Real Life Guide to Newborn Care

The day has finally come! Your partner pulls the car around to the hospital doors, and you nervously load your newborns car seat into the back. Or maybe you’re settling into your own cozy bed with your newborn after delivering at home! The midwives are packing up to leave and you still have so many questions!

“What if the baby starts to cry and I can’t console them?”

“How will I know when s/hes hungry/tired/gassy/?”

“Is (insert newborn behavior here) normal?”

All of these questions and the many many more that follow the birth of your long awaited bundle of joy can make those first few days more anxiety filled than blissful, and to be honest, there is no blog post or FAQ section of any parenting website that will take most of that anxiety away. HOWEVER you can know that your worries are common and while the “solutions” might not be one size fits all, knowing whats normal and when to ask for help can greatly improve your experience with the newborn phase of parenting.

Here is a list of the top questions I get as a postpartum Doula about newborn care. No fluff or “fool proof solutions” here; just real life answers and practical tips for new parents to feel confident in.

1. “How long will me newborn wake during the night?”

While some babies sleep through the night at 4 months old (sometimes sooner but not likely), it can take over a year (sometimes more) for an infant to establish a regular sleep wake cycle and it depends mostly on their meeting a few key milestones such as:

  • Weight gain (your baby feeds more often or is feeding for longer)
  • Decreased feedings at night (breast milk metabolizes faster than formula so this may be delayed for breastfed babies as they may need more frequent feedings)
  • Decreased Moro (startle) reflex. A newborn has the tendency to be roused from sleep by a sudden movement, change in temperature, or a loud noise. By 4 months, however, the Moro reflex usually disappears. Swaddle, swaddle, swaddle! This helps reduce your babies chance of waking himself up
  • Increased ability to self-soothe

The important thing to remember is that no two babies are the same and just because one baby sleeps through the night at a certain stage, it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong as a parent should your baby not reach that milestone at the same stage.

2. “How often should I be feeding my baby?”

Newborns should be fed about every 2-3 hours (8-12 times a day) and should not go longer than 4 hours without a feed. Yet another reason that nighttime sleep is so illusive for new parents! Be encouraged, this stage goes by a lot faster than you might think.

3. “How will I know when my newborn is hungry vs tired or has a dirty diaper?”

It might actually surprise you just how easy this feels once you get into the “groove” with your newborn. However, the anxiety that you won’t be able to tell what your baby needs and when is real and totally valid! Here are some key signs or “cues” that your newborn is hungry!

  • Moving their head from side to side (initiating a search for the breast)
  • Opening their mouth or sticking out their tongue
  • Placing their hand and/or fist to their mouth
  • Showing signs of the rooting reflex (when a baby moves their mouth to the direction of the cheek that is being touched or soothed)

Its important to remember that each baby is different and will develop at their own pace. watch your newborn carefully for their unique cues and comfort signs! Soon you will get into a routine and rhythm and know exactly what your newborn needs and when (sometimes even BEFORE they cue).

4. “How do I sooth my baby if they aren’t hungry or dirty?”

A common fear of new parents is that they will be unable to calm or sooth their baby effectively. While some babies can suffer from colic making them incredibly difficult to soothe, most respond well to some basic soothing techniques.

For starters, its important to note that babies do NOT have the ability to “manipulate” their care providers and their cues or cries are their way of signaling they have a need, either emotional, or physical. Responding to these needs quickly will build trust and security in your relationship and will actually lead to your baby crying less as they know their needs will be met promptly.

Here are a few I find to work incredibly well for the baby who simply wants to be held/soothed.

Jaguar in a tree – Think of how a jaguar or other large cat would be lazily sleeping on a branch. Belly flat on the branch, with their limbs dangling on either side. Babies LOVE this position. With an infant, your arm is that branch and they are the jaguar. Babies love being on their bellies! While it is not recommended to let baby sleep on their tummy, holding them this way is totally ok as long as you make sure their air way is not restricted in any way. This position is a wonderful comfort to help sooth baby as it leaves their back and bottom free to rub and pat for extra reassurance. It can also help with colic or gas as it puts firm, consistent pressure on their belly.

Chest-to-chest – This position is amazing for skin-to-skin. Baby’s chest is laying flat against your chest, with their head turned to the side to keep their airways clear. This allows them to breathe in sync with their care giver, can regulate their temperature, and help them stay in a biologically light sleep cycle to prevent SIDS.

A few other things…

  • Babies love being gently bounced! Just like they were in the womb.
  • A baby  CANNOT be  spoiled by being held as often as they need to be held, or by being soothed back to sleep!
  • Soothing a baby by holding or responding to their cries does NOT create “bad habits”. Feel free to hold your baby as often as possible/they need in order to provide optimal bonding and trust with parents, as well as brain development

5. “Is is normal for my baby to lose weight?”

Some weight loss in the couple days following birth is normal! It is typical for a newborn to loose 5-10% of their weight in the first three days. Babies usually return to birth weight in 7-10 days and double it by six weeks.

If your newborn does not begin to gain weight or they seem to be constantly hungry (despite feeding regularly), cries constantly, they become difficult to rouse and their skin becomes saggy and seems to hang off their body, its important to seek immediate medical care as these can be signs of malnutrition and could be life threatening to your baby.

6. “How often should I bathe my newborn?”

Bathing your baby can be nerve wracking at first but will quickly become a time of bonding between you and your newborn. That being said, bathing a baby too much can actually cause their skin to dry out causing rashes and discomfort!

Newborns should be bathed no more than 3 times per week or even less. Its also best to hold off until after the umbilical stump falls off (about 5-7 days postpartum).

