Looking after your baby
Alongside the joyous feelings associated with being a new mum, the demands of caring for your newborn baby 24 hours a day can be a real shock, not to mention totally exhausting. However, as you get to know your newborn and become more adept at recognising their needs, you will also feel a lot more confident about being competent to care for them. While the newborn baby is really much tougher than you might think, one important point to remember is that your baby is vulnerable to the effects of substances in the environment around them and with which they come into contact. As parents, you are likely to be in the most contact with your baby and maintaining good hand hygiene is crucial. You should always wash your hands before and after carrying out any baby care, and you should ask anyone else who comes into close contact with them to do this as well. This article offers some practical tips and guidance in caring for your baby.
In the early days following your baby’s birth, you’ll notice that their nappy contents change by the day. In the first day or two, your baby passes (poos) ‘meconium’ – this is a very dark green/brown/black thick and sticky substance which is present in their bowel at birth. As your baby takes more milk, whether breast milk or infant formula, the colour of their poo changes to more of a green colour until, by the time that they are five or six days old, they have soft yellow poos. You will also notice that they pass more urine (wee) and several heavy nappies of wee each day is usual. It is thought that the contact between the poo and the urine can be quite toxic; needless to say, this can make your baby’s nappy area susceptible to soreness and/or nappy rash. To prevent this, at least for the first month, try to change your baby’s nappy as soon as you are aware that it is soiled and clean your baby’s nappy area using only plain water and cotton wool. After this time you can start to introduce baby products. By doing this, you’ll ensure that your newborn’s skin is not exposed to substances before it has had time to develop its own natural barrier. If nothing seems to be making a difference to the rash, you should seek advice as sometimes the skin can become infected with bacteria, and medical treatments are needed.
Handy Tip: When you decide to introduce baby products, lotions or wipes, these should not be heavily perfumed or coloured and should be free of alcohol and sulphates (referred to as SLES and SLS). These substances could harm the delicate barrier of your baby’s skin. Applying a thin layer of barrier cream to the nappy area can help protect against nappy rash; however, these should be free from the additives previously mentioned, and antiseptics, and be clinically recognised as effective in treating nappy rash.
Changing your baby girl’s nappy
With baby girls it is always important to clean from the front of their genitals to the back, so that you don’t introduce any bacteria from their bottom (anus), into their vagina. You may notice that the area around the vagina (genitals) is swollen or red and they may also have a small amount of white, clear or slightly bloody discharge – these are all normal and are due to exposure to maternal hormones in the womb (uterus). If this discharge continues beyond the first six weeks, tell your family practitioner.
Changing your baby boy’s nappy
With baby boys, it isn’t necessary to retract their foreskin to clean under it and in fact, you won’t be able to do so for several months, even years, as it can take this long for the foreskin to separate from the penis. However, it is important to clean under their scrotum as any urine/poo that is left on their skin will cause it to become red and sore.
Handy Tip: It is worth remembering that cloth nappies are just as efficient as disposable nappies, and are a cheaper alternative, much kinder to our environment, and do not increase the risk of your baby developing nappy rash!
The umbilical cord dries out after your baby’s birth and after a few days will separate and fall off. Until this happens, it is important to keep your baby’s cord clean and dry. Your midwife will show you how to fold the baby’s nappy down to help avoid the cord becoming soiled, but should this happen, it is best to use plain water and cotton wool to clean and dry the area around the base of the cord. If the area around the cord becomes reddened or develops an unpleasant/bad smell, it is important that you tell your midwife or family practitioner as soon as possible as this might be the start of an infection.
Caring for your baby’s eyes, ears and nose
It is best to leave these alone to avoid introducing infection. Sometimes the baby’s eyes will become sticky; if this happens, you should tell your midwife or family practitioner who can check your baby and organise treatment if required. They will also show you how to clean your baby’s eyes safely. You should never use cotton wool buds to clean your baby’s ears or nostrils, as these can push any debris present deeper into the ear or nasal canal.
What about trimming finger and toe nails?
