First-Time Mother’s Guide to Newborn and Baby Care

You have run the full course of pregnancy. You have survived the pangs of labor and delivery, and now you can smile as your cute baby rests in your arms. It is time to go home and start life with your little angel. You are excited but also anxious. Where do you start? How do you react to the small giggles or the loud growls of your baby? How do you ensure your baby sleeps peacefully every night? How do you feed and care for the baby? And how do you know when your baby is safe and comfortable or otherwise? Below are tips to enable even the most nervous first-time mother care for her newborn.

First-Time Mother’s Guide to Newborn and Baby Care, Feeding and Development

First-Time Mother’s Guide to Newborn and Baby Care

Prepare before you give birth

If you have previously not spent a lot of time with newborns, caring, feeding and nursing your baby can be an intimidating task. However, with adequate preparation before birth, you can increase your rate of success. So how should you prepare? Talk with friends and family members who have had good experience caring for newborns. Speaking with a baby care expert, lactation consultant or pediatrician can also give you a better idea of the do’s and don’ts. You can also enroll in a nursing class or in a nursing support group. Whatever you do before birth, make sure to learn as much as possible about baby care so you are confident to nurse your baby after birth.

Handling your newborn

Newborns are fragile. Any major impact can cause a lasting injury. Likewise, they are highly susceptible to infection due to a weak immunity. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly or to use a hand sanitizer before handling your newborn. Likewise, everyone handling the baby must have clean hands. Since the baby's head is very delicate, make sure to cradle it when carrying the baby and to always support the head when laying the baby down or when carried upright.

You must never shake your newborn vigorously, whether in frustration or in play. If you do so, bleeding may occur in the brain resulting in serious complications and even death. instead of waking up a newborn by shaking, just tickle the baby's feet or blow gently on the cheek. Fasten the baby securely into a stroller, carrier or car seat in order to limit bouncing or rough activity during movement. Remember that your baby is not yet ready for rough play, so avoid throwing the baby in the air or jiggling on your knees.

Feeding your baby

Feeding is typically the earliest opportunity to bond and nurses you're newborn, but it requires a round-the-clock commitment. To feed your newborn properly:

a) Stick with breast milk

Breast milk is the food of choice for newborns, with rare exceptions. In circumstances where breastfeeding is not possible, infant formula is recommended. A healthy newborn does not need juice, water or other fluids.

b) Feed on demand

Whether you are feeding your newborn by breast or a bottle, the baby should be fed on demand. The baby will cue you by putting fingers in the mouth, crying or making sucking noises. Just look for signs of hunger such as stretching and stirring, lip movements and sucking motions, with crying and fussing being later cues. Typically, a newborn need feeding every 2-3 hours, totaling to 8-12 feedings per day. If you are breastfeeding, make sure to give the baby the chance to nurse properly for 10-15 minutes at every breast. But if you are formula-feeding, the baby will take about 60-90 milliliters (2-3 ounces) per feeding. When full, the baby will stop sucking, turn away from the nipple or bottle, close the mouth, or simply take a break.

c) Burp the infant after feeding

After breastfeeding, the baby should be burped. Burping prevents the baby from getting gassy (having gastrointestinal reflex) or fussy during feeding. Ideally, you should burp the baby by holding him/her against your chest and pat gently on the back. Other burping strategies will also work. After burping, keep the baby in an upright position for 10-15 minutes to avoid spitting.

d) Consider vitamin D supplements

Since breast milk may not contain enough vitamin D, you can use supplements to boost your baby's intake. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb phosphorous and calcium, nutrients required for strong bones. Speak with your doctor about vitamin D supplements before using them.

Bonding and soothing techniques

A deep connection with your baby promotes emotional growth and affects other forms of development, including physical growth. Children thrive when parents or adults in their lives love them unconditionally. So how should you bond with your newborn?

  • Establish a routine of cradling and gently stroking the baby in different patterns. Holding the baby against your skin when cradling or feeding will also promote bonding.
  • Gentle massage enhances bonding and promotes infant growth and development. There are many books and videos out there to help you learn to massage your newborn. You can also speak with your doctor for recommendations.
  • Vocal sounds, such as babbling, talking, cooing and singing are loved by babies. So, when your baby gets fussy, try cooking, singing, reading aloud, reciting poetry or nursery rhymes. Babies also like listening to music. But if your baby is unusually sensitive to sound or light, make sure to keep the sound and light levels low or moderate.
  • Most babies respond well to swaddling. Proper swaddling keeps babies warm and gives them a sense of comfort and security. Make sure to learn how to swaddle and to use the technique to soothe your baby.