The main areas to clean on your baby include their face, neck, and genitalia. So if you’re keeping up with wipes and diapers, you’re already maintaining good hygiene. Some babies spit up more than others, so make sure you clean in those neck creases! If not, it can really irritate your baby and your baby will start to smell like sour milk.

Here is a really simple video walk through of how to bathe your newborn!

Also, be sure to moisturize his or her itty bitty body with a hypoallergenic lotion after every bath to keep his or her skin soft and subtle and at a healthy ph level. For newborns, check with your doctor before applying any lotion. And, keep his or her underarm and neck creases dry to prevent any rashes from forming.

7. “Whats up with my baby’s skin?”

Newborn skin is very sensitive and is just getting used to being exposed to the outside world. This can cause some concerning looking skin reactions and conditions that might frighten any parent. Here is a helpful graphic of the most common skin conditions found in newborns and how to treat them.

8. “What’s normal for baby poop and whats not?”

The attention paid by new parents to the details about their child’s poop has been the butt of many a joke since parenting began. While humorous, new parents are NOT crazy for checking each diaper as the color and consistency of your baby’s poop can be a tell tale sign of their health and wellness.

Here is a quick color guide to your newborns poop:

9. “How much should my baby be pooping/peeing a day?”

Normal range for the average newborn is about 5 or 6 bowel movements a day. That being said, sometimes more and sometimes less is also normal! (My youngest only pooped once every 14 days which is also normal! he was exclusively breast fed and perfectly healthy!)

Its important to remember that every baby is different and the number of bowel movements is also largely determined by their feeding habits. Breastfed babies will have thinner and more frequent stools than babies fed on formula.

As for pee, a newborn should have at least 6-8 wet diapers a day (sometimes more depending on their eating habits).

If your newborn baby is not pooping or peeing enough, please contact your doctor and possibly a Lactation Consultant. Your baby might not be getting enough milk.

10. “Is it necessary to breastfeed?”

The decision to breastfeed or not is purely the parents and is influenced by many different factors. As a postpartum Doula, my job is to present the evidence clearly and to facilitate the informed decision making of the parent. SO, with that in mind, read on!

Breastfeeding is extremely beneficial during the first few weeks for both newborns and their mothers. Colostrum, which is the first milk produced at the very end of pregnancy, provides rich antibodies that ward off disease and infection. This is the first food your baby will get if you choose to breastfeed and is incredibly beneficial to your baby.

Breastfeeding has been found to reduce a woman’s risk for certain cancers as well as Type 2 Diabetes. It has also shown a significant decrease in those suffering postpartum depression, and it creates an important bonding moment that is beneficial to a baby’s emotional and cognitive growth.

Doctors do recommend breastfeeding for as long as possible. The vitamins and minerals found in breast milk are unique, not to mention, it is produced perfectly by the right amount, temperature, and nutrients that a baby needs. Infants fed on breast milk maintain a healthier weight and digestive system. On top of all that, its FREE!

Should you be a part of the group of women who struggle with milk production or any other challenge that creates a barrier to breastfeeding, please know that you are not alone and that there is no shame in struggling in this area and asking for help. Should it come about that your breastfeeding journey ends or possibly never beings, know that you are no less a woman or good mother!

11. “Being a new parent is so hard. I am SO exhausted and I’m starting to feel angry/anxious/sad/apathetic/hopeless. Is my mood normal for a parent of a newborn?”

So this is obviously a question about yourself as a parent. I, however, feel that its worth including! So often as new parents, we focus so much on our new sweet baby that we forget about our own needs and feelings! I am passionate about maternal/paternal mental health and fell the need to bring awareness to this growing issue.

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if what you’re experiencing is normal or a sign that something is wrong. Its standard practice to have a postpartum depression screening done at your 6 week postpartum visit, however postpartum mood disorders can develop at any time after that. Even a year postpartum does not exclude any parent from being susceptible to developing a PPMD. If you aren’t sure, its OK to ask for help! A professional can help you create a support plan regardless of a diagnosis

Postpartum Mood Disorders affect birth parents, adoptive parents and surrogates. 10% to 15% of new parents will be affected by a postpartum mood disorder. They are common, treatable, temporary and in no way determine weather you are a good parent.

Here is a handy graphic to help you decide whether you should be getting professional help (although if you are feeling overwhelmed, asking for help is NEVER out of the question.

Download this Handy tool to help you determine whether you might be experiencing a PPMD!

The most practical advice for new parents…

You might feel like this is all so overwhelming and that there are so many things to remember to do right/not do wrong. Maybe you’re worried about whether you can do this whole “parent thing” at all. BE ENCOURAGED!! We all start out having no idea what we are doing and most of us never do (have a clue, that is).

Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, whether you co sleep or put baby to sleep in the crib, whether you swaddle or not, whether you glide through new parenthood like some magical unicorn or stumble along each new milestone with the grace of an elephant seal, know this; You have what it takes. You are doing enough. You ARE enough! *mic drop*

Still have questions?

As a new parent, I’m sure the questions don’t stop there! I could probably write a book filled with all the seemingly silly (but 100% valid) questions I had after bringing home each of my 3 children! Part of the reason I became a Postpartum Doula was to be able to love, encourage and help new parents as they walked the sometimes daunting (but mind blowingly rewarding) path of parenthood.

Feel free to reach out for answers to your burning questions about bringing home your newborn or about your baby at any stage!

Subscribe to the Love First blog for more practical, reliable, evidence based tools, guides, resources, how-tos and encouraging tales of a mother of 3 and Full Spectrum Doula!

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