Your newborn: Bringing baby home from the hospital
Healthy, full-term babies (at least 37 weeks’ gestation) can usually go home from the hospital sometime between 24 and 48 hours after birth. Some late preterm babies (born between 34 and 36 weeks’ gestation) may be healthy enough to go home after a short stay (at least 48 hours) as well.
Babies born by Caesarean section (and their mothers) or babies who have health complications usually stay in the hospital a bit longer.
Babies born before 34 weeks’ gestation need longer in-hospital care. If your baby was born this early, you may feel particularly nervous about bringing him home. Your health care team will work closely with you to develop a plan that helps you understand your baby’s unique health needs and feel confident about bringing your baby home.
What should I do to prepare for my baby?
Many new parents take prenatal classes before the birth of their first baby. The classes help prepare you for the birth and provide information about basic newborn care. While each class is different, they usually include advice on feeding, common illnesses, day-to-day care, and car seat safety.
Consider learning about resources for new parents in your area. Many local public health offices offer support with breastfeeding and can answer questions about your baby’s health and well-being. Community centres often have programs where you can meet other new parents.
Before your baby is born, you should decide who will provide your baby’s regular ongoing health care. In most parts of Canada, your baby will see either a paediatrician or family doctor for routine care.
Some other decisions to make before your due date:
- whether to breastfeed, (breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for your baby)
- if you have a boy, whether to have him circumcised,
- sleeping arrangements,
- how to prepare pets and siblings for the new family member, and
- whether to use cloth or disposable diapers.
The busy days after childbirth are not the best time to make these decisions. If you talk to your partner ahead of time and are comfortable with your decisions, you can focus on your baby in his first days instead of these issues.
To bring your baby home in a vehicle, you must have a properly installed rear-facing car seat. Be sure you know how to safely secure your baby.
What will happen before I bring my baby home?
Before you go home, hospital staff will check that your baby:
- has a normal temperature,
- is not at high risk of developing jaundice,
- has had a wet diaper and passed a bowel movement,
- has received all necessary medications, including vitamin K to prevent bleeding and an ointment to prevent eye infection,
- has received any necessary vaccines (such as hepatitis B),
- is eating well and has had at least two successful feedings,
- has had all screening tests for certain treatable diseases. All newborns in Canada are tested for hypothyroidism (a disease caused by not producing enough thyroid hormone) and PKU (a disease where the body cannot use a natural amino acid important for baby’s growth). In some provinces and territories, babies are screened for other conditions as well and may receive a hearing screening test. Your doctor can tell you which tests your baby will receive.
If your baby was born preterm, doctors will make sure your baby is healthy enough to go home. This includes making sure your baby:
- is breathing well,
- has a stable body temperature
- is feeding well, and
- has not lost a lot of weight after birth or is steadily gaining weight.
Preterm babies also have newborn screening and hearing tests done before discharge home. Depending on how preterm your baby was, other tests may be done as well.
Your own doctor will check to make sure you are well. New moms should know the signs and symptoms of any complications they could have, feel comfortable caring for their new baby, and have started to feel comfortable with breastfeeding before leaving the hospital.
Don’t feel rushed to leave the hospital. Be sure all your questions are answered before you go home.
What should we remember when we get home?
It’s normal to feel nervous when you first bring your baby home. Try to protect this time for you and your family so that you can adjust to all the changes.
- New babies can get sick easily. Try to keep your baby away from anyone who has cold or flu symptoms, especially in the winter months.
- Wash your hands often to help protect your baby. Ask others to do the same.
When should I take my baby for a first doctor’s visit?
A health care provider should check your baby within the first 48-72 hours of leaving the hospital or at any point if you feel your baby isn’t well.
If your baby was born preterm, you will develop a plan for follow-up care with your health care team before your baby leaves the hospital. They will also make sure you recognize the early signs or symptoms of any problems.
At the first visit your health care provider will:
- Weigh your baby and measure her length and head circumference, if this was not done in hospital.
- Check for signs of jaundice.
- Check on how feeding is going for you and your baby.
- Do a physical health exam.
- Ask how the family is adjusting to the new baby.
- Complete any screening tests not done at the hospital.
This visit doesn’t have to be with your regular paediatrician or family doctor. The exam can be done by the doctor at the hospital where you gave birth, your midwife or a public health nurse. And it might be at home, in the office or in a hospital clinic. If your baby doesn’t see her regular doctor at this visit, it will happen soon after.
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Community Paediatrics Committee
Fetus and Newborn Committee
Last updated: January 2014