Taking Care of Your Newborn


Healthy Women

Taking care of a newborn is both the simplest and most difficult thing you have probably ever done in your life. Here is this little bundle of humanity whose only method of communicating is crying and screaming. He is entirely dependent on you and your partner for everything. If you were to disappear, he would die. The sense of responsibility, particularly after years of being responsible only for yourself, can be overwhelming. So here’s your first bit of advice: Breathe. And the second: Relax. Your baby knows when you’re uptight and anxious. You transfer that anxiety to him and then he can’t relax!

First, know that your baby will sleep most of the time. Newborns generally sleep up to 20 hours a day the first few weeks. Unfortunately, it may not be in large chunks! That’s because they also need to eat quite often. Their tummies are tiny and their nutritional needs enormous. If it feels like you spend every hour of every day with your breast or a bottle in your baby’s mouth, that’s not unusual.

News flash: Tips for comforting baby

The most common reason for Baby’s crying is hunger. Not hungry? Check the diaper. If that’s not the problem, try swaddling her-wrapping her tightly in a receiving blanket. Newborns are used to the tight confines of the womb; being out in the world and having their arms and legs flapping around can be scary. Holding her and walking around, "wearing" her in a sling or front pack, or, if all else fails, putting her in the car seat for a drive are other time- and parent-tested options to soothe a crying child.

After feeding and crying, the other new things you have to get used to are diapering and washing your baby. Whether you use cloth or disposable diapers, here are a few tips for changing a diaper:

  • Gather supplies. Before you lay your baby on a flat surface for changing, wash your hands and gather a clean diaper or two and something to wipe your baby’s bottom with. If your baby has diaper rash or is less than a month old, wipe with warm, dampened cotton balls or squares and dry thoroughly with a soft towel; for other babies, you may use diaper wipes or a warm wash cloth.
  • Never leave your baby unattended. Place your baby on a changing table or other flat surface and fasten the safety straps or keep one hand on Baby so he doesn’t roll off. If he wiggles or fusses, distract him with a toy or mobile. Unfasten the dirty diaper, then hold your baby’s legs with one hand and use the other hand to pull down the front of the diaper but don’t remove it completely.
  • Clean Baby’s bottom. Use the front part of the diaper to wipe your baby from front to back. Then use a wet washcloth, cotton ball or mild wipe to clean your baby, again wiping front to back. This helps prevent urinary tract infections. Gently pat Baby’s bottom dry. If you have a boy, cover his penis with a clean diaper while you’re changing him to avoid an accident.
  • Put on a clean diaper. Lift your baby’s legs and slide out the dirty diaper being careful not to let her grab or kick it. Slide a clean diaper under your baby. For a disposable diaper, place the adhesive tabs in the back and bring them forward to fasten. Pin the corners of a cloth diaper. Make sure the diaper is snug but not tight; test by placing two fingers between the diaper and your baby’s waist. With a newborn, fold the top of the diaper below the umbilical cord or use a newborn diaper with a cutout. If you have a boy, make sure his penis points downward so he doesn’t pee out of the top of his diaper.
  • Dispose of the mess. If you use cloth diapers, shake any solid waste into the toilet before tossing the diaper into a dry or wet diaper pail until time to wash. You may also toss the solid waste from a disposable into the toilet; then tape it up and put it in the trash or diaper pail.

Pregnant Women Ask...

Can my baby sleep with me?

No. The safest place for your baby to sleep is in your room with you but not in bed with you. You could roll over and crush her or she could smother. Always put your baby to sleep on her back in a safety-approved crib or bassinet with a firm mattress and fitted sheets.

How should I bathe my baby?

You won’t have to worry about bathing for the first week or more. Until Baby’s umbilical cord stump falls off, just use a warm washcloth to wipe around her face, bottom and hands. Be sure to keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry. Most health care providers advise letting the stump dry and fall off naturally, usually in 10 to 21 days. If it gets sticky or dirty, wash it gently with soap and water and dry carefully by holding an absorbent cloth around it.

After the cord comes off and it’s time for Baby’s first bath, fill the basin or sink with about an inch or two of warm water; plain water is usually fine for washing newborns, but you may use a mild moisturizing soap when needed. Make sure you have everything you need at hand before you undress the baby. That includes shampoo, washcloth and towel. Be sure to have a clean diaper and change of clothes ready for after your baby’s bath. Holding Baby against one arm, slowly lower her into the water and, using the other arm and hand, wet the washcloth and begin gently washing her. Don’t let go and don’t ever leave any young child unattended around water. You can use the washcloth to wash her hair, too. It’s best if you have two people doing this-one to hold her and one to wash her-but you can do it on your own. Wash from top to bottom and front to back, using as little soap as possible to avoid drying baby’s skin. You may clean eyes and face with a moistened cotton ball. When you’re finished, lift her out of the tub and lay her on the towel. Wrap her securely in the towel and take her off to be diapered and dressed. Most pediatricians do not recommend regular use of lotions or powders for newborns, but if your baby has a skin problem, talk to your health care provider about treatment.

New Moms Ask...

How do I know if my baby has colic?

Colic is a catch-all phrase for "my-baby-won’t-stop-crying-and-I-can’t-figure-out-what’s wrong." Babies with colic tend to cry for hours at a time, typically the same time every day (usually in the early evening). No one knows what causes colic or what will resolve it, so feel free to try whatever your mother, mother-in-law, neighbor, sister, whomever, says worked for her. And keep this in mind: Colic occurs in up to 40 percent of all babies. It usually starts when babies are around three to six weeks old and ends by four months in 90 percent of infants. If your baby is still colicky after three months and is formula-fed, ask your baby’s health care professional to check her for allergies to the formula.

© 2014. National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.

Go Back to Healthy Pregnancy Guide homepage