During your first week home with Baby, you may feel like you’ve entered a brave new world, and indeed you have. Suddenly your days will revolve around this adorable and new tiny creature that – surprise! – you are responsible for caring for. So just what will this care involve?
The good news is that baby care at this stage of the game will be pretty basic – feeding, diaper changes, cleaning, soothing, and helping your little one get to sleep. The – ahem – bad news is that your days will pretty much consist of these tasks in constant rotation.
Baby just nursed? Super. But now they just spit up a huge amount of milk on their onesie. Clean onesie? Well now it’s time for a diaper change. How about some snuggles and a short nap (for baby – not you)? Now that your little one is awake again, what’s that smell? Oops! A poop blowout! Time for another diaper and another onesie. And suddenly it’s time to nurse again. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat.
It’s a huge undertaking – and, sure, a nap would be nice – but eventually this intense period will pass. And in the meantime, you’ve totally got this. So just what should you know about the basics of newborn baby care before the big day?
In the first few weeks, it may seem like Baby is behaving like they&;s at an all-you-can-eat buffet, as they'll likely be feeding every one to three hours. (Keep in mind that babies who are nursing may eat more frequently because breastmilk will often go through a baby’s digestive system more quickly – which may also mean more frequent poops! And babies who are formula-fed may go a little longer between feedings because often formula moves through the digestive tract a bit more slowly.) Some healthcare providers will recommend that if Baby is sleeping for longer stretches that you wake them up to feed – if this happens to be what Baby does, check with your healthcare provider to see what they recommend, which may depend a lot on on how they are eating and gaining weight.
And as you adjust to Baby’s feeding needs, it can be helpful to keep an eye (and ear) out for early signs of hunger – things like restlessness, stirring, sucking motions, lip movements, bringing their hands to their mouth, or, if Baby’s neck is strong enough, rooting around or bobbing their head.
Soon enough you may even be able to recognize exactly the sort of specific cry that your little one makes when hungry! This can help you start to feed Baby before they get so very hungry that they’re particularly fussy, which can make it harder for them to latch well or settle down enough to eat.
Whether nursing or bottle-feeding, you’ll want to hold Baby comfortably as they eat, adjusting your position during the feeding if you need to. And after Baby is done, don’t forget to burp! You may even want to burp them when they take a little break between breasts, if nursing, or when halfway through a bottle. Every baby is different, and you’ll soon learn what seems to work best for your little one.
Since your little one will be eating so often, and their stomach will still be so itty bitty, prepare yourself for a lot of diaper changes. When it’s that time, use gentle wipes and gentle motions to clean Baby’s privates, always wipe from front to back, and use soothing ointment – not only will it help soothe Baby’s skin, but it will also help make poop clean up that much easier because the ointment can help to keep poop from sticking to skin. All of this can help stave off diaper rash. These are sensitive parts, so treat them with care.
When Baby is brand new, a good guideline for how often they should be peeing and pooping is one that corresponds to their age. In the first few days, they should have one wet diaper for each day they is old – meaning one wet diaper when day one old, two wet diapers when two days old, and three wet diapers when three days old. This will change once baby is getting proper breastmilk (as opposed to the colostrum that your breasts will produce immediately after birth) or formula.
So once your milk is in or baby is busy with formula – around day three or four – you can expect five or more wet diapers every 24 hours. The same goes for poop. Expect one dirty diaper for each day old Baby is, up until around day four (again, because this is when they will have some milk or formula moving through their digestive system). At this point, you should expect three to four poops each day. Some newborns might poop more often – some even poop every time they nurse!
And beyond number, there’s a whole lot more to keep an eye on when it comes to newborn poop. You’ll notice in the first few days that your little one’s poop will be a dark, sticky, tar-like substance. This is because Baby will still be excreting the meconium that coated their intestines in utero. Soon this will make way for a whole new variety of poo. And breastmilk and formula not only make a difference in poop frequency, but also poop consistency.
Breastfed babies will soon have poop that is fairly loose and soft, with a curdled or seedy quality from the milk solids, and which can range in color from bright yellow to somewhat greenish. Formula-fed babies may have poop that is thicker and more solid in texture, may range from yellow to brown in color, and may actually be rather stinky.
If Baby isn’t peeing or pooping as frequently, or if their poop is red, white, or black (after the meconium passes), then you should be in touch with your healthcare provider. This could mean that they isn&;t eating as much as they should be or indicate signs of infection, jaundice, or bleeding. (However, be aware that some baby girls may pass a small bit of blood from their vagina at around 2 or 3 days old. This is because of exposure to and then withdrawal from hormones in the womb. And as long as it’s just an itty bitty amount of blood, it’s totally normal.)
