Baby Care

Your First Weeks With a Newborn: Tips for New Parents

Those first weeks with your newborn are a transitional time for both of you. Not only will your baby be adapting to life outside of the womb, but you’ll be adjusting to new parenting roles and responsibilities.

Below you’ll find a postpartum survival guide that provides tried-and-true tips for making the best of this challenging rite of passage. Read on to learn about surviving those first weeks with your baby.

Be Prepared

At the hospital, your baby will be examined by the pediatrician, who will explain any obvious curiosities like a birthmark or a pointy head. After you get home, your baby may produce some unexpected sights and sounds that catch you off guard. Fortunately, most aren’t cause for concern. Here are some things to prepare for:

  • Umbilical Cord: The stump of the umbilical cord may seem unwieldy for such a tiny infant. Rest assured this is normal, and the stump will disengage within three weeks. Until this happens, clean and dry it and follow the pediatrician’s advice for care. (Sometimes the length of the cord that’s still attached to the baby might be a little long; if you feel like this is the case, you can ask your care team if it can be shortened. This can be done in the first several hours after birth. A shorter umbilical cord stump is less likely to get caught in clothing or during diaper changes.)
  • Spit Up: Babies can spit up a lot. To reduce the frequency, you can try burping your baby every three to five minutes during feedings, and holding them in an upright position right afterward.
  • Poop: In the very beginning, your baby’s poop will be blackish-green (called meconium), and then it will change to shades of green, yellow, or brown. It can be runny, pasty, seedy, or curdy. As unsettling as this variation may be, it’s all normal. Ask your pediatrician if you’re concerned about your baby’s poop.
  • Breathing: Your baby’s breathing might seem odd to you. But taking 60 breaths per minute or fewer is normal, as are pauses of about six seconds, writes Barton D. Schmitt, MD, in Your Child’s Health. Take note of any extra sounds such as wheezing or grunting or sustained rapid breathing, as these could indicate a respiratory problem, and let your baby’s pediatrician know right away.

Bond With Your Baby

After coming home from the hospital, one of the most important things you can do is to bond with your baby. Holding your baby, feeding them, reading to them, making eye contact, and playing with them will help foster a connection. Skin-to-skin contact is a great way to build that initial bond as well.

Try not to stress if it takes a bit of time to feel like you and your baby are connecting. Bonding is a process, and every duo is different. Some parents and babies bond within minutes, while others may take weeks—especially if your baby needed medical intervention after birth or is adopted. Soon enough, you’ll be in tune with one another.

Focus on Feeding

Feeding your baby is an around-the-clock job that can get tiring, especially since newborns eat every two to three hours (or eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period). For this reason, it’s important to enlist help if you can.

You should also learn to recognize your baby’s hunger cues. Hungry babies will often cry when they want to eat, but try not to wait until that point to initiate a feeding. Instead, offer them the breast or a bottle as soon as you see them acting hungry. One common hunger cue is rooting for the breast. Hungry babies might also turn their heads and move their mouths or jaws in search of the breast.

Other hunger cues include putting their hand to their mouth, moistening their lips, and sticking out their tongue. They also may suck on anything within their reach, act fussy, or open their mouth.

Many new parents worry that their baby isn’t getting enough to eat, especially if they’re exclusively breastfed. If you’re concerned, count the number of wet diapers they have each day. Most babies will have six or more wet diapers a day or urinate every two to four hours when they’re drinking enough milk. Note, however, that in the first week, the number of wet diapers is typically less, especially in breastfed babies.

Navigate Bathtime

Bathing a newborn can be challenging, but it’s also a great way to bond. Some parents prefer washing their baby on the changing table with a wet washcloth; others like using a plastic tub. Fortunately, your baby only needs a full bath once or twice a week, though you should wash their face and bottom each day.

To make sure bath time goes smoothly, avoid bathing your baby when they’re hungry, and keep the room warm. Also, have everything you’ll need within reach. Remember, you can’t leave your baby alone while bathing them—not even for a nanosecond.

When you’re ready to start, support your baby’s head and start washing them from the top down, using a soft cloth and mild baby soap. Shampoo the scalp first, shielding the water from their eyes. Moving down, be sure to get in all those nooks and crannies, including around their mouth, on their eyelids, and under the chin. When done, rinse your baby well and dry them with a towel.

