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The first few days and weeks with your new baby may feel like a whirlwind.
You may still be recovering from childbirth. You may have a mix of emotions that lasts throughout the newborn phase. The newborn phase lasts for the first two months of your baby’s life.
As you navigate through these early months, remember that having a newborn is a big adjustment for everyone.
You’ll want to introduce baby into your family and home slowly. For the first few months, it’s better to go with the flow than try to keep a strict schedule.
Read on to learn everything you need to know to prepare for and manage life with a newborn.
Having a few essential items on hand for the hospital and when you bring your newborn home will help ease the transition.
Make sure you remove these items from their packaging. Familiarize yourself with the instructions and assemble them, if necessary. This will ensure they’re ready to use as soon as you need them.
Essentials for the hospital
The hospital may provide some items like:
- a few newborn diapers
- a hat
- swaddle blanket
- samples of formula if you’re bottle-feeding
You’ll want to have an installed rear-facing car seat. In the United States, hospitals won’t let you leave with your baby without a rear-facing car seat, even if you aren’t driving home from the hospital.
You’ll also want to have the following:
- extra newborn diapers
- going-home outfit for baby
- baby blanket
- formula, bottles, and sterilizing equipment, if you plan to bottle-feed
You don’t need to bring a breast pump to the hospital. If the hospital wants you to pump breast milk, they’ll give you access to a hospital-grade pump during your stay.
If you want help learning to use your own pump, you can bring it along.
Essentials for bringing baby home
Once you bring baby home, have the following on hand:
- breast pump (if you plan to breastfeed but still want to give your baby a bottle occasionally or pump to build up your milk supply)
- burp cloths
- two boxes of newborn diapers (but don’t buy too many of the same brand or size in case your baby outgrows them or they irritate their skin)
- wipes and diaper cream (get small tubes of a few different types of diaper cream so you can see which one you prefer; a soft cloth with just warm water works fine early on and may be preferable)
- newborn bottles with various nipples to see which kind baby will take
- crib, bassinet, or bedside co-sleeper with a firm sleep surface where baby will sleep
- fitted crib sheet and mattress, if needed
- basic outfits, onesies, and pajamas
- newborn bathtub
- soft towels and washcloths
A newborn’s schedule can feel unpredictable. Newborns will sleep an average of eight to nine hours in the daytime. They may sleep up to another eight hours total at night. But this won’t usually be for the same stretch of time.
Newborns also have very small stomachs. They’ll need to get up about every three hours to eat until around 3 months of age. Once they’re a little older, they’ll be able to go longer between feedings.
Some babies will sleep through the night starting at 4 months. Others won’t sleep through the night until later. Your pediatrician is your best resource for letting you know how often your newborn will need to be fed throughout the night as they grow.
Should baby sleep in your room?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies should room-share, or sleep in their parents’ rooms for at least the first 6 months of life.
They should be in their own crib, bassinet, or other separate sleep space. This may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Plus, your baby will be close by, making it easier to feed and comfort them.
The AAP advises against sleeping in the same bed with your newborn since it increases the risk of SIDS or injury to baby.
Your baby should also sleep on their back, which is the safest position for them. Avoid using blankets, pillows, or crib bumpers. Instead use swaddles, sleep sacks, and pajamas to keep baby warm at night.
Do you need a sleep consultant?
Babies younger than 3 months need to eat every few hours. For that reason, sleep training isn’t appropriate for newborns.
However, you may choose to hire a sleep consultant when your baby is a bit older, usually around 4 months. Sleep consultants will consult with parents about their baby’s sleeping habits. They also may need to observe your baby in your home.
A sleep consultant will help you create a sleep schedule. They may help teach your baby to self-soothe without a parent comforting them until they fall asleep.
They’ll also recommend a method of sleep training for your child. Not every sleep consultant recommends the same method, so make sure you’re comfortable with a consultant’s sleep philosophy before hiring one.
And remember, when baby is old enough to sleep through the night, you don’t have to hire a sleep consultant. Your pediatrician can give you resources and tips to do it yourself.
Note that sleep training isn’t usually safe for babies with certain health concerns or who were born prematurely. Talk to your pediatrician to confirm sleep training is safe for your baby.
What does a night nurse do?
You may have heard about night nurses. A night nurse gives your baby bottles and changes their diapers overnight.
If you’re breastfeeding, a night nurse may bring baby to you to feed, then change them and put them back to sleep. Or you can choose to pump and have your night nurse give your baby bottles overnight if you choose.
