There are few moments in life that can rival the birth of a baby for excitement, joy and, yes, challenge. Especially for first-time parents, properly caring for your newborn can seem overwhelming.
The important thing to remember is there's no one right way to care for a child. You'll get advice from all corners, and it will often be conflicting.
That's why we've compiled some baby care basics from a source you can trust: the Novant Health nurses and nurse educators who help deliver hundreds of babies each year and get new moms and dads ready to care for their bundle of joy when they leave the hospital.
Fragrance-free and lightly scented baby lotions are generally safe on dry skin areas or as your pediatrician recommends. Babies tend to suck on their fingers and hands, so avoid putting lotion on those areas.
It's common in the first few weeks for your baby to have rashes on the face and upper body, red dots on the face or white dots on the nose. These typically get better with time.
Skin products to avoid include:
- Powders and cornstarch-based products, because they can cake and cause irritation, and can also be inhaled into the baby's lungs.
- Oils, because they leave a film on the skin and clog pores.
New babies' fingernails are very soft, but still need to be kept short to prevent the baby from scratching his or her face. Take extra care when trimming nails to avoid nicking your baby's fingertips.
The following are some helpful hints for trimming your baby's nails:
- Use manicure scissors or small nail clippers.
- Cut nails after a bath when they are extra soft.
- Cut nails when your baby is sleeping.
- Trim nails straight across.
Do not use your teeth to trim your baby's nails! Your mouth has many germs that, if transferred to your baby, can make him or her sick.
It is important to keep the diaper area as dry as possible by changing frequently. Diapers are generally changed at feeding times and/or when your infant is awake.
Urine should be rinsed off the skin at each diaper change. If using baby wipes, water should be the first ingredient listed on the back of the container, not alcohol or oil.
Positioning the penis so it points down inside the diaper will help keep outer clothing and bedding dry.
Disposable diapers are convenient and easy to use. The disadvantage is that your baby's skin is always covered with plastic. It can be beneficial to expose the area to air for 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times daily.
Cloth diapers are less expensive but require washing. After each diaper change, flush any bowel movements (flushable liners are available). Pro tip: When washing diapers, first use cold water to loosen stains, then hot or warm water for cleaning. Ensure all detergent residues are removed by running an extra rinse cycle.
Almost all babies get diaper rash at some point. Frequent changes and exposure to air can help, but there are also over-the-counter treatments such as zinc oxide ointment. For diaper rashes that don't respond to over-the-counter measures, consult your physician.
About your baby's poop
Each baby will have his/her own pattern for bowel movements. The following elimination pattern guidelines can help you be sure your baby is getting enough to eat:
- 24 hours after birth – at least one wet and one bowel movement diaper
- Day two – at least two wet and two bowel movement diapers
- Day three – at least three wet and three bowel movement diapers
- Day four and beyond – at least six wet and two or more bowel movement diapers
Initially, your baby's stools will be the black and tarry meconium stool. This is the stool carried in utero and is expelled in the first few days of life. From there, you can expect a greenish brown color for several days.
After about four to five days, the appearance of your baby's stools start to be affected by what he or she is eating/drinking. For breastfed babies, the stool typically turns yellow, with a soft, seedy consistency and mild odor. For bottle-fed babies, expect yellow to brown color and a stronger odor. Breastfed babies tend to have more frequent stools because mother's milk is easier to digest.
Caring for a baby girl
It is normal for baby girls to have vaginal discharge shortly after birth. This is usually white, pink, orange or slightly red and is a result of pregnancy hormones leaving her system. Regular cleaning and diaper changes, always wiping from front to back and using a clean part of the washcloth or wipe with each stroke, will help prevent urinary tract infections.
Caring for a baby boy
If your baby does not have a circumcision, no special care is needed initially. Do not pull back the foreskin when cleaning or changing diapers. Your pediatrician will instruct you on future care.
If your baby is circumcised, keep petroleum jelly on the head of the penis for the first few days. Some redness, swelling and even yellow or white discharge is normal, but if you notice persistent bleeding or if your baby has not urinated within eight to 12 hours of the circumcision, call your pediatrician.
If your baby has a Plastibell circumcision, no petroleum jelly is needed. Your physician or nurse will give you more information about caring for the Plastibell circumcision.
If your baby boy was circumcised, the following instructions will help with the healing process, which typically takes one to two weeks:
- Clean by dribbling plain water over the penis until healed.
- Avoid wipes and soap because they may cause irritation and sting.
- Apply petroleum jelly directly onto the penis with each diaper change to prevent the diaper from sticking to the circumcision and urine from stinging the area. Use a clean Q-Tip, not your fingers, to get petroleum jelly from the jar to prevent germs being spread. Make sure circumcision care is the only use for this tube or jar of petroleum jelly.
Signs and symptoms of an infection may include excessive redness or swelling, or crusty yellow sores that contain cloudy fluid. This does not happen very often, but if you suspect that an infection is present, consult your pediatrician.
Childbirth is unpredictable — but thinking through your preferences ahead of time can make you feel more confident on the day of. Download our birth preparation guide.