A baby is shown sleeping.
Sleeping—the glorious ninth step after baby enters this new world. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

We’ve talked in the past about the golden hour and the importance of skin-to-skin. But did you know that after birth, your baby will go through nine specific steps?

This is an amazing time for the new baby.

We often talk about labor and delivery and all that a new mama goes through, but we don’t often think about the baby and what she is capable of immediately after birth.

These nine steps that a baby goes through have been witnessed for many years, although they were first documented by Ann-Marie Widstrom, PhD, a Swedish nurse-midwife in the 1970s.

A DVD made in 2011 explored these nine steps, and there are many similar videos on YouTube.

These steps always occur in the same order for the baby—and you may find it exciting to watch for them after you’ve given birth.

Step 1: Birth cry

The cry, often called the birth cry, helps the baby expand the lungs. Some babies cry longer than others, but this stage commonly stops when the baby is placed skin-to-skin on the mama.

Step 2: Relaxation

In this second step, the baby is in a relaxed state after the initial crying. She enjoys the sound of her mother’s heartbeat—a sound she’s familiar with from in utero.

Step 3: Awakening

In this third stage, the baby shows movements such as opening her eyes, lifting her shoulders and moving her mouth. These first three stages can all take place in the first three to five minutes. As one author observed, this is when baby sees her mother for the first time.

Step 4: Activity

In this fourth stage, the activity stage, the baby begins rooting with her mouth, looking around more and acting hungry. This usually takes place around eight minutes after birth.

Step 5: Resting

This step can occur at any point, and it often happens between the other stages.

Step 6: Crawling

In this sixth stage—yes, you read that right, the crawling stage—the baby will actually use her feet to scoot her body toward the breast, and she may also bob her head as she tries to locate her mother’s breast. This is typically done about 35 minutes after birth.

In their research, renowned pediatricians Marshall Klaus and John Kennell found the “breast crawl” is associated with a variety of sensory, central, motor and neuro-endocrine components—all directly or indirectly helping the baby move and facilitate her survival in the new world.

Step 7: Familiarization

This is a longer stage that can last up to 20 minutes. The baby is learning by touching, licking, massaging and becoming familiar with the breast. She is in no hurry, just taking her time.

The baby also smells the mother and the breast. There were some studies that had moms wash their breast first, but researchers learned babies prefer the breast just as it is. In fact, by not drying off the baby after birth, as we used to do, the baby helps to transfer the amniotic fluid to the breast. This encourages her olfactory sense and she associates it with her own mom.

According to Klaus and Kennel’s research: “It appears that amniotic fluid contains some substance that is similar to a certain secretion of the breast, albeit not the milk. The baby uses the taste and smell of amniotic fluid on its hands to make a connection with a certain lipid substance on the nipple related to the amniotic fluid.”

Step 8: Latching

This is the beginning of breastfeeding. The baby opens her mouth and latches onto the breast. This can normally take up to an hour after birth. What’s amazing is that if we leave the baby alone, she will self-attach.

It can be difficult, however, for the health care worker to be patient and allow the baby the time needed to go through this process. But your baby knows what to do. Anesthesia that the mother had during labor can make this process take a little bit longer for the baby.

Step 9: Sleeping

This comes about one and a half to two hours after birth. It’s a welcome moment for an exhausted baby and mama.

So there you have it—the nine steps all babies go through immediately after birth. Even after being an OB nurse for many years, I’m amazed at what a baby knows.