What to Expect at the Hospital After Giving Birth

giving birth hospital

Mayte Torres / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

When most of us prepare for the arrival of our little ones, we are primarily focused on the birth itself. It's understandable—delivering a baby is a big deal, and it makes sense to put a lot of thought and planning into getting the best possible outcome. But as you get ready for the big day, it’s helpful to educate yourself on what happens right after the baby arrives.

If you are giving birth in a hospital, it’s a good idea to have some information about what your stay will be like—how long to expect to stay in the hospital before going home, what care will be given to you and your baby, what issues and challenges might arise, and more.

Here's how to get the most out of the experience so that you have a smooth postpartum period.

What to Expect in the First Hour After Birth

A lot happens during your hospital stay, but the first hour after giving birth is usually the most jam-packed and eventful. Here’s what to expect during that time.

Bonding and Breastfeeding

The first hour after birth is often referred to as the “golden hour.” That’s because during that first hour, your baby is usually naturally awake and alert, which makes it a great time to bond, and to attempt breastfeeding for the first time.

Spending that hour skin-to-skin with your baby is a wonderful idea. There are so many benefits for you and your baby, including:

  • Temperature regulation for your baby
  • Less crying overall
  • More stable heartbeat and breathing
  • Increased blood oxygen levels
  • More successful initiation of breastfeeding
  • Decreased stress for parent
  • Increased oxytocin levels, which can aid in breastfeeding and bonding

Skin-to-skin should be possible whether you have delivered vaginally or by C-section, as long as you and your baby are healthy and don’t need emergency medical care after your birth.

Initial Support for Breastfeeding

In that first hour after birth, it is unlikely that you will receive direct care from a hospital lactation consultant. Lactation consultants usually make their rounds at specific times and rarely in the delivery room. However, your delivery nurses have experience aiding new parents as they initiate breastfeeding. They can help you adjust your position, and coax your baby to the breast.

Remember that these initial breastfeeding sessions are about learning and allow for you and your baby to get to know each other. It's OK if things aren't perfect right now. If you need further help during your hospital stay, a lactation consultant or postpartum nurse can help you fine-tune breastfeeding.

Placenta Delivery

Typically within 5 to 30 minutes after birth, you will deliver your placenta. You may feel a contraction or two, but the placenta should come out easily. (It’s usually nothing like delivering your baby!) If it takes more than 30 minutes to deliver your placenta it is considered to be prolonged, and your doctor or midwife may start to consider interventions to get the placenta delivered.

Soon after, you will start to feel post-birth contractions: this is normal, and it means that your uterus is shrinking back to its normal size. Expect post-delivery contractions for the next few days. Sometimes these contractions can be quite painful. If so, you can ask your doctor, midwife, or nurse for pain medication.

Vaginal Aftercare

After a vaginal birth, your doctor or midwife will inspect your vaginal and perineum area for lacerations or tears. If you have a significant tear, you will get a few stitches. You will be given some local anesthesia so that you don’t feel this—it may feel like a light pressure.

Tearing is quite common during vaginal delivery, especially if you delivered a large baby, had a long labor, or had a forceps or vacuum assisted delivery. Most vaginal tears take a week or two to heal.

More severe tears (3rd or 4th degree tears) take longer to heal and may require follow-up treatment with your healthcare provider. Ice packs and sitz baths can be very soothing as your vaginal area heals. Your healthcare provider likely will suggest that you take a stool softener for a few weeks to make bowel movements easier so you do not need to strain against your stitches.

C-Section Aftercare

If you've had a C-section, your placenta will be delivered by your doctor as part of the surgery. After your baby and placenta are delivered, your surgeon will take some time stitching you up.

It's common to experience the shakes after a C-section, and you will need to be monitored for an hour or so after the birth before you are ready to move out of the surgery room. As long as you and your baby are healthy, you can initiate breastfeeding in this first hour, though you will likely need assistance to make this happen.

