Newborn Baby: The First 4 Weeks
Welcome to parenthood! Along with the joy and excitement a newborn baby brings, you might be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, too. We're here to help explain some of your newborn’s development milestones in these first four weeks, describe how often and how long your baby may feed and sleep this month, and review important information about your newborn baby’s care and health. We’ll also touch on how you can support your baby’s development, so let's get started!
Baby Development Milestones
In the first four weeks after your baby is born, he’s getting used to life outside the uterus. You may be amazed by all the growth and changes you're seeing in just these first few weeks! These are some of the highlights you might notice:
Growth and Physical Development: It’s Normal for a Newborn to Look a Little ‘Odd’
In the first few days after birth, newborn babies can lose a little weight — this is mostly excess body fluid. Most babies will regain the weight quickly, so that by day 10, they’re back to their birth weight. Your GP will track your baby's growth carefully, measuring his length, weight, and head circumference (the distance around the head) at each checkup. Over time, your GP will use these measurements to gauge trends in your baby's rate of growth. Read more about how your GP uses baby growth charts for more on this.
You’ll be spending lots of time looking at your new baby, and although you’ll love every inch of him, you might find that he or she looks a little ‘funny’ at first. Your little one has just entered the world, so that little body is still adjusting. These are some of the unusual physical features you might notice in these first few weeks:
Your newborn’s skin may seem dry or peel a little. Avoid creams or lotions as this may cause problems with your baby’s skin.
Reddened areas of skin called ‘salmon patches’ or ‘stork marks’ may appear on his face or neck. They’ll gradually fade and will likely disappear within a few months.
Dark red, slightly raised marks called ‘strawberry marks’ are very common. Sometimes, they appear a few days after birth and get bigger. It may take some time, but they usually fade over time.
Your newborn’s breasts (for both boys and girls) and genitals may be swollen, but will return to normal within a few weeks.
Two soft spots, called the fontanelles, can be felt at the top of your baby’s head. Although a thick membrane protects the brain, this is where the skull bones are still fusing together.
When they’re a few days old, it’s not uncommon for babies to develop mild jaundice. Jaundice is caused by a build-up of bilirubin, which is a yellow substance made when red blood cells break down. Your baby’s skin and the whites of their eyes may become a bit yellow. This usually fades within about 10 days. If your baby develops jaundice, tell your GP or health visitor so they can determine whether or not treatment is needed. If your newborn develops jaundice within 24 hours of birth, this should be checked by your GP or midwife right away.
Senses: Your Baby Loves to Be Held by You
For your newborn, one of the most important senses is touch, and he’ll sense your mood by the way he’s being touched. Skin-to-skin contact, in particular, is especially important for both mum and baby.
Being held and carried by you provides security and comfort. Be sure to always support your baby's head and neck, so that his head doesn't flop from side to side or front to back.
Gently rocking him may help quiet and calm him, and gently massaging your baby may help you bond.
You might be wondering: Can newborn babies see? Typically, a newborn baby can only see about 8-10 cm away, but this means your baby can see your face as you hold him close. His own hands will also interest him as they pass by in front of him. By the time your newborn is around 2 weeks old, you might notice him following your face or colourful objects that are around 20 cm away.
As your baby grows, he or she will turn towards sounds and search for them. If your baby makes a sound, copy that sound back to your little while making sure he or she can see your face. Enjoy these ‘baby conversations’ and remember that babies respond to both high and soft voices and sounds.
Crying: Your Newborn’s Way of Telling You What He or She Needs
Some babies cry more than others, but for all babies, crying is a way of letting you know they need care or comfort.
Newborns cry to communicate things like hunger or discomfort, or to release tension. If your baby is crying but doesn’t need feeding, a nap, burping or a nappy change, he or she may just need a little attention. Try comforting your little one with a cuddle or by soothing him or her with your voice. These might work.
