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Taking Your Baby Home: Caring for Your Newborn
You may feel both excited and scared about bringing your baby home from the hospital. It is normal to feel this way. Being prepared can go a long way in making you feel more confident and making your baby feel more comfortable.
What will your newborn need? The essentials include food, clothes, diapers, and a quiet and safe place to sleep. Of course, your baby will also rely on you for love and attention.
Whether breastfed or bottlefed, a newborn needs to be fed throughout the day. In the first few weeks, you should wake your baby to feed if 3-4 hours have passed since the last feeding. Unless your baby is premature or has special nutritional needs, you may not need to wake him or her up overnight. Babies usually wake up on their own.
If you are breastfeeding, you will likely need to feed your baby every 2-3 hours. Or your baby may have 6-10 formula feedings (2-4 ounces each) per day. If you do decide to use formula, be sure to follow the product’s instructions for storing and warming it.
Some supplies that you may need include:
- Bottles and nipples
- Bibs, washcloths, and towels
- Breast-fed babies need extra vitamin D
Dress your baby in comfortable clothes that make it easy for you to change diapers. Be sure that the clothes do not have anything hanging from them, like strings or ties, which can become a choking hazard. Also check to make sure that your baby’s sleepwear is flame-retardant. Newborns can sometimes have trouble regulating their own body temperature. As a result, too much clothing can result in overheating, just as under clothing can result in heat loss. For room temperatures of 75°F (24°C) or less, use several layers of clothing. As a guideline, dress your baby in one more layer of clothing than you are comfortable wearing. In warmer weather, you can use a single layer of clothing. Here are some examples of clothing items that you may want to have at home for your baby:
- Receiving gowns
- Footed sleepers
- Undershirts and onesies
- Blanket sleepers
When you first arrive home, your baby will not have regular-looking stool. It will be thick and sticky and have a greenish-black color. If your baby is breastfed, the stool will be more liquid in consistency, seedy, and yellow. For formula-fed babies, expect soft, pasty, and yellowish-brown stool. Hard or dry stools may be due to your infant not getting enough fluid or losing too much fluid due to an illness. The frequency of bowel movements can vary greatly in infants. If your baby has many or infrequent bowel movements or if you have any concerns, call your doctor.
Your baby will have 6-8 wet diapers per day. If your child looks to be in pain while urinating, let your doctor know, as this may be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
Supplies that you will need include:
- Safe changing area for your baby—Have all of the supplies that you will need in the changing table’s drawers. Never leave your baby alone. Use the safety straps on the table to secure your baby.
- Extra diapers
- Baby wipes
- Diaper rash ointment
- Diaper pail and trash bags
Your baby will develop a sleep routine. Your baby may sleep 12-20 hours per day in 1-3 hour intervals. It is common for your baby to wake up during the night for a feeding or a diaper change. When you place your baby down to sleep, always place them on his or her back. This is the safest position. The baby should sleep in your room for the first few months of life.
Your baby will need:
- A safety-approved crib or bassinet that has a firm mattress—Look for products that are certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.
- Fitted crib sheets
- Waterproof crib pads
Avoid having anything in the crib or bassinet that could restrict your baby’s breathing. Do not place pillows, quilts, comforters, stuffed animals, or other items in the crib. Also, do not use sleep positioners. Sleep positioners can increase your baby's risk of suffocation.
You can help your baby sleep better by keeping the environment calm and quiet during changing and feeding at night. Try to put your baby in the crib when he or she is drowsy but not yet asleep rather than waiting until he or she is fully asleep. This will help your baby to learn to fall asleep independently. If your baby is fussy, wait a few minutes to see if he or she falls back to sleep. If crying continues, you can check on your baby, but try not to pick your baby up. If crying persists, try to determine if your baby is hungry, has a wet diaper, or is not feeling well.
Other Day-to-Day Activities
Giving Your Baby a Sponge Bath
Your baby’s umbilical cord stump needs time to dry and fall off. Until that happens, you will need to give your baby a sponge bath, rather than a tub bath. Gently clean your baby girl’s genital area from front to back. For an uncircumcised baby boy, do not pull back the foreskin. This can cause swelling and other problems. If your baby has been circumcised, follow the doctor’s instructions for caring for your baby.
