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Newborn care guide: 7 tips for the first weeks

Newborn care guide: 7 tips for the first weeks

Life with a newborn baby is an extraordinary time. However, it can also be overwhelming and exhausting (thanks a lot sleep deprivation).

Especially for first-time parents, heading home from the hospital with your newborn can feel scary. Suddenly, your baby isn’t just a sweet dream in your head—it’s a real, crying, hungry, soggy-diapered infant wiggling in your arms, and (what the heck?) you are solely responsible for keeping them alive!

The good news is that you’re probably going to do just fine. While having a newborn can be a challenging adjustment, new parents typically have great instincts and learn fast. Before you know it, caring for your baby will be a totally natural part of your life and routine.

What to expect when you’re… doing this whole newborn thing for the first time

Prepping to bring a new baby home? Here’s 7 things to know to help you get through the first few weeks with your little one:

1. Babies can look a little funny at first

A newborn baby’s appearance can sometimes be a little surprising—they don’t always pop out rosy-cheeked and Gerber-esque! Understanding what your infant will look like will help you prepare to care for them as well as you can.

Weight

On average, most babies weigh approximately 7.5 lbs at birth. Many lose 5-8% of their birth weight in the first few days, but often regain that amount by day 10.

Coloring

When newly born, a baby’s skin may be dark red or purple in color. This color usually fades over the next couple days, but it’s normal for hands and feet to remain slightly blue-colored for even longer. Discoloration is a normal part of a baby’s blood circulation becoming more developed.

Babies born with jaundice have a yellow appearance of the skin and eyes, resulting from a normal body chemical called bilirubin, which will be monitored and treated if necessary.

Head shape

It’s important to remember that appearance will vary widely from baby to baby. For example, pressure from the birth canal may cause the eyes to appear swollen, and their head may appear elongated, or cone shaped. You may notice two soft areas at the top of the baby’s head where the skull bones haven’t grown together yet. All of this is completely normal.

Skin

It’s also common for a newborn’s skin to be dry and peeling for the first few weeks. Sometimes, a baby may be covered by fine, downy hair known as lanugo, which typically disappears within several weeks.

2. Newborns need to be fed frequently, every 1 - 3 hours

Whether you are breastfeeding or feeding formula, most newborns will need to be fed 8 - 12 times every 24 hours. That means you should plan on feeding your baby every 1 - 3 hours during the early days. If your baby is still sleeping 2 ½ hours from the beginning of their last feeding, wake them up to eat again.

Don’t worry, this intense feeding schedule isn’t forever: as your baby continues to grow, they will gradually be able to eat more during each feeding and go longer between feedings.

Watch for hunger cues

Babies will naturally request to be fed, and you should watch for their hunger cues likes opening and closing the mouth, head turning and restlessness, moving fists to mouth, and lip smacking. Hungry babies will often show these signs before they start crying, so paying close attention can help you address your baby’s needs before they become distressed.

No burp, no problem

It’s a myth that babies must burp after every single feeding, so don’t stress too much about it. If your baby needs to burp, they will!

Don’t let the old “Breast is Best” stress you out

While studies show that breastfeeding can be beneficial to babies and moms, at the end of the day, a FED baby is best, and breastfeeding is just not possible for everybody. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first six months if you are able, but formula is also a totally acceptable and healthy option for nourishing your babe.

3. Expect at least 3 - 4 wet diapers per day

Dirty diapers, aka everybody’s favorite part of having a baby, are we right?

While sometimes stinky and messy, diapers are an unavoidable part of raising a newborn—and don’t worry, you’ll be changing them so often, dealing with your baby’s number 2’s will swiftly become second nature. 💩

Changing appearances

Babies frequently have changes in the number, color, and consistency of their stools. As long as your newborn is eating normally and not showing any signs of illness, these kinds of changes are no big deal.

Frequency

Bowel movement frequency varies from baby to baby. During the first 6 weeks or so, most babies will have a bowel movement 2 - 5 times per day. This varies based on whether baby is breastfed or formula fed.

Check and change diapers regularly

Soggy diapers can lead to diaper rash and discomfort for your baby. Expect to change baby’s diaper at least 3 - 4 times per day.

