New baby

You’ve probably been so busy you haven’t stopped to think what happens after your baby's born at a birth centre (midwife-led unit). Here’s an overview...

1. Third stage of labour

The time immediately after birth is when you and your partner (or birth companion) are getting to know your baby. Any care or interventions during this time will aim to cause minimal disruption and separation for mum and baby (NICE, 2017).

For a little while after you give birth, the cord that runs between your baby and the placenta is still pulsating and providing their iron rich blood to them. This usually stops after a few minutes when you may feel an urge to push the placenta out. This is known as the third stage of labour (Begley et al, 2015; NICE, 2017).

Some women prefer to have a ‘physiological’ third stage of labour. This means without drugs and where the cord isn’t clamped until after it’s stopped pulsating. This way, your baby still has all their blood from the placenta.

At other times, ‘active’ management is more appropriate. This means having an injection that encourages contractions so that your placenta comes away from the wall of your womb within 30 minutes. In that situation, the midwife will usually clamp and cut the cord within a few minutes of birth to avoid the drugs from the injection reaching your baby.

For more detail, you can read the article on the third stage of labour. Your health care provider will be able to discuss your options and support you with your decisions (NICE, 2017).

2. Vitamin K injections

You’ll be offered an injection of vitamin K for your baby (McNinch and Tripp, 1991). This helps to prevent a rare bleeding disorder called haemorrhagic disease of the newborn (HDN). Your midwife will discuss this with you while you’re pregnant.

You can decide not to have vitamin K. If you would like to have vitamin K but prefer your baby not to have an injection, your baby can have it by mouth instead (Puckett and Offringa, 2000; NHS Choices, 2016). Taking this option means your baby will need more doses (NHS Choices, 2016).

3. Skin-to-skin contact

When you’ve had your baby, you, your midwife, or your partner can lift them straight onto you so that your skin can be touching theirs. This is known as skin-to-skin contact and has benefits for you and your baby (Moore et al, 2016, NICE 2017). It will help them keep calm, regulate their breathing and helps with the initiation of breastfeeding (NHS, 2019).

To keep you and your baby warm it is likely that you will be covered by a towel or blanket (NICE, 2017). The benefits of skin-to-skin have led the World Health Organisation to recommend it even in suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 (Cochrane, 2020).

As well as stimulating breastfeeding, it can help you give birth to your placenta. Skin-to-skin contact is a great thing for dads and co-parents to do after the birth too, if the birth mother prefers.

4. Cleaning up

Don’t get a shock if your baby is pretty messy when they come out. They’ll have some of your blood on their skin and perhaps vernix – the greasy white substance that protects their skin in the womb.

They may be covered with a towel to dry them and help them stay warm while you have skin-to-skin, which will remove some of the debris. It's not necessary to remove any of this for the baby's health, in fact it's better for the baby to be warm than clean.

5. Breathing

If your baby needs a bit of help to get their breathing established in the first few minutes, they might be taken to another part of the room to have some oxygen. Your baby will be brought back to you as soon as possible though, don’t worry (NHS Choices, 2016; NICE, 2017). If you are not sure about what is going on you can ask the healthcare professionals to explain.

6. Check over

A midwife will examine your baby soon after they’re born to check they’re all ok and see whether they need any extra care (NHS Choices, 2016). To avoid separating the mother and baby during the first hour or so, this is likely to take place a little later (NICE, 2017).

7. Weighing and measuring

Ready for those all-important messages you’ll send announcing your baby’s birth weight, your newborn will be weighed and measured when they are checked over. They’ll also be given a band with your name on to identify them if you have given birth in a hospital or midwife-led unit (NHS Choices, 2016; NICE, 2017).

8. Care for the mother

Yep, it’s not all about the baby…

After birth, the mother's temperature, pulse and blood pressure will be checked and the placenta and membranes examined to check they have all been expelled.

Stitches for tears or episiotomy

Your healthcare provider will explain to you what will happen if you need to be examined to check for tears or grazes, and can provide gas and air for pain relief if needed (NICE, 2017).

If you had small tears or grazes, your midwife might recommend leaving them to heal naturally without any stitches. If you need stitches, they can often be done by the midwife who looked after you during birth.

A large tear or episiotomy, on the other hand, might mean a transfer to a hospital theatre or obstetric unit (NHS Choices, 2016).

9. Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby

Your midwife will be there immediately after the birth to help you feed your baby, ideally within the first hour after birth (NICE, 2017). They will support you with breastfeeding if that’s what you’d like to do, and show you how to express your breastmilk if your baby is unable to feed straight away (NHS, 2019).

If you would like to feed your baby with formula, your midwife can show you how to make up a feed using the correct quantities of formula, how to sterilise bottles and how to store formula milk (RCM, 2014).

10. Going home: how long will I stay in the midwife-led unit or birthing centre?

If you’ve had an uncomplicated birth, and feel happy to do so, you could be back on your own sofa within a few hours. 

Some units invite you to stay for up to 24 hours and you’ll be transferred to a bed in the postnatal area (Which?, 2018). Your partner might be able to stay with you overnight on a chair too, but check beforehand.

Some units also offer private rooms that you can pay to use if they are not being occupied by someone in greater need (Which?, 2018).

This page was last reviewed in April 2021.

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.

Begley CM, Gyte GM, Devane D, McGuire W, Weeks A. (2015) Active versus expectant management of women in the third stage of labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (3):CD007412. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25730178 [Accessed 3rd April 2021]

Cochrane. (2020) Cochrane Review: Early skin‐to‐skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. Available from: https://www.cochrane.org/news/cochrane-review-has-informed-20-sets-guidelines-around-world [Accessed 3rd April 2021]. 

Jordan S, Emery S, Watkins A, Evans J, Storey M, Morgan G. (2009) Associations of drugs routinely given in labour with breastfeeding at 48 hours: analysis of the Cardiff Births Survey. BJOG Available from: https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02256.x [Accessed 12th April 2021]. 

Moore ER, Bergman N, Anderson GC, Medley N. (2016) Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (11):CD003519. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003519.pub4. Available from:  http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003519.pub4/abstract [Accessed 3rd April 2021].

McNinch AW, Tripp JH. (1991) Haemorrhagic disease of the newborn in the British Isles: two year prospective study. BMJ. 303(6810):1105-1109. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1671305/ [Accessed 3rd April 2021].

NHS. (2019) Breastfeeding the first few days. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/breastfeeding/the-first-few-days/ [Accessed 3rd April 2021]. 

NHS Choices. (2016) What Happens Straight After Birth. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/what-happens-straight-after-the-birth/ [Accessed 3rd April 2021].

NICE. (2017) Intrapartum Care for healthy women and babies. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190/chapter/Recommendations#third-stage-of-labour [Accessed 3rd April 2021].  

Puckett RM, Offringa M. (2000) Prophylactic vitamin K for vitamin K deficiency bleeding in neonates. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000(4):CD002776. Available from : http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002776/full [Accessed 3rd April 2021].

RCM. (2014) Infant Feeding Supporting Parent Choice. Available from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/2355/pressure-points-infant-feeding.pdf {Accessed 3rd April 2021]. 

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 30th May 2018].

Related articles

New baby

Courses & workshops

Baby First Aid

Find out more

NCT Early Days course

Find out more

NCT Introducing Solid Foods online workshop

Find out more

Local activities and meetups

NCT Membership
Support NCT Charity by becoming a member
Excited couple holding pregnancy test
Sign up to our weekly Pregnancy & Baby Guide