Newborn Baby Care for After Birth

You have spent time preparing for your baby—readying their nursery, washing and folding tiny, adorable clothes, and installing the car seat—but once baby is born, now it is time to actually care for him or her. One common complaint from new parents is that their baby does not come with an instruction manual. In this post, we will discuss a few of the most important things to know about caring for your newborn.

Soon After Birth

The first things to consider after birth and before you leave the hospital are:

  • Do you want to delay cord clamping? Studies have shown that delaying clamping your baby’s umbilical cord—in situations where it’s possible and safe—can have benefits for baby, such as greater birth weight and better ability to regulate body temperature. This option is something you can discuss with your care provider in advance and include in your birth preferences.
  • Whether you will opt in to the vitamin K shot, antibiotic eye ointment, or circumcision (if you’re having a boy baby).
  • How do you want to feed your baby? If you’d like to try breastfeeding, it is best to start as early as you can. If you are planning to formula feed or combination feed your baby, it is good to decide that in advance, too.
  • Can you delay your baby’s first bath? There is good evidence that delaying their first bath can benefit baby. If it’s an option, this might be a decision you want to make.

The First Days At Home

Getting baby home starts a seemingly endless cycle of baby feeding, sleeping, and needing fresh diapers. While baby doesn’t come with a manual, there are a few guidelines you can keep in mind for those first few days.

Baby should eat at least every two to three hours at first, and many babies eat much more often or do what is called “cluster feeding,” where they eat semi-constantly for hours at a time. Cluster feeding is normal, especially in the early days, and if you are breastfeeding, any time baby feeds helps to regulate your milk supply.

But how to know if your baby is eating enough? Weight gain and soiled diapers are the best answer to this question. It is normal for newborns lose some weight after birth, but they should regain it by the time they are two weeks old. Infants usually have one poop and one pee diaper on day 1, two of each on day 2, and three of each on day 3. By days 4 and 5, when breast milk comes in, baby will likely have one to three seedy, yellow poops and six or more soaking wet pee diapers per day. If you have any concerns about feeding your baby, talk to a lactation consultant and your pediatrician as soon as you can.

If you need to wake baby to eat, a diaper change usually works. Firm pressure on the back while eating can help keep them awake. It’s okay to nurse them to sleep at first (and often impossible not to).

In terms of baby sleep, you probably decided ahead of baby’s birth where you’d like them to sleep. With a little luck, your baby will agree with your decision, but you might have to be a bit flexible while they adjust to life on the outside. Infants often have a strong startle reflex. Swaddling may or may not help. Some babies like white noise or shushing and some don’t. Remember that baby has been putting him or herself to sleep for months. Give them chances to settle on their own with you nearby and chances to show you what they prefer in terms of support to get to sleep.

One big challenge to newborn sleep is to not keep baby awake too long; an overstimulated or overtired baby may have a harder time settling. Most newborns only have wake times of 45 minutes, which includes eating, diapering, and alert time, and sleep 10 minute to three or four-hour stretches, for a total of 16 hours per day. Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep on a flat surface without blankets, pillows, or loveys. Wearable blankets and sleep sacks are safe options that will keep baby warm without the risk from loose blankets.

Other ways to physically take care of your baby include:

  • Burping baby or bicycling baby’s legs after feedings can help with gas.
  • Avoid clothing or diapers contacting the umbilical stump and give only sponge baths until it dries and falls off naturally.

Some babies cry often, and most babies cry at least a little bit. Crying is baby’s main way of expressing him or herself, so try not to take it personally. Part of getting to know your baby is figuring out how they like to be soothed, but this blog post has lots of ideas that you can try.

Remember to take care of yourself as you’re taking care of your baby, and remember that you can always contact your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your baby.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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