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SALT LAKE CITY — Amid the fantastic joy you feel, bringing home a new baby can also be a bit overwhelming. To help you navigate the waters of new parenthood with ease, check out these 10 essentials for newborn care.
1. Spoil your baby
You cannot spoil a newborn. Hold your sweet baby as much as you can. Respond promptly to her cries. Newborns are too small for “sleep training” and need to know they can trust and attach to caregivers. So when baby cries, pick her up, soothe her and solve whatever her problem is. Sometimes babies cry simply because they are alone, bored, or under- or over-stimulated. Answering her only form of communication tells her you are the one she can count on.
Babies are used to being cradled tightly and warmly. So, don’t be afraid to swaddle your newborn. If it’s warm weather, don’t overdress but still swaddle. Dress her appropriately for the weather taking into account a blanket wrapping her. Most newborns prefer to be swaddled tightly with their arms bent across their chests. If your little one fusses or complains, try swaddling her and then walking or bouncing her to sleep, with her on her side in your arms. She will likely calm right down. Babies laid unwrapped flat on their back experience what’s called the Moro reflex which is an inborn instinct to try to catch her when falling. A baby on her back often feels like she’s falling, which will wake her up and cause her to cry. A side hold with a swaddle keeps her arms from flailing out and making her think she’s falling. For more information see www.happiestbaby.com.
Newborn babies need to sleep about 16 to 18 hours a day. They spend far more time asleep than awake. Most newborns prefer to be “parented” to sleep, meaning, rocked, nursed or walked until they are asleep. Going back to the idea that you can not spoil a newborn, there is nothing wrong with parenting your baby to sleep as a newborn.
Most newborns prefer to be "parented" to sleep, meaning, rocked, nursed or walked until they are asleep. Going back to the idea that you can not spoil a newborn, there is nothing wrong with parenting your baby to sleep as a newborn.
In order for your baby to distinguish night and day, during night wakings, do not turn on the lights. Instead use a nightlight and keep it very low. Don’t talk to your baby and avoid eye contact. Both of these actions stimulate baby into a more awake state. Simply change his diaper, feed him, change his clothes if necessary and immediately set to getting him back to sleep.
During the day, keep things light. Don’t whisper and keep things deadly silent. Use a chipper, happy voice during awake times so he learns that light is awake time and dark is sleepy time.
To prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests newborns sleep in their own crib with no loose clothing, blankets or bumpers. They suggest putting a newborn to sleep in your room with a pacifier and a fan.
Bed sharing (also called co-sleeping) is not recommended by the AAP. However many parents admit to bed sharing at least some of the time. If you are going to bed share, please do so as safely as possible. Visit www.cosleeping.nd.edu for proper bed-sharing information.
Breastfeeding is absolutely the very best way to feed your newborn baby. Breast milk’s ingredients and health benefits cannot be duplicated. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, please seek out an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for help.
Breastfeeding is indeed natural. It can also be difficult and even painful at times while you and your baby learn how it all goes together. Staying calm, taking your time and accepting that you might do nothing else but nurse your baby for many weeks is the best way to not get frustrated. Don’t plan to resume “normal” life soon after birth. Normal life will never be the same as it was, and breastfeeding takes practice to get it right.
If you can’t breastfeed or choose not to, choose a formula by trying out different brands and types until you find one that works best with your baby. Also, formula feeding does not mean you can’t experience bonding while feeding your baby. Hold your baby close, talk to him, make eye contact. Never ever prop a bottle up and leave a baby alone. It can cause choking and suffocation.
Accept help when it’s offered. Allow your mother-in-law to vacuum, do dishes and do laundry. Some people send out emails to friends and family stating that they are welcome to come by for a visit but that if they stay more than 15 minutes they can choose a chore out of the chore jar. Perhaps you needn’t go to that extreme, but allowing people to help (such as bring a dinner, run an errand) allows you to enjoy your baby and for them to feel helpful and useful.
6. Bathing baby
Babies are blessed with a natural cleanliness. I know this might seem hard to believe when they spit up everything they just ate or poop straight out the sides of their diapers, but bear with me. Newborns only really need to be bathed when they are noticeably dirty or stinky. Newborns do not need a bath each day. They might go through four outfits in an hour, but they probably won't need to bathe.
Also, until your baby’s umbilical stump falls off, you can sponge her off if she gets stinky. Umbilical stumps don’t really require any care at all (other than not catching it in a zipper!). Some pediatricians suggest swabbing it with an alcohol wipe to help the drying process move along; others say leave it alone. Ask your pediatrician what he or she recommends.