The cost for a night nurse may range from $25 an hour to several hundred dollars per hour, depending on your location and the experience of the night nurse.
For the first two to four days of life, newborns who are breastfeeding will need to be fed every two to three hours, or on demand.
It might not seem like your baby is eating much as your milk supply comes in, but the colostrum you produce immediately following delivery is all they need at this stage.
Transitional milk will replace your milk for the next two weeks, then your mature milk supply will come in.
After the first few days, formula-fed newborns need 2 to 3 ounces (60 to 90 mL) of formula per feeding. They’ll need to be fed every three or four hours for the first few weeks.
During the first two weeks of life, if your newborn sleeps longer than four or five hours at a time, you may need to wake them up to eat.
At about 1 month old, both formula- and breastfed babies will need up to 4 ounces (120 mL) per feeding. At this point, formula-fed babies will be on a more predictable schedule, eating about every four hours. Some breastfed babies will eat every four hours, too, but some will still feed more often than this.
Your baby may have their first official bath in the hospital. But regardless of whether or not they were bathed following delivery, plan to give your newborn baby a sponge bath shortly after you bring them home.
To do this, dip a cloth or sponge in warm water and gently wash your baby’s head, body, and diaper area. A sponge bath is the safest option until your baby’s umbilical cord falls off on its own.
After the umbilical cord falls off, you can give your baby a bath in an infant tub.
To change your newborn’s diaper, make sure you have all supplies on hand. Then, follow these steps:
- Lay baby down on a changing table or flat surface. Use safety straps if it’s a high surface.
- Remove your baby’s clothing. Untape the soiled diaper but don’t remove it. Instead, fold the front of the diaper down so you can access baby’s diaper area.
- Clean the diaper area with a wet wipe or damp wash cloth, wiping front to back and in skin folds.
- Gently lift up baby’s legs, slide out the soiled diaper, and replace with a clean one. The tape side will be underneath.
- Apply diaper cream or lotion if needed.
- Pull the diaper through your baby’s legs, then secure and tape. Make sure you’re able to put two fingers between baby and the diaper so it’s not too tight. If your baby has a penis, gently push the penis down toward their legs before securing the diaper. This will help prevent leakage when they urinate.
- Dispose of the old diaper, get baby dressed, and wash your hands.
How often do you need to change baby’s diaper?
Your newborn will pass meconium for their first few days of life. This is a black, sticky, tarlike substance.
By the third day, their poop will turn to a runnier, lighter stool.
How often you’ll need to change their diaper varies depending on whether or not you’re breastfeeding or formula-feeding them.
Breastfed babies will typically have several bowel movements per day. Formula-fed babies will have fewer.
Either way, you’ll want to change your baby’s diaper every two to three hours.
If the diaper is just wet with urine, you don’t need to change it right away and wake up your sleeping baby. However, change baby immediately following any bowel movements to avoid irritation.
You can tell it’s time to change your baby’s diaper as soon as you can smell or feel that they’ve had a bowel movement.
To determine if the diaper is wet, put one hand on the diaper to feel if it’s damp. Alternatively, some diapers change color when they’re wet.
It’s a good idea to keep an infant first aid kit in your home in an easy to access location. Your first aid kit should include the following items:
- baby thermometer
- nasal aspirator
- medicine dropper
- baby nail clipper
- baby comb
- infant acetaminophen (don’t use without consulting a pediatrician first)
- cotton balls
- emergency information, including your baby’s doctor, nearest emergency room, and poison control number
You can also find a premade kit online that contains most of these items.
Medical emergencies in newborns
You may want to enroll in an infant CPR and basic first aid class before your baby is born. Consider reenrolling in a class even if you took one before the birth of a previous child.
Look for a class at a community center or hospital near you. You can also ask your OB-GYN for recommendations.
In the class, you’ll learn to identify signs of an emergency. It’s important to watch out for the following and seek emergency medical help right away if you notice them:
- Your baby is having difficulty breathing. Signs that baby is having trouble breathing may include:
- rapid or irregular breathing
- flared nostrils
- turning blue in the face
- seeming to have difficulty taking air in
- making grunting noises while trying to take a breath
- Your baby has blood in their vomit or stool.
- Your baby is having a seizure.
