What is the neonatal period? (2023)

The neonatal period is the first four weeks of a baby's life, regardless of whether the baby was born prematurely or prematurely. It is a time of rapid change and development as patterns for childhood such as food intake and attachment are formed. It is also the time when there is a higher risk of postpartum complications or when birth defects or congenital diseases can be first detected.The neonatal period includes the perinatal period, which is the first period after birth.

What is the neonatal period? (1)

Importance of the newborn period

Newborns, also known as newborns, are closely observed for the first few hours of life. This applies in particular to premature births that occur before the age of 37.ºweek of pregnancy or if complications have arisen during childbirth. A developing baby will experience significant growth during pregnancy, including the final months and weeks. Premature babies can have immature lungs, difficulty regulating body temperature, poor feeding and slow weight gain. In 2018, prematurity and low birth weight accounted for about 17% of infant mortality (death before the age of one).

Immediately after birth, a medical team quickly assesses the baby's vital signs, alertness, and overall health. If the baby has trouble breathing, supplemental oxygen and other emergency care can be provided. You can hear the baby assign an Apgar score based on:

  • Herz
  • heartbeat
  • reflexes
  • Tono muscular
  • breathing

Numerical scores are added for each category and re-scored every five minutes for the first 20 minutes of the baby's life. Low levels or problems in any of these areas may mean that the baby needs special attention. The goal is for the baby and parents to stay together during this time and begin feeding and bonding.

risks and complications

The neonatal period is the time of greatest risk after birth. Globally, 2.4 million babies died in their first month of life in 2019.Mortality rates during this period have declined in recent decades, but complications during pregnancy and childbirth remain important, with 75% of infant deaths occurring in the first week of life.

With proper prenatal care, some complications or conditions can be detected before birth, and babies can be classified as high-risk even before birth. This gives medical teams adequate notification and time to ensure that the supplies needed to care for the baby are available at the time of birth.

Even for babies who were not classified as high risk before birth, healthcare professionals will closely monitor the baby after birth and ideally detect any illnesses or complications within the first two hours of life.

Possible complications or problems during the birth process and the newborn period are:

  • birth defect
  • birth injuries
  • difficulty breathing
  • Infection
  • jaundice
  • low birth weight
  • low blood sugar
  • Neurological problems likecerebral palsyor seizures
  • feeding difficulties
  • lung infectionInhaling liquids during labor
  • Problems with temperature control
  • developmental delay
  • eye problems
  • hearing problems

Babies who require extensive care due to preterm birth or other neonatal complications may need treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit after birth. If there are no complications, the delivery team begins planning to transfer the babies to postnatal care within hours of delivery.Hospitals in the United States are required to provide at least 48 hours of postpartum hospitalization for a vaginal delivery and 96 hours for a cesarean.

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What happens in the newborn period?

A lot happens during the newborn period, especially right after birth. While every baby moves at a different pace, here are some common milestones to look forward to during this time.

without hospitals

Your baby will undergo a range of tests and screening for common illnesses, hearing problems and more. You will also receive a series of vaccinations. You may be asked to choose a pediatrician before delivery, or medical staff can help you find one. Before you leave the hospital, you should make a follow-up plan for your baby.

week 1

In the first week after birth, you and your baby get to know each other. Bonding and feeding are the main tasks in this first week. Whether you're breastfeeding or using formula, urine and stool samples will indicate if your baby is getting enough nourishment.

It is common for babies to lose weight after birth. Don't worry if your baby is also sleeping a lot during this first week. It is not uncommon for newborns to sleep 14 to 17 hours a day in the first few weeks of life. But they also wake up every two to four hours to feed.Expect your first check-up visit with a pediatrician outside of the hospital three to five days after the birth.

week 2

Sleeping and eating are irregular during this phase. Your baby could have their first growth spurt, reach their birth weight, and more. Most babies consume 16 to 24 ounces of breast milk or formula per day during this time. Talk to your doctor right away if you have trouble feeding or notice a decrease in wet or dirty diapers.

week 3

Feeding and sleeping schedules are still inconsistent, but your baby will begin to hone his muscle control at this point. Most babies start raising their heads and should have regular "tummy time" to help them get stronger. Your pediatrician will closely monitor your baby's weight and growth in the first few weeks of life to identify any feeding problems at an early stage.

week 4

You have officially reached the end of the neonatal period. For many parents, eating and sleeping becomes routine at this stage. Your baby may respond better to you as their senses, such as hearing and sight, develop. You may even see patterns in your baby's noises and cries. At this point, expect another visit to your pediatrician to check your baby's growth, discuss the next level of care, and get additional vaccinations.


Dealing with the challenges of the newborn period can be difficult. Once you have given birth to your newborn, you will face hormonal and physical challenges and possible complications from birth. Even parents who haven't delivered their babies yet can have problems with sleep schedules, feeding schedules, or even bonding.

Talk to your doctor if you're having trouble taking care of your baby. Make sure you set up a good support system before the birth and don't be afraid to ask for help. Watch out for the signs of postpartum depression. Your pediatrician and hospital should discuss basic newborn care with you and help you and your baby track growth and development.

A word from Verywell

The newborn period is an exciting time as your baby begins to grow and you begin to bond with them, but it can also be challenging due to irregular sleep and feeding schedules. Caring for a newborn while navigating new parenthood, feeding and sleeping schedules, and life in general can be difficult. Don't be afraid to ask family, friends, community services, and even your pediatrician for help and support.

7 sources

Verywell Health uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. read ourspublishing processto learn more about how we review our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Medline Plus.newborn.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.premature birth.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics/American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.Guidelines for perinatal care.

  4. World Health Organization.Newborns: Improving Survival and Wellbeing.

  5. Rainbow Teaching Hospitals for Babies and Children.Newborn Complications We Treat.

  6. National Conference of State Legislators.Rules for the period of stay in the maternity hospital.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics.Opening hours of the AAP child care.

What is the neonatal period? (2)

VonRachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse living near Cleveland, Ohio.

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