Your midwife will advise you against using scissors to cut any long nails because of the risk of cutting your baby’s skin, as the nail and the skin blend in together at the edges of the nail bed. As a baby’s nails are often very soft and flexible they can be peeled away at the ends using your fingers. Some mums prefer to nibble off the end of their baby’s nails, because their tongue is far more sensitive than any pair of scissors. Even where you might have specially designed baby nail scissors/clippers with rounded ends, it is best to wait a few weeks before using them and maybe get some help holding the baby while you are doing it.
Bathing your baby
There’s something quite irresistible about the scent of a newborn baby, but how often should you bath them? For many parents, their baby’s bath time is a treasured time of the day and babies too often love bath time. However, until they are actually crawling around and exploring things, newborns don’t tend to need a daily bath. It is also advisable to hold-off bathing your baby until their umbilical cord has dried, separated and fallen off. Your midwife will advise you to use plain water for bathing your baby for at least the first month. This ensures your baby’s skin is not exposed to harsh substances before it has had time to develop its own natural barrier. Mums who have used a water-only regime compared with commercial baby skin care products report that their babies do not suffer from the usual spots, rashes and cradle cap.
Caring for your baby’s hair
The amount of hair that your baby is born with is a very individual thing. Some babies are born with a head full of hair, while others have hair that is so fair and fine, they look almost bald. All babies tend to lose some of their hair during the first six months because it grows in two stages – the growing stage and the resting phase. After the resting phase, the hair falls out. This hair loss is also thought to be linked to the influence of mum’s sex hormones during pregnancy and after the birth the levels of these hormones fall. Bald patches commonly appear on the back of the baby’s head from where they’re sleeping in the same position, or from rubbing their head against the cot mattress. There’s nothing that you can do to prevent this hair loss. Shampooing isn’t necessary in babies under 12 months of age, however, once you’ve started introducing baby products in their baths, you can rinse your little one’s hair with the bath water. If you prefer to use baby shampoo, it’s important that these don’t contain the sulphates previously mentioned (SLES and SLS). You can use a specially designed baby’s hair brush to comb their hair and stimulate baby’s scalp. Any debris from the birth can be gently removed from their hair by using a baby comb.
Where should my baby sleep?
A Moses basket is ideal for a young baby because it is not too large and overwhelming for them, so when you get home from hospital, unless your baby is comfortably snoozing in their car seat, it is probably a good idea to place them in the basket so that they can get used to it. You will want to put the basket in the places where you are for the first few days, so this will be the living room/dining room and your bedroom. It is extremely important that you, your partner or visitors, do not smoke in the same room as your baby, as research has shown that smoking around babies increases the risk of cot death. For the same reason it is equally important that your baby doesn’t get too hot or too cold.
The room temperature should be comfortable so that, for example, you are warm wearing one layer of clothing, but not so hot that you, and everyone else, feel the need to discard clothing! The ideal room temperature for your baby is between 16-20oC, the optimum being 18oC (65oF). It can be difficult for you to gauge the room temperature, so use a room thermometer in the room(s) that your baby occupies and move the thermometer whenever you move the Moses basket to a different room. If your baby has been born during the colder months of the year, you will also need to think about where to place their Moses basket, especially if this is going to be directly onto the floor. Just be aware of draughts from doorways or windows that might chill them even though the room itself might feel warm. You should never place the Moses basket next to a heater, radiator or fire, as your baby could easily become too hot.
For their bedding, it is best to use either lightweight sleeping blankets or a baby sleeping bag. You can tell if your baby is too warm, by gently touching their tummy. If it feels hot and clammy your baby is too warm, so simply take off some of the layers of bedding or use a lower tog sleeping bag. The pillow and duvet set that often come with your Moses basket can look very pretty, but should not be used. They could become a hazard if your baby’s head becomes covered by them, or they become tangled in the duvet. All babies need to be able to lose any excess heat from the top of their head, so it is important that when lying in the Moses basket, your baby sleeps on their back with their feet to the foot of the basket. This way there is no danger of the baby’s head becoming covered by the bedding and their becoming too hot.
As noted at the beginning, caring for a new baby can be a daunting and exhausting experience, but there are many people around you who are very willing to help, so never feel that you are bothering them, or that you should be able to manage if something is worrying you – just ask them for help and things will get easier.