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You made it through labor. You survived your postpartum stay. Now it’s time to take your newborn home! If you’re like many new parents, you’re probably feeling a bit of trepidation and uncertainty. How are you going to care for this wee one, staring at you with big wide open eyes and relying on you to meet her every need? Don’t worry! We’ve pulled together answers to your most essential questions to help you (and your baby) not only survive, but thrive, during this newborn period.
Smooth sibling transition
Many parents swear by the magical powers of a new baby giving a gift to her big brothers and sisters. Gift-giving, a popular gesture, reassures siblings that their feelings are still important and their needs won’t be overlooked. Even after the initial offering, try to be sure to spend some quality time with each child each day. Try to continue any bedtime routines you have, when possible. You may also find it helpful to invite your older children to sit next to you when you breastfeed your baby, and quietly read books together. For toddler siblings, gaining access to a basket of special toys that they can play with only during baby feeding times may ease this transition. Engage your child to “help” you care for the new baby.
Consult a car seat expert
Several studies show that most parents have installed their child’s car seat incorrectly. Many hospitals, fire departments, police departments, or car dealerships have certified car seat experts who will check your child’s seat at no cost. Your doctor, your baby’s doctor, or your hospital’s prenatal education department should be able to point you to a child seat expert in your community. Make sure your child’s seat is installed correctly to keep her safe. Take your baby home from the hospital in a rear-facing car seat, either an infant-only seat or a convertible model that may be used forward-facing in toddlerhood.
Put your baby’s crib in your room
For many moms, setting up the nursery is an essential part of nesting and also a fun way to prepare for baby’s arrival in between all those doctor appointments and birthing classes. While there’s no harm in setting up your baby’s room, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies sleep in “close proximity” to their parents for at least the first six months. So be sure to put your child’s crib or a bassinet in your bedroom. Being close, especially at night, reduces your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and enables you to respond to her needs quickly. Make sure your baby’s sleep space is firm, clean, and free of any breathing blockers (such as blankets, bumpers, pillows, or stuffed animals). This ensures you’ll both be able to have sweet dreams—at least until baby’s next feeding!
Expect around-the-clock feedings
Whether your baby is 6 lbs or 10 lbs, all newborns have very small tummies and need to eat at least 8 to 12 times during each 24-hour period. This means you’ll be waking up during the night with baby for feedings. So prepare yourself for the inevitable by figuring out ways to make nighttime feedings easier. Try finding ways to clear tasks so you can nap more when baby sleeps during the day.
After your baby has established a good latch and there are no concerns for nipple confusion, and once your milk supply is well-established, your partner can takeover a nighttime feeding with expressed (pumped) breastmilk so you can have a longer stretch of sleep. (As long as you’re not relying on exclusive breastfeeding as birth control (LAM)).
By having reasonable expectations of your baby’s biological needs and how they affect her schedule and yours, you might have more patience when those 2 a.m. feedings roll around. Fortunately, your baby won’t always need to feed so frequently. Her schedule will change over time. Get tips for nighttime nursing here.
Get help if breastfeeding hurts
Pain is one of the most common breastfeeding fears, and many first-time mothers do find breastfeeding uncomfortable—at first. The good news is this sensation of tugging, pulling, or discomfort should be only at the start of a feeding, and it should pass after a few seconds. After a week or two, any hint of pain should disappear. Pain that lasts more than a few seconds is usually a sign that your baby’s mouth is poorly positioned on your breast. Slip a finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth to break the suction, then gently reposition her and try again. If the pain persists throughout a feeding, between feedings, or for more than two weeks, it may signal a different issue.
Get help from someone trained to help breastfeeding families, such as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a La Leche League leader (LLL), WIC peer counselor, or other health worker) as soon as possible. It may take some time to figure out and correct the problem, but there are many people who can help you and your baby successfully breastfeed.
Track feedings and diapers
Topping every parent’s list of worries is whether their baby is getting enough to eat and gaining weight. Unlike bottle-feeding moms, breastfeeding moms can’t measure the amount of milk their babies drink and too many moms doubt their own body’s ability to make a sufficient amount of milk (and by the way, most mothers can adequately meet the demands of their babies). Frequent feedings will usually ensure that your baby is getting enough to eat.