When bathing a baby, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared so everything is at your fingertips. Water temperature is, of course, vital to ensure baby’s comfort and safety. A gadget such as a Safety 1st rubber duckie can be very helpful. Use a gentle soap (or none at all) and a soft cloth, or even just your hand, when washing baby. Be sure to pay special attention to wrinkles and skin folds, especially under the neck and behind the ears.
Never, ever leave baby alone in the bath for even one second. Ever.
7. Dressing baby
Babies need very little by way of clothes. Onesies are important, regardless of season, as underclothes or as just what baby wears (if it’s warm). Soft cotton sleep sacks, gowns or sleepers are great for keeping baby warm and comfortable.
Newborns do not need jeans or uncomfortable bunchy “clothes.” (They are indeed adorable, but highly impractical.) Newborn babies spend their whole days sleeping. Would you want to sleep 20 hours a day in bunchy, scratchy jeans? The philosophy should be the softer, more snuggley, the better when it comes to newborn clothing.
8. Baby gear
Everyone who has a child has lots of opinions on what you must have in terms of baby gear. Here are the ones I hear the most often from parents:
- A breastfeedingpillow, even if you’re not breastfeeding; they can be still very comfortable for bottle feeding.
- Cloth diapers for burp cloths. Nothing absorbs better than cloth diapers. You can even buy jazzed-up fancy ones if you desire.
- A safety-compliant infant car seat.
- A baby carrier of some sort. Some parents love structured carries, others swear by wraps/slings. But no matter what, something to carry a fussy baby in for hours on end will save your sanity.
- As mentioned above, a stash of comfortable, soft pajamas and onesies.
- Swaddle blankets. There are lots of different types of swaddle blankets. In cooler weather, a nice warm fleece works nicely. In summer months, a thin receiving blanket will do the trick.
There are lots of other gadgets and plenty of people who swear by them. Therefore, the runners-up:
- Baby swing
- Bouncy seat
- Diaper pail
- Baby wipes warmer
Some parents receive an instant rush of love and bonding the moment their new baby is handed to them. Others take time to really get to know their child before they feel that intense parental love. Neither is wrong. Either way, as you get to know your baby, you will be exhausted, covered in bodily fluids and, as a mother, physically healing. You (and your partner) will need time to adjust to the newness of a baby. Everything changes. You feel a different financial pressure, you feel love in ways you don’t recognize and you can get quickly frustrated and upset. All these things are normal.
You might even feel anger and frustration at a fussy baby who won’t sleep. Have people who you can talk to — a mother, a sister, a best friend. Try to have time with your partner to discuss both of your feelings. Take a few moments a day to shower and get dressed, even if it’s just into clean sweats.
After a long, sleepless night, open the curtains and let the day in. Accept your tiredness. Nap when baby naps. Get out for a walk in the fresh air.
If you are ever so angry that you can’t trust your baby is safe in your care, place the baby in her crib and step away. Call a neighbor or friend to come sit with baby for a few minutes while you go for a walk or drive.
If there isn’t anyone you can call, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453 (800-4-A-CHILD). You'll be prompted to press 1 to be forwarded to a counselor.
Never shake your baby. In just 5 to 10 seconds of shaking, a child can suffer permanent, severe damage or even death. Read more about shaken baby syndrome here.
Even if your baby is already here, it never hurts to have an arsenal of different “experts” and different options for ways to make it all work. Read well-recommended books before baby comes (or while you’re feeding baby) and see what feels right when she’s here. There’s no way to know what temperament your baby will have and what will work and won’t. Be open to trying lots of different things. Just because your neighbor’s mom’s cousin’s sister said it works to do XYZ does not mean it will work for your baby.
Some books I recommend to clients are:
- Heading Home With Your Newborn by Laura Jena and Jennifer Shu
- The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp
- The Ultimate Breastfeeding Answers Book by Jack Newman
- 25 Things Every New Mother Should Know by Martha Sears
- The Vaccine Book by Robert Sears
.Don’t stress when things aren’t perfect. Remember, each day you’re learning growing right along with your baby. Ask your child’s pediatrician if you have genuine health concerns, and be patient with yourself, your partner and your baby. Hopefully, you’ll look back at your baby’s newborn-hood with happy memories and joy.
Main image: A rare newborn "awake" moment. (Photo: Morgan Hagey)
Morgan Hagey is doula and childbirth educator (www.simplybeautifulbirthing.com). She lives surrounded by four boys, a dog and a husband. She prefers to ignore the clean laundry waiting to be folded and instead blogs at www.ingfamily.blogspot.com.