Taking Care of a Newborn
6 things to know before bringing your baby home.
Sure, you're worried about dropping the baby, but more importantly, how will you feed, swaddle, hold and soothe your newborn? If only you could bring those maternity nurses home with you. Don't fret. These six tips should help relax any new parent's nerves (and this viral New Moms video might make you laugh about the experience!).
How to Hold a Newborn
Holding your newborn will help you bond. "I encourage moms to hold the baby with one arm, like a football player might [hold the ball]," says Dr. Jeff Levy, a pediatrician and board member for the John La Conti M.D. Child Life Program Fund at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ. "Place the baby in your forearm, facing you, with two to three fingers supporting the head; this way you always have one hand free." And that last part is the key, according to Jennifer Walker, an Atlanta area RN BSN and co-founder of Moms on Call: "The most important thing to remember when holding a baby is to support their head and neck." And, if you're like me, you should also know that newborns aren't nearly as fragile as they look.
How to Soothe a Crying Baby
Without the ability to talk, crying is the only way babies can communicate their needs. At first all your baby's cries will sound the same; they may even alarm you. Then one day, without even thinking about it, you'll hear a certain sound and realize, "He's telling me he's hungry!" or "That means he's tired!" And then you'll ask yourself "How do I know that??" But you just will. What if feeding the baby or putting him down for a nap don't do the trick? If holding the baby isn't working, Dr. Levy suggests taking the baby for a walk or a drive. "Singing, dancing and rocking are also acceptable," he says. (A Reader's Digest study found that babies respond well to reggae music because many reggae songs beat roughly 60 to 80 times per minute, like your heart.) Walker believes in a safe, tight swaddle: "But it has to be done with the correct-sized blanket," she says. She recommends 44" x 44" and suggests practicing your swaddle-folding technique. Burping him frequently might also do the trick.
How to Change Diapers
Changing your baby's diapers every couple of hours, in addition to when they're obviously dirty, can help prevent diaper rash (your pediatrician can recommend a diaper rash ointment brand if needed). Also remember to wipe your newborn from front to back, not the other way around. And, no matter how diligent you may be, messy diaper blow-outs are inevitable. (They're as nasty as they sound. Sorry.) "Make sure to release the inner elastic that often gets 'glued' down to the inner portion of the diaper when they package those diapers so tightly," says Walker. Choosing the best diaper brand for your baby is also important, she says, explaining that really comes down to trial and error: "Babies come in different shapes and sizes." As for cloth or disposable, "both work," Dr. Levy says -- it's really just a personal decision. And, as for what you should expect to find in said diapers? "Babies urinate three to ten times daily and may have one to eight bowel movements daily."
Newborn Feeding Basics
Feeding your baby is often the most nerve-wracking aspect of new parenthood, especially for mothers. "Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition, but there's nothing wrong with formula," Dr. Levy explains. "So don't stress if breastfeeding is not for you." So you know what to expect from a feeding, he says each one generally lasts between twenty and sixty minutes, that you should feed the baby every two to three hours (or more frequently if the baby seems hungry again sooner), and that newborns typically ingest one to three ounces of breast milk or formula at each feeding in the first few weeks. If your baby is sleeping for six to ten hours straight right out of the gate, Dr. Levy says that may be a sign that he's not getting enough calories. Weight gain is another good way to be sure you're on track. Concerned? "The pediatrician is the best resource to make sure that your baby is gaining weight appropriately," Walker advises.
Baby Sleep Tips
"Babies need as much sleep as you can give them," explains Dr. Levy -- sometimes even up to 20 hours a day. In fact, many new parents try to entertain their new houseguest until he's exhausted to the point of being overtired. So encourage your baby to take regular naps: "Keep the environment peaceful, and most will sleep if they are fed well." At first, newborn babies will wake up to eat every 2-3 hours (and then they'll usually need to be burped before being able to fall asleep again). But there's hope yet: "By three-four months of age both breast- and bottle-fed babies can be sleeping from 9-12 hours in a row," says Walker—though your pediatrician will most likely tell you not to worry if your baby doesn't sleep for that many hours consecutively until much later. Some other baby sleep tips: Keep nighttime diaper changes as short as possible. Try to minimize daytime napping and maximize nighttime napping to teach your baby the difference between daytime and nighttime. And, if you're worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), put your baby to sleep on his back, don't keep any plush toys in the crib, use a firm mattress, and don't allow smoking in his presence.
The Real Red Flags
According to Dr. Levy, you should worry if baby's color seems blue, if he's having any difficulty breathing or if there's chronic crying. "Regular pediatric visits are key."