You are here

3 Skills New-Moms Must Master

While you basked in the glow of new motherhood, hospital nurses (and your know-it-all mother-in-law) made it look easy. But now you're home and flying solo. Diapering, swaddling and bathing are all up to you and your significant other. They may seem like daunting tasks when you're so bleary-eyed you can't tell a dipe from a wipe, but fear not! We're here to support you (hug) and to help eliminate any confusion that could put a damper on your homecoming.

Diaper Duty

You stocked up on tiny little diapers months before the baby was born, and now it's time to put your changing skills to the test. There are some important things to keep in mind when you're new to diapering (getting doused being one of them!).

You'll need to start off by making sure your supplies -- a clean diaper, baby wipes or damp washcloths, diaper ointment, a changing pad or a towel to put under baby -- are within arm's reach. A plastic changing pad is easy to clean should your first tries not go so smoothly, and a diaper ointment with moisture-blocking zinc oxide works well at warding off rashes.

Where you decide to change the baby is all about what's safest. Kate Cronan, M.D., medical editor of, an award-winning children's health website run by the Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health Media, advises parents to strap their baby to a changing table with barriers around all four sides or on a mat on the floor so the baby can't fall.

Once you've gathered supplies and picked your spot, the dirty work begins.

Step 1. Remove and discard the soiled diaper. Using baby wipes or a damp washcloth, gently wipe your baby clean from the front to the back to prevent spreading bacteria from the rectum. (This is especially important on girls.) If you're changing a boy, beware: You might get an unwelcome spray! Pee-pee Teepees (yes, they're little cloth tents that cover his penis) are popular with moms of baby boys, but a clean diaper placed over his penis is a fine shield, too. Pat baby dry and apply diaper ointment.

Step 2. Lift baby's legs (Cronan advises holding the ankles with one hand), open the clean diaper and slide it under. The adhesive strips should be level with baby's navel. Bring the front of the diaper up between her legs, being careful if her cord stump is still attached. Newborn diapers are available with umbilical-cord cutouts to accommodate the stump, but if you're using a regular diaper, simply turn down the top so it doesn't touch the stump. Undo the adhesive strips, wrap the diaper around baby and fasten snugly.

Quick Tip: If your baby seems irritable after her change or you see red marks around the baby's thighs and waist, then you may have made the diaper too tight, Cronan says.


You'll likely want to have your camera ready for baby's first bath, but make sure the parent doing the bathing isn't also the one snapping the pics: You'll need two hands. Make sure whoever is behind the camera stands back: He might get wet!

"Don't be surprised if baby screams in the tub or even during a sponge bath," warns Cronan. "Many infants dislike being undressed and cry loudly in response. It's normal."

Until baby's cord stump falls off and navel heals and until his circumcision heals, a sponge bath will do, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And don't bathe too often -- more than two or three times a week will dry baby's tender skin, Cronan says. Choose a mild, scent-free soap and shampoo, she says.

Decide on whether you'll be bathing him in a sink or a baby bathtub. "I gave Lukas his first bath in the kitchen sink. He absolutely hated it," says Ethne Damm, a 25-year-old mom from Sheridan, Wyoming. "Later I put a towel on the bottom of the sink, and he absolutely loved taking a bath." Cronan recommends using a baby tub, which is stable and more secure.

When it's time for baby's first dip, here's how it should go down:

Step 1. Fill a sink or baby bathtub with 2 to 3 inches of warm water (it should feel comfortably warm to the inside of your wrist). Babies chill quickly, so place her in the water immediately -- feet first, supporting her head with your hand -- and keep her warm by pouring water over her regularly with a plastic or rubber cup or by squeezing it from a washcloth.

Step 2. Wash her hair with a soft cloth. Massage her scalp gently with a soft brush, including the area over her soft spots Keep the water out of her eyes. Cup your hands to direct the flow of water, or use a cup with a side that rounds inward made especially for bathing infants. Wash the rest of her body from the top down, saving the dirtier bits for last, Cronan says. Wrap her in a towel, covering her head to keep it warm. Those adorable hooded baby towels you received at your shower work particularly well.

Quick Tip: Never leave baby alone in the bath, even for an instant. If you need to step away, wrap baby in a towel and take her with you.

Swaddle Session

If you're a fan of sleep, you're going to want to know how to swaddle. A study in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that babies who are swaddled sleep more soundly than those who aren't, and a study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that swaddling can help calm excessive crying in babies younger than 7 weeks.

Parents everywhere have found this age-old practice can help calm their infants. "Swaddling is the only way my kids slept," says 31-year-old Catriona Harris, an Orlando, Florida, mom of two. "My youngest was so big that she didn't fit in the blankets after 2 months old -- so we swaddled her in a tablecloth!"

Baby-soothing expert Harvey Karp, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, says swaddling is the key to keeping your baby calm. When combined with other calming techniques "all babies do better with swaddling," says Karp, the doc behind the top-selling The Happiest Baby on the Block book, CD and DVD. "Once you learn how, it's as easy as tying your shoelaces," Karp says.

Still, swaddling may not work for all infants. "Some babies do not respond well to swaddling, and it is best to not do it if on repeated attempts the baby doesn't seem to like it," advises Cronan, adding that swaddling is most effective in the first few weeks of life.

The key to a good swaddle is the right blanket. A large square one works best. Flannel is a popular fabric choice, but some parents prefer something with stretch. Cotton muslin is a favorite, too, because it's breathable and can help keep baby (who can't regulate his own body temperature yet) from overheating.

If you're concerned the fit is too tight, slide your hand between the blanket and your baby's chest. It should feel as snug as it felt when you put your hand between your pregnant belly and the waistband of your pants, according to Karp. Blanket selected, you're ready to wrap your baby burrito:

Step 1. Place the blanket on the floor or on your bed in a diamond position. Fold the top corner down so the point touches the center of the blanket. Lay baby on the blanket so her neck is aligned with the top edge. Gently position baby's right arm straight against her side. Grab the left side of the blanket 3 to 4 inches from her right shoulder and pull it snugly down and across her body. Keeping the blanket taut, tuck it under her back and left buttock.

Step 2. Straighten baby's left arm against her side and bring the bottom corner of the blanket up. Tuck the corner over her left shoulder and upper arm and tighten it. Fold the top of the left side down a smidge across her breastbone, and hold it with your left hand. Grab the last free corner with your right hand and wrap it across her body tightly,tucking it firmly under her back.

Quick Tip: Just can't get the hang of it or your baby is simply a Houdini? It's OK to admit defeat. Purchase a self-fastening swaddling blanket like those by Kiddopotamus or Halo: Slip the baby inside, wrap the wings snugly around baby and secure with the fabric fastener.