Congratulations—you’re having a baby!
You and your partner (and parents, and family…) are excited, especially if this is your first child. But as your due date draws near, you’re also a little nervous: What is the best way to care for your baby?
Don’t worry—you’ve got this.
Here’s what you need to know before going to the hospital, before leaving the hospital and once you bring your newborn home (including the basics of baby care).
What Should I Do Before My Baby Arrives?
Picking the paint color that’sjust right for the nursery is important…but not as vital as these tasks.
Preparing Your Home for Your New Baby
Life will be a lot easier if you’ve set up the nursery ahead of time.
A sturdy, safe crib is a must; look for one that meets the standards of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and has a snug-fitting mattress. Getting a crib that converts into a toddler bed later on can help extend its useful life.
Don’t fill the crib with blankets, bumpers, toys, etc. The safest way for your baby to sleep is on a simple fitted sheet over a waterproof mattress cover; if a blanket is needed, it should be thin, lightweight and breathable. On the other hand, receiving blankets are useful because they serve so many purposes, from burp cloths to nursing covers.
Babies go through lots of diapers! While you can get a changing table, it isn’t necessary—you can use a washable changing pad that fits on top of the dresser. Make sure diapers, wipes, etc. are in easy reach.
Whether you plan to breastfeed or not (if you do, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers advice here), you’ll need bottles and nipples. (One bonus: Having bottles lets Dad take some of the overnight feeding shifts.) Breast pumps come in both manual and electric varieties.
Picking the Proper Infant Car Seat
How important is it to find the right car seat?
“Every state requires parents to have one before leaving the hospital because it's one of the best ways to protect your baby,” states Nemours Children’s Health. “Even for a short trip, it's never safe to hold your baby.”
There are three types of car seats: Those designed for infants, those for older children (22 to 35 pounds) and convertible models that can be used for both age groups.
The AAP recommends that children ride in a rear-facing seat until they are two years old or until they have reached the weight and height limits recommended by the manufacturer.
What’s more, “never put a rear-facing infant or convertible seat up front,” advises Nemours. “Most accidents happen at the front passenger area of the car.”
Nemours also advises against borrowing a car seat that’s more than six years old or is missing parts.
It’s crucial that the car seat be installed correctly.
Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) suggests asking the hospital if they have a child safety consultant on staff to check the seat before you leave; if not, “many police and fire stations also offer this service.”
Finding a Pediatrician and Scheduling Your Baby’s First Checkup
The best way to make sure your child is healthy and developing as he or she should is to schedule that first pediatrician appointment for within 72 hours after you leave the hospital.
“Infants can see their pediatrician multiple times within their first few months for weight checks and other vitals,” notes BCH. “If you’re able to schedule a few of these appointments before leaving the hospital, it’s one less thing to do once you’re home.”
When setting up your first visit, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) suggests asking the following questions:
- What are your office hours? Whom do I contact after hours or in emergencies?
- How often will my baby need checkups?
- How do I know if I have postpartum depression? How can I treat this?
- How do I know if my baby’s crying means he or she is sick?
And don’t forget: “Avoid surprise charges by contacting your insurance company as soon as you can to add your newest family member to your medical plan,” advises BCH.
Arranging for Help After Your Baby Gets Home
The first few days and weeks after you get home from the hospital may seem overwhelming. So it’s a good idea to get some assistance, such as pre-scheduled meal deliveries and cleaning services, at least for a little while until life settles down a bit.
Friends and family can certainly pitch in. However, the idea is to not to overwhelm the baby—or yourself—with too many visitors in the beginning (more on that in a minute).
What Should I Know Before Leaving the Hospital with My Baby?
So you’ve given birth, and both you and the baby are doing great! Before you go home, make sure you’ve addressed the following issues.
When Will I and My Baby Be Discharged?
In most cases, your hospital stay will not be long.
You can be out in as little as 24 hours; “most insurance companies require you to be discharged by the 48-hour mark if you had a vaginal delivery with no complications,” says the AAFP. “ If you had a C-section, you will usually be released in 72 hours.”
What Clothes Should I Wear When Leaving the Hospital?
Think comfy and relaxed.
“Plan to bring loose-fitting clothing for yourself with a drawstring or elastic waist because you most likely won't fit into your pre-pregnancy outfits yet,” says Nemours.