4. Plan to sleep when your baby sleeps

Getting enough sleep is essential for a growing newborn—and for their parents. It can also be one of the most challenging aspects of caring for an infant.

In the first weeks, babies need a lot of sleep, and newborns can sleep up to 16 - 17 hours per day. However, all that sleep is broken up by wakefulness, diaper changes, and feedings. For many babies, that means waking up and requiring attention every 2 - 3 hours.

After the first 6 weeks or so, each baby will develop their own pattern of sleep. Some sleep after feedings, and others will take brief occasional naps. Most babies will start sleeping through one or two nighttime feedings between ages 4 - 8 weeks, which allows for 5 - 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

During these first weeks, it’s also important for parents to get as much rest and sleep as they can. Experts recommend sleeping when the baby sleeps whenever possible, and establishing a regular bedtime routine early on.

Remember that babies should always sleep on their back, in a safe sleeping environment. A safe sleep environment includes a crib, bassinet, or play yard with a firm, flat mattress, and a fitted sheet. Remove any loose blankets, pillows, toys, bumpers, and other soft items from the sleeping space.

5. Respond quickly when your baby cries during the first months

To soothe a fussy or crying baby, first make sure that their basic needs are met. Are they too warm or too cold? Does their diaper need to be changed? Are they hungry?

If your baby’s obvious needs are met but they are still upset, you can try the “5 S’s”: swaddling, side or stomach position, “shushing” with a white noise machine, swinging or swaying, or sucking on a pacifier.

Note that healthy breastfed babies should not be given artificial nipples like pacifiers for the first four weeks of life.

Some parents find it helpful to take a car ride or a walk with their baby in a stroller.

6. Spend quality time bonding with your baby

The first weeks of life with your newborn is a special time for bonding with them. When they are awake, spend time playing with them, paying attention to them, and getting to know them.

Skin-to-skin

Skin-to-skin contact with your baby can help with bonding and can also benefit your baby’s health. Try resting your baby on your bare chest, cuddling them, and touching them regularly.

Talk to them

While babies can’t talk back to us, they are listening! Talking to your baby often is a way to bond and connect with them. Remember that babies are nearsighted, so get close to their face when talking (gently) to them so they can see you more clearly.

Tummy time

Tummy time is important for your baby’s development and strength. When your baby is awake, place them on their stomach on a soft surface for a couple minutes, 2 - 3 times per day. This is a great time to play and interact with your baby, too.

7. Parents need extra support with a newborn; don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it

Caring for a newborn is rewarding, but it also can be challenging and exhausting. It’s normal for parents to struggle emotionally and physically during this time, as they work to get a hang of their new life and routines. Sleep struggles and added stress can weigh on parents and make it more difficult to care for and bond with their baby.

Remember that it is completely normal to feel like you need help. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask your friends, family, and healthcare providers for extra support during this time.

While many new parents experience post-partum “blues,” if your mood doesn’t improve after a couple weeks it may indicate a more serious problem. if you are concerned that you may be depressed, talk to your doctor ASAP. You do not have to suffer, and help is available.

Lastly, remember that safety is key during infancy

In addition to the recommendations above, our pediatricians outlined the following infant safety must’s:

  • Never leave an infant alone on a bed or surface where they could fall
  • Keep small items that could be choking hazards out of reach
  • Check air flow and temperature of baby’s room to ensure it’s comfortable
  • Make sure baby has a safe sleep environment, with no loose sleepwear or bedding
  • Always place baby on their back for sleeping
  • Childproof your home
  • Double check temperature of bath water and hot liquid or food before feeding
  • Never shake your baby, and protect your baby’s head from jerking movements
  • Discuss routine care and immunization with your baby’s pediatrician

The most important aspect of planning for your baby is ensuring you have extraordinary care. Our Family Birthing Center offers a full-scale, individualized, and positive approach to birth preparation, labor, delivery and postpartum care. Take a tour and learn more today

About Tanya Robinson

Tanya Robinson, RN, serves as Director of Touro’s Postpartum Unit, Well-Baby Nursery, and Lactation Center. She has extensive experience in the field of nursing including pediatrics, well-baby nursery, NICU, and post-partum as well as adult med-surg and ICU.