Newborn care in the delivery room

After months of waiting, your baby is born and you are eager to hold him in your arms for the first time. Before meeting your newborn, you can expect to see doctors and nurses caring for your baby in the minutes after birth to make certain that he is healthy and stable.

What happens after your baby is born?

After your baby's born, his provider may: 
  • Help your baby cry. Hearing your baby cry in the delivery room is a good sign. Crying helps him get rid of any excess fluid that may still be in his lungs, nose or mouth. Doctors will often encourage a baby to cry for this reason. If necessary, the health care provider will resuscitate a baby that is having trouble breathing.
  • Cut and clamp the umbilical cord. While in the womb, your baby received her nutrition and oxygen through the umbilical cord that connected you both. Now that she is born and breathing on her own, her blood supply is redirected to her lungs, allowing the medical staff to cut and clamp the umbilical cord.
  • Keep your baby warm. When a baby is born, he is wet from the fluid in the womb and can easily become cold. Nurses will dry his skin, wrap him in a blanket, place a knitted hat on his head and may even use heat lamps to help him stay warm. Holding your baby close to you so that your skin touches his also helps keep him warm.

What is a baby's Apgar score?

The Apgar score is designed to check your baby’s condition at 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth. Your baby will be checked for five things:

  • A – Activity; muscle tone
  • P – Pulse rate
  • G – Grimace; reflex (measured by placing a bulb syringe in the baby’s nose and seeing his response)
  • A – Appearance; skin color
  • R – Respiration

Each category is given a score ranging from 0-2. The numbers are then added up for a final score. Babies who receive an Apgar score of 7 or more probably have come through delivery with flying colors and are in good condition. Those with lower scores may need extra watching or special care, though most will do fine.

Why do babies need a Vitamin K shot after birth?

Your baby gets a shot of vitamin K immediately after she is born. For a few days after birth, newborns are unable to make vitamin K, which is needed for blood clotting. The vitamin K shot protects your baby from developing a rare, serious bleeding problem that can affect newborns.

Why do babies get eye drops after birth?

Your baby’s eyes will be treated with medicated drops or ointment. This protects her eyes from bacterial infections that can a baby can get during delivery.

What are newborn screening tests?

Your baby’s heel will be pricked to obtain a few drops of blood. This blood sample will be used to screen for genetic and biochemical disorders. These birth defects may not be obvious at first in a baby. But, unless detected and treated early, they can cause physical problems, intellectual disabilities and, in some cases, death. Most babies receive a clean bill of health.

A newborn may also receive a hearing test. The test measures how the baby responds to sounds. A tiny soft earphone or a microphone is placed in the baby's ear. Without testing, hearing loss often is not diagnosed until a child is about 2 to 3 years old. By that time, the child has often developed speech and language problems. Early treatment helps to prevent these problems.

Currently each state or region operates its own newborn screening program. State programs vary widely in the number and types of conditions for which they test. The March of Dimes recommends that all babies be screened for at least 34 disorders, including hearing loss.

Most likely, your baby will be found in good health after her tests. But for the few babies who have different test results, early diagnosis and proper treatment can make the difference between healthy development and lifelong problems.

What other kinds of care do babies get after birth?

  • Measurement. Your baby will be measured for weight, length and the size of his head to ensure that he is at a healthy range for the number of weeks of pregnancy.
  • Bath. Once your baby’s body temperature is stable, she will be given her first bath.
  • Footprints and medical bracelets: As part of your baby’s first medical record, his footprints will be taken and added to the record. Babies are usually given two identity bracelets (one on his foot, the other on his arm). You, too, will be given a matching bracelet.

What happens if you baby needs special care after birth?

Some babies may face challenges after birth. Babies that need special care may be placed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This is a part of the hospital where babies are cared for using advanced technology and specially trained health care professionals.

Having a baby in a NICU can leave many parents feeling stressed and sad. While you may be separated from your baby for a period of time, take comfort in knowing that you will still be able to build a bond with her. Rest assured that scientific advances in this field are helping more babies become healthy and go home sooner.