A nurse holds the head of a newborn boy while another medic cuts the umbilical cord at Tehran's Parsian Hospital.

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After Delivery

Once the head emerges, the doctor may pause to suction amniotic fluid from the baby's nose and mouth before helping the rest of the body to emerge. There are still some mild contractions, but then the placenta is usually delivered with a few pushes. The uterus continues to contract for a few minutes to help seal blood vessels. The placenta is examined within a day or two of delivery to check for abnormalities and find out what went wrong if there were problems during the pregnancy. It's usually discarded afterwards, but some people have other uses for the placenta. (See Should you save your baby's umbilical cord blood? for more information.)

Gone are the days when babies were held upside down and smacked on the bottom after emerging from the womb. Now they're normally laid on the stomach or chest of the mother while the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. What happens next depends on whether the mother has expressed preferences in a birth plan and the hospital's or birthing center's procedures. Typically, he or she is cleaned, given a battery of health tests and medications, weighed and measured. The mother may choose to refuse or delay some or all of these things, or request that her partner or someone else be present for them. Refusing some, like the application of silver nitrate or antibiotics to the baby's eyes to prevent infections, require the mother to sign a waiver first.

A freshly born baby

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Some mothers want the baby to stay in their room instead of a nursery, or only sleep in the nursery at night. Not all hospitals will allow this, but there can be a partner or spouse present at all times in the nursery. Breastfeeding mothers may also specify that no bottles or pacifiers be given to the baby (which can make it harder for the baby to learn how to breastfeed, called nipple confusion).

The most important thing is to be educated about the hospital's or birthing center's practices and for the mother to figure out exactly what she wants. This can mean the difference between a happy childbirth experience and a disappointing one.

For even more information about pregnancy, babies and childbirth, click on the links on the next page.