Taking Your Baby Home: Caring for Your Newborn
by Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
You may feel both excited and scared about bringing your baby home from the hospital. It is normal to feel this way. Being prepared can go a long way in making you feel more confident and making your baby feel more comfortable.
What will your newborn need? He will need the essentials—food, clothes, diapers, and a quiet and safe place to sleep. Of course, your baby will also rely on you for love and attention.
Whether breastfed or bottlefed, a newborn needs to be fed throughout the day. In the first few weeks, you should wake your baby to feed if 3-4 hours have passed since his last feeding.
If you are breastfeeding, you will likely need to feed your baby every 2-3 hours. Or he may have 6-10 formula feedings (2-4 ounces each). If you do decide to use formula, be sure to follow the product’s instructions for storing and warming it.
Some supplies that you may need include:
Dress your baby in comfortable clothes that make it easy for you to change his diapers. Be sure that the clothes do not have anything hanging from them, like strings or ties, which can become a choking hazard. Also check to make sure that your baby’s sleepwear is flame-retardant. Newborns can sometimes have trouble regulating their own body temperature. As a result, overclothing can result in overheating, just as underclothing can result in heat loss. For room temperatures of 75°F (24°C) or less, use several layers of clothing. As a guideline, dress your baby in one more layer of clothing than you are comfortable wearing. In hotter weather, you can use a single layer of clothing. Here are some examples of clothing items that you may want to have at home for your baby:
Diaper Changes TOP
When you first bring your baby home, he will not have regular-looking stool. It will be thick and sticky and have a greenish-black color. If your baby is breastfed, the stool will be more liquid in consistency, seedy, and yellow. For formula-fed babies, expect soft, pasty, and yellowish-brown stool. Hard or dry stools may be due to your infant not getting enough fluid or losing too much fluid due to an illness. The frequency of bowel movements can vary greatly in infants. If your baby has many bowel movements or if you have any concerns, call your doctor.
Your baby will have 6-8 wet diapers per day. If your child looks to be in pain while urinating, let your doctor know, as this may be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
Supplies that you will need include:
Sleep Time TOP
Your baby will develop his own sleep routine. Your baby may sleep 12-20 hours per day. He may sleep for 1-3 hour intervals, and it is common for your baby to wake up during the night for you to feed her and change her diaper. When you place your baby down to sleep, always place her on her back. This is the safest position.
Your baby will need:
Avoid having anything in the crib or bassinet that could restrict your baby’s breathing. Do not place pillows, quilts, comforters, stuffed animals, or other items in the crib. Also, do not use sleep positioners. Sleep positioners can increase your baby's risk of suffocation.
You can help your baby sleep better by keeping her calm and in a quiet environment during changing and feeding at night. Try to put her in the crib when she is drowsy but not yet asleep rather than waiting until she is fully asleep. This will help her to learn to fall asleep by herself. If she is fussy, wait a few minutes to see if she falls back to sleep on her own. If crying continues, you can check on your baby, but try not to pick her up. If crying persists, try to determine if she is hungry, has a wet diaper, or is not feeling well.
Other Day-to-Day Activities TOP
Giving Your Baby a Sponge Bath
Your baby’s umbilical cord stump needs time to dry and fall off. Until that happens, you will need to give your baby a sponge bath, rather than a tub bath. Gently clean your baby girl’s genital area from front to back. For an uncircumcised baby boy, do not pull back the foreskin. This can cause swelling and other problems. If your baby has been circumcised, follow the doctor’s instructions for caring for your baby.
For your baby’s first sponge bath, you will need:
Taking Your Baby’s Temperature
It is good idea to have a rectal thermometer at home to take your baby’s temperature. These thermometers give the most accurate readings in infants. Follow the product’s instructions for taking the temperature. Having a temperature greater than 100.4°F (38°C) may be a sign of an infection. If this occurs, call your doctor.
Traveling in the Car With Your Baby
Your baby will need a safety-approved rear-facing car seat. Some manufacturers make rear-facing convertible seats, which can be switched to a front-facing seat once your child has reached the height and weight requirements. Rear-facing seats are the safest option for your baby. Be sure that the seat is strapped into your car properly and that your baby is buckled in correctly. On the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, you can find a local inspection station where the staff will check to make sure that the car seat is safely installed.
Taking a Walk With Your Baby
Just as with the car seat, you will want to buy a safety-approved stroller for your newborn. There are many options to choose from, including ones that allow you to attach the car seat to the stroller. Some features to look for in a stroller include:
Never leave your baby alone in the stroller.
Playing With Your Baby
You can help your baby to develop his brain and body by doing activities like:
Some toys that your baby might enjoy include a brightly colored stuffed animal, a rattle, and a book with lots of colors. Be sure that the baby’s toys are safety-approved for infants.
Soothing Your Baby
When your baby cries, it can be very distressing. Crying is how newborns let you know that they need something, whether it be a diaper change, a feeding, or time in your arms. Over time, you will become more adept at understanding what your baby needs. Some newborns get upset by bright lights or loud noises. Their bodies are sensitive. Making their environment relaxing and quiet may help to reduce crying. Your baby may also be soothed by being wrapped in a blanket, called swaddling. Remember, it is normal for a newborn to cry for several hours throughout the day.
If you ever feel that you are becoming aggravated or angry with your baby, ask for help from friends or family right away. Never shake your baby. This can cause brain damage or even death. Get support from your loved ones to help you care for your newborn. There are many people who will be happy to help you.
If your baby is crying for a long time and may be sick, call the doctor right away.
Once your baby is home, you will soon develop a routine for taking care of her. Do your best, ask for help, and talk to the doctor and nurse if you have any questions or concerns about your new arrival.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association
Consumer Product Safety
Ontario Ministry of Transportation
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Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 7/22/2012