The group adds, “Moms-to-be sometimes pack clothes for the trip home before even going to the hospital—or they may wait to see what the weather brings and have their partner bring clothing for both themselves and the baby.”
How Should I Dress My Baby for the Ride Home?
Speaking of clothes for the baby: Nemours says that babies “are often overdressed for the first trip home.”
The solution? “Dress your baby as you would dress yourself,” suggests Nemours.
”In warm weather, dress your baby in a T-shirt and light cotton pants or a baby blanket over bare legs. If it's cold, put on footie pajamas and a hat, plus a warm blanket. But be sure to keep all blankets far from your baby's face.”
What Else Should I Know Before Leaving the Hospital?
Have a question…or several? Right now you have a care team at your disposal, so speak up.
“Don’t feel rushed to leave the hospital,” says the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS). “Be sure all your questions are answered before you go home.”
One thing you should learn: the swaddle.
“Swaddling your baby when they sleep can prevent flailing arms and legs, which triggers the startle reflex and wakes them,” says BCH. “And no one knows how to swaddle a baby better than a labor and delivery nurse, so ask yours to teach you the best swaddle technique.
“While you’re at it, don’t hesitate to ask for other tips and tricks on newborn care, including bathing your baby, cutting nails and caring for the umbilical cord.”
If you plan to breastfeed, BCH advises meeting with a hospital lactation consultant: “They can ensure your baby is latching correctly and answer any questions. It’s also helpful to ask about the best way to get assistance once you’re home. Some lactation consultants do in-home visits.”
BCH also encourages new moms to “stock up on the freebies,” such as samples of formula, diapers and pads.
In addition, you should “consider learning about resources for new parents in your area,” suggests the CPS. “Community centers often have programs where you can meet other new parents.”
How Should I Welcome My Baby Home?
The newest member of the family has finally arrived! Here’s how to make the transition as seamless as possible.
The First 24 Hours with Your New Baby
As happy and excited as you feel, you’re also probably a little nervous…and that’s OK.
“Unlike at the hospital, at home there are no nurses to soothe or aid parents,” notes Fatherly.com, a digital resource for dads. “They must look to each other for solutions.”
For one thing, newborns don’t do schedules.
Things “change a lot during those early months,” says Nemours. “You'll be less stressed if you don't overschedule yourself and can go with the flow.”
Actually, there is “one important duty a parent should be performing in the first 24 hours, no matter what: resting,” says Fatherly.com. “Because parents will be catching rest as the baby sleeps, there’s really no sense in having visitors for the first 24 hours.”
When babies aren’t sleeping, they can spend quite a bit of time—up to five hours in a 24-hour period—crying. Just hang in there.
“Crying usually decreases gradually after the first several weeks,” says Nemours.
“Over time, you might find that certain types of crying mean certain things,” says the AAFP. “One type of cry means they are hungry; another type could mean they need a diaper change.”
Bonding With Your New Baby
As important as resting while your baby sleeps is developing a strong bond when he or she is awake—and that goes for both of you.
“It’s very important that both parents get in on the bonding,” says Fatherly.com. Besides helping with feeding and diaper changing, “there’s no reason Dad can’t hold and rock the baby to sleep.”
Don’t be concerned if you don’t instantly form a strong connection with your newborn.
“Sometimes bonding happens right away,” says the AAFP. “Other times, it takes several weeks or months. Try not to get down if it takes longer than you thought it would.”
“You should practice talking, reading and singing to your baby,” says the AAFP. “Smiling and other facial expressions also affect your baby.”
While you’re both bonding with the little one, don’t forget about each other. Set time aside for just the two of you, and be honest with your partner about your feelings and concerns.
Introducing a New Baby to Siblings (Including Furry Ones)
Older siblings (human and otherwise) may be excited to meet the new addition, or they may be a little reticent. Either way, there are ways to promote harmony.
“If you have other kids, be sure to spend some quality time with each of them,” advises Nemours. “Encourage siblings to ‘help’ you care for this newest family member.” You may also want to bring small gifts “from the baby” home for your other children.
Introducing your baby to a pet should begin even before you leave the hospital.
