Getting ready to welcome your first child into the world? Congratulations! While you're no doubt excited to have your first pregnancy over with, you might have a few hesitations about how to care for a newborn. Taking care of your own baby is very different from babysitting someone else's – you're responsible for everything that happens from the time he or she wakes up to the time he or she goes to sleep (and that schedule definitely isn't set in stone). Whether you and your partner need newborn preparation tips or you're looking for single mother help, here's a newborn care survival guide that can help get you through the first three months of your child's life.
Whether you plan to breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby, there's some basic info you need to know. First, do some research, either on how to get the breastfeeding process to go smoothly or which type of formula is best. Look up the best breastfeeding positions, how to fix common issues (like latching pain, low milk supply or engorgement) and how often you should be feeding your baby. If you're using bottles, you'll need to sterilize them beforehand in boiling water and follow the formula directions to make a couple bottles to have on hand.
After feeding your baby, you'll need to know how to burp him or her. Burping gets rid of excess air the baby may have swallowed while feeding, and can prevent him or her from throwing up or getting cranky because of gas. A good rule of thumb is to burp your baby every time you switch breasts or after each 2 or 3 ounces swallowed from the bottle. There are different positions you can try, but they mainly involve giving your baby firm yet gentle pats on the back.
Diaper changing basics
As part of your newborn preparation, you should learn how to change a diaper. Ask friends with babies if you can practice on theirs or even use a doll to get the motions down. Make sure you stock up on plenty of diapers – different sizes to accommodate your baby's growth – and a diaper cream with zinc oxide to help prevent diaper rash, which occurs when your baby's skin is exposed to excess moisture for long periods of time. Many doctor's recommend that you hold off on the pre-moistened baby wipes for the first month, as the chemicals could irritate your baby's skin. Instead, use cotton balls or pads moistened with warm water. Choose unscented, alcohol-free wipes when your baby is ready. Of course, when you change your baby, make sure he or she is on a safe surface – and never leave your little one unattended on a changing table.
It's important to get your baby into a regular sleep schedule to make both of your lives easier. Babies usually sleep for four-hour stretches at a time for a total of 16 or more hours a day. They usually wake up because they need to eat – their stomach's can't hold a lot of milk at once. Start establishing a routine by doing the same things every day, from bathing, to getting dressed, to taking a walk, to playing. When you notice your baby getting tired, place him or her in the crib. This can help your little one make the association between the crib and bedtime. Swaddling is a good thing to do as well, as it can prevent your baby from waking up from his or her own movements. When you're feeding your baby at night, try to be as quiet and quick as possible – don't talk to your little one much or turn on bright lights. While you should try to be relatively quiet while your baby is sleeping, your household should still be around its normal volume – otherwise, your baby might get sensitive to sounds and won't be able to sleep well without absolute quiet.
The first few times you give your little one a bath, you may want to get help from your partner or a family member or friend, as it can be a team effort until you figure out the easiest method. Make sure you have the essentials on hand, like a newborn bath setup for the tub or sink, a cup or pitcher for pouring water over your baby, baby soap, washcloths, skin treatments your baby's doctor may have prescribed for skin conditions, a towel, a clean diaper, clean clothes and lotion. Fill the sink or tub with about 3 inches of water that's a little hotter than lukewarm. You'll also want to make sure the bathroom is at a comfortable, warm temperature so your baby won't be cold when he or she gets out of the tub. Use washcloths or your hands to put soap on your baby, and use washcloths and the water in the cup or pitcher to rinse it off. Then towel-dry your baby and apply the treatments and/or lotion. After that, a fresh diaper and change of clothes will finish the job.
Besides bath time, there are a few other hygiene tasks you'll have to keep up with. For example, you'll need to take care of your baby's umbilical cord in the first few weeks. Ask your doctor for instructions – this might be letting the cord dry up on its own (in which case, you shouldn't get it wet, so sponge baths are necessary) or using something like alcohol to speed up the process. You should also keep your baby's nails short to prevent him or her from scratching. It's easiest to use a file to do this, as it's difficult to cut a baby's tiny nails successfully. If your baby has cradle cap or another skin issue, make sure to ask your doctor for a treatment recommendation and follow his or her instructions. Keep in mind that babies do tend to have a lot of dead, flaking skin that needs to come off, so it might not be a serious issue.