If you’re breastfeeding and your newborn is crying during feeding, changing the positioning and attachment to your breast might help. In some cases, persistent crying could indicate a problem or colic. There are several causes of colic. Learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of colic. If you're worried about your newborn’s crying, consult your baby’s GP to check that everything is OK.
Movement: Your Baby’s Instincts Are as Strong as His Grip
In the first few weeks, your baby’s movements may seem very jerky; in the coming months, they’ll slowly become more controlled. Here are some of the common reflexes newborns have at birth:
Rooting. Your baby will turn his or her head toward your finger in response to a stroke on the cheek or mouth.
Sucking. Your baby can instinctively suck, but coordinating sucking and breathing requires quite a bit of skill, so it may take a few days for your baby to get the hang of it when nursing.
Moro reflex. If your baby is startled by a noise, or if there’s a sudden shift in the position of your little one’s head, he or she may react by extending his arms and legs suddenly and then bringing them close together.
Strong grip. If you touch your baby’s palm, he or she will grip your finger. Don’t support your little one using this hold, as your baby has no control over this grip and may let go suddenly.
Stepping. When holding your newborn in a standing position with the soles of his or her feet touching a surface, you may notice your little one do a stepping or walking motion.
How to Support Your Baby's Development
Your baby’s GP will be able to give you lots of personalised advice, but these are some things you can try:
Skin-to-skin contact. This is when your naked baby is placed against your uncovered chest. It’s good to practice this ‘kangaroo care’ from right after your baby is born and during the first few months. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact include improved bonding between you and your baby, and helping to regulate your little one’s breathing and heart rate.
Tummy time. Put your baby on his tummy on the floor for a short time each day to help strengthen the neck and shoulders, as you closely supervise.
Tracking practice. As your newborn’s vision develops, his or her eyes will slowly become better at following moving objects. To help your little one practice this, try moving an object — like a rattle — slowly in front of your baby.
Feeding Your Newborn Baby
The good news is that you won’t need to set a rigid feeding schedule for your newborn. Instead, watch for your baby’s hunger signals to get to know what’s normal for your little one. This month, your baby may show hunger by rooting (see the reflexes above), lip smacking, or sucking on his fist. Crying can also be a sign of hunger, but it’s better to feed your baby before this stage, rather than waiting until your little one is really upset.
A rough guideline for newborn feeding times during the first few weeks is about 8 feeds or more every 24 hours. Within the first few days of birth, your newborn may want to feed every hour or so. After a few days, your little one will begin to have fewer and longer feeding times. You'll likely feed your baby both during the day and night.
Your baby will show that he or she is full by looking tired or falling asleep.
During growth spurts — which occur at different times for different babies, but often at the end of week two and between week three and six — your baby may be hungrier than usual.
If you’re breastfeeding and are concerned about your milk supply, or whether your baby is latching or nursing properly, ask your GP or midwife for help. You can also check out this go-to breastfeeding guide we’ve created just for you!
Regardless of whether your baby is breastfed, formula-fed, or a combination of both, you may want to speak to your baby's GP about whether you should supplement your baby’s nutrition. For example, vitamin D and iron supplements may be advised until your baby turns 12 months old.
Tracking Wet and Dirty Nappies
It’s natural to wonder whether your newborn is getting enough to eat. One way to check is to keep track of nappy changes — how many you change, and how they look.
In the first few days, don’t be surprised if your newborn baby’s poops are thick and dark green or black — these are your baby’s normal first bowel movements, made up of meconium.
After this meconium has passed, the stools will switch to a yellow colour, and become softer and runnier. Each baby is different, but you can probably expect at least six wet nappies and at least two poopy nappies a day.
If you notice your newborn baby hasn’t had a poopy nappy within 24 hours, this might be a sign of constipation. Babies that are formula fed are more likely to be constipated. If it happens, try opening your little one’s nappy and holding up his or her legs as if you are going to change the nappy. Your baby may seem to be straining if he or she is constipated. If there’s no poop, contact your GP or health visitor for advice.