For your baby’s first sponge bath, you will need:
- Wash clothes
- Mild bath soap
- Cotton balls—Do not use soap on your baby’s face. Instead, use a wet cotton ball to gently wipe your baby’s eyes.
Taking Your Baby’s Temperature
If your baby feels warm to touch you may need to take your baby’s temperature. A rectal temperature gives the most accurate readings in infants. Use a rectal or multiuse digital thermometer, do not use glass mercury thermometers since they are unsafe. Follow the product’s instructions for taking the temperature. Call your child's doctor if the temperature is greater than 100.4°F (38°C). This may be a sign of an infection.
Traveling in the Car With Your Baby
Your baby will need a safety-approved rear-facing car seat. Some manufacturers make rear-facing convertible seats, which can be switched to a front-facing seat once your child has reached the height and weight requirements. Rear-facing seats placed in the back seat are the safest option for your baby. Be sure that the seat is strapped into your car properly and that your baby is buckled in correctly. On the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, you can find a local inspection station where the staff will check to make sure that the car seat is safely installed.
Taking a Walk With Your Baby
Just as with the car seat, you will want to buy a safety-approved stroller for your newborn. There are many options to choose from, including ones that allow you to attach the car seat to the stroller. Some features to look for in a stroller include:
- 5-point harness that is securely attached to the stroller
- Brakes that lock and work well
- Storage area located behind and low to the ground, so items will not fall onto your baby
- Reclining back—If the stroller has leg-hole openings, be sure that you can close them when your baby is resting.
- Canopy to protect your baby from the elements
Never leave your baby alone in the stroller.
Playing With Your Baby
You can help your baby to develop his brain and body by doing activities like:
- Touching your baby—cuddling, holding, rocking, and massaging
- Talking to your infant—Call out your baby's name. Tell your baby what you are doing. Sing or read to your baby.
- Showing your baby objects—While your baby’s vision will take time to develop, your baby will be able to see items that are close. Newborns like bright colors and patterned objects.
- Moving your baby—If your baby is active, place him or her on his or her belly while supervised. Do not let your baby sleep in this position.
Some toys that your baby might enjoy include a brightly-colored stuffed animal, a rattle, or a book with lots of colors. Be sure that the baby’s toys are safety-approved for infants.
Soothing Your Baby
When your baby cries, it can be distressing. Crying is how newborns let you know that they need something, whether it be a diaper change, a feeding, or time in your arms. Over time, you will become better at understanding what your baby needs. Some newborns get upset by bright lights or loud noises. Their bodies are sensitive. Making their environment relaxing and quiet may help to reduce crying. Your baby may also be soothed by being wrapped in a blanket. Remember, it is normal for a newborn to cry for several hours throughout the day.
If you ever feel that you are becoming aggravated or angry with your baby, ask for help from friends or family right away. Never shake your baby. This can cause brain damage or even death. Get support from your loved ones to help you care for your newborn. There are many people who will be happy to help you.
If your baby is crying for a long time and may be sick, call the doctor right away.
Once your baby is home, you will soon develop a routine. Do your best, ask for help, and talk to the doctor or nurse if you have any questions or concerns about your new arrival.
Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Ontario Ministry of Transportation
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Bringing your baby home. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/bringing-baby-home.html. Updated August 2014. Accessed April 7, 2016.
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Getting your baby to sleep. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Getting-Your-Baby-to-Sleep.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed April 7, 2016.
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Preparing for your baby’s arrival. Sutter Health website. Available at: http://www.babies.sutterhealth.org/laboranddelivery/ld%5Fprep4b-arriv.html. Accessed April 7, 2016.
10/5/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: US Food and Drug Administration. Infant sleep positioners: consumer warning—risk of suffocation. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm227733.htm. Updated September 29, 2010. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 04/2016
- Update Date: 05/20/2014