Pregnant mamas-to-be are told a lot about giving birth, but not much is said about those precious minutes after having your baby.
The first 60 minutes after delivering your newborn is known as the “golden hour”.
It’s called this because it’s a crucial time for your to bond and get your baby off to a healthy start right from the beginning of their life.
Studies show that infants and mother thrive when they have skin-to-skin contact and have the first breastfeed within those first 60 minutes.
The medical team who will have delivered your baby will also be carrying out checks, both on you and your little one.
This is to make sure everything is well, and to see if your baby or you may need further follow-on tests or examinations.
So what happens after giving birth to your baby? This article will tell you what you need to know about the “golden hour”, from what your medical team will be doing to what you can do to make the most of these crucial first minutes.
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What happens immediately after giving birth
Everything happens quite quickly once you have had your baby, and it will all unfold around you in such a blur that you may miss it.
The important thing to know is that when you give birth in a hospital, there are procedures in place. The doctors do know what they are doing in the UK where I gave birth and I think the standard of maternity care is pretty good where I live.
Although the hard work is over for you (not including the small matter of the baby you have to look after), the doctors or midwives will need to do a few things for you and your baby.
The APGAR score
In the aftermath of birth, your midwife or doctor will be assessing every single thing your baby does.
They will be scoring your baby (which seems crazy that they undergo a test when they are just a few seconds old, but it’s to ensure their health is good). This is known as the APGAR Score. The doctors want to see that your baby:
- Has healthy colour – they will turn pink after being born.
- Cries – crying is a key sign that your baby’s lungs are working and that they are breathing
- Heart rate – your baby’s heart beat will be checked straight away.
- Muscle tone – your baby will be checked to see if they are active and not floppy.
- Reflexes – a grimace response is where your baby reacts to a mild pinch
Doctors or midwives will score your baby based on these things and then tot it up from 0 to 10. A baby scoring at a seven or above is considered to be in good health.
A baby scoring lower than this will likely be checked over again to make sure all is well.
Umbilical cord is cut
Traditionally the dad is given the honour of cutting the cord. It is a symbolic gesture that gets them involved in the birth.
However some parents prefer not to do it, which doesn’t make them any less of a parent!
When it comes to your decision about who cuts the cord, it’s totally fine if you would prefer to leave it to the professionals to cut the cord.
Your midwife or doctor will place two clamps on the cord, one close to the baby’s belly. The cord is then cut and excess blood dabbed away.
Some mothers may choose to have a lotus birth. This is where the cord remains attached to the placenta (after it has left the mother) until it naturally separates from the navel, which may take up to 10 days.
There have been concerns raised about potential complications from this practice, such as the risk of infection. Speak to your doctor or midwife if this is something you are interested in.
The baby is handed to you
Once you have had your baby, they will be handed to you immediately.
The midwife or doctor may wrap them lightly in a towel first, both to keep them warm and because they are quite slippery when they are born!
This is where skin-to-skin contact is really important. Having this close physical contact with your baby helps to soothe both of you.
It causes a chemical reaction in you that sparks a release of hormones (known as oxytocin) that aids with breast milk production and your own mental wellbeing.
You will find this physical contact also calms your baby. Try to wear a nightie or top that you can easily pull down, or that has poppers or buttons you can open after giving birth, so that you can quickly get your baby skin-on-skin to you after they are born.
Many parents like to ensure both mum and dad get a chance for skin-to-skin contact during the golden hour. This is entirely up to you. Dad may prefer, or have a better chance to, have cuddles after the first breastfeed has been carried out during the golden hour.
Mama will need to take a shower at some point once you’ve regained your strength, so this could be a good opportunity for dad to have a turn for holding the baby.
Delivering the placenta
Confession time! I do not remember delivering either of my placentas after both labours. I vaguely recall a comment from my husband that the placenta looks like some kind of alien. That’s about it.
Delivering the placenta is also known as the third stage of labour. Your body will still be contracting, though it will not feel as painful as when the baby was being born.
Some women report feeling discomfort and pain when the placenta is delivered, but for most it is painless.
You can opt for unaided delivery of your placenta. Aided delivery is where you are given an injection just as the baby is being born which speeds up the delivery of your placenta. It’s totally safe and doctors recommend this as it has been proven to reduce the risk of heavy blood loss in new mothers.
Once your placenta is delivered, the midwife will examine it just to be sure that you have delivered the entire placenta and that none remains inside you. This could cause complications.
Some mothers choose to keep the placenta. It can be sent to companies who will use it to make capsules containing ground up placenta for the mother to take. Some swear it has special healing powers to it. Whether you do this or not is up to you!
Mama will be given stitches if needed
Many mothers tear during labour. While the idea of this might sound scary, it’s really not as bad as it sounds.
Once you have delivered the baby, your midwife or doctor will examine you to see if you need stitches.
