The nest should not be disturbed whilst the female is nursing and the babies should not be touched as this will change their scent and may cause the mother to reject them. During this period the cage cannot be cleaned. The mother will nurse the babies allowing them to suckle from her teats in order to gain milk. In order to do this she will often lay on the pups but this does not harm them. The mother will also ensure the babies are kept warm whilst she is away from the nest by covering the nest with bedding or shavings and so it is often not possible to see the babies at all. However, they can usually be heard squeaking or suckling if listening carefully.
Young mothers, bred under the age of 4 months, have a greater tendency to neglect, reject or even cannibalise the litter due to their mental or physical inability to cope with rearing the young and so extra care and minimal disturbance are needed. However, even older females may cull a litter to reduce the number of babies reared and studies have shown that females ensure that a larger proportion of males remain in small litters and a larger proportion of females remain in large litters.
The continued feeding of high protein foods to the mother will help her to nurse her babies successfully.
Depending on the colour of the babies the skin will become dark or flesh coloured and so at around 4-6 days the skin may start to pigment, become darker depending on the colour of the baby. At 5-7 days hair begins to emerge and the ears open and by 9-10 days the babies are covered in short fur and the eyelids are developing. At this time the babies may also start wandering around the cage, even though still blind. The female will usually collect the wandering babies and return them to the nest - this may be accompanied by squealing from the babies but is not usually anything to worry about. At 14-16 days of age the eyes open and the babies are covered in fur. It is safe to handle the babies for short periods at this time and so the cage can be cleaned.
As the babies start to eat solid foods they will easily manage some grated carrot, wheatgerm and some scrambled or boiled egg. Plenty of hamster mix and high protein foods should be provided as they grow.
At 3 weeks of age the babies are fully weaned and no longer require the mother's milk although they may still suckle if she has milk available. The babies should be moved into two separate cages (one for females and one for males) to avoid breeding at this young age. This removal from the mother can be a little stressful for the babies and the mother may also take a day or two to adjust to her babies having been removed.
The babies should be kept with their brothers and sisters (in their single sex cages) for another 2-3 weeks before being kept singly. The babies will still benefit from high protein foods and so these should continue to be fed with plenty of hamster mix. During these weeks the babies will adapt to being away from the mother and benefit from a continued care routine whilst they develop their confidence. During this time small squabbles may occur as their solitary nature starts to develop. The babies should be handled regularly once removed from their mother to get them used to being handled before going to new homes.
At 5-6 weeks of age the babies will be sufficiently confident and developed that they can go to their new homes.