Other signs your baby is eating enough include if you can hear your baby swallow, and if your little one seems content after feeding. Over a longer period of time, your baby’s GP will help check your baby is getting enough nourishment by monitoring his or her growth.
How Much Sleep Does a Newborn Baby Need?
In the first few weeks, your baby may sleep about 16 hours of each 24-hour period, in blocks of about three or four naps. Because your newborn’s stomach can only hold so much milk, you’ll need to wake your little one for feeds during the night if he or she doesn’t wake naturally.
Although your newborn doesn’t know the difference between day and night yet, start teaching him or her by keeping night-time feeds low-key. Don’t turn on bright lights, keep nappy changes brief, and instead of playing, put your baby right back to sleep on his or her back afterward.
For the first year of your baby's life, always put your baby to sleep on his or her back in his cot. Also, keep the cot bare of clutter like loose sheets, blankets, bumper pads, pillows, and toys, and put the cot in your room. Also, make sure your newborn baby isn’t too cold or hot. Keep the room temperature at around 18°C at night. These crucial steps help reduce the risk of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, which is the unexplained death of a healthy baby in the first year of life.
Read more about how to reduce the risk of SIDS and keep the ABCs of safe sleep in mind. Your baby should always sleep:
on his or her BACK
in a COT.
A Day in the Life of Your Baby
Although a routine involving a newborn baby can’t be set in stone, here is an example of a daily routine for feeding, sleeping, bathing, and play:
One of the fixtures of your newborn baby’s daily routine will be nappy changes. Make sure you have all the supplies you’ll need for the nappy change within reach before you begin. Keep one hand on your baby at all times and don’t leave your baby alone on the changing table, or on any surface that's higher than the floor, as your little one can easily wriggle and fall.
To help prevent nappy rash, remove wet or soiled nappies as soon as possible. After removing the dirty nappy, clean the area with a cotton wool with warm water or alcohol- and fragrance-free baby wipes, and put on a fresh nappy. Read more about how to change your baby’s nappy, and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Bathing Your Newborn Baby
Until the umbilical cord stump dries out and drops off, you’ll need to keep that area dry. The cord usually takes about a week or two to drop off. During this time, using some damp cotton wool, you may prefer to wash your newborn baby’s face, neck, hands and bottom only. This kind of bathing is often called ‘topping and tailing.’
Once the cord area has healed, you can start to bathe your baby in a baby bathtub or the sink. Keep in mind that your little one may only need bathing three times a week for the first year, unless he or she really enjoys her daily bath.
As a rule of thumb, a few baths a week tend to be enough for a newborn baby if you thoroughly clean the nappy area at each nappy change.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the first few times you bathe your weeks-old baby:
Make sure the water feels warm but not hot to the touch on your wrist or elbow.
Have all the supplies you’ll need on hand, so you don’t ever leave your baby unattended.
Bathe your baby right after undressing him or her so your little one doesn’t catch a chill, and make sure the room is warm.
Support the head and neck as you place your baby in the tub or sink and as you bathe him or her. Keep the head and most of the body well above the water level for safety.
To wash your baby's face, use a damp soft cotton wool. Plain water without cleansers is best for the first month.
If you have a boy, simply clean his genitals with warm water as you would the rest of the nappy area. Your baby’s GP will tell you when the foreskin has separated properly, and from then on, the foreskin can be safely retracted and cleaned. If your newborn baby boy is circumcised, your GP can give you direction on cleaning and protecting the area until it heals.
After bathing, gently pat your baby dry carefully paying attention to any folds in the skin.
Read more about how to bathe your newborn and you’ll have a handle on it soon enough!
Umbilical Cord Care
You’ll need to care for your baby’s umbilical cord stump keeping it clean and dry until it shrivels up and drops off, usually by the time your little one is two weeks old. It’s important to let the cord stump drop off naturally without trying to speed the process by, for example, tugging at it. If you notice bleeding or signs of infection such as a smelly, yellowish discharge or red skin around the stump, contact your baby’s GP.
