Low-Key Approach to Caring for Your Newborn

The prospect of caring for a newborn 24/7 can be daunting. But with a common-sense and low-key approach (no, everything does not have to be perfect), along with time and practice, you’ll be a diapering, bathing, feeding, burping pro in no time. Here are 10 of the most important things to know when it comes to caring for your baby. 

1. Breastfeeding is easier with support. If you find you’re having any problems whatsoever, call a lactation consultant pronto. Before you give birth, collect the names and contact information for a couple of lactation consultants near you so you don’t have to waste any time when you need them.  

2. You don’t need to bathe your baby every day. In fact, you shouldn’t, as too much water and soap can irritate a newborn’s delicate skin. “Babies are not yet rolling in the mud, so bathing twice a week is usually what I recommend,” says Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D., co-author of Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality (American Academy of Pediatrics). In the meantime, a sponge bath should do the job if your baby has a particularly messy blowout, or if milk or other crud builds up in the neck folds or elsewhere.

3. It’s really important to put your baby to sleep on his back. Since the federal Back to Sleep campaign began 28 years ago, studies have confirmed that back sleeping reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 50 percent. Place your baby on their back to sleep. Every time. No excuses. And make sure all caregivers do, too, including grandma and grandpa.

4. Infants are more mobile than you think. Although the average age at which babies roll over is 4 months, it could happen as early as 2 weeks. “The first time your baby rolls over could be off the bed, changing table or couch,” Shu says, “so get in the habit from day one of never leaving [them] unattended on a raised surface.” Also never put [them] in a bouncy seat on, say, the kitchen counter — even newborns can jiggle enough to send the seat crashing to the floor.

5. Ensure the car seat is installed correctly. Three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly. Become an expert on the car seat(s) you own. Read your car seat and vehicle manuals thoroughly, take a class if possible, and have your installation inspected by a professional. (For a list of car-seat safety checks nationwide, visit Safe Kids Worldwide

6. You don’t need to change a wet diaper immediately. Today’s disposables are designed to wick away moisture, so in theory, you could wait until the diaper is close to overflowing before you change it (not that you should as it can set the stage for a nasty rash). Using discretion with wet diapers at night will help you both get more sleep — changing your baby is stimulating and can make it difficult for him to get back to sleep. A poopy diaper is another matter, though: change it promptly. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, should be changed promptly with both wet and poopy diapers.

7. Learn how to go with the flow. Most newborns have absolutely no innate schedules, and trying to impose them will only frustrate you both. With time, your baby will naturally fall into a routine. “Babies typically establish a sleep routine between the age of 1 and 4 months,” Shu says. “Eating is more predictable: Newborns fall into an eating pattern pretty soon after birth.”

8. Crying is normal. It’s your baby’s only way of expressing himself. This is small comfort at 3 a.m., of course. To soothe your baby, try pediatrician Harvey Karp’s “5 S’s”:” Swaddle your baby tightly.” Hold him on his side or stomach.” Make shushing noises in his ear.” Make them as loud as the crying.” Swing him, either in your arms or a swing.” Let your baby suck. If this doesn’t work and you become concerned, don’t be shy about calling your pediatrician. “It’s typical for infants to cry for a total of two to three hours over the course of a day,” Shu explains. (It often peaks around your dinnertime.) “But if there’s a change in your baby’s crying pattern and you’re worried, err on the side of caution and seek help. Parents’ hunches are often correct.” Also keep in mind that babies do outgrow their fussiness. “It usually begins about two weeks after birth and peaks by the age of 6 weeks,” Shu explains. “And it’s usually gone by 3 to 4 months.”

9. It’s OK to walk away. If your baby is screaming inconsolably and you need a break, take 10 seconds or 10 minutes of time away — whatever is required to compose yourself. Just be sure your baby is safe before doing so. Better to let your baby cry than to let yourself get overworked. 

10. You don’t need to entertain or engage with your baby every minute. Whether they’re looking out the window or staring at a light, infants are continually learning. Give your baby the space to discover the world instead of bombarding them with stimulation, which may only cause fussiness.” Any time you spend engaged with your baby is quality time,” Shu explains. “Even if you’re doing something as mundane as going to the grocery store, talk to [them] and make eye contact as you shop.”

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