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Everything you need to know about caring for a newborn baby

Hey, mama: welcome to the motherhood club! If you’re reading this, you’re likely about to give birth and want to prep (or at least understand what you’re in for!), or you’ve given birth, and you’re wondering what the f*ck to do with the squiggly, screaming newborn baby in your arms. 

Whatever the case, taking care of a baby can seem terrifying (especially if you haven’t done it before), and it can feel downright hard (even if you have done it before). Like, there’s a reason people call it the world’s most challenging job!

So, to help, here’s what you and I are going to do, mama: we’re going to break down everything you need to know as a first-time mom about caring for a newborn baby. (Well, not quite everything because that would be impossible. But it’ll be a start.) Let’s do this.

Sleep and your baby

Look, newborn sleep is hard. And frustrating and confusing. But take my advice: understanding why your newborn’s sleep is the way it is can help you rationalise why they (and you) are awake at 1 am (and 3 am, and 5 am, and 6 am). So here are some baby sleep basics. 

Babies need a lot of sleep. Think 16 hours a day a lot. (Even though it doesn’t feel like it.) It helps with their development. 

But:

  • They don’t know that night means sleep. Which is why they’re awake and ready to party at 1 am.
  • They don’t know how to connect their sleep cycles yet. Which is one of the reasons why they wake up so frequently (and why you feel so freaking tired). 

 

On top of this, there’s no set routine at first because:

  • Your baby’s circadian rhythm hasn’t developed yet. This is the thing that helps us recognise when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. 
  • Plus, they need to eat all the goddamn time. Their belly is tiny, meaning they can only drink a small amount at each feed, and they need to feed often. (Note that frequent feeding also helps increase your milk supply and gives your baby practice sucking and swallowing, but it’s another reason they only sleep for short periods.) 

 

This all means that something like sleep training, where you actively help teach your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own, won’t work just yet (though if you want more information on sleep training, read our guide on how to sleep train a baby). 

Yikes! What are you to do?! Ultimately, there’s no “quick fix” (I’m sorry to say, mama). But, you can start to put some healthy sleep habits in place, like:

  • Separating feeding and sleeping times. To avoid food becoming a sleep association.
  • Putting your baby to bed when they’re sleepy. To prevent them from becoming overtired (which can make your little one harder to put to sleep). Cues include rubbing their eyes, looking away, yawning, and fussing.
  • Following recommended wake windows. Wake windows are the amount of time your little one is awake from one nap to the next. They’re a common topic amongst sleep consultants (these are people that help advise families on kids’ sleep) and are another way of determining when your babe should go to sleep to avoid becoming overtired. According to neonatal nurse and paediatric sleep consultant Cara Dumpalin, a newborn baby’s wake window should be about 35-90 minutes. 
  • Setting up a bedtime routine and a rock-solid sleep environment. To indicate when it’s time to sleep. 

 

And I can’t talk about sleep without addressing the elephant in the room: when do babies start sleeping through the night? Well, it’s a million-dollar question because every baby is different. Take my mom group, for example: some babies were sleeping through the night at six months. My baby is almost one and still wakes at least once a night. It’s not an indication of your success as a parent. But if you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep, speak to your paediatrician or a certified sleep consultant for personalised advice. 

One last point on sleep, mama. Ensuring your baby’s sleep space is safe can help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and prevent other accidents from happening. Guidelines for a safe sleep environment include:

  • Sleep your baby in the same room as you for at least their first six months of life. 
  • Ensure your baby’s bed meets safety regulations and is free from soft toys, blankets, and pillows.
  • Ensure the room they’re sleeping in is temperate and that they’re dressed appropriately to avoid overheating.


This is just the tip of the safety iceberg. Read how to set up a safe sleep environment for your little one here.

Feeding your baby

This is no knife and fork situation, mama. Not yet, anyway! Let’s explore the who, what, where, when, why, and how of feeding your baby. 

