Your Newborn Baby—What’s Normal?

    Parents’ Guide to the Newborn

Keep your caregiver informed of any concerns about your baby.
Phone number of dr., public health nurse, midwife, or other provider Name_______________________Phone_____________________

Your baby’s breathing

Noises such as snuffles, grunts, wheezes, etc are not a concern by themselves. Babies can be noisy breathers. They have small amounts of mucous in their airways from the birth process and they are adjusting to air breathing. It is normal for the breathing to be irregular—sometimes rapid and then followed by slow, deep breathing. When your baby cries vigorously, he/she will become redder in the face and take deep, gasping breaths. This is normal.

Concerns about breathing to notify your caregiver about are:

1. Chest retractions–if your baby draws the chest wall in noticeably when breathing and you can see the outline of the breast bone with every breath.

2. Prolonged rapid breathing–the rate of breathing in a healthy calm newborn should be about 30 to 40 breaths per minute. If the baby is doing a panting breathing when calm (60 or more breaths per minute) for more than 15 minutes, have your caregiver check.

3. If your baby seems to have worrisome breathing and blueness around the mouth, call your caregiver.

FEEDING Within 8 hours of birth, the baby should be waking to feed every two hours and latching on to the breast well. Demanding to be fed is a very good sign of health in a newborn. Your baby needs only what is in the breast, do not feed water. If baby seems lethargic and doesn’t wake to feed for 4 hours, call your caregiver immediately. This behavior might mean the baby has a serious infection.

COLOUR A small amount of blueness and coolness in the extremities (hands and feet) is normal. Some mottling of the chest and tummy is normal. Many parents are alarmed by the baby’s whole body going dark red like a strawberry, this is a normal result of changing blood circulation in the newborn. Generalized blue or gray colouring (rare) would be alarming.

4 Days old and the milk is in. Continuous skin to skin in bed with mother.

4 Days old and the milk is in. Continuous skin to skin in bed with mother.

TEMPERATURE Only take your baby’s temperature under the armpit. Digital thermometers can be purchased for about $12 at the pharmacy. If the temperature falls below 36.1 degrees Celsius (97 F) or goes above 37.2 degrees Celsius (99F), look to see if you have bundled the baby too warmly or if the baby needs more covering. Adjust the baby’s garments and recheck the temperature in 15 minutes. Call your caretaker if abnormal temperatures persist. The usual rule of thumb for baby covering is to look at what the adults are wearing and then add one more layer for the baby. The baby being skin to skin with the mother is a good way to help the baby have a normal temperature and breathing rate.

URINE The baby may only have one wet diaper per day for the first two days. Once the breast milk is in, the baby should have at least 6 very soaked diapers in 24 hours. Urine should be colourless. Some babies have crystals in their urine (orange staining that looks like face makeup) and this is not a concern in the first 3 days. After the third day, that orange staining can be a sign that the baby is dehydrated. Increase the time at the breast and advise your caregiver. Little girls may have a spot of blood in their diaper which is their first menstrual blood, this is normal. By the fourth day, the baby should have at least 6 very wet diapers per day (the diaper will feel heavy in your hand).

BOWEL MOVEMENTS In the first 24 hours of life, the baby will pass meconium (blackish, tarry stools). Next, the stools will be brownish, greenish and quite soft. Once the milk is fully in (around day 3 of life) the baby’s stools are the colour and consistency of yellow mustard. The baby should have two poops the size of a loonie (silver dollar) as a minimum every day. A well fed baby usually has much more than the minimum.

UMBILICAL CORD Fold diapers down away from the drying umbilical stump. The cord will be dry and blackened within 24 hours and the clamp can be removed. The stump usually rots off by 5 to 10 days after the birth. Don’t put peroxide or alcohol on the cord. It heals best if left alone. Because it is rotting flesh, there is usually a foul odor when it is ready to fall off and it can be quite goo-ey looking. If there is redness on the abdominal skin surrounding the belly button area, notify your caregiver.

EYES The policy in hospitals is to treat the baby’s eyes with an antibiotic cream called “Erythromicin”. If you do not want your baby to receive this antibiotic, let your caretaker know in advance and sign a waiver. Newborns can have plugged tear ducts which cause discharge to accumulate in their eyes. Bring any discharge concerns to the attention of your caregiver.

INTACT PENIS Keeping your son’s penis intact is now the recommended policy of physicians’ groups. There is no special cleaning that needs to be done. Simply bathe your baby in a warm bath and leave the foreskin alone. The foreskin is attached to the glans in babies (much like the fingernail is attached to the finger) and the separation process may take years to complete. Only the boy should retract his own foreskin, this should not be done by parents or medical professionals. For more info on caring for your intact son, there is a handy free brochure at this link http://www.nocirc.org/publish/pamphlet4.html

JAUNDICE Yellowing of the skin of the newborn in the first 24 hours of life is unusual and should be called to the attention of your caregiver.
After Day 2, some yellowing is normal. Usually the face and chest are the most yellow places on the body. The baby may be sleepier than normal with jaundice and you may have to wake the baby to feed every two hours. It’s important that the baby remains well hydrated in order to get rid of the yellow cells from the body. Let your caregiver know if you are having trouble waking/feeding the baby or if the yellowness extends out to the hands and feet.

Slightly jaundiced newborn

Slightly jaundiced newborn

Gloria Lemay, Vancouver, BC
March 2016

5 thoughts on “Your Newborn Baby—What’s Normal?

  1. Hi Gloria,
    Great article. Thank you I will be sharing this with my clients.
    There is just one thing I disagree with. It is in the feeding section. I think you could add that in the first 24 hours babies often don’t feed very much. After birth they often have a good long feed and then can sleep 4-6 hours. This creates an opportunity for mothers to sleep and recover from the birth, not that they do! After the this babies usually want to feed every two to three hours.

    • I agree, Sam. We’re saying the same thing but perhaps your explanation would be more clear for many women.

  2. I just want to point out that ebf babies may not have a bowel movement for days on end and it is still completely normal. A well fed baby May NOT have 2 bms per day and be perfectly healthy.

    • It is a sign of malabsorption of the feeds if a newborn isn’t passing meconium and getting to the mustard color stage of the poops by Day 4 of life. A baby who is just pee’ing and not poop’ing in the first 10 days is NOT normal.

  3. I really enjoy your blog, Gloria. I’ve just finished a postpartum doula workshop and this article is an excellent reference for myself and for new mamas and papas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.