Tests on Your Baby

Soon after birth, your baby may be cleaned, weighed, and measured. Some parents request that their baby’s bath be delayed until after breastfeeding and bonding have happened. Some babies are born with a little extra fluid in their lungs. If this is the case, your baby’s nose and throat may be suctioned so they can breath more easily.

Your baby will receive an exam to check their reflexes and vital signs. After the exam, they will receive an Apgar score. The Apgar score measures your baby's:

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing
  • Muscle tone
  • Reflexes
  • Coloring

Since babies are born with low levels of vitamin K, which aids in blood clotting, your baby will also be given a vitamin K shot. This protects them against potentially dangerous bleeding. They will also receive antibiotic ointment applied to the eyes, which protects them against harmful bacteria they may have been exposed to in the birth canal. Your baby will also be footprinted and given an identification band.

What to Expect During Your Hospital Stay

After the first initial hour or two, you will likely be moved from the labor and delivery ward to your hospital’s postpartum unit. However, some hospitals combine labor and delivery rooms with postpartum rooms, and don’t require a transfer.

You will likely spend the next few days in the hospital—recovering, getting cared for, and gearing up to go home. Here's what the next few days may look like for you.

How Long Will You Stay?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on several different factors, including the regulations of your hospital, requirements from your insurance company, the type of birth you had, and any post-birth complications you may be experiencing.

For an uncomplicated vaginal birth, you can expect to stay in the hospital for at least 24 hours; however, most people stay for about two days. If you’ve had a C-section, your stay will be three to four days in most cases. If you are experiencing any kind of medical complication, you should expect to stay longer.

Tests and Procedures for Your Baby

During your hospital stay, you should expect your baby’s vital signs to be examined periodically. You will receive visits from nurses to make sure feeding is going well. If you are planning to breastfeed and have any questions or concerns about that, ask to see the hospital’s lactation consultant.

Sometimes lactation consultants can get busy, so request a meeting as soon as possible. It’s best to address any breastfeeding concerns as soon as they come up.

Before your baby can be discharged from the hospital, a few things need to happen:

  • Your baby will need to undergo a newborn screening. This will involve a heel prick blood draw. The screening can detect several disorders, including phenylketonuria (PKU), genetic diseases, and other conditions.
  • Your baby will undergo a full newborn exam, and be weighed again before discharge.
  • It is recommended that your baby get a Hepatitis B vaccination prior to discharge.
  • If you want your baby to be circumcised, this can happen during their hospital stay.
  • Most hospitals won’t let you leave until they inspect the installation of your baby’s car seat.
  • Before you leave, you will need to fill out paperwork for your baby, including their birth certificate and information for their social security card.

Wellness Checks for You

Every parent feels a little different after giving birth. In the immediate aftermath of giving birth, you may feel unsteady on your feet. Take it slow, or ask for help. Passing your first postpartum bowel movement will be an experience as well—give yourself time and a lot of grace.

At the same time, some people feel great after giving birth and are full of energy. Even so, it’s important to take things slow: remember that your body has to heal, and you need to take care of yourself right now.

Throughout your stay, your vitals will be taken periodically. You will be examined to ensure that your uterus is contracting back to its original size, that you are not showing any signs of infection, and that your postpartum bleeding is normal. You will be given breastfeeding pointers, and guidance about cleaning your healing vaginal and perineum area.

If you had a C-section, you should take extra care to take it slow. You will be given guidance on your healing incision, as well as painkillers. You will likely need some help showering at first, and you will be given guidance about how to safely move around as you heal.

In general, you should not be afraid to ask for help from staff during this time, or for pain relievers you might need. This a time to rest and heal whenever possible.

Should You 'Room In' With Your Baby?

These days, most hospitals encourage “rooming in,” where you baby stays in your room in a bassinet or co-sleeper next to your bed. This arrangement allows you to bond with your baby and encourages frequent breastfeeding sessions. There are many benefits to rooming in, and most parents enjoy these first few days of closeness with their babies.

However, rooming in isn’t all or nothing. If you are feeling exhausted and would like to have someone else care for your baby for a few hours, you should ask a nurse if your baby can be cared for in the nursery. Your recovery and rest is important.

