Newborn Care: The Ultimate Guide for New Parents and Families
There is no experience that compares with bringing home a newborn baby. The joy and exhilaration parents feel is profound. It’s perfectly natural for there to be some trepidation as well, especially for first-time mothers and fathers. After all, no matter how much one plans and prepares for the arrival of a little one, there are always obstacles and challenges along the way.
These challenges might include financial hurdles, difficulty with breastfeeding and lost sleep. It is also very normal for new parents to experience bouts of anxiety or depression. And, because no two babies are the same, it’s impossible to know exactly how the early weeks and months of a child’s life will unfold: The challenges one family faces may be very different from the ones another family faces.
The good news is that many parents and newborn-care practitioners who have gone before have compiled some best practices and general guidelines for navigating early infancy. These resources can equip new parents, grandparents and caregivers with the tools they need to address the challenges of having a baby.
Newborn Care: Tools and Resources
When considering these resources, it’s important to acknowledge once again that no two children are the same, and there are no “one size fits all” solutions for child care. There are, however, some general recommendations and strategies that practitioners have largely found to be effective.
Newborns can have unpredictable feeding patterns, yet parents should anticipate that it will be an around-the-clock activity. It is natural for parents to occasionally be fatigued by the routine feedings, though it’s also important to remember that this is one of the best opportunities for bonding with a new baby.
The Mayo Clinic provides some best practices for feeding a newborn, including:
- Start with breast milk, if possible. If this isn’t an option, formula is perfectly fine. Note that newborn babies do not need juice, water, or other forms of food or liquid.
- Be prepared to feed the newborn on cue. This may be anywhere from eight to 12 times daily.
- Breastfeeding moms may wish to ask their doctor about the merits of vitamin D supplements.
- Be aware that as infants experience growth spurts, their eating habits may shift and change.
It is generally recommended that moms and dads trust their instincts and look for the signs of a healthy, growing baby, including consistent weight gain and contentment between meals.
Most newborns are ready to bond with their parents right away. Parents can sometimes have more trepidation, and that’s normal. The critical thing to remember is that bonding is a process, and not a task that can be completed on day one.
An article from KidsHealth provides some helpful reminders as to the various ways in which babies bond, including touch, eye-to-eye contact and the sound of the human voice.
Especially noteworthy are some bonding tips for dads, which include participation in the labor and delivery, assisting with some of the bottle feedings (especially at night), reading to the baby, singing to the baby, and giving the baby a bath.
Sleeping poses one of the most challenging aspects of newborn care. Most parents are aware that their little one may not sleep through the night for a few weeks or even several months; it varies from baby to baby. This can be a challenging period for everyone, not least because it means that Mom and Dad may feel chronically ill-rested.
As WedMD notes, eating, not sleeping, is the driving force for most newborns, and during the first two months of life, parents may need to feed their little one roughly once every two hours. Newborns may actually sleep quite a bit (up to 18 hours a day, for as many as four hours at a stretch), but they won’t have any concept of nighttime versus daytime.
The article recommends that parents take the following steps to get their baby onto a somewhat consistent sleep schedule as quickly as possible:
- Create a consistent bedtime routine.
- Put the baby to bed while he or she is drifting off, but before he or she is fully asleep. This lets the baby learn how to self-soothe.
Handling and Safety
Another important aspect of newborn care is safely handling the baby. There are some practical safety tips available from HealthyChildren.org, including:
- Verify that the infant car seat is properly installed.
- Be mindful that even a baby that cannot yet walk can still wiggle and roll; be careful about where the baby is set down.
- Parents should avoid carrying the baby at the same time they’re carrying hot liquids or hot foods. Even a minor stumble may result in the baby being burned.
- It’s also important to remember that babies tend to explore their area by putting things in their mouth. The risk of choking is very real, so it’s crucial to be attentive to any small items left in the baby’s surroundings.
Cleaning and Bathing
According to an article from What to Expect, bathing an infant has benefits beyond just cleanliness. It can also be an invaluable opportunity to bond. Parents may also find that baths have a soothing effect, and in some cases may even induce sleep. Bathtime may make a prudent addition to any little one’s bedtime routine.
Some general tips and best practices for cleaning and bathing a newborn include:
- Develop a sense of routine.
- Ensure that all necessary supplies are within easy reach.
- Keep the little one warm, remembering that infants lose heat quickly.
- Hang on to the baby while he or she is in the tub.
- Use mild soap, focusing on the hands and the diaper area.
- Gently use a washcloth or cotton ball to clean the baby’s face, including the eyes.
- Be especially sensitive and gentle around the baby’s private parts and the umbilical cord.
