The Basics of Newborn Care

The Basics of Newborn Care

A handy guide to help you get through those first few weeks with baby.

I'll never forget sitting next to the car seat (after finally getting the baby strapped in) as we pulled out of the hospital parking garage. We were headed home for the first time as a family of three. The realization began to set in that we were now in charge of this tiny human FOREVER! Every mile we put between the hospital and our car, solidified the threshold of a whole new adventure.

Yes, we'd been to all the parenting classes, read all kinds of books and blogs…the truth is, reading on how to care for a newborn and doing it are two different things. The good news is that my children are living proof that it’s not as complicated and chaotic as it may seem. You’re going to be great; I promise.


Feeding your baby is more than just providing nutrition, it’s a great way to bond with your baby. If you are breastfeeding, it's best to start at the hospital. Having access to lactation consultants and nurses who can help you get your baby to latch is a wonderful way to begin. They can also give tips on positioning and provide helpful insight about how much and how often you should feed your baby. If breast milk isn't an option, the nurses can help find a formula that works for your baby so you can rest easy knowing your little one is getting all the nourishment they need. Chest feeding is more than latching, there are many ways to feed your baby and crafty devices that can help you mimic the breast! Supplemental nursing systems have come a long way and can assist in catering to your chest feeding needs.


This necessary evil was one of my least favorite parts of the gig. After having to feed your baby a million times a day, they also need to be burped. Baby's often swallow air while they are feeding, and you must help them get it out. If not, they can get really upset. Helping your baby expel gas also aids digestion and helps prevent spit-ups.

 Hold your baby against your chest, with their chin on your shoulder, and gently pat their back until you get a little burp. On nights that I was super exhausted, I would pass burping duties to my husband after our baby nursed. Sharing is caring! Pro tip: Get yourself about 500 little burp rags and just keep them handy, you’ll thank me later!


Early and often is the name of the game here. Keep a solid supply of diapers, wipes, and a good diaper cream on hand. Nobody likes sitting around in their own mess, and babies don't either, plus keeping your little one clean and dry will help prevent diaper rash. It's incredible where remnants from a massive blowout can hide, so make sure to get in all those nooks and crannies when you’re on clean up duty. For little girls remember to wipe from front to back to avoid UTI's. Also, let your babe go commando for a few hours each day. A little fresh air is good for that tiny hiney.


Yes, they are SO small, no, you aren't going to break them. Make sure to wash your hands and practice good hygiene when you or anyone else holds your baby. Their little immune systems are still developing, so having clean hands is important to keep germs minimal. The muscles that help hold up their neck are also not yet fully formed, so be sure to take extra care to support the head and neck when holding and laying your baby down.

Take this time to get plenty of skin-to-skin time with your newborn. Skin-to-skin is exactly what it sounds like. Holding, or laying with baby on your chest, with no clothing in between you. Skin to skin holds so many benefits for the care giver and the baby.

Learning how to care for a newborn is complicated, but before you know it, that little bundle of joy is going to be cruising all over the place.


You will be handling all sorts of cringe-worthy bodily functions for your child, and I consider this portion of the program part of your initiation. Your kiddo will come home from the hospital with a little withered stump where their cute little belly button will eventually be. Your job is to keep this thing clean and dry for the first few weeks until - wait for it - it turns from yellow to brown or black and shrivels and falls off. Gag. Use a damp washcloth to clean the area and stick to sponge baths (no submersion) until the cord has fallen off and the area has healed. Also, fold diapers down in the front to reduce rubbing and keep the area dry.

For parents of little dudes, who opted for circumcision, the tip of the penis will be a little swollen, and a yellow scab will appear. Poor little guy! Wash the area with warm water daily and dab a little petroleum jelly to protect the site and prevent it from sticking to the diaper.

If you notice any additional swelling, blistering, redness, foul odor, or discharge, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.


Newborn nails grow quickly, and even though these tiny little nails are relatively soft, they can still be quite sharp. To reduce the chance of your baby scratching themselves or you, invest in a pair of baby nail clippers and carefully trim their nails as needed. Try performing this task while the baby is relaxed to minimize the chance of snipping those sensitive baby fingers.


For the first few weeks, you will be doing sponge baths, and while not absolutely necessary, an infant tub can be super helpful. There are tons of different options out there. You'll just need to see what works best for your family. Keep in mind, deep bending may be challenging post-partum, and if you've had a C-section, it's completely off-limits. So, look for a tub that can fit in or across your sink.

Make sure you have all the gear ready before you start the bath (washcloth, baby shampoo/soap, cup for pouring water, towel) and if you can, enlist a second pair of hands. Your baby may love the bath; they may not. Our babes went through phases. If your kiddo isn't nuts about bath time, having someone there to help hold and comfort (or distract) the baby is a huge help.

We used the newborn no-rinse water wash and wipes from Mustela for cleaning the babes between baths. In addition to its dreamy scent, it also soothes baby's skin and helps prevent dryness. It’s perfect for cleaning up behind baby’s ears, an area where babies notoriously store old milk runoff. It can get funky, yes, I’m serious.  


Kiss it goodbye. Just kidding! As much as it seems like these new little humans need attention every minute, newborns usually sleep 16 or more hours a day. In the beginning, sleep will come in two to four-hour bursts. As the days go on, your baby will be able to eat more, allowing them to sleep for longer stretches without waking. For right now, they’re just going to sleep whenever they want. And when they do, you should try to catch some winks too.

Your baby may or may not accept a sleep schedule for the first few months. It is important to start helping your baby learn the difference between day and night. Establishing a routine early on will help your baby pick up the signals that it’s time to sleep.

Our routine was as follows: book, bath, dim lights, turn on sound machine, massage, pj's, bottle (or breastfeed), bed. Your routine is up to you. Just keep it consistent to help your baby learn the cues. Babies thrive when they have a schedule. Starting the practice now will serve you well when it comes time to start managing your baby's sleep schedule in a few months.

A few tips:  

  • Keep the room lighter during daytime, even for naps.  
  • Dim the lights or use a night light in the evenings.
  • Nothing else should be in your baby's bed, except them. Blankets, stuffed animals, or other objects are sleeping hazards and could cause suffocation.
  • Always lay your baby in their bed on their back to prevent SIDS.
  • Remember to alternate your baby's head position when laying them down to prevent flat spots from forming.

Parenting is a tough job, but I can attest that it is the most rewarding job in the world. Learning how to care for a newborn is complicated, but before you know it, that little bundle of joy is going to be cruising all over the place, walking, and that's when things really get interesting. Soak up these precious times while they are so teeny tiny, because before you know it, you’ll be baby proofing the house.

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