Baby Basics 101: Caring for a Newborn

infant sleeping with a teddy bear

Caring for a newborn has its ups and downs, and everyone who has done it before you seems to have an "expert" opinion on how you should do things. Some general advice may be helpful, but in many cases people don't take into account the fact that every baby (and every mother) is different. What works for someone else might not work for you and your baby. So take all of these baby care tips with a grain of salt. Be patient, and if something doesn't work, don't be afraid to try something else.

The Best Diapers to Use

There isn't a "best" diaper to use. It all comes down to comfort, price, and utility. Some babies will do well with the cheapest disposables available, while others will have allergic reactions to the perfumes and materials in some brands. If your baby is a heavy wetter, you might need to go with a brand that has extra padding. If your baby has sensitive skin or allergies, you might need to choose a brand that offers a perfume-free and "hypoallergenic" diaper, or opt for cloth diapers. The best diaper is one that your baby is happy with, for the most part, and a brand that is affordable for you and easy to find.

mom changing baby's diaper

Breastfeeding Tip

A really good investment for a new mom is a nursing pillow, sometimes called a "boppy" pillow. These range in cost from $30 to $40 and are designed to fit around your waist when you sit down to breastfeed. They look like the swimming pool waders or inflatable tubes that you see kids using in kiddie pools. A "boppy" allows you to sit up straight without back strain while breastfeeding, because you can lay the baby across the pillow in your lap. Your lower back will thank you for it, and it has the added benefit of letting gravity encourage flow to help a newborn with the milk supply. You can also use it if you're formula feeding; it allows you to hold your baby closer to your face for eye contact during mealtimes.

A "boppy" pillow has additional uses. You can lay the "boppy" pillow flat on the bed, swaddle your baby and place him inside the circle or "arms" of the pillow (with his head propped up on the inner part of the pillow). The circular pillow acts as a little safety barrier so he can't roll over the first few weeks, and many babies like the snug feeling. When baby gets bigger, you can lay him on his stomach with his upper body propped up on one side of the "boppy" with his arms hanging over the pillow in front. This is a transitional position before the crawling phase and is called "tummy time." It helps baby develop his neck and arm muscles as he pushes up to look around.

changing diaper

Diaper Rash

Diaper rash is uncomfortable for a baby, but it's not life-threatening. It can be caused by wet diapers that aren't changed frequently enough, diarrhea, or a change in the baby's diet (solid foods) or in mom's diet (if you're breastfeeding). A tube of hydrocortisone cream, which is a mild over-the-counter steroid cream, is a good thing to keep with your baby supplies or in the medicine cabinet. That will clear up most cases of diaper rash. Talcum powder used to be a go-to product for diaper rash, but doctors recommend against it because babies can inhale the fine powder when you apply it, which can cause respiratory problems. A good home remedy to help clear up diaper rash is to put the baby down for a nap on a thick towel and remove their diaper. Letting their skin air dry can help eliminate the moisture that leads to diaper rash.

When to See the Doctor

Babies tend to be a little sturdier than we think they are, yet we tend to want to rush to the hospital when any little thing is wrong. It is helpful to know when to see the doctor and when to care for baby at home. If a newborn starts running a fever, it's usually a sign of some sort of infection, and may warrant a call to the doctor. If you can't bring the fever down using at-home methods such as infant-specific acetaminophen or ibuprofen and lukewarm sponge baths, it may mean a trip to the emergency room.

If your newborn experiences sudden weight loss, diarrhea or vomiting, those are also signs that you should see a doctor soon. If it's during business hours, don't hesitate to call your pediatrician's office and ask for advice. Many insurance companies or medical groups offer a 24-hour medical hotline service that you can call to get advice from a registered nurse. The professional advice provided through these services can be very useful and help to determine if a trip to the doctor is warranted.