Whether you do need stitches and how many you need depends on the degree of tear you have. A fourth degree tear may need surgery. A first degree tear may not need any stitches at all as it can heal naturally.
You will be given a local anaesthetic before stitches are carried out, so you can continue holding your baby and enjoying the golden hour while you are being cared for.
Vitamin K injection for your baby
All babies in the UK are offered a Vitamin K injection. This helps prevent a rare bleeding disorder. Your baby can have the vitamin K dose by mouth over several days if you prefer.
The injection is the quickest and most efficient way to deliver it however, and this will be given shortly after you have given birth if you are happy for it to go ahead.
The first breastfeed
If you plan to breastfeed it is not critical that you get it right straight away. Very few mamas do!
However it is great for you and most importantly for your baby to get that first feed done during the golden hour.
Your first milk is known as colostrum and is full of amazing, powerful antibodies, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, hormones and other wonderful stuff.
It can help to promote good gut health for your baby and you pass on white blood cells in colostrum which help to fight infection.
This milk is very thick and rich. Your baby will take a few ml of this only as it is packed with goodness in small quantities, and their tummies are very small.
Some babies will latch straight on. They may even root and wriggle to the breast within minutes of being born, as it is an instinct they are born with.
A midwife should help you to get the baby latched on if your are struggling. The first breastfeed after giving birth may only last a few minutes.
Remember to support the head, and make sure the baby’s mouth opens wide before you bring them to the nipple so that they get a good mouthful of the breast.
If the first breastfeed is a struggle, then you can hand express your milk and offer it to your baby in a syringe or on a spoon, or from a cup. Your midwife can help you to massage your breast and hand express the milk.
You can read loads more about breastfeeding for beginners here.
What happens after the golden hour is over
Once the first breastfeed has been completed and your stitches have been done, you may then be helped to take a shower if you feel able.
Getting cleaned up will not only make you feel better but it will help to prevent infection.
Once you are in clean clothing, you may then need to stay in hospital overnight.
Medical staff will continue to monitor you and your baby, checking your blood pressure to ensure it doesn’t get too high as this could indicate preeclampsia, a potentially fatal condition for mums.
Doctors will do a more thorough examination of your baby to ensure their legs, joints, private parts, spine and skull are all normal with no further worries to be followed up.
You will be discharged from hospital when staff are happy both of you are healthy (or there is sufficient post-birth follow-on care you can seek from home), and breastfeeding is established (or well on the way to being established).
What can you do to prepare for the golden hour?
So now that you know all about the golden hour, what can you do as an expectant mother to prepare for it?
Decide if you want aided delivery for the placenta
Although the medical procedures that happen during a typical birth are routine, extremely safe and used by most mums, it’s a good idea to make the decisions before you are in labour.
The injection that will speed up your placenta’s delivery is commonly used and doctors say it reduces the risk of heavy blood loss. It’s highly recommended that you go ahead and have it, but speak to your midwife if you have any concerns.
Buy a labour outfit that allows easy access for skin-to-skin contact
Your experience of the golden hour will be easier if you are dressed for the occasion.
Wear something comfortable for labour, which you don’t mind getting messy (and ruined). Pick a nightie or top that has buttons or poppers that open. Otherwise one that pulls down your shoulders easily to expose your chest is what you need.
Have an outfit that is simple for your to open out so that your baby can be put straight on your chest after giving birth.
Read up on breastfeeding
The more prepare you are for breastfeeding, the easier you will find it.
Breastfeeding is not easy and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone.
While it is easier to learn while you are actually nursing your baby, having a vague idea of the challenges you might face will help you tackle them.
For example, knowing that your baby may well feed constantly, or it certainly seems that way, in the early days will help you feel less stressed.
A baby who feeds constantly can make you feel exhausted, and question whether you are getting this breastfeeding stuff “right”. If you know the signs to look for to check your baby is feeding well, then you will be off to a good start.
You can also learn to breastfeed in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace with the fantastic Milkology course.
Be prepared for anything
How much you are able to enjoy the golden hour really depends on how you feel during the labour.
If you feel more positive in the aftermath of labour, then you will enjoy the golden hour and get the most from it.
For this reason, it’s important to go into labour feeling mentally prepared for what to expect. Of course, I’m not saying you won’t be exhausted by the experience of labour, but you will have a better chance of dealing with it if you have an idea of the challenges you may face.
No two labours are the same. Having a birth plan may help you get an idea of what you want from your birth, but of course the type of labour you wanted may not happen.
If you go in prepared for anything, then hopefully you will feel less overwhelmed in the aftermath of the experience.
Giving birth does feel like a marathon, but your body is totally strong enough to handle it. So be prepared for some challenges, but remember that you will reach the finish line!
I hope this article has prepared you for those first few minutes with your baby!
You may also like to read:
18 ways to survive the first 8 weeks with a newborn baby