Diapering your baby

Whether you use cloth or disposable diapers, your baby will dirty them about 10 times a day (around 70 times a week). Therefore, make sure to have enough supply of diapers and to keep them near the changing table. You will need:

  • Clean diapers
  • Fasteners (when cloth pre-fold diapers are used)
  • Container of warm water
  • Diaper ointment if your baby has a rash
  • Clean cotton balls, diaper wipes, or washcloths

After every bowel movement or when the diaper is wet, lay the baby on his/her back to remove the diaper. Gently wipe the baby's genital area clean using cotton balls, wipes, washcloth or water. When wiping a baby girl, clean from the front to the back to prevent a potential urinary tract infection. Apply ointment to heal or prevent a rash. Remember to wash your hands after every diaper change.

Bathing tips for your baby

A baby is either given a sponge bath or a tub bath depending on age. You should give the baby a sponge bath until the umbilical cord has fallen off and the navel healed completely (1-4 weeks after birth). A baby requires a bath 2-3 times a week during the first year because frequent bathing may dry his/her skin. During a sponge bath, the infant’s eyes, nose, and ears are wiped with a clean cotton ball or washcloth dampened in water only. The rest of the body is washed gently with a wet cloth and soap, with special attention given to creases behind ears, underarms, genital area and around the neck. When bathing your baby, do not leave him/her alone. if you have to move away from the bathroom, wrap your baby in a towel and take him/her with you.

Sleeping tips

Newborns usually sleep for periods of 2-4 hours. Since their digestive system is very small and requires nourishment after every few hours, do not expect your baby to sleep through the night. In fact, you should wake the baby up if he/she has not been fed for 4 hours. It is until a baby is 3 months or older that you can expect him/her to sleep through the night (6-8 hours), but this will depend on the baby's established sleep patterns and cycles. Place the baby to sleep on the back and remove all fluffy items that may suffocate the infant. Also, make sure to change the baby's head position from night to night (right then left and so on) to prevent the development of a flat spot on an overused side of the head. To ensure the infant sleeps well and spares you the trouble:

  • Feed the baby to satisfaction before putting him/her to sleep.
  • Limit the baby's daytime naps to encourage more sleep at night. So, if a baby has slept for 2 hours during the day, wake him/her up.
  • Remember that what you do to make the baby sleep during the first 2 months will establish a sleep association with the infant. if you engage in constant singing and swaying, the baby will expect similar action before being put to sleep. So just stick to basics and treat the baby like a grown-up child to avoid any expectations from the baby in future.
  • Babies tend to be more alert and awake at night than during the day. Therefore, to ensure the baby sleeps at night, minimize stimulation and keep the lights low. Play and talk a lot with the baby during the day to reduce the baby's daytime sleeping hours. So, when the baby wakes up during the day, keep him/her awake for longer by playing and talking.

Social and emotional development

A big portion of a baby's brain is dedicated to understanding and remembering voices and faces. In fact, a huge part of a baby's social behavior is based on how he/she reads other people’s voices and faces. So, the first step in promoting social and emotional development is showing your face and talking to your baby soothingly right from the beginning. A newborn feels but does not think. But with your close interaction, the baby will smile by 5-7 weeks, laugh out loud by 3 months, and learn to respond to different things quickly.

Physical development

Newborns hear and have been hearing before they are born. However, they are born with immature eye muscles which cannot organize visual images into meaningful shapes. In the first 2 months, newborns are attracted to primary colors, bright light, dots, stripes, and patterns. By the sixth week, their eyes move in unison with the human face being the first object they recognize. Three months after birth, the infant can clearly recognize particular faces and various items, such as his/her teddy bear.

For infants, crying is the only means of communication. Therefore, it is important you respond to your baby when crying, so he/she begins to understand that you will be there when needed. By 7-8 weeks, the baby will discover his/her voice and begin vowel sounds and cooing noises. The baby will also be able to listen to what you say and make noises back in an attempt to talk to you. Likewise, infants do not have control over their body movements.

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