This is the first part of our guide for new parents and how to take care of your precious newborn baby. This first part covers those first hours and days, with advice on baby sleep, breastfeeding, newborn feeding advice, baby routines, tips on comforting your baby and more.
Taking your newborn baby home from the hospital
Your baby has arrived and, if you are a first time parent, you will now begin your transition from coupledom to parenthood. You may feel exhilarated, delighted, overwhelmed and perhaps a bit daunted with the responsibility of taking care of this precious new life. Tired too? Possibly!
Before the birth of your baby
Having basic essentials set up and ready to go in the last few antenatal weeks can help a lot for the first few postnatal days back at home.
Start by setting up all the kit that you have (changing station, sterilizer, breast pump, baby monitor, pram, car seat, swaddle, baby carrier or baby sling). Read the instructions, assemble and test at least once. This is much easier to do antenatally than when you are trying to do it with an awake baby in a car seat that has never been used before, or a bassinet that you have never tried to get through the front door and down any steps.
The baby’s first few days after birth
Your baby needs you to help them navigate the sensory overload of their first few weeks of life. They have spent up to forty weeks inside you, with unchanging temperatures, tucked up comfortably in a warm bath of amniotic fluid. From the moment of birth they are immersed in a world full of bright lights and a multitude of noises, smells, nappy changes and feeds. They need time to make sense of the world, and parents are their primary teachers.
A baby’s needs are quite basic: regular nutrition, nurture and loving contact and plenty of sleep. So, what are the first steps to achieving this?
Breastfeeding your newborn baby
Firstly, if you plan on breastfeeding, seek professional support for those first feeds, such as a night nanny or lactation specialist, to ensure an effective latch, while some babies find their way very easily, others will need more guidance. Make use of your midwives, maternity nurse or a lactation consultant. To help you find the best breastfeeding support for you, read our article on the A-Z of prenatal and newborn support.
Ensure that when you start to feed, you are in a comfortable and sustainable position, ideally well supported without any stress points from having your body at an awkward angle. Make sure you have a drink of water nearby.
Your baby will get the highly calorific and creamy colostrum for the first three days, and after this your milk will come in. From this point, you should be able to observe your baby give a couple of good long sucks (with their cheeks remaining nice and rounded) followed by a visible swallow. This indicates that your baby is taking in a good amount of milk.
If you are experiencing pain in your nipple when your baby latches, you may need support to adjust the latch or feeding position. If you notice that your baby is not taking milk probably, this might be due to wind, colic or reflux. Be sure to get in touch with your health advisor or GP for further advice.
How much and how often should I feed my newborn baby?
Your baby, on the assumption they are a full-term baby, will require about 8 feeds in 24 hours for the first few weeks. If breastfeeding, each feed will last approximately 45 minutes, allowing time for ‘winding’, although during the first week or so they may occasionally look for extra ‘top up’ feeds as they get to grips with the process. As they become more proficient, this feed duration may reduce and older babies may take all they need in 15 - 20 minutes.
Aim to feed* your baby at least every 3 hours and ideally no more than every 2 ½ hours, unless otherwise recommended by your maternity nurse or lactation specialist. There will, of course, be some ‘top ups’ or the occasional ‘comfort suck’; this may be the best option in times of prolonged distress, but try to avoid regularly using it as a default.
Feeding may be erratic for the early weeks as you both adjust and learn, but don’t assume that every time your baby cries that they are hungry. Babies cry for many reasons and although likely to suck each time they are offered the breast, they may get into a ‘snacking habit’ if this is done too often. Consequently, they will be less likely to establish full and more regular feed patterns.
Neonatal jaundice can make babies sleepy and less inclined to feed. Your midwife or health visitor will advise you on how to manage this. Regular feeding is very important for jaundiced babies.
Babies can lose up to 10% of their weight in the first days following birth, but will usually start regaining weight around 7-10 days of age. Regular weight checks can reassure parents that the baby is feeding effectively and sufficiently.
*Feed time is set from the beginning of one feed to the beginning of another.
How long do newborn babies sleep?
In the first 3 months, awake times between day naps are usually between 60-90 minutes long, so from the time of waking, your baby will require feeding, changing, and a bit of ‘cuddle and interaction time’ before being resettled for a nap. Be warned: there will be times when your baby falls asleep on you and then wakes immediately upon being placed in a crib! This is all part of their lack of experience in the outside world and with your guidance, they will gradually learn and feel safe with the processes of settling. You may also feel sometimes that your baby just is not sleeping; if this is the case, ask yourself these four questions on why your baby might not be sleeping.
The total amount of sleep your baby needs over a 24-hour period is around 16 to 18 hours. You may not seem to be achieving anything like this in the first days, but for more details of how to establish good sleep habits and ensure that your baby does not become chronically overtired, skip ahead to the first two weeks of caring for a newborn baby.
Why is my baby crying?
Could it be hunger, discomfort, sensory overload, being too hot or cold, over-tired, or wind? Learning to recognise your baby’s cry takes time. In the meantime, go through a process of elimination:
- When was the baby last fed?
- Does their nappy need changing?
- Is their nappy or clothing too tight?
- If your baby is wriggly and uncomfortable, could they have wind?
- How long has the baby been awake?
- If settling for a nap, is there too much stimuli in the room?
- Is the room too warm or cool? (The ideal temperature for the baby’s room is between 17-20 degrees Celsius.)
The benefits of swaddling a baby
Your baby has experienced 40 weeks of being tucked up tightly, so swaddling can help your baby to settle from day one. However, as the womb conditions are never completely silent, total quiet may unsettle the baby. Try some ‘white noise’ as a background (approximately 65 decibels) during sleep times, day and night, to make your baby feel more at ease.
Baby poop: what to expect from your 2-week-old
Meconium will be passed for the first 2-3 days (blackish sticky substance), gradually changing to a yellow, mustardy colour, which may be grainy in breastfed babies. Your midwife or health visitor will offer guidance on the frequency and volume that you can expect in the first weeks.
This blog is the first in our ‘A New Parents' Guide to Baby Sleep and Routine’ series. The following chapters are:
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