FAQS at a Glance
What essentials do I need for my newborn baby?
Just enough clothes to ensure your baby will be clean and warm. Keep in mind babies will grow out of newborn-sized clothes quickly.
A baby blanket
A safe and appropriately-sized baby carrier
A safe and appropriately-sized car seat
Take a look at our checklist of baby gear essentials for even more ideas of items you’ll need for your newborn baby.
What if my newborn has a fever?
A : Most babies will get a fever at some stage, but sometimes it can be difficult to tell when a newborn baby has an elevated temperature. A normal temperature for a baby is about 36.4C. A temperature of 38C or above is considered to be a fever. In the first 12 weeks, babies with a fever need urgent medical attention, so if your baby feels warm or is unusually cranky, take his or her temperature. Read more about dealing with fever in newborns.
Is it normal for my newborn baby to lose weight?
A : It’s normal for newborns to lose a bit of weight within the first few days of birth, but they usually regain most of that weight by around the age of two weeks old.
Your Life as a Parent: An Emotional Rollercoaster!
After giving birth, you might feel a mixture of happiness, pain, and exhaustion. Your emotions may be heightened by stress and hormonal changes. You’re also getting used to some new routines with your newborn such as feeding, changing nappies, and putting your baby to sleep. Plus, you may be getting much less sleep now than you’re used to.
Know that you’re not the first or last parent to feel overwhelmed at this time, and it can be natural to cry. However, if you feel severe feelings of sadness, emptiness, apathy, or despair, you may have postnatal depression. Let your midwife or GP know how you are feeling because help is available.
Physical recovery after giving birth — whether vaginally or via a caesarean section — takes time. Your GP will help you if you’re concerned about any of your symptoms. Here are some of the physical effects to expect as you heal after childbirth:
Bleeding. You’ll shed the blood and tissues that lined the uterus (this vaginal discharge is known as lochia). It’s not a good idea to use tampons at this time. Instead, wear pads as needed. Initially the bleeding may be heavy, but it will lighten over the next few weeks. Contact your midwife if you lose blood in large clots or are concerned by the amount of blood you’re losing.
Perineal pain. When you give birth vaginally, the skin between your vagina and anus — the area known as the perineum — stretches so that your baby’s head can fit through. Sometimes this skin tears and will either heal on its own or require stitches. If you’ve had stitches because of tearing or because you had an episiotomy, there are ways to ease the discomfort. To help ease the swelling and pain, you can apply cold packs to the area; you can also try sitting on a soft pillow.
Stretched abdomen. In the days after you give birth, your tummy may still look pregnant, as the abdominal muscles don’t snap back right away. Give your body plenty of time to recover, and always ask your GP before starting to exercise again.
Constipation. It may be tricky to have a bowel movement in the first few days after giving birth. You might be afraid of the pain, or have sluggish bowels due to pain medication or simply because you didn’t eat during labour. Ask your midwife or GP for advice on what to do. Drinking more water and eating high-fibre foods might help.
Feeling tired. This is probably no surprise given the huge job you’ve done both physically and emotionally. You’ll need some time for your energy levels to recover. In the meantime, ask for help with any household chores or tasks, limit visitors and sleep when your baby sleeps.
How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS).
The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
Checklist for This Month
Your GP or midwife will give you a personal child health record shortly before or after your baby is born. The book usually has a red cover, so it’s known as the ‘red book’. Keep this book safe and make a note to take your baby’s ‘red book’ each time you visit the GP or baby clinic for your baby’s health and development reviews.
Find out about your baby’s immunisation schedule. Keep in mind, your GP will advise you on what immunisation is needed next for your baby.
Write a list of any questions or concerns you have to keep on hand for your next health visit.
Stick important phone numbers on the fridge or save them in your phone. These should include your baby’s GP or your health visitor, emergency numbers and the poison information hotline.
Get a first aid kit for home, which can be useful for any minor cuts or scrapes.
If you feel rested and ready, check our informational articles dedicated to newborn babies.
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