Newborns - Childbirth and Infant Development

Newborns have developed the same way throughout history, but what has changed over the centuries are some of the ways parents care for their newborn babies. Here's a look at some of the highlights of the first four weeks of life after birth.

Early Newborn Development

For the first few weeks your baby will be a tiny, demanding being ruled by hunger and sleep. She'll enjoy being in the curled up position the most because that is how she was in utero. She will not want to extend her arms and legs much and might even appear bowlegged. This isn't always the cutest look, but don't worry about it. As your baby gets older and wants to explore the world around her, she'll start to stretch out bit by bit.

Swaddling your baby those early weeks will make him feel most comfortable. Swaddling is the process of wrapping your baby snugly in a blanket and is something that mothers have been doing for their babies since the birth of the human race. The technique of swaddling hasn't changed much over the years although the material used to swaddle a baby has. Nowadays thin, soft, cotton receiving blankets are common and there are even specially designed swaddling blankets available.

Your baby will react to loud noises or sudden movements, even during sleep. He might suddenly stretch out his arms and legs or automatically arch his back. Other reflexes your doctor might look for in your baby are the step reflex (when his feet hit a solid surface he'll look like he's taking steps but won't be able to support his own weight in any way), the Babinski reflex (where the toes fan out and the big toe bends back when the bottom of his foot is firmly stroked) and the tongue-thrust reflex (where your baby pushes out his tongue when something is placed on it).

Food and sleep will be most important to your newborn. Newborns sleep approximately 16 to 17 hours in a 24-hour period, but will wake up frequently because of hunger so don't expect much sleep. Feeding newborns takes a priority in a new mother's life and they have such tiny stomachs that expect a hungry baby at least every two hours, especially if you're breastfeeding.

The First Week

Babies can only see eight to 10 inches in front of them in the first week after birth. Your baby will react to the sound of your voice or your smell. She'll probably also react to the bright light of camera flashes when you're taking newborn pictures of your child. Expect eight to 12 bowel movements a day. At first the stool will be thick and dark green, which is the meconium that was building up in her intestines in utero. Breastfeeding babies will have a runny, yellowish stool that looks a little like diarrhea and tends to be softer than the stool of formula-fed babies.

Week Two and Three

Your baby's eyesight is getting clearer at week three but is still fuzzy. He probably likes to held close to hear the beating of your heart. By now you've probably given him a bath or two in the way you were shown by the nurse in the hospital or your midwife. Bathing newborns often needs to be done quickly and some hate the process of being wet and cold. Don't be alarmed if your baby cries a lot when bathed. Simply get the job done quickly so you can hold him close again to warm him up and comfort him.

Week Four

At this point you might be starting to feel slightly better and want to put on some of the cute newborn clothes you received as gifts on your baby instead of the standard sleepers. Your baby might be starting to develop a rhythm of sleeping and eating. He's starting to coo, gurgle and grunt and can hold your gaze. Some babies start to smile now or have already begun squealing or laughing. It might be fun to get professionally done newborn photos now since your baby has filled out a little and is more responsive to the world around him.

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