Newborn Day-to-Day Care
Head-to-toe tips on caring for your baby.
You already know that your newborn needs food, sleep, warmth and love, but here are a few more specifics about her day-to-day care.
When your baby’s umbilical cord was cut, a little bit was left behind. Over the next several days, it will be healing at the site of her navel — the cord piece will darken, shrink and eventually fall off. In the meantime, you should keep it as clean and dry as possible. Fold down the top of baby’s diaper away from the cord area, and avoid submerging the area in water. A bit of crusting or bleeding at the base is normal, but if you notice it happening for more than a couple of days, or if the area has a foul odor, redness or drainage, call your baby’s doctor.
A baby is circumcised with one of two methods: Plastibell or Gomko. A Plastibell setup will fall off in five to eight days, and your baby can be bathed and diapered normally in the meantime. With the Gomko method, your baby will have gauze wrapped around the end of his penis. If the gauze dressing has not fallen off after 24 hours, soak his penis with warm water and gently remove the gauze. For two days, apply petroleum jelly to the raw area of the penis with every diaper change to keep his diaper from sticking to it. In either case, if you notice bleeding, excessive drainage or a foul odor, or if your baby hasn’t urinated within 12 hours after the circumcision, call your baby’s doctor.
Babies can be born with surprisingly long fingernails, and they may accidentally scratch their face. You can cover your baby’s hands with cotton mitts designed for this reason, or carefully trim her nails with blunt-ended scissors. Clippers are too hard to use safely on such tiny fingers. Some parents find it easier to peel off their baby’s soft fingernails rather than cut them. A good time to trim baby’s nails is when she’s drowsy or asleep.
Keeping Baby Clean
Keep your baby’s diaper area clean at each changing by using a washcloth or paper towel with plain warm water, or a baby wipe. For a baby girl, separate the labia and gently wipe from front to back with the washcloth or a cotton pad soaked in warm water. For an uncircumcised baby boy, don’t do anything with his foreskin. It will take many months or years until it can be pulled back.
Wash baby’s face and neck daily with a warm wet washcloth. Milk or dead skin can collect in the folds of her skin. She doesn’t need a full bath every day; aim for twice or three times a week.
Before the baby’s cord has fallen off and her navel has healed, some parents prefer sponge baths. Others think a traditional bath is fine right from the start — and it’s easier to keep her warm this way. Either way, when it’s time for that real bath, use warm water (not hot!) and mild, unscented soap. Babies get chilled easily, so keep her bath fairly short and be sure you’re in a warm, draft-free area.
Newborn skin is delicate and can have rashes, dryness, acne, little white bumps called milia, and scaly scalps. None of these are anything to worry about (except a bad rash) and your baby doesn’t need any kind of skin lotion or powder.
Your newborn will go through 10 to 12 diapers a day, whether they’re cloth or disposable. Although disposable diapers often feel drier even when wet, you should still change them often to keep rash-causing ammonia and bacteria away from baby’s skin.
After cleansing baby’s diaper area with a wet washcloth, paper towel or diaper wipe, let the skin dry before putting on the next diaper. Keep a towel handy for under (or over, if you have a boy) your baby’s bottom in case she happens to go again before the next diaper is on.
Your baby’s first stool will be a sticky, greenish-black substance called meconium. Over the next several days, the stool will change to a lighter greenish-brownish color, then yellow. Breastfed babies will have an average of three to 10 soft, yellowish stools every day, once your full milk supply comes in. Stools of a bottle-fed baby will be darker yellow, pasty, and may have more of an odor. If your baby is constipated, she’ll have dry, hard stools that are difficult to pass. Diarrhea in newborns is rare, but if you think your baby is either constipated or has diarrhea, call her doctor for advice. It’s a good idea to keep track of your baby’s stools and wet diapers in the first five days after birth, since her doctor will want to know at her well-baby appointment.
Dressing Your Baby
In the first few weeks, you might swaddle your baby in a blanket with her hands free, and keep her dressed in a simple layer of clothing underneath. Be sure to wash new clothes before she wears them so they don’t irritate her skin.
Your baby might get fussy if she’s too hot or too cold. A good rule of thumb is to dress her in one more layer of clothing or blankets than you have on. If you’re outside in cold weather, a warm hat is important to keep her from getting chilled. If you’re out on a sunny day, stay in the shade or use a sun hat to protect her from sunburn. If that’s not possible, ask her doctor about using sunscreen.