  • What: babies drink either breast milk or formula. That’s it, no food, no water – until at least six months, or they show signs of being ready to start solids
  • Why: breast milk and formula contain all the nutrients that a baby needs for the first few months of life.
  • How: via the breast or a bottle.
  • Who: well, you’ll feed your baby if you’re breastfeeding. But, if your baby is bottle-fed (with either expressed breast milk or formula), you can get your baby daddy, or other caregiver, to share feeding duties. Postpartum can be an isolating time for partners, and this is a wonderful way to get them involved and bonding with your little one.
  • When (and how much): it’s recommended you feed your babe on demand when they show hunger cues (which include crying, putting their fingers in their mouth, or making a sucking noise). Newborns feed every two to three hours (yep, even overnight), and you generally offer both breasts or two to three ounces (60–90 millilitres) of formula at each feed. 

 

Now, these are the basics of feeding. But there are two other things I want you to know about:

Cluster feeding

Your baby might do something called cluster feeding, where they want lots of short feeds, more often, over the space of several hours. It’s likely due to a growth spurt and is normal, but it can f*cking suck – you’re often trapped on the couch/in your feeding chair/in bed for hours, and your babe can’t seem to get enough milk! Know it can happen, and if it does, my advice is to lean into it: watch some sh*t TV (I watched all three High School Musicals during my son’s first cluster-feeding night), stay hydrated, and load up on the best foods for breastfeeding (click here for snack ideas!).

Burping 

Babies can swallow air when they feed, and it can make them fussy AF (and give them hiccups, which is adorable). So, it’s recommended that you burp your baby regularly, even during their feed (in between breasts is a good time, for example). The easiest way to do this? Hold your little one upright with their head on your shoulder and gently pat their back. 

A final note: always do what works for you and your babe, whether that’s breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a bit of both. However, if you’re worried about your baby’s feeding, seek advice from your primary care doctor or a board-certified lactation consultant for specific breastfeeding tips.

Changing your baby

According to Pampers, your baby will use as many as 2,520 diapers in their first year of life. So it’s safe to say you’re going to become a f*cking expert at diaper changing! 

But, until then, here are four things to know:

  • Disposable and cloth diapers are both good options. And whether you decide to use one or the other, or a combination of the two, is up to you. 
  • Change your baby’s diaper often. About every two to three hours says Pampers, or as soon as your baby’s diaper is dirty. It will help reduce your little one’s risk of diaper rash
  • Use each diaper change to check in on your baby’s health. For example, not enough wet diapers can indicate your babe is dehydrated (you want at least six wet diapers in 24 hours for newborns). 
  • Make sure you’ve got all supplies needed in one spot. You’ll need a clean diaper, diaper fasteners (if using certain types of cloth diapers), diaper ointment, wipes (in case of ‘the big poo’), and possibly even a fresh change of baby clothes (in case that big poo made a big escape from your baby’s diaper). Get it all ready first, so you’re not scrambling while sh*t is (quite possibly) hitting the fan. 

 

Side note: while you can change your baby anywhere (like on the bed, the floor, or a table), using a dedicated change table will save your back. And having multiple changing stations if you have a two-story house will keep you from running up and down the stairs with a poo-nami in action. Just sayin’. 

Remember that practice makes perfect. And share the load! Take turns doing diaper duty with your partner – it’s another way of helping them feel involved, and it gives you a break.

Bathing your baby

Real talk: my husband and I were f*cking petrified the first time we bathed our son. We had an instructional video going on YouTube; there was water everywhere; everyone was crying. It was hell. (It’s now a fun affair with toys and music!) 

So here are five things to know about bath time with your newborn baby:

  • You might not bathe them fully for their first few days of life. The World Health Organization recommends waiting at least 24 hours after birth to bathe your baby, to protect their delicate skin. It’s also advised you only sponge bathe your baby until their umbilical cord falls off. 
  • When you do bathe them, it might be in your kitchen sink. No, really. While you might have a dedicated baby bathtub on your baby essentials list, you can bathe your newborn in the kitchen sink, in the laundry, heck, even in a bucket. They’re tiny, after all! But, do whatever will suit you best, and if that’s bathing your babe in a baby bathtub, go for it.
  • You might not use soap. You don’t need to use soap, shampoo, or lotion on your baby’s skin unless there’s a medical reason to (like they’ve got a rash). If you do use soap, for example, make sure it’s mild. 
  • Always check the water temperature before popping your baby in. Too hot, and it could harm your baby’s skin – eek! For peace of mind, purchase a bath thermometer. 
  • Watch your baby like a hawk. Never, ever leave your baby unsupervised in the bath. Just don’t. 