When it comes to caring for Baby’s body beyond diaper changes, there are a few things to focus on:
- Umbilical cord: In the case of caring for their umbilical cord, the less you do, the better. Simply wipe around it, keep it dry, and – until it falls off – keep diapers folded down so they don’t rub against it. You may notice a bit of blood or crustiness on diapers, and this is usually a-okay. But if you notice swelling, redness, oozing, or odor at the stump site, call your healthcare provider. And after the stump falls off, keep in mind you may still see a bit of puss, crustiness, or blood. You can clean this gently with a Q-tip, but should allow another 7-10 days for things to fully heal.
- Bathing and washing: Right now you might not be totally sure just when or how often you should bathe your newborn, but chances are, when the time comes, you’ll know. If, for example, your bundle of joy has a particularly explosive poop, a leaky diaper, or a really gnarly spit up, it’s a fine time for a bath. This might amount to two or three times a week, or more often if needed. In these early days, you can give Baby a sponge bath in an infant bath sling or simply lay them on a towel. (Essentially, this sort of a setup can allow them to be cleaned, but won’t submerge your little one’s still healing umbilical cord.) You can use a damp washcloth with warm water or water and a gentle soap to clean them, gently washing the scalp, face, and on down the body, avoiding eyes and umbilical cord. If you need to gently wipe the eyes, just use water. And if you do use soap, make sure the soap is then rinsed clean with water. Don’t forget behind the ears and in any cute and pudgy neck rolls or crevices, as milk and spit up can collect and cause irritation. And if Baby isn’t bathed on any given day, it’s best to at least make sure that “top and tail” are cleaned, meaning around the face and the bottom.
- Nails: When Baby is particularly wee, you might not think nail care needs to be at the top of your to do list. But if their nails are long – and lots of newborns have some pretty serious claws – they can very easily scratch up their face because of lack of motor control. Adorable newborn mittens can help with this, but trimming Baby’s nails is an even better choice. Newborn nails are super soft, so it’s safest to file your little one’s nails with an emery board at this age. When they get a little bigger, you can upgrade to nail clippers.
When your little one is first acclimating to the big wide world outside of your womb, it’s not always an easy adjustment. While in your uterus, Baby is snuggled up and cozy. Out in the real world, it’s just not the same. Engaging in skin-on-skin contact – where you keep baby bare against your chest – is great for both you and baby. (If you have a partner, they can do this with your little one too!)
It’s also helpful to do things that will help recreate all the familiar cozy comforts of the womb, like swaddling, swaying or rocking, and shushing. You’ll have to experiment with what works best for your Baby.
they might also quickly establish some preferences – you might find that they love to be sung to, loves being in a baby swing, loves being held upright, or loves having you carry them in a baby sling. And other times, Baby might need one thing in one moment, and then something different in the next.
So if they get fussy, try all the greatest hits first: Is they hungry? Have a dirty diaper? Just tired? Too hot or cold? Want to snuggle on your chest? Need a change in position or a change of pace?
And remember, even if you run through all of the above – Clean diaper? Check. Milk? Check. Swaddle and a song? Check. – sometimes you just might not be able to tell exactly what it is that’s bothering Baby. Try your best to soothe them, and even if they continue to cry, they'll know that you love them and will always be there to comfort them, which is immensely good for Baby’s development.
Newborns sleep a ton – usually for about 16 or so a day – just not for long stretches of time. Again, just like all of their other adorable parts, Baby’s stomach is itty bitty at this point, so they'll wake hungry and want to feed very often. In these early days, it won’t be unlikely for Baby to sleep for about two hours, wake to feed, and then repeat the cycle.
There’s really no way they can be convinced to operate on a different sort of schedule at this point. So feed Baby whenever they are hungry and – hard as the advice may be – try your darnedest to sleep when they sleep. Even if you happen to be the sort of parent who is running on some powerful new parent vibes immediately after baby is born, after a few days you’ll definitely be feeling the exhaustion that comes with not sleeping for long stretches of time.
This sort of a sleep schedule will likely last for several weeks, at least until Baby is bigger and can go longer between feedings and so sleep for longer stretches. In the meantime, swaddling Baby for sleep and keeping things dark and quiet at night will help baby snooze comfortably and, eventually, move toward getting even better sleep. Eventually, they will even start to learn the difference between day and night, and then – thank goodness! – will move toward more regular napping and overnight sleeping.
This care might be basic, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Plus, you’ll still be recovering from labor and delivery, will be going without getting long stretches of sleep (as if you need to be reminded), and may occasionally want to feed yourself or shower.
Joking aside, you’ll definitely want to sleep, eat, and care for yourself as much as possible, because it will allow you to better care for Baby. So this is not the time to go it alone. This is, indeed, just the time to ask for help. If you have a partner, make sure they are splitting the workload with you, or even picking up some extra slack, since you’ll be physically recovering. And this goes double if you’re breastfeeding.
It’s also a great time to have family and friends help out – do some laundry, cook some meals, help care for your little one and any other kiddos or pets, and maybe let you squeeze in a nap or two. (Maybe – just an idea – you should even squeeze in a nap right now, while you still can.) Again, the early days of caring for a newborn will be a pretty intense period, but it won’t last forever – you’ve got this!
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