A New Parent's Primer on Basic Baby Care
Caring for a newborn is one of life’s biggest challenges. You will probably feel overwhelmed at first, but trust your instincts and use these tips to help you get to know your baby.
Holding Your Baby
Always support your newborn’s head and neck – a baby cannot hold his head up. There are several comfortable ways to carry a baby:
• Lay the baby across one arm with his head in the crook of your elbow and his bottom in your hand. Your other arm is now free to offer support.
• Nestle the baby at your neck. One hand should support the head and neck, and the other should support the baby’s bottom.
Try the following methods to determine which works best for your baby:
• Hold the baby upright with her head against your shoulder and gently pat her back with your other hand.
• Sit the baby upright on your lap, support her chest and head and pat her back.
• Lay the baby on your lap face down, and gently pat her back.
Newborns usually eat every three to four hours, although some feed as often as every two hours.
• Breast-fed babies feed more frequently than bottle-fed infants because breast milk is easier to digest.
• As your baby grows, he will go longer between feedings and feed for a longer time.
• Your baby will let you know when he has had enough, usually by turning away from the nipple or bottle.
• Healthy infants rarely become dehydrated, so it’s unnecessary to give them supplemental feedings of juice or water.
Newborns may wet up to a dozen diapers per day. Urine should be light or dark yellow. A dark amber color means the urine is highly concentrated, a concern only if it persists. Babies will have their first bowel movement in the first few days after birth; it will be thick and dark green or black. Subsequently, breastfed babies’ stools will be a light mustard color and runny. Formula-fed babies’ stools will be tan or yellow, firmer and smellier.
• Never leave a baby unattended on a changing table.
• Have your diapering supplies within easy reach.
• Clean the baby with a damp cloth or alcohol-free wipe.
Dressing Your Baby
Unless the temperature is over 75° F, it’s a good idea to dress babies in one more layer of clothing than you are comfortable wearing.
• Always keep one hand on the baby when dressing her.
• Use a changing surface high enough so that you don’t have to bend over.
• Stretch necklines wide so that they don’t catch on your baby’s ears or nose.
• Get your baby’s arms into sleeves by putting your fingers through the wrist opening, reaching up through the sleeve, grabbing your baby’s hand and gently pulling it through.
Putting Your Baby to Sleep
Infants sleep between 10 and 21 hours daily. Most do not sleep through the night until they are about 4 months old. To teach newborns that daytime is for playing and nighttime is for sleeping:
• Avoid turning up the lights or prolonging nighttime diaper changes.
• Put the baby right back down after feeding and changing him at night.
• If the baby naps longer than three or four hours during the day, wake him up and play with him.
Caution: Putting infants to sleep on soft, puffy bedding increases the risk of death due to suffocation. Be sure to place your baby on a firm, flat mattress. Do not put soft, fluffy items like pillows, comforters or sheepskins under babies while they sleep. Put healthy infants to sleep on their backs.
Calming a Crying Baby
If you have changed and fed your baby and she is still crying, here are a few things you can try:
• Burp your baby frequently, even if she shows no discomfort. If you’re nursing, burp her when you switch breasts. If bottle-feeding, burp her after every two or three ounces. If she fusses, stop the feeding.
• Rock or sway your baby in your arms from side to side.
• Gently pat her back.
• Wrap your baby snugly in a receiving blanket.
• Play music, sing or talk to your baby.
• Take her for a ride in the car.
• Put him in the stroller and go for a walk.
• Give your baby a warm bath.
• Turn on a fan, radio or washing machine.
Newborns need only two or three baths a week. However, be sure to wash your baby’s face every day and the diaper area at each change. Follow these tips:
• Don’t use a portable infant tub until the umbilical cord has fallen off (usually in the first week). Give sponge baths instead.
• If you sponge your baby on a surface that is above the floor, use a safety strap or keep one hand on the baby at all times.
• Set your hot water heater no higher than 120° F.
• When your infant is ready for a baby tub, fill it with about 2 inches of warm – not hot – water. Have a few washcloths and a hooded infant towel on hand.
• Wash the face first, using a damp cloth. Then wash the rest of your baby’s body and diaper area.
Caution: Never leave a baby alone during a bath, not even for a second. If you forget something or the phone rings, wrap the baby in a towel and bring him with you.
• Clean the umbilical cord by dabbing it a few times a day with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol. Continue this until a few days after it has dropped off. To protect the navel, fold down the top of the diaper.
• Redness around the navel, swelling or foul-smelling discharge around the base of the stump, and fever are all signs of infection. Call your baby’s doctor.