Your pediatrician will check your baby’s weight before discharge, at a 2-day (or 3-day) check-up, and again at one-week after birth. Although weight gain is the most reliable way to know whether your baby is eating enough, there are other signs you can watch for, such as how many wet and poopy diapers she produces each day. Keep a log of each feeding (start time and how long it lasts) and the number of wet and poopy diapers. You won’t have to keep such specific notes all the time, but it’s a helpful tool to communicate effectively with the baby’s pediatrician, especially during the first few weeks as you and your baby settle into a nursing routine.
Keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry
Your baby’s diaper can trap moisture around the umbilical cord stump. To keep the diaper from covering or rubbing up against the stump, fold the top edge of the diaper down before securing it in place. Doctors no longer recommend cleaning around the umbilical stump with rubbing alcohol. As long as you keep the stump dry, it should dry up and fall off by your baby’s 2-month checkup; some fall off much sooner. Although infection is rare, contact your baby’s doctor if you notice any foul-smelling discharge, red skin at the base of the cord, or strong crying when you touch the stump or surrounding skin.
Pay attention to pets
Prepare your pet for the new baby before you bring her home. Have your partner bring an item of clothing or a blanket from the hospital back to home before the big coming-home day. Let your pet sniff it and get used to the odor, so that your baby doesn’t seem like an intruder when you bring her home. Keeping your pet out of the baby’s sleeping space will reduce her exposure to pet hair and dander, which may irritate her airways initially. Never leave your pet alone with a young baby and keep alert for signs of jealousy on the part of your pet. Learn more about introducing your newborn to your pet.
Sponge bathe your baby
Until your baby’s umbilical cord stump dries up and falls off – which could take a couple of weeks or up to two months – you’ll need to sponge bathe your newborn. Here’s a quick guide on how to do it safely:
• You won’t need a tub to sponge bathe. Just a flat, comfortable surface.
• Undress your baby, leaving on her diaper, then wrap her in a towel.
• Keep at least one hand on her at all times.
• Keep your baby wrapped in the towel, exposing only the area that you are washing.
• Use a warm, damp washcloth (no soap) to cleanse one section of your baby’s body at a time.
• Start with her face and head, then work your way toward her toes. Avoid the umbilical cord stump. Seek out skin creases, where dirt and oil can accumulate, like under the neck and in her chubby leg rolls.
• Now remove the diaper and gently clean the belly, butt, and genital area.
• Wash girls from front to back. If a boy is uncircumcised, leave the foreskin alone. If circumcised, don’t wash the head of the penis until it’s healed.
• Have a dry towel ready to wrap your baby after her bath. No creams are necessary.
For a detailed guide on your baby’s first bath, read this.
Wear your baby
We often hear about the importance of skin-to-skin care within the first hour or two of birth, but it’s equally important after you and your baby are home. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact have been reinforced by many studies and should be practiced whenever mom (or dad) and baby are together. Diaper your baby, then hold him against your bare skin. Relax and allow yourself—and your baby—to feel this special sense of attachment.
Skin-to-skin care can help calm your baby, resolve breastfeeding issues by boosting oxytocin and providing increased opportunities for nursing, encourage parent-child bonding, ease your baby’s feelings of sensory overload, and regulate your baby’s body temperature and metabolism. Placing your baby skin-to-skin as he grows, during tummy time and playtime, can develop a sense of security between you and your baby.
Learn more easy ways to practice skin-to-skin care here.
Ask for help!
It’s inevitable that after baby arrives, people will be stopping by to check on you and meet the newest addition to the family. While many of them will want to offer a helping hand, most probably won’t know what you truly need unless you tell them. Keep a simple to do list of tasks that could easily be taken on by a friend or family member. Now, when they ask to help, you’ll already have a few things in mind. The list also allows people to choose something that fits into their schedule and wheelhouse. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store, folding a load of laundry, or just watching baby so you can take a shower, taking these simple tasks off your plate will give you more time to focus on you and your baby, and also help loved ones feel involved and helpful. No one expects you to do it all and least of all, alone. So don’t be afraid to ask for help!