- Your baby has a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
Other medical concerns in newborns
Let your pediatrician know if you notice any of the following with your newborn:
- frequent vomiting or diarrhea
- refuses to eat for multiple feedings in a row
- a rash that doesn’t go away on its own
- a cold that doesn’t improve or gets worse
- dehydration, which you may be able to identify by a lack of wet diapers or a sunken soft spot
- jaundice (a yellow color to the skin and the whites of the eyes)
Talk to your pediatrician if you have any other concerns about their health or notice any changes you aren’t sure about.
Older children may be excited to meet their new sibling. Or they may be angry or resentful about the new baby.
Some parents give siblings a small big brother or big sister gift from the new baby. You can also have a caregiver hold the new baby while you cuddle with your older child.
When you’re home and recovered, you can let your older child pick a special spot where they want to take the new baby to celebrate their arrival. Or you can arrange a safe area for the sibling to hold the new baby, depending on the older child’s age.
If baby will be sharing a room with their sibling or you’re planning to move your older child from their crib to make room for baby, prep the older child well ahead of time.
Plan to transition an older child from their crib a few months before the arrival of baby so they’re less likely to feel like they’ve been displaced for baby.
If baby is moving into their room, discuss this change with your child in a positive light. Consider letting them “help” decorate or set up baby’s area.
Introducing baby to pets
If you have a dog or cat at home, they’ll probably be aware of a change during your pregnancy or when you set up the nursery.
Allow your pet to sniff the new baby furniture and accessories. Play recordings of baby noises for them so they can become used to the noises.
After baby is born, bring something with the baby’s scent, such as a blanket or item of clothing, for them to sniff. They’ll recognize the smell later when you bring the baby home for the first time.
It’s important to always supervise your pet’s interactions with the baby during the newborn stage. Never leave your baby alone in an area where a pet has access. A pet’s attempts at welcoming a new family member may not be safe for a small baby.
If your pet is being overly friendly or aggressive, try to find positive ways to redirect their attention away from baby. That can help reduce feelings of jealousy or resentment.
Airplane travel with a newborn isn’t recommended because they have underdeveloped immune systems.
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to travel with a newborn. For example, if you’re adopting or there’s a family emergency, air travel may be unavoidable.
If you’re going to fly with a newborn, use hand sanitizer on your baby’s hands. Avoid sitting near anyone who appears or sounds ill.
Some airlines require a doctor’s note for babies 1 month and under to travel. Check the requirements before you fly. Talk to your pediatrician about keeping your newborn healthy in flight.
It might not seem like your newborn wants to do much other than sleep and eat for the first months of life. But rest assured your little one’s brain is developing rapidly.
A newborn will recognize their parents’ voices in their first days of life. Talk and read to them often. They also love to see faces.
In the first few months, you can introduce them to the following:
Your newborn won’t remember you playing with them, but they’re learning important skills during this time, like interacting with you and the world around them.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s development, talk to their pediatrician.
Get to know your new little one! Here are 10 fun facts about newborns:
- Babies get their full eyesight around 3 months. Newborns can focus on objects that are close by but are nearsighted. That means they can’t clearly see faraway objects.
- Babies can hear starting in the womb. They’ll recognize sounds like their mother’s voice right away.
- Don’t expect a smile right away. Newborns won’t usually smile or coo until around 6 weeks old.
- Newborns are often born with blue or gray eyes, but their eyes may darken. By 1 year, they should have their permanent eye color.
- Newborns may be born bald or with a full head of hair. If your newborn is bald, they’ll get hair eventually.
- Newborns have more bones than adults (around 300 vs. 206 for adults). As they grow, some of the bones fuse together.
- Newborns don’t shed actual tears until around 3 weeks. Before then, they can cry and scream, but their tear ducts only produce enough to lubricate their eyes.
- Babies are born with soft spots on their heads to help them fit through the birthing canal. To prevent flat spots on their head, change the direction you face your baby when you put them down on their back to sleep. For example, turn their head right on even days and left on odd days.
- Place your baby on their tummy to play to help build up their head and stomach strength. At first, they may only want to go on their tummy for a few seconds or minutes at a time. As they develop more strength, they’ll become less resistant to it.
- It’s not possible to give too much comfort or attention to a newborn. They don’t know how to self-soothe yet, so it’s up to you to offer them comfort.
Having a newborn can be a challenging, tiring time for parents. But try to cherish these moments with your new addition.
Utilize your support during this busy time. It’s OK to ask for help around the house and with your other kids as you recover from childbirth and catch up on sleep.
If you have any concerns about your newborn’s development, talk to their pediatrician.