For new parents, it can be a gloriously happy and overwhelming time. But what sensations does your baby experience during his or her first hours outside the womb?
It is the biggest change of environment that your child will ever experience – the transition from a sheltered foetus ensconced in a mother’s womb, to a baby cradled in a mother’s arms. This is also a leap from a world where every need is instinctively met, to one where your baby must learn to ask for what he or she needs, just as you must learn to intuit it.
Far from a momentary change, it is a long and complex adjustment process that continues as your baby is checked over by doctors, washed by nurses, passed from the arms of one loving parent to another, transferred into a cot or incubator – and even as he or she sleeps.
Here are just some of the sensations that your baby will be experiencing in those first 24 hours.
What happens first?
Whether your baby lies still and absorbs their new world or communicates by crying, there is one constant in these first few minutes after birth. Your baby will experience a sudden temperature change. After nine months in a warm womb where the temperature is a stable 38°C, your baby finds himself or herself in a delivery room that is likely far cooler. “A naked baby exposed to an environmental temperature of 23°C at birth, suffers the same heat loss as a naked adult at 0°C,” according to a report into the thermal protection of newborns by the JSI Research and Training Institute.
Newborns can’t fully self regulate their temperature so they quickly lose heat, both when the amniotic fluid evaporates off their body, but also when they are placed on a cold surface, such as a weighing scale or bedsheet. To help warm your baby, hold them close with skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible, and cover their body with a blanket and hat.
Remember that newborns can overheat too, so keep an eye on your baby’s temperature using an underarm thermometer. If concerned, speak to a medical professional.
What does the world look like to my baby?
It is likely that your baby will spend a long time looking at your face – or even directly into your eyes. Many parents are surprised at just how inquisitive their newborn is immediately after birth, yet it is a crucial phase in the bonding process as he or she learns to recognise you. However, the world will likely look rather blurry to your baby at first.
Researchers at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco discovered that in their first month, babies have a visual acuity of 20/120, equivalent to being able to identify only the largest letter on an optician’s eye chart. It takes them six months to develop full 20/20 vision. To help your baby see you clearly, ensure that your faces are roughly eight to 12 inches apart when communicating.
Don’t be alarmed if your baby doesn’t open his or her eyes properly at first. The force of contractions and use of medical instruments can often give newborns a headache, though this should pass quickly.
What other sensations is my baby experiencing?
Your baby will arrive into the world with an extremely keen sense of smell, taste and hearing. Taste buds are already maturing at 13 to 15 weeks, so by the time your baby reaches the delivery room, he or she can differentiate between sweet, sour and bitter tastes, though not yet salty ones.
Likewise, your baby’s sense of hearing is well developed from birth, and it is likely that he or she can hear your voice from week 25. Research shows that newborn babies’ heart rates often slow when their mother is speaking, suggesting that they not only hear the sound but recognise and feel comforted by it.
Finally, newborns also have a surprisingly sophisticated sense of smell. Some of the most familiar smells that your baby associates with you, will already be a comfort to them, such as the scents that emanate from your underarms and breasts, as well as your regular beauty products. Even when your baby is asleep, he or she will continue to detect and feel comforted by these familiar scents.
These first 24 hours may be utterly exhausting for both you and your baby – and most of them will likely be spent asleep – but thanks to your baby’s well-tuned senses, the bonding process is already well underway.
First published in Yahoo Lifestyle