After the child has spent nine months safe in the womb the parents can finally see what has been occupying them all those months – and will continue to occupy them for much of their lives.
The child suddenly has to cope with all sorts of experiences that are largely or wholly new to it: light, noise, cold, and breathing and feeding on its own.
The child’s reaction to a wide range of stimuli largely takes place through inborn reflexes. Its behaviour is unconscious and involuntary: it can react to pain or hunger only by; touching a corner of its mouth automatically results in the baby’s turning its head in search for a nipple.
Reflexes of this kind are of vital importance for a newborn, who is entirely dependent on adults.
Theunconsciously brings about major changes in its environment. Adults are suddenly turned into parents. With the birth of a first child a family is born, imposing responsibilities on the parents that they did not formerly have.
It is often thought that only mothers exhibit a natural caring response to their newborn child, in what is known as the ‘maternal instinct’.
However, if a father is given the opportunity to care for his helpless baby it is found that this elicits exactly the same kind of feelings and behaviour from him.
The most important thing in caring for a child is that the parents should learn to follow their instincts and surround their child with love and warmth. If they do so, there might sometimes be uncertainty about practical problems, but a somewhat awkward approach now and again will not harm the child.
As soon as a baby is born, the parent’s first question will probably be ‘is it all right?’. The fact that they have a normal, healthyis usually more important than its sex or who it looks like. To reduce needless anxiety it is therefore a good idea for prospective parents to get to know what a healthy baby looks like.
When the baby emerges, usually head first, he or she will look rather bluish in colour, but as soon as a breath or two have been taken, the colour will quickly become pink. The midwife or doctor will hold the baby and then clip and cut the umbilical cord and, all being well, will probably give the baby to the mother (or father) to hold. Meanwhile, they will quickly assess his or her condition, using the ‘Apgar’ score. This system evaluates five characteristics – skin colour, respiratory (breathing) rate, muscle tone, response to stimulation and pulse (heart rate). Each of these is graded 0,1 or 2. The maximum score for a healthy, pink, active baby, who breathes well andimmediately, responds quickly to having its foot touched, and has a heart rate over 100 beats a minute 2 on each count, making a total of 10.
At delivery the baby’s temperature is virtually the same as anybody else’s, about 37°C. There is then a fall in temperature at first, which is usually restored during the next eight hours.