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.
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.
On top of this, there’s no set routine at first because:
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:
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:
This is just the tip of the safety iceberg. Read how to set up a safe sleep environment for your little one here.
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.
Now, these are the basics of feeding. But there are two other things I want you to know about:
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!).
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.
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:
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.
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:
Bathtime is another excellent way to get your partner involved and interacting with your little one. You could even delegate bathtime to them permanently!
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:
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.
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).
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:
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.
Stuff happens. Strange stuff. Because babies are weird! Like:
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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