Most feline births go smoothly, without intervention from an owner. After the kittens arrive, keep a close eye on them to make sure they are nursing and staying warm. Kittens start nursing shortly after birth, when the mother is finished delivering her litter or sometimes beforehand. If kittens don't nurse within a few hours after arriving into the world, call your vet.
Here Come the Kittens
Feline gestation lasts about two months. You'll know delivery is imminent when your pregnant cat becomes restless, meows for no apparent reason and licks her privates. She might make a few trips to the litter box without eliminating. Her teats could leak milk. Provide her with a newspaper-lined box in a quiet area in which to deliver, although she might decide to have kittens in another location. When she retreats to her "nest" and her abdomen starts contracting, kittens will soon arrive. The entire process can take several hours. Some queens -- the formal term for mother cats -- take a break in between delivering kittens. They might start nursing and cleaning the babies who have already arrived, then deliver a few more. If this interruption lasts more than four hours, contact your vet.
The Importance of Colostrum
It's vitally important that kittens receive colostrum, the first milk produced by queens within 24 hours after delivery. This rich milk is full of antibodies that provide some immune protection to newborn kittens. Newborns must consume colostrum in their first day of life. Their intestines can't absorb the antibodies properly after that period.
Fading Kitten Syndrome
Normal newborn kittens stay together as a litter, pretty much nursing and sleeping for the first few weeks of life. You shouldn't hear more than the occasional mew from them. If a newborn cries or moves around a good bit, doesn't nurse or stays away from his litter mates, that's a sign that something's wrong. Take this kitten to the vet immediately. He might be suffering from fading kitten syndrome, or failure to thrive. Such kittens can die quickly, even with veterinary attention.
In Case of Emergency
Most mother cats provide plenty of milk and nurture their kittens well. There are always the exceptions -- those who don't have sufficient milk or want nothing to do with the newborns. Mother cats can also get sick or die. In case any of these situations arise, be prepared. Have commercial kitten milk replacer, eyedroppers and nursing bottles on hand. You can find these items at pet and feed supply stores, or your vet should have them in stock. Your vet might also know of a foster mother cat or two who could nurse additional kittens. If a foster mother isn't available, you'll have to feed the kittens every couple of hours for their first 2 weeks. After each feeding, place the kitten gently on your shoulder and rub his back so he burps. Then, take a warm washcloth and gently rub his genital area. This action simulates the mother cat's licking, which causes newborn kittens to pee and poop.