What a newborn can do

What a newborn can do

Your baby is born with some amazing abilities - he is not just a little sponge waiting to soak up experiences. From the moment he is born, his ability to snuggle into your neck, grip your finger tightly and look into your eyes will have you falling in love.


DEVELOPMENT:

Newborns
Your baby is born with some amazing abilities - he is not just a little sponge waiting to soak up experiences. From the moment he is born, his ability to snuggle into your neck, grip your finger tightly and look into your eyes will have you falling in love.

Healthy newborns are perfectly attuned to their own needs. Though their eyes are not yet able to focus on things that are far away, baby can focus perfectly well on your face when you hold him in your arms - the distance from your nipple to your eyes!

Your newborn can also hear. From around 28 weeks of your pregnancy your newborn has been able to listen, hearing both the sounds of his mother's body and noises from the outside world. Studies have found that newborns react more strongly to the higher pitch of a female voice, than to a deeper male voice. Newborn babies are soothed by the sound of their mother's voice chattering and cooing to them - and they can be upset when that voice becomes sad or angry. Interestingly, many dads find they raise the pitch of their voice when talking to their newborn.

Baby's nose is also a sensitive organ and a newborn can tell the difference between the smell of his own mother's breasts and that of another person. This is combined with a well developed sense of taste (babies have more taste buds than adults) which is finely tuned towards the sweet, milky taste of breast milk. Newborn babies are also born with a number of reflexes, some of which are vital for survival. These include the rooting reflex which enables baby to find his mother's nipple when his cheek is placed nearby; the sucking reflex; the swallowing reflex and the gagging reflex that prevents him from taking too much liquid. He is also able to cough up the mucus that has filled his lungs for the last nine months. When a baby is put down on his tummy he will automatically turn his head; he won't just lie with his head down. This is known as the labyrinthine reflex.


CARE:

Eyes, noses and belly buttons
Snuffly noses, gummy eyes and that yucky cord stump are common worries for new parents. Newborn babies will make plenty of snotty sounds as they learn to cope with the mucus in their bodies and the milk going through their digestive system. A newborn baby's nose produces a good deal of mucus and it can make even more when milk goes down the wrong way - which it sometimes does. If your baby has a cold she is also likely to have a temperature and she may also cough a great deal. If you are in any doubt about your baby's health talk to your doctor.

Little eyes can also discharge mucus which gums the eyelids together. This is mostly caused by a blocked tear duct - your doctor or nurse will be able to show you how to clear it with a gentle massage.

Baby's umbilical cord stump is very tough and does not have any nerve fibres. It needs to be cleaned regularly. When you are in the hospital you may be advised to use methylated spirits because it reduces the chance that foreign germs will cause problems - at home you may find that warm water is enough. It is necessary to clean around the base of the cord stump until it drops off - which it will usually do sometime in the first week. If there is any redness or it gets smelly ask your nurse or doctor for advice.

What is posseting?
Bringing up milk in small quantities is the dictionary definition of those little 'sick-ups' called posseting in Australia and 'spitting up' in the USA. Many newborns decorate the shoulders of unsuspecting carers with little blobs of milk. You can tell the experienced parents because they have a nappy or small towel draped over the shoulder and may have taken added precautions by wearing light-coloured or patterned clothing! According to British child care author Dr Miriam Stoppard, babies posset because they have been overfed; according to American Dr William Sears, babies spit-up because 'they are babies'. Not very helpful, but he also attributes it to gulping milk and to the air which spurts up when the baby's stomach contracts. The important thing to know is that it is perfectly normal and that baby will have outgrown it by the second half of his first year. In the meantime, find yourself a few cloth nappies and don't jostle baby too much after a feed.


SLEEP:

How newborns sleep
Whoever coined the phrase 'sleeping like a baby' did parents a big disservice. Newborn babies are not able to snuggle down for a peaceful night's sleep - this will not happen for some time.
A newborn's sleep is naturally more restless than an adults, she will make faces and move about.  In the early days she will sleep in the same position she was in when she was in the womb; over the following weeks she will gradually 'open out'. Also unlike adults, newborn babies are able, and generally prefer, to sleep in a noisy environment.
The best place for baby to sleep is somewhere safe that suits you both.

Sleep guide
- Newborn babies will sleep for between 14 and 20 hours in a 24 hour period.
- Sleep will usually be in short periods of between one and three hours.
- Newborn babies cannot tell the difference between night and day.


MUMS:

Postnatal depression or baby blues?
Fewer than 50 per cent of new mums will feel depressed or low after the birth of their baby. Of these, around 14 per cent will suffer from postnatal depression (PND); over 30 per cent will suffer from milder baby blues. There is no foolproof way of predicting who it will strike, though women who have little or no social support are vulnerable and stresses such as moving house or relationship troubles can make depression more likely.

Symptoms of PND include anxiety and panic attacks, feeling low and miserable, having little or no energy, bursting into tears, not wanting sex and being irritable. More severe symptoms include feelings that you can't cope, insomnia, not eating or overeating, memory loss, feeling inadequate as a mother and not loving your baby.

Early intervention is critical - both for your health and your baby's. Babies can suffer behavioural problems if mum's PND is not treated. And the mother's depression can spread to the baby's father!  Have you joined an online mothers group?  Visit the Essential Baby Parents Room and meet others whose baby was born in the same month as yours.  It's a great way to chat to like minded parents even if you can't always get out of the house!

If you think you may have PND contact someone today - talk to your GP, midwife or maternal and child health nurse. Or visit Beyond Blue to find someone you can talk to now.


Find out more:

The Parent Easy Guides from Parenting SA
, a government organisation and the fact sheets from the Children, Youth and Women's Health Service are amongst the best and most up to date sources of information for Australian parents. Here you will find PDFs on all these topics and more.

Visit the Essential Baby Forums to meet other parents and share your experiences at each stage.


These guides are written for Essential Baby by child care author, Carol Fallows. Carol established Australian Parents magazine in the early 1980s as Australia's first parenting magazine and managed it for nearly 18 years. She continues to write about and for parents. Her most recent title is Having a Baby. The essential Australian guide to pregnancy and birth. (Transworld/Random House, 2005).

 

Sign up for the Baby's First Year Monthly Guide email - covering development, sleeping, baby care, immunisation reminders, feeding and more.

 

This information is not a substitute for professional advice. If you have any concerns about your child's health or wellbeing it is important that you seek help from your doctor or a health professional.

Unless otherwise indicated the pronoun he or she refers to either sex. We have chosen to alternate.