Hospital after birth

You’ve probably been concentrating more on giving birth than on what happens afterwards. So here’s what to expect in hospital after your baby's born.

Just after your baby’s born

It’s perfectly normal for your to baby look a bit messy when they first emerge. They’ll have some of your blood on their skin and also perhaps some vernix, which is the greasy white substance that protects your baby’s skin in the womb. If you like, you can ask the midwife to give your baby a quick wipe down, though your baby doesn’t mind the mess.

The midwife will check your baby. They might also need to clear mucus out of your baby’s nose and mouth.

"If your baby needs help to get their breathing started, they might be taken to another part of the room to have some oxygen. You’ll get your baby back to you as soon as possible (NHS, 2016a)."

Skin to skin contact

As soon as your baby is born, you’ll probably want to cuddle them straight away. Skin-to-skin contact has fantastic benefits for both you and your baby (Moore et al, 2016). Having your baby skin-to-skin means you have your clothes off your top half and your baby naked on you.

Skin-to-skin contact can stimulate breastfeeding (Harris et al, 2012). It also helps you to give birth to your placenta, but more of that in a minute…

The third stage of labour

When your baby is born, it’ll have the umbilical cord attached to it. This will still be pulsating, pushing blood into your baby. This usually stops after a few minutes and you’ll feel an urge to push the placenta out. This is the third stage of labour.

It’s totally fine – in fact a great idea – to hold your baby while the cord is still attached. The placenta can’t stay attached forever, of course.

You can either wait until the placenta comes out naturally – a physiological third stage – so your baby gets all the blood from the placenta (NICE, 2014b). Or you can choose to actively birth your placenta. This means the midwife gives you an injection that encourages a big contraction to help the placenta come away from the wall of your womb quickly and easily.

If you choose active placenta birthing, the midwife usually clamps the cord after a minute to avoid the drugs from the injection reaching your baby (Harris et al, 2012; NICE, 2014b).

Will my baby be given a vitamin K injection?

All parents are offered a vitamin K injection for their baby very soon after birth. It’s up to you to decide whether your baby has the injection or receives it by mouth instead. The vitamin is important as it helps to prevent a rare bleeding disorder called haemorrrhagic disease of the newborn.

If you choose for your baby to have vitamin K by mouth, they will need further doses (NHS, 2016a).

Weighing and feeding

You might be looking forward to finding out how much your baby weighs; you won’t have long to wait. The midwife will put your baby on the scales soon after it’s born. Sometimes they are measured as well (NHS, 2016a).

"It’s completely expected that you’ll need some help feeding your baby, and your midwife will help you do this as soon as your baby is ready." 

They are on hand to give you support with breastfeeding if that’s what you decide to do (Which, 2018).

What if I need stitches for tears or cuts?

If you have any small tears or grazes, your midwife might recommend you leave them to heal naturally without any stitches. If you have a large tear or an episiotomy, your midwife will give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area and then carefully stitch the tear.

A severe tear will mean you need to be transferred to the operating theatre for the tear to be repaired by an obstetrician under local or general anaesthetic (NHS, 2016).

Staying at hospital after the birth

Some mums are desperate to get home after their baby is born, while others are happy to stay in hospital with help readily at hand. You’ll usually stay in your delivery room or a separate recovery room on the labour ward for a couple of hours after giving birth. It’s a great time for you and your partner to bond with your baby.

You can usually go home within a few hours if you’ve had a vaginal birth and it’s gone smoothly. Do talk to your midwife about the options if you don’t feel ready to leave the hospital and want more time to recuperate.

Mums who want to or are advised to stay a little longer in hospital usually move to a bed in a postnatal area with other new mums and their babies (Which, 2018). Some hospitals have private rooms, which you can pay to use. Often this means your partner can stay with you and your baby (Which, 2018).

If you’ve had a caesarean birth, you might need to stay three to four days in hospital. You might be allowed to go home after 24 hours if you’re recovering well and don’t have any complications (NICE, 2011).

Before you go home, your midwife will check you can walk to the bathroom and do a wee without a catheter before you are discharged. They’ll also make sure you can hold down food and water without being sick.

This page was last reviewed in September 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Which? BirthChoiceUK provides information aimed at helping parents make the right choice about where to give birth.

Harris T, Monro J, Jokinen M. (2012) Evidence based guidelines for midwifery-led care in labour; third stage of labour. The Royal College of Midwives. Available from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/sites/default/files/Third%20Stage%20of%20Labour.pdf [Accessed 1st September 2018].

Moore ER, Bergman N, Anderson GC, Medley N. (2016) Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003519.pub4. Available from: http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003519.pub4/abstract.[Accessed 1st September 2018].

NHS (2016a) What happens straight after birth. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/what-happens-straight-after-the-birth/ [Accessed 1st September 2018].

NHS (2016b) Caesarean section. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/caesarean-section/ [Accessed 1st September 2018].

NICE (2011). Caesarean section: clinical guideline [CG132]. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg132/chapter/1-guidance. [Accessed 31st October 2018]

NICE (2014). Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies: clinical guideline [CG190] Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190/ifp/chapter/delivering-the-place…. [Accessed 31st October 2018].

Which? (2018) Postnatal care, what happens after you’ve given birth. Available from:https://www.which.co.uk/birth-choice/choosing-where-to-give-birth/postnatal-care-what-happens-after-youve-given-birth [Accessed 1st September 2018].

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