If you’ve chosen to have your baby circumcised, here’s how to care for his healing penis:
• A dressing with petroleum jelly is put over the site. For the first week or so, while the penis heals, follow your pediatrician’s advice on changing the dressing.
• Change the baby’s diaper often during that first week. Wash the penis carefully.
• Don’t worry if the tip of the penis is a bit red, or if there’s yellow crust. These are signs of normal healing. Call the pediatrician if redness persists or if you see swelling.
Caring for an Uncircumcised Penis
• Gently washing your baby’s genital area during bath time is sufficient to keep an uncircumcised penis clean.
• The foreskin does not fully retract for several years and should never be forced.
• Make sure the hole in the foreskin is large enough to allow normal urination. If there’s only a trickle, or if your baby seems uncomfortable while urinating, consult your pediatrician.
• Contact your pediatrician immediately if you notice swelling or discharge.
Getting Rid of Rashes
• Treat a diaper rash with a cream or ointment containing zinc oxide. Call your pediatrician if it persists beyond a few days.
• Rashes from spit-up, hot weather or clothes that chafe are very common, as are milia, tiny white dots on a baby’s face. Call your pediatrician only if it doesn’t clear up after a few weeks.
Cradle cap, a type of dermatitis of the scalp, is common in young infants and occasionally can persist through the first year. Try:
• Lightly massaging the area with mineral oil or petroleum jelly.
• Thoroughly shampooing to remove the oil.
A newborn’s fingernails grow quickly and may require weekly trimming. Toenails will probably need trimming once a month.
• Use baby nail clippers or an emery board.
• Trim nails when the baby is asleep or after a bath.
Taking Your Baby’s Temperature
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents not to use traditional glass thermometers due to possible exposure to mercury. Other types of thermometers are safer and have been found to be just as accurate in young children.
Your best bet is to use a digital thermometer that can be used to take temperature readings rectally or in the baby’s armpit. Taking a rectal temperature gives the most accurate reading of body temperature in infants. Taking the temperature in the armpit is the next best choice.
Once your child is older than 3 months, a tympanic (ear) thermometer may also be used, although they tend to give falsely low readings in young children and are not recommended by the AAP for young infants. Likewise, temperature strips, which are placed on the forehead to give a reading, have been found to be poor indicators of body temperature in children.
Consult with your pediatrician before giving your baby medicine.
• Use a medicine dropper to squirt liquid on the inside of the baby’s cheek.
• Mix medicine with food to improve the taste.
• Ask if the medicine is available in a more concentrated form so that you can give less.
Relieving Teething Pain
Children begin teething around 4 to 7 months of age. Symptoms include excessive drooling, swollen gums, loss of appetite, cranky behavior, crying and waking several times during the night.
To ease your child’s discomfort:
• Gently massage his gums with your finger.
• Offer a teething ring or frozen bagel.
• Use a cool compress to soothe swelling.
• If your child has a fever, consult your doctor about the appropriate dosage of acetaminophen.
• Offer cool, soft food, such as applesauce, on a cool spoon.
Clean your baby’s teeth with a washcloth after every feeding. Don’t put your baby to sleep with a bottle filled with milk, formula or fruit juice; use water instead.
Watch for ...
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin resulting from the immature liver’s inability to flush bilirubin out of the baby’s blood. Jaundice is fairly common in newborns and is usually harmless, though serious cases can result in brain damage.
Jaundice is most serious in the infant’s first days of life, but it can be detected any time in the first few weeks. Signs that treatment might be necessary include lethargy, loss of appetite, inability to wake the baby, persistent yellow coloring all over the baby’s body and dehydration.
Don’t Worry If ...
While you should contact your pediatrician about any conditions that worry you, don’t be overly concerned if:
• You notice bruises on your newborn. These are often a result of the trauma of birth and will disappear in a few days.
• Your baby loses weight in his first days. Newborns typically lose up to 10 percent of their weight after delivery, then start gaining it back at the end of their first week.
• Your newborn sneezes. Newborns often sneeze to clear mucous from their noses.
• Your baby has swollen breasts. Because of maternal hormones, babies of both sexes might have somewhat swollen breasts as well as a slight milky discharge from their nipples. Similarly, baby girls might have a slight bloody discharge (known as pseudo-menses) from their vaginas. Both conditions are normal and should pass by 3 weeks of age.
• Your baby is hairier than expected. Most of the hair on your child’s back, shoulders, ears and cheeks will disappear in a few weeks.