A newborn's first days can be stressful for parents, especially first-timers, who will feel a little overwhelmed when faced with the basic care of a baby and what to do in each situation.
It is normal for a newborn's arrival home to generate a lot of questions and concerns for the parents, especially first-timers. However, with a few guidelines on basic care and certain precautions, the new family member's arrival home will be much easier than it seems. Keep in mind also that if you have any doubt that something is wrong, you can contact the paediatrician to assess the situation and advise you what to do.
Basic guidelines on caring for a newborn
Feeding the baby is one of the main issues when he arrives home. Mothers have some basic ideas about how to do this, thanks to instructions at the hospital, and if they have done it before, they will be experts on the subject. Generally, breast milk is the most suitable option, due to the nutrients it provides and how easy it is to be fed to the baby.
The mother should be seated or in a comfortable position when breastfeeding. The child should be supported on his back and be able to see his mother's breast with both eyes so he can squeeze the nipple to get the milk. The child's nose will be pushed up against the mother's chest but don't worry – he can breathe perfectly.
The frequency of feeds should be based on demand, with a minimum of one hour and a half and a maximum of three between each one. When you have finished, you should put your baby on your shoulder to be burped.
Newborns lose almost 10% of their weight in the days after birth but this is perfectly normal. Even if you have still not fully started breastfeeding after three or four days, the baby will recover the lost weight over the following weeks. Babies gain about 150 grams per week.
Bowel movements usually occur after each feed and should be a lumpy, yellow colour. They should have a degree of consistency. The baby's urine should be clear and have a certain weight in the nappy.
You should lay your baby on his back or side but never face down until he is capable of turning by himself. The baby's head should be angled at around 20° from the mattress with a pillow, to prevent choking on any regurgitated milk. However, unlike in an adult bed, the pillow should be placed under the mattress to prevent accidents.
The baby's umbilical stump should be cleaned three or four times a day. Moisten some gauze with chlorhexidine and carefully clean the entire area, then dry well with some more gauze to remove any moisture. It is also best not to cover the stump but to let it air dry. If the nappy is covering the stump, fold it over until the area is clear. The umbilical stump should only be wet with soap and water once a day at bathtime. It will fall off between five and 15 days after birth.
You should wash your baby every day. In the beginning you can do this in sections using a damp sponge, but you can also fully bathe your child in a baby bath or tub. The water should be between 36°C and 38°C and you should use a soap designed specifically for newborns. The temperature of the room should be around 22°C and you should have everything prepared so your baby does not get cold. At first you may be a little wary of bathing such a small child, but with a little practice this will become the most relaxing part of the day for baby and parents as well.
It is important to take care of your newborn's nails. They should be well trimmed and clean, to prevent scratching or spreading germs (babies suck their hands frequently). Cut the nails with special baby scissors after bathing, when they will be at their softest.
It's best to get your baby used to sleeping in the cot from day one, even if this is in your bedroom in the early months. Do not darken or quieten the room during daytime naps, so the baby learns to differentiate between times of day. Parents should take advantage of baby's sleep times to sleep themselves, as the baby's first days at home can be very stressful.