Get Through the Night

Because your baby’s tiny tummy can’t hold much milk, they’ll wake frequently to feed in those first weeks of life. Some newborns will sleep for four hours at a time, while others will wake sooner to eat. All told, you can expect your newborn to sleep about 14 to 17 hours per 24-hour period.

Babies often don’t know the difference between night and day, thanks to an immature sleep-wake cycle. Still, it doesn’t hurt to establish a bedtime routine and experiment with placing your baby in the crib while drowsy so they’ll learn to drift off independently.

You don’t have to keep your house quiet while your baby sleeps during the day. Ordinary sounds and activities will not disturb them. But at night, keep your interactions to a minimum, avoid talking and playing with them, and turn the lights low.

Safe Sleep Guidelines

When you’re exhausted, it can be tempting to try anything to get your baby to sleep. But you should never compromise safety for comfort. Instead, practice the ABC’s of safe sleep by putting your baby down alone, on their back, and in a crib (or bassinet). Blankets, toys, pillows, and other items should never be placed in the crib with your baby as they can pose a suffocation risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends sharing a room with your baby until they’re at least 6 months old, but ideally for one year.

Calm a Crying Baby

Crying is the only method an infant has to communicate. Babies cry when they’re hungry, uncomfortable, gassy, sick, or overstimulated. If you’ve tried feeding and changing them, but they’re still inconsolable, here are some other ways to soothe your baby.

  • Experiment with different rocking methods (side to side, back and forth)
  • Sing or talk to them
  • Swaddle them
  • Rub or pat their back
  • Carry them as you walk
  • Offer a pacifier
  • Play music or soothing sounds like running water
  • Put them in a baby swing
  • Enlist help from a partner, friend, or family member

Most babies have a fussy period, so if your little one cries at the same time every day, don’t be too alarmed. Just be sure to respond to them when they cry. You can’t spoil your baby by holding or rocking them. In fact, the more often you give your baby attention when they cry, the less often they’ll cry overall.

That said, if you’re getting upset trying to calm your baby and nothing is working, it’s OK to put them down in a crib or bassinet while you collect yourself. You don’t want to run the risk of pushing yourself too far or doing something drastic like shaking your baby.

Attend Well Visits

One way to ensure your baby is growing and developing as they should during those first weeks is to attend their well visits. The first visit is usually three to five days after they’re born. At this visit, your baby’s health care provider will check their head circumference, their weight, and their hydration status.

They’ll also inquire about their wet and dirty diapers and how feeding is going. This is your time to ask questions and get advice on topics that concern you. To make the most of your visit, write down your questions and concerns as you think of them, and take the list with you to the appointment. Of course, if you forget something, most pediatricians are more than happy to answer questions through a patient portal or via telephone.

Your baby’s next well visit will occur at 2-4 weeks of age. At this point, your baby will likely get their first round of immunizations. After that, they’ll be seen again at 8 weeks or 2 months old.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

The physical recovery from giving birth, along with sleep deprivation, can make a big dent in your parental self-esteem. The realization that you’re responsible for another human can also throw you for a loop. To help you get through this period, you owe it to yourself to:

  • Get enough sleep. The best way to avoid sleep deprivation is to calculate how much sleep you need each day and get it in bits and pieces. Go to bed earlier in the evening and nap when your baby naps.
  • Take breaks. Take a walk, no matter how short, or run errands to get time away. Of course, this involves asking for help.
  • Enlist the help of others. Allow your partner, a family member, or another trusted adult to care for your baby so that you get time alone.
  • Eat properly and take your vitamins. While it can be challenging, make a concerted effort to eat nutritious foods. Keep grab-and-go items on hand like fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, veggies and dip, and rotisserie chicken.
  • Pay attention to your mental health. Some new parents will experience postpartum depression, which is a more severe form of the “baby blues.” Postpartum anxiety, as well as other mood disorders, can also appear after giving birth. These require treatment from a professional.
  • Take what others say with a grain of salt. Most people mean well when they offer advice, but don’t feel like you need to follow it. Trust yourself to know what’s best for your baby and tune out the unhelpful things.

Hang in There

The first six weeks can be a real trial. You and your baby are getting to know each other, and you’re both adjusting to your new roles. Hold on to the thought that, right around that 6-week mark, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most gratifying milestones in your entire parental career—your baby’s first genuine smile!

Until then, take it one day at a time. Be patient with yourself and don’t try to do too much. Instead, focus on what you and your baby need.

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