comfortable environment of your body to this strange new world where he’s being poked and prodded can be confusing for him, so be sure to spend some quality cuddle time as soon as you can. He’ll be contented by the safety of your scent and sound of your heartbeat.
You can expect to have your little man back about an hour to an hour and a half after he is taken for his checkup. He will return diapered, swaddled and ready to be cradled, kissed and fed. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t feel an intense connection with your tiny guy right away, as every mother is different. You will have plenty of bonding opportunities—just know that your presence and holding him close are the ultimate reassuring factors after a long first day for the both of you.