Caring for your newborn baby, especially your first is a steep learning curve for many new parents. This is of course dependent on your previous experience with babies, some new parents are very comfortable with babies as they have been closely involved with family or friends’ babies but for many, like me they have had very little exposure to the basics of baby care before becoming a parent themselves.
newborn baby care
Care of your newborn baby is an exhausting 24-hour-a-day job. Newborns have tiny stomachs that require frequent milk feeds as well as the additional nappy changes. Many decisions must be made some before the birth and many after, how you wish to feed – breast or bottle, reusable or disposable nappies as well as which nursery furniture and equipment you need or want. Sometimes these decisions can change a little once you have your baby and that is ok, there are no hard rules.
Some of the necessary skills to learn in the first few months include, feeding, nappy changing, bathing, skin care, caring for the umbilical cord, cradle cap, teething, cold viruses and other illnesses.
Rest assured that you are not expected to know all of this before the birth, you will gradually learn all of these skills as required over the first few days, weeks and months of your little one’s life. And there is help available from trusted health professionals… like me!
safe sleeping and your baby:
We know from the research that the safest place to sleep your baby is in a full-size cot in their parents’ bedroom. Cots are the only sleep device that are covered by Australian safety standards.
The cot should be made up simply with bottom & top sheets and a blanket made from natural fibres that can breathe. Short sheet the cot so that your baby can’t wriggle down under the sheets and cover their face.
Other cot accessories that we often see in the media can be dangerous and should not be used such as cot bumpers, pillows, wedges, quilts, these have all been associated with fatal sleep accidents. Most importantly your baby does not need any of them and won’t know they even exist!
If you do choose to use a bassinet and many parents do, make sure to remove any decorative ribbons, lace, keep hoods down and make them up as above.
Importantly, your baby should always be put into the cot on their back. Most newborn babies benefit from being wrapped or swaddled to help contain them and help them to feel secure, like how they had been in the their mums tummy.
Newborn babies require a lot of sleep, they generally wake due to hunger and will cry to alert you. In the early days it is important to feed your baby when they wake even if it is frequent, this will benefit your baby and if breastfeeding it will help to establish a good milk supply.
After feeding it is good to give your baby some play time, for a very young baby this may be only a few minutes on the floor for a kick around and a chance to stretch. This is also a great chance to look for your baby’s-tired signs such as jerky movements, clenching fists, grimacing, avoiding eye contact.
After seeing a few of these signs wrap your baby and put them into their cot before they get over tired. This gives your baby a chance to drop off to sleep at the right time, many will in fact do this themselves.
Some babies will require some support at this time, try shushing, patting, stroking their face, picking them up for a rock and letting them get a little drowsy and then placing them back in the cot.
If your baby can’t settle in the cot you can try other strategies to assist such as cuddling, rocking them, taking them for a walk in the pram or a drive in the car.
Young babies should never be left to ‘cry it out’ this doesn’t teach them to sleep independently, they will feel abandoned, and this will create more sleep issues.
It is normal for newborn babies to cry a lot, but it is a shock to many new parents just how much. Many new parents tell me that they feel like a failure as they’re not able to stop their baby crying, they don’t always know why they’re crying, and it keeps getting worse.
We know that normal newborn babies cry a little more every day, this peaks around 6 weeks of age with up to 4 hours/day of inconsolable crying and it then decreases regardless of what you do to help. We don’t know why but it often appears that these babies have tummy pain and perhaps they are having trouble digesting.
Many parents find it easier to cope with this unsettled behaviour just knowing that it is normal and that it is not their fault.
Using some settling strategies such as thinking about what could be wrong, did they feed well recently, is their nappy dirty, too hot, too cold, uncomfortable in their swaddle or clothes, need a burp? Do they just want to be close to you? After running through this list, you can try rocking, patting, try a baby carrier, walk with the pram, the crying is not as loud outside and they will often drop off to sleep with the movement.
If your baby is crying a lot and you feel something is wrong see your GP for a medical check, it helps to rule out anything medical and allows you to cope and get through this difficult time.
newborn baby play
Many parents ask me how to play with a young baby as it can seem that they are too little. It is never to early to start playing with your baby. Even in the first few days of life just talking to your baby and gaining some eye contact while changing their nappy can be thought of as play, it may only be for a few minutes at a time before you see that they are tired and ready to go back into the cot.
Early play with your baby often centres around communication, with you, you are their favourite toy! Talk to them, tell them what you’re doing, how much you love them. Sing to your baby, even if you don’t like the sound of your own voice, your baby will love it.
Babies will often try to copy your facial expressions like poking their tongue out, vocalising little noises and even deliberate smiling by 6 weeks of age.
Tummy time is important from birth for your baby’s gross motor development. This can be done on your chest, on the floor on a blanket or mat, in the bath or over your arm. Tummy time helps to strengthen your babies’ neck and shoulders ready for rolling and later crawling.
As your baby grows, floor play continues to be the most beneficial play for their development and will assist them to reach their developmental milestones such as rolling, crawling, pulling up to stand and walking.
out and about with baby
To begin with getting out and about can take some preparation, planning what to take in the nappy bag, learning how to put your pram up and down, feeding outside the house and how to dress your baby. But it is all worth it as it’s important to see family and friends, for your baby to develop connections with them and for you to show them off.
These are the same people who will support you in this new phase of becoming a parent so it is important to see them regularly.
New Mums often crave interaction with other new Mums, wanting to share ideas and issues really helps in this challenging period. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic many of the usual supports have been reduced or cancelled.
I have created a new online program for Mums of young babies called ‘Survive and Enjoy Your Baby’, the aim is to allow you to meet other new mums while also learning more about babies, what they need and want and how to enjoy parenting so much more. It’s a chance to ask your questions about you and your baby.
Sign up to join the waitlist and receive a free pack of printable trackers and checklists for essential baby equipment, what to put in your hospital bag, nappy bag, travel & childcare bag.
new parents health and wellbeing
New parents really need to look after themselves to enable them to care for their newborn baby which requires care around the clock. Try to rest when able, eat some nutritious food, drink plenty of water and get some fresh air each day. Many of your usual household tasks can wait or be completed by friends and family if they ask how they can help.
For new Mums in the early days and weeks after giving birth, it is important to seek medical care if you have any concerns. The 6 week postnatal check with your GP or obstetrician should not be missed as this is your opportunity to discuss your physical and mental recovery as well as possible contraception needs.
Mental health is just as important as physical health for both parents. Becoming a parent is a massive adjustment and may not feel how you thought it would. Many new parents need support, some don’t feel like themselves, don’t feel like they are coping or enjoying parenthood and they should see their GP and ask for some help.
Enjoy this special time with your baby, they really do grow so fast, and this time is precious.
Belinda Joyce is a midwife, maternal & child health nurse, author of 'Survive and Enjoy Your Baby' and mum to 4. She has a passion for supporting new parents to find their own path to parenthood, every Mum and Baby are different. Belinda is launching a new online program for mums of young babies in March, it will provide all the information and support to help you through common challenges including sleep and feeding challenges, play to enhance development and looking after yourself.