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Everything you need to know about properly caring for your newborn

Leaving the hospital with your newborn can be scary, especially if you’re a first-time parent. You’re just supposed to leave the comfort of medical experts to go home with your baby by yourselves?

Before you gave birth, you may have learned everything there was to know about what to expect throughout your pregnancy. You may have taken birthing classes and prepared yourself fully for labor and delivery. But now that it’s time to leave the hospital, you may be questioning everything you thought you knew about how to take care of a newborn.

Try not to freak out! Caring for a newborn may seem daunting, but you’ll quickly fall into a routine and become an expert on your baby. You can also call your doctor or your baby’s pediatrician at any time if you become overwhelmed or have questions.

A smiling newborn baby in front of smiling parents.

How do you take care of a newborn baby?

Make sure you ask questions before you leave the hospital. There are no silly questions when it comes to feeling confident about taking care of your newborn. Doctors, nurses, and even lactation specialists are all available to address your concerns and help you before you exit those hospital doors. You may be feeling exhausted, so it can help to write information down in case you forget.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests new parents feel comfortable doing the following:

  • Supportively holding your baby
  • Soothing your baby
  • Changing diapers
  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Swaddling
  • Feeding
  • Caring for a sick baby

Do’s and don’ts for a newborn

Do hold your baby’s neck or head for support. Her muscles aren’t strong enough to hold her head up without assistance.

Don’t ever shake your baby, whether out of frustration or with rough play, including bouncing a baby on your knee or tossing her up in the air. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, cautions that shaking a baby can cause brain trauma, bleeding, and even death.

Do check your baby’s diaper several times throughout the day and night. Ben-Joseph says that babies typically go through 10 diaper changes a day. Setting up the diaper changing area before tackling the diaper can help the process go smoother.

Don’t ever leave your baby on the changing table by herself. Although babies typically don’t roll over for a couple of months, you don’t want to chance your baby falling off the changing table nor do you want to get in the habit of leaving your baby on high surfaces unattended.

Do give your baby a sponge bath until her umbilical cord falls off and heals (typically at 1 to 4 weeks) then transition to regular baths. Check the temperature with your wrist or another sensitive area of your skin before placing the baby in the water. Have a towel and possibly a diaper nearby.

Don’t ever leave your baby unattended in the bath. Your baby can drown if left alone, even for a quick minute.

Do offer to nurse or bottle-feed your baby every couple of hours. Some doctors recommend feeding on demand, while others suggest working from a feeding schedule. Consult your doctor to figure out which method is best for your baby.

Don’t forget to burp your baby after each feeding. Babies can suck in air whether they nurse or bottle feed and the air can build up and cause digestive issues and tummy aches. You can hold your baby to your chest while patting her back, hold her upright on your lap and pat her back while supporting her head, or lay her tummy down on your legs while patting her back.

Do swaddle your baby tightly and lay her down on her back for naps and bedtime. There should be no loose blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals in the crib with her.

Don’t place your baby on her stomach for bedtime. Mary L. Gavin, MD explains placing a baby on her back can help reduce the risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Mother and midwife or doula looking at the newborn baby.

What do I do with a newborn all day?

Between feeding, napping, and seemingly endless diaper changes, your first few weeks may quickly become a blur. Once you start settling into a rhythm with your baby, and as she starts staying awake for longer stretches, you may start wondering what do I do with a newborn all day?

Bonding

Creating and maintaining a bond with your baby is important for her development. You can help establish bonds by holding and snuggling your baby. You can also spend time looking at her face and smiling at her. Even though she cannot respond yet, your baby can also benefit from hearing your voice, so spend time talking to or singing to your baby.

Development

There are several activities you can do to help support your baby’s physical development. The most well-known activity is tummy time. You should place your baby on her tummy several times throughout the day to help support her neck and upper body strength. You can also place a mirror near your baby for her to interact with her reflection. Reading and looking through books can also help foster pre-literacy skills.

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