 

Bathtime is another excellent way to get your partner involved and interacting with your little one. You could even delegate bathtime to them permanently! 

Calming your baby

Babies cry – a lot. And particularly during something called witching hour – a period in the day, usually the mid-to-late afternoon, when your baby appears to cry for no damn reason. So knowing how to soothe your baby is going to be quite important (and helpful for your sanity, mama). Here are six ways to calm a baby:

  • Swaddle your baby. Swaddling is the art of wrapping your baby snugly in a baby swaddle wrap (or similar) to recreate the cozy feeling of your womb. Read how to swaddle a baby here
  • Hold your baby in a tummy-down or in a left-facing position. This can help with digestion and is generally comforting. Try patting their back gently at the same time. 
  • Turn on white noise. This can remind your baby of the “whooshing” sounds they heard in your womb. 
  • Go on a walk with your baby in a carrier. The movement and closeness to you can help remind them of the womb too. 
  • Offer a pacifier or show your baby their thumb. Sucking can help calm babies. 
  • Try a little skin-to-skin contact. This can help your babe feel close to you. 

 

You might need to try these techniques multiple times to work out what your baby likes best. And seek help if something seems off; if your baby can’t seem to settle at all or if they are particularly distressed, it could be a sign of colic or acid reflux

Playing with your baby

Interestingly, play is the main way your baby learns to move, communicate, interact with others, and understand their surroundings – even from the very early days. 

Any activity that appeals to their senses – sight, hearing, and touch in particular – is a go. Think playing with rattles, gently dancing with them to music, singing to them, or looking in the mirror or at anything with contrasting patterns (like a mobile) together. 

You might also try a little tummy time to help your baby develop their neck muscles. Simply crack out a playmat and place your babe down on their tummy for a few minutes at a time – you can gradually increase the length of time as they build up their strength.

Remember, don’t expect too much at first – your little one might just stare in the direction of a toy at the beginning. But know they’ll interact more and more over time (and it’s pretty darn cute).

 

A daily pattern with your baby

Ok, let’s put all this information together and talk about how to approach your day. While it’s not exactly possible to put your baby on a strict schedule or routine at first (because they’re feeding on demand and their sleep is simply all over the shop), you can establish a sort of daily pattern. 

What might this pattern look like? One idea is “feed-play-sleep” – where you feed your baby once they wake from their nap, followed by some playtime before they go back to sleep. It can be pretty effective for giving you some structure, mama, and for helping your babe develop some positive sleep habits.

Here’s what a day might entail if following this pattern:


Source: Tresillian

Know that this is only a guide because every baby is different. And know that sometimes it may not go as planned because babies are unpredictable AF. But give it a go and see.

 

Weird stuff and your baby

Stuff happens. Strange stuff. Because babies are weird! Like: 

  • The skin on their scalp and bodies can flake off after birth. 
  • They can get acne. 
  • They can grunt like dinosaurs in their sleep. 
  • Their poop can be yellow or even green. 
  • They might go a week between poos. 
  • They can get a period. 
  • They can sleep with their eyes open.

 

And the list goes on. But the moral of the story: things happen. Don’t spend your time worrying about what might occur, but rather be alert and trust your gut; if you’re worried, get help.  

Mama, I hope this has left you feeling a little less overwhelmed and a little more empowered. To quote the motivational Post-It I wrote myself and put on the fridge the day we came home from the hospital: “YOU’VE F*CKING GOT THIS!” It can take time, but you’ll get into the swing of things. Just be kind to yourself in the process. 

The information in this article does not replace medical advice. If you are concerned about your or your baby’s health and wellbeing, speak to your primary care doctor. 

 

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Mayo Clinic, Baby naps: Daytime sleep tips 

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Standford Children’s Health, Newborn Sleep Patterns

Nationwide Children’s, Nightwakings 

Nemours Children’s Health, Sleep and Your Newborn

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Nemours Children’s Health, When Can My Baby Start Eating Solid Foods?

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Mumli, We asked mums about their newborn’s weird behaviour

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