Caring for Your Newborn: Expert Tips to Help Parents
One of my biggest life-altering events was the birth of my two boys. Back then, I wish I had been more prepared to handle and care for a newborn. The hospital offered birthing classes and there were “Mommy and Me” classes, but we still felt unprepared. If you feel anxiety about being a new parent, you're not alone. Many new parents feel overwhelmed when it's time to bring their new babies home from the hospital. As a nurse in the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit (NICCU), I am positioned to help give you the confidence in caring for your newborn. Continue reading for helpful tips!
Getting Started Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a team effort between you and your baby. One of the keys to successful breastfeeding is simply sitting up while you breastfeed—sit up in bed, in a comfortable armchair or in a rocking chair. Use pillows behind your back, under your elbow and on your lap to support the baby. Use a footstool to bring your knees up or use pillows under your knees if you are sitting up in bed. You should be relaxed with none of your muscles straining. Your baby should be lying on their side with his whole body facing you and his knees pulled in close to your body. There are a number of breastfeeding pillows to help, but you don’t necessarily need these to succeed.
Overcoming a Poor Latch During Breastfeeding
Getting your baby to latch onto your nipple properly helps promote successful breastfeeding. A poor latch (nipple is too shallow in your baby’s mouth) at the breast will cause discomfort and can make your nipples sore or cause them to crack and bleed. A poorly latched baby will not be able to take in milk efficiently. When your baby does not have enough of the breast in their mouth, they will be sucking on just the nipple, rather than keeping their mouth wide and far back onto the areola (skin around nipple). Here are some suggestions to help overcome poor latching:Getting Started Breastfeeding
- Get as much help as you can when you are in the hospital after giving birth. Ask for a nurse or lactation consultant.
- Before each feeding, make sure you are comfortable—Empty your bladder, get some water for sipping and take your time getting into position.
- Your baby should be awake and ready to nurse. It helps to unswaddle them and change their diaper.
- Your baby’s mouth needs to be open wide for a proper latch. You can tickle their upper lip with your nipple to get her mouth to open. Once her mouth is open, bring her into your breast.
Mary, my fellow RN Remedies blogger, talks about how to properly handle, store and thaw your breast milk.
Curing a Stuffy Nose
Babies are born nose breathers, probably because that how they breathe during breastfeeding—mouth breathing begins later. If your newborn has a stuffy nose, not only does it interfere with breastfeeding but it can cause other respiratory issues. If your baby shows signs of a stuffy nose (e.g. nasal secretion around their nostrils, sneezing) here are some ways to help clear their nasal passage to promote better breathing. One of the most effective ways to remove blockage in their nose is to use a bulb syringe:
- Press on the bulb syringe to remove air. Do not release the bulb yet.
- Place the tip of the bulb syringe into your baby’s nostril.
- Gently release the bulb pressure and allow it to suck up the mucus from your baby’s nose.
- Clean the bulb syringe with hot water and soap. (Make sure the syringe is empty of water, though, the next time you use it, and that you are not shooting water into your baby’s nose.)
Safe Sleep for Your Newborn
Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death. SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a baby under 1 year of age. Even though there is no way to know which babies might die of SIDS, there are some things that you can do to make your baby safer:
- Always place your baby on their back to sleep, even for naps.
- Place your baby on a firm mattress.
- Remove soft, fluffy and loose bedding, including blankets, crib bumpers and stuffed toys from your baby's sleep area.
- Do not use a sleep positioner to hold your baby on their back or side.
- Use a sleep sack rather than blankets while your baby is sleeping.
- Don't let your baby get too warm during sleep. Your baby's room should be at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult. Too many layers of clothing or blankets can overheat your baby.
Make sure everyone who cares for your baby knows to place your baby on its back to sleep and about the dangers of soft bedding. This RN Remedies blog post can help. Other ways to prevent SIDS involve encouraging a smoke-free environment for your baby. Don't smoke before or after the birth of your baby and don’t allow others to smoke around your baby.
Your newborn’s nails grow quickly and will require a trim at least once per week. If you forget, you’ll be reminded by a small scratch on your arm or hand, or they may accidentally scratch themselves.
- Trim your baby’s nails when they are sleeping.
- Before you use nail clipper, try filing your baby’s nails.
- If filing does not work, press down on your baby’s fingertip so you can get the clippers around both sides of the nail.
- If there are sharp edges after clipping, use a nail file to soften and trim them down.
Reconsider Baby Wipes
Did you know that newborn babies don’t require baby wipes to clean their bottoms? Baby wipes, which are considered an essential for diaper duty, are both expensive and can irritate your baby’s sensitive bottom. An exclusively breastfed baby doesn’t need baby wipes at all because fecal matter from exclusively breastfed babies is low in acid and bacteria, watery and wipes off easily. Urine of exclusively breastfed babies is diluted and noncorrosive. If baby wipes are a staple or if your baby is formula-fed, it’s recommend to use wipes that are natural, gentle and contain no chemicals.
UV rays are damaging to your baby’s skin, so do not expose your newborn to direct sunlight until they are 6 months old. When you go outside and it’s sunny, consider these tips:
- Dress your infant in protective clothing, a small hat and long sleeves
- Use a stroller with a cover or an umbrella, or stay under the shade of a tree
- Use sunscreen that is formulated for babies and apply it to areas of exposed skin such as the face, hands and neck.
- More great tips can be found on Jen’s post about how to handle heat with a newborn.
There are many obstacles to raising a newborn baby and the tips in this blog post will help get you on a good path, whether it’s your first or third baby. The challenges of caring for a newborn are not long-term—your baby will grow and become more independent. Just remember to cherish as many moments as possible.