After waiting (maybe not so patiently!) for 9 months, the moment has arrived: Your baby is finally here! Now that you’re holding your little one in your arms, you’ve officially entered the neonatal period.

What is this? How long does it last? What can you expect? Don’t worry, we’ve got answers.

The neonatal period is the first 28 days — the first 4 weeks — of a baby’s life no matter whether they came early, late, or right on their expected due date.

The first 28 days after birth are an important time of rapid growth and development. These days also set the stage for your baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns to come.

While the neonatal period is one of bonding and growth, it’s also a period of caution. During the neonatal period, there is a risk of infection, and many congenital problems, if present, are discovered.

If you gave birth in a hospital, you’ll spend at least part of this week being cared for by the nurses and doctors there.

In the first few days after birth, medical professionals will carefully examine your newborn and may perform a number of tests and screenings to assess their health, such as:

  • Hearing screening. Performed before a baby leaves the hospital or birthing center, a newborn hearing screening tests your baby’s hearing.
  • Blood tests. A few drops of blood are taken from a prick made in your baby’s heel. The sample is sent to a state lab to determine if your baby has one of a few rare but serious health conditions.
  • Oxygen screening. During this painless test, a device called a pulse oximeter is fastened to your baby’s arm and foot to measure the amount of oxygen in your baby’s blood. This test helps doctors see if your child has a congenital heart defect.

The first week of life is one of sleeping and feeding. It’s expected for newborns to sleep 14 to 17 hours a day. Unfortunately, this may not always be when you want, because they’ll need to feed every 2 to 4 hours until they are back at birth weight.

Remember, “back to sleep.” Always put your baby on their back to sleep, and be sure they are on a firm surface with no blankets or pillows.

As soon as you leave the hospital, you can also begin to let your baby spend short periods of time on their tummy while they are awake by letting them rest on your chest or on a blanket on a flat surface while someone is with them.

This tummy time is important to help your baby develop muscle strength in their head, neck, and upper body that prepares them to crawl.

It’s common for little ones to lose weight in the first few days immediately after birth. Your baby’s doctor will be keeping an eye out to make sure your baby’s weight doesn’t dip more than 10 percent below their birth weight.

During the first few hours and days of your baby’s life, there are quite a few changes going on in their body. Immediately after delivery, when the umbilical cord is clamped, your baby takes their first breath, and their lungs begin to work for the first time. Fluid drains from their lungs. Their heart changes so oxygen-rich blood flows to the lungs.

Your baby’s kidneys begin to filter their blood. Their digestive tract begins to work by shedding a thick substance, called meconium, that has lined their digestive tract while they were in the womb.

Your baby’s skin may be thin, peeling, or covered in fine hairs. Their skin will begin to change during the early neonatal period.

You’ll need to take your baby to visit their doctor or other healthcare professional during their first week at home — around 3 to 5 days of life — for their first well-child visit.

If you are the birthing parent, your child’s doctor will likely also talk with you about how you are feeling and adjusting to being a new parent. If you need any support at this time, they can get that started for you.

While it may seem like your baby is still in a constant cycle of sleeping and eating every 2 to 3 hours, by the end of week 2, your little one should be back to their birth weight.

That’s an exciting milestone! It typically means you can stop waking them for feedings every few hours during the night. Though, they’ll likely still wake up pretty frequently on their own.

If you are breastfeeding, it may still feel new and difficult. Your nipples may be sore too. Meeting with a lactation consultant can help with any nursing difficulties. If you are feeding formula, discuss any concerns with your child’s pediatrician.

If your baby had a circumcision, it will likely finish healing this week.

Call your doctor or another healthcare professional if you notice a decrease in the number of wet diapers your little one is producing, or if they seem uninterested in feeding for several feedings in a row. This can be a sign of illness or a feeding issue that needs to be addressed.

Your little one may start a growth spurt this week that causes them to cluster feed. This can make feeding and sleeping feel erratic.

You may also notice that your baby is trying to lift their head. It’s important to continue or expand tummy playtime with your baby. It helps build muscle strength and should be offered several times every day.

If it hasn’t happened before, the stump of your baby’s umbilical cord will likely fall off this week as it heals.

By week 4, your little one may seem more alert and expressive as their hearing and vision continue to develop.

Toward the end of the 4th week, you and your little one may be finding your groove. You may even feel like you’re able to start identifying the meaning behind some of their cries.

Don’t worry if this isn’t the case just yet, though. Many factors can influence how you are feeling and the bond you’re forming with your baby.

Toward the end of the first month, it’s time for another visit to your pediatrician for a check-in. You’ll likely discuss your baby’s vaccination schedule. Their first vaccination, hepatitis B, was likely given in the hospital. The next set of vaccinations will begin when they are between 6 weeks and 2 months old.

Some complications that can appear during the neonatal period include:

The first month after a baby arrives is the riskiest. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.4 million infants died in the first month of life worldwide in 2019. Additionally, 75 percent of the neonatal deaths occurred in the first week, with approximately 1 million newborns dying in the first 24 hours.

This is why well-child visits during the neonatal period are so important.

Much has been done to reduce the number of infant deaths around the world, and particularly those in the neonatal period. Knowing the types of complications that can arise and receiving prompt medical care is vital.

If you are the birthing parent, in the first month your body will be recovering from any labor and delivery complications. It will also be experiencing a range of hormonal shifts, which can leave you feeling all the emotions.

Postpartum discomforts can vary, but uterine pain and vaginal discharge are expected as your uterus returns to its prepregnancy size. If you had a cesarean delivery, you should not lift anything heavier than your baby during this time.

It’s important to refrain from placing anything in your vagina until you have clearance from your doctor. This is usually around 6 to 8 weeks postpartum.

During the neonatal period, the non-birthing parent may also experience a range of emotions. They may find themselves adjusting to a new sleep schedule, feeding the baby, and changing diapers, too. They may find themselves struggling to bond or experiencing some depression symptoms as well.

All of this is normal, and treatment is available that can help you. Reach out to your doctor for assistance if these feelings begin to interfere with daily life functions.

Adding a new member to your family is a big adjustment for everyone!

Your little one will be going through a period of intense growth in the neonatal period, which is the first 4 weeks after their birth. It’s a critical period in a baby’s life, so it’s important to notify their doctor right away if there are any health concerns.

But remember, your well-being matters too. It’s also important to take care of yourself and seek assistance for any physical or emotional concerns that may arise during this time.