If you are concerned about breastfeeding, you can limit the amount of time your baby spends in the nursery, and request that your baby be brought to you to breastfeed when they are showing signs of hunger.

What About Visitors?

Depending on your hospital’s regulation, you may be able to have two or three visitors at a time whenever you feel ready to have them.

Some parents love to be surrounded by visitors, and if that’s the case with you, then go for it. However, sometimes visitors can be a burden. You should not feel as though you need to entertain or please anyone. You can feel free to limit the amount of time that your visitors spend. After all, you need to rest too!

Visitors can also make it more difficult to breastfeed, especially if you don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public or are finding breastfeeding challenging.

What Can You Take With You?

Every hospital does it a little differently, but most hospitals send you home with at least a few “freebies” or samples of postpartum products that may be useful to you as a new parent. Here are a few of the items you can expect to go home with:

  • Peri bottle: This is used to clean your vaginal area after birth, and can be very soothing as your skin or any tears heal.
  • Large maxi pads and mesh underwear: You will be bleeding quite a bit at first, and these are lifesaver. Try dousing a maxi pad in witch hazel and sticking it in the freezer—it will feel so soothing on your healing skin.
  • Donut pillow: This can make postpartum sitting much easier!
  • Nipple cream, feeding logs, and other breastfeeding supplies: These can be helpful, but remember to contact a lactation consultant if you have any breastfeeding issues you aren’t able to easily solve yourself.
  • Breast pump: If you are pumping exclusively or pumping for a newborn, you may be sent home with a hospital grade breast pump.
  • Newborn hat: There is nothing like a classic newborn hospital hat, and it helps regulate your baby’s body temperature.
  • Receiving blanket, diapers, and other supplies: If you are lucky, you will get a head start on this stash.
  • Nasal aspirator: This allows you to gently remove mucus from your baby’s airways.
  • Baby bottles and pacifiers: Having a few extra of these can come in handy.
  • Formula samples: This can be helpful if you are formula feeding. If you are breastfeeding, it’s best to get help with any issues you might have before going right to formula, and formula samples make that tempting.

Getting Help From Nurses and Staff

Having a successful post-birth hospital stay is about learning what to expect, but it’s also about making sure to request help when needed and ask as many questions as arise.

Sometimes the hospital environment can feel busy, and it can be hard to get what you need. Remember, though, that the hospital staff wants to help you, even as they are caring for other patients.

It can be helpful to make a list of needed materials or questions you may have during your stay so that when do you get the attention of a nurse, doctor, or other specialist, you can maximize the time together.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself.

What to Expect at Home

Once you finally make it home, it’s common to feel a little lost. You may continue to have questions about your health and recovery. Most parents don’t have a postpartum visit with their doctor or midwife until about six weeks after birth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in touch with any questions or concerns before that.

Most questions can wait until your doctor or midwife’s office hours. However, if you show signs of a medical emergency, you should contact your doctor right away or visit your nearest emergency room.

These signs might include:

  • Fever
  • Redness or discharge at C-section site
  • Opening at C-section incision site
  • Heavy bleeding—soaking a pad every hour or two
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Red streaking and/or sore spot on the breast combined with flu-like symptoms—all signs of a breast infection
  • Dizziness or blurred vision
  • Painful urination
  • Severe headache
  • Pain or tenderness in legs (signs of blood clot)
  • Heaviness in your uterus
  • Signs of postpartum depression

A Word From Verywell

Remember to continue to take it easy even after you come home. You may not have a staff helping you recover, but that doesn’t mean you should push yourself and get right back on your feet. If you have any help available, accept it. Giving birth is no small thing, and you should take time to let your body recover.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Widström A, Brimdyr K, Svensson K, Cadwell K, Nissen E. Skin-to-skin contact the first hour after birth, underlying implications and clinical practice. Acta Paediatr. 2019;108(7):1192-1204. doi:10.1111/apa.14754

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Apgar scores.

Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.