Health Conflicts and Concerns
Most infants have fairly consistent appointments with their pediatrician, ensuring they are growing and developing as intended. This also means a doctor’s watchful eye will be able to note any signs of illness. Even so, it is typical for parents to fret about if and when their baby needs to be taken in for a “sick” visit.
The Mayo Clinic shares some common signs for when it may be wise to take the infant to see a doctor. These signs include:
- The baby has a fever.
- The baby shows a change in appetite or in behavior.
- There is tenderness around the navel area or the penis.
Parents may also wish to contact their pediatrician about symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and rash, particularly if these symptoms last for longer than a day or two.
Newborn Care: Tips for Parents and Families
It should go without saying that welcoming a newborn baby into the home is a life-altering event. This can lead to some challenges for Mom and Dad, and while caring for a little one is paramount, it’s also important to practice self-care, ensuring both parents are in top condition to parent the new child.
Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is incredibly common among parents of newborns, and over time, it can take a significant toll on parents’ physical health, mental acuity and overall quality of life. According to Parents, there are a few practical steps moms and dads can take to get a little more sleep for themselves.
One recommendation is to make up for lost sleep, particularly by napping on weekends. Catching up on even two or three lost hours can make a world of difference. In addition to napping, Mom and Dad can trade off middle-of-the-night feedings. A final tip is to turn down the baby monitor; infants tend to be active sleepers, and parents don’t need to have their sleep disrupted by every little movement.
Range of Emotions
New parents may also experience a wide range of emotions. It is normal to alternate between elation, anxiety and even depression. Negative emotions can be exacerbated by issues such as a difficult pregnancy, premature birth or mixed feelings about the pregnancy (regardless of whether it was planned or unplanned).
Baby Your Baby notes that it is important for parents to be attentive to their own mental health, and to seek help as necessary. “The help you need might be as simple as focusing on sleep, nutrition, more water or social support,” the article states. “It might also include counseling, therapy, medication, or a combination.”
Maintaining Professional/Life Balance
Newborn care may seem like a full-time job unto itself, which is especially challenging for parents who have other vocations outside the home. Parents provides some tips for working parents looking to achieve a sense of balance. Some of these recommendations include:
- When feelings of guilt are present, it’s helpful to discuss them with other parents or even with a support group. Parents are not alone in struggling with finding a healthy professional/life balance.
- Do due diligence in finding the best child care in the area.
- Use evenings to plan for the next morning, ensuring mornings that aren’t too frazzled or hurried.
- Make use of practical tools, such as family calendars, to keep everyone organized and on the same page.
- Communicate with the boss or human resources representative about changed life situations, and find out more about flexible or remote work arrangements that may be available.
Addressing Child Rearing Challenges
Even experienced parents will face new child rearing challenges with each baby they bring into the home. KidsHealth provides some practical recommendations for addressing some of these challenges.
- Be consistent with expectations and, as the baby grows into a toddler, with discipline.
- Don’t just scold children for misbehavior, praise them for being good as well.
- Be intentional in making time for the little one each day.
- Make communication a priority, even before the little one is able to respond in kind.
- Remember that all children are different, and flexibility is a key aspect of parenting.
Additional Newborn Care Tips and Resource
In seeking to provide optimal newborn care, parents may wish to avail themselves of a wide range of resources. These resources might include technology, online communities, health facilities and more.
Technology and Devices
Today’s parents have many tech tools at their disposal.
- Engadget provides a guide to some of the top-rated baby gadgets for the parents of newborns.
- Woman’s Day lists some baby-centric apps that new parents may find helpful.
Online Resources and Communities
Parents also have access to online resources and communities, allowing them to benefit from the knowledge accumulated by other moms and dads around the world.
- Cheat Sheet has a list of top-rated parenting guides and resources.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online hub of information about child development.
- Motherly has a directory of online “mom groups” where parents can seek solidarity, advice or support.
Health Practitioners and Facilities
One final step that is critical to newborn care is finding the best nearby health facilities.
- KidsHealth provides some guidelines for selecting the right pediatric caregiver.
- WebMD offers tips and suggestions for expecting parents who are “shopping” for a pediatrician.
Getting Started with Newborn Care
Welcoming a new baby is an unparalleled joy. That joy is mixed with responsibility, and also with some challenges, but that doesn’t make it any less special. As parents prepare for both the highs and lows of providing newborn care, it’s essential to take advantage of the many resources available.
KidsHealth, “A Guide for First-Time Parents”
Mayo Clinic, “Newborn Care: 10 Tips for Stressed-Out Parents”
MedlinePlus, Infant and Newborn Care
Office on Women’s Health, Newborn Care and Safety