Bringing a newborn home turns your life upside down — especially if you are a new parent. These first few weeks are exciting, but also frustrating.
“It’s normal for first-time moms to feel uncertain about bringing their newborn home,” says Gwendolyn Wright, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center, Hillcrest. “Don’t panic and remember to be patient with yourself and your baby as you get to know each other.”
Get motherhood off to a great start with these 10 tips for taking care of your baby and yourself.
Babies cry because that is how they communicate. Crying is how they let you know that they are hungry, cold, have a dirty diaper or want to be held.
While you may have trouble deciphering the wails at first, you will soon have a better understanding of your newborn’s signals and be able to respond accordingly.
“Don’t worry about spoiling a newborn,” says Dr. Wright. “The truth is it’s impossible to spoil an infant during these first weeks.”
With their tiny stomachs, newborns need to eat frequently, but it can be hard to determine if your newborn is getting enough milk, especially if you are nursing. Your pediatrician will check your baby’s weight at your first visit, which is generally three to five days after you leave the hospital.
Expect your baby to lose 5 to 8 percent of birthweight in the first week, which should be gained back by the second week. Diaper counting can also help new parents figure out if their newborn is getting enough milk. After the first five days, expect to see five to six wet diapers a day, and at least one or two stools.
Newborns are anything but timid and delicate when it comes to spitting up. Babies spit up because the muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach is not fully developed so it’s easy for food to come back up.
Burping your baby and keeping your newborn upright after eating can help. Most babies will outgrow the spit-up phase by 4 to 5 months.
Give sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off, usually within two weeks. While the cord is attached, you can daub the stump with a clean, wet cotton ball or swab and pat dry. Don’t worry if the stump bleeds a little when the cord falls off.
Newborn babies sleep a lot, up to 16 hours a day, but only one to two hours at a time. By 3 months of age though, most infants can sleep for six to eight hours straight. During the first weeks, try to sleep when your baby is sleeping.
It may not be pretty, but pooping in many shades and consistencies is a normal part of life with a newborn.
Your newborn will first eliminate the meconium, a greenish-black, tarry and sticky substance. At 2 to 4 days old, the poop should be lighter in color and less sticky as your newborn starts to digest early breast milk or formula.
For the first six weeks, expect your baby to have at least two to five bowel movements in a 24-hour period.
Plan on changing your little one after every feeding and bowel movement at first.
Keep the baby’s diaper folded below the cord stump, or use a newborn diaper with a cutout that accommodates the cord, to keep it exposed to air.
“Don’t neglect your own needs,” says Dr. Wright. “It’s important that you take care of yourself physically and emotionally.”
Choosing healthy foods will keep you energized through this busy time. Start with a balanced diet and follow these simple ideas to stay on track.
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat small meals throughout the day.
- Keep the fridge stocked with easy snacks or quick small meals high in protein or complex carbs.
Building a support system
Although it may be hard to accept help from friends and family, having extra hands while you are mastering new skills can be a lifesaver for new moms. If you do not have family or a network of friends nearby, ask neighbors for help, get temporary maid service and grocery delivery or ask your doctor for support groups.
The Parent Connection also offers resources and programs for parents.
“Getting the sleep you need those first few months is vital for your sanity and your safety,” says Dr. Wright. “If you sleep less than five hours per day, you are more likely to be involved in accidents.”
- Sleep when your baby sleeps.
- If you can’t sleep, lie down. Put your feet on the couch and stay off your phone and the internet.
- Have your partner help with nighttime feedings. If you are breastfeeding, introduce a bottle of breast milk early.
If you feel depressed or overly anxious, seek help from your doctor or counselor. “Remember that other parents made it through these first weeks,” says Dr. Wright. “Soon enough, you’ll be rewarded with your baby’s first smile!”