Newborn Baby Health Care

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When you get to bring your newborn home, what fun! But also the baby care really starts in earnest, too. Read on for the ways you can take care of your newborn’s health in the first few weeks.

Umbilical cord care

Your baby is nourished and supplied oxygen for most of their time in utero through the blood vessels of the umbilical cord and placenta, and this lifeline also takes carbon dioxide and waste out of baby’s body to yours, where it can be properly processed and disposed of.  After your baby is born, they don’t need their umbilical cord any more. The cord is usually clamped and cut within the first hour after birth, but then your baby has a small stump and clamp that remains.

Your care provider will let you know exactly how to manage baby’s healing belly button, but the main thing to know is: don’t mess with it too much. If you can, keep clothes loose and diapers out of the way, and keep an eye on it for excessive bleeding and redness. If you have any concerns call your midwife or pediatrician. It’s normal for it to dry out and then come off on its own anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Before my baby’s umbilical stump fell off, it started to smell weird, and I was worried, but it turns out that some weird smells can be normal, too.

First care provider visits

Within a few days of coming home from your birthplace—whether that’s the hospital or a birth center—your baby needs to see a care provider. If you had your baby at home, it needs to happen within a few days of birth. Depending upon your care provider’s policies, who your baby sees at day two or three of life could vary. Many midwives see babies through four or six weeks old, so you would take your baby in to them until your baby is a little older and then care would transfer to your pediatrician. Physicians usually turn over care of the baby right after birth to the baby’s pediatrician. You might be in a practice that does a home visit the first few days and then might also see the baby in office at two weeks, or your care provider might expect to see you in their office at two days.

Care providers like to check in with babies at two to three days old, then at two weeks, one month, two months, four months, six months, nine months, and a year. You can learn more about what to expect from your newborn’s doctor’s appointments in this blog post.

A couple of things to watch out for

Bringing home your new baby can feel overwhelming. In addition to the all the regular newborn baby care, such as feeding, diapering, and getting baby to sleep, there are a few health-related things to watch out for as well. We’ll discuss group B strep and jaundice here, and your care provider will let you know if these or anything else is a concern. If you’re not sure, it’s always okay to ask.

Jaundice—which shows up as a yellowing of the baby’s skin—is fairly common in newborns. It’s caused by bilirubin, a chemical in the blood that the liver removes. Before birth, the pregnant person’s liver does the work to remove bilirubin from the blood, but after birth, baby’s liver has to do it. Some babies’ livers just take a while to become efficient at removing the bilirubin. If your baby is jaundiced, it’s important to keep an eye on it and check in with your care provider about what they recommend. Sometimes it’s enough to hold your diapered baby in the sun coming through the window, and sometimes babies go back to the hospital for light therapy, both of which help the bilirubin break down. You can learn even more about jaundice in this blog post.

If you tested positive for group B strep (GBS) during pregnancy, your care provider will let you know and likely offer you antibiotics during labor. It is very rare that your baby would have adverse effects from GBS, but if you were positive during pregnancy, be aware that there is a possibility that baby could become infected. Common signs of infection are trouble breathing, fever, and difficulty waking them. Call your pediatrician immediately if you have any concerns at all about your baby’s health.

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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