“Ask your partner to bring home a blanket with the baby's scent on it and place it near the pet,” says Nemours. “Then, when you come home, the pet will already be somewhat familiar with the baby.”
As with your other children, spend time loving up your pet, but don’t leave them alone with the newborn.
Introducing a New Baby to Extended Family and Friends
The grandparents, the aunts and uncles, Cousin Patty wholoves babies…they’re all clamoring to see the little one. That’s wonderful, but don’t feel pressured into having everyone over all at once.
Nemours suggests asking your partner to play the role of gatekeeper “and to limit the number of guests at first. If you have voice mail or a telephone answering machine, consider changing your message to give the vital statistics of your new arrival.”
Also, remember that “babies start off with a low immune system,” cautions the AAFP. Ask everyone to wash their hands before handling the baby, and make sure they all have had their flu and covid shots as well as Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) boosters.
How Should I Care for My Baby?
If you haven’t had a child before, the details of baby care can seem a little daunting at first. Here’s what you should know.
How Often Will My Baby Eat?
At first? Not as much as you might think.
Fatherly.com notes that infants “eat very little those first few days. In fact, they begin by eating about a tablespoon and work their way up to about an ounce.”
“Babies should be fed whenever they seem hungry,” says the AAP’s Sanjeev Jain, MD, FAAP. However, he cautions that while crying is a sign of a hungry infant, it’s a late sign; by then your baby may be so hungry that it will be hard for him or her to settle in and nurse.
According to Jain, early signs of hunger include:
- Licking lips
- Sticking tongue out
- Rooting (moving jaw and mouth or head in search of the breast)
- Putting hand to mouth repeatedly
- Opening the mouth
- Sucking on everything around
“It is important to realize, however, that every time your baby cries or sucks it is not necessarily because he or she is hungry,” Jain adds. “Sometimes, your baby just needs to be cuddled or changed.”
In general, newborns eat every two to three hours, or 8 to 12 times every 24 hours. The best way to know if he or she is getting enough to eat is by counting the diaper changes.
“In the first few days after birth, a baby should have two to three wet diapers each day,” Jain says. “After the first four to five days, a baby should have at least five to six wet diapers a day.”
You don’t want to overfeed your baby, which can lead to tummy troubles. “It's better to offer less, since you can always give more if your baby wants it,” advises Jain.
How Much Will My Baby Sleep?
Newborns sleep a lot—but not all at once.
“While newborns sleep about 16 to 17 hours per day, they may only sleep one or two hours at a time,” notes the AAP. (Go here for advice on sleep training your baby.)
Always put your baby on his or her back to sleep—avoid side or stomach sleeping positions. Do this even for naps.
The AAP offers ways to make it easier for baby (and you) to sleep better at night:
- Keep your baby calm and quiet during nighttime feedings or diaper changes.
- Playing with your baby during the day will help lengthen the time he or she is awake, making it easier to sleep for longer periods at night.
- Put your child to bed when drowsy but still awake, which will help your baby learn to fall asleep on his or her own.
- Wait a few minutes before responding to your child’s fussing. If he or she continues to cry, go take a peek—but don’t turn on the light or stimulate the baby.
If your baby just can’t get settled, try to think of what else might be going on. According to the AAP, he or she “may be hungry, wet or soiled, feverish or otherwise not feeling well.”
When Should I Call the Doctor?
The first time your baby appears to be ill can be very concerning for all parents, but especially new ones.
Don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician’s office; “they’d rather have you call than worry about something needlessly,” notes Nemours. Ask about references to “warm lines,” open 24/7 for new parents with questions and concerns.
Nemours says you should always call the doctor if you see any of the following signs:
- A rectal temperature of 100.4°F or higher in babies younger than two months
- Symptoms of dehydration, such as crying without tears or going six to eight hours without wet diapers
- A baby that is difficult to rouse
- Rapid or labored breathing (Nemours says to “call 911 if your baby has breathing difficulty and begins turning bluish around the lips or mouth”)
- Repeated forceful vomiting or an inability to keep fluids down
- Bloody vomit or stool
- More than eight diarrhea stools in eight hours
“It also is helpful to keep a log of all symptoms and changes,” adds the AAFP. “You can do this by hand or there are smartphone apps you can use—ask your doctor if they have one they prefer.”
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.