You are here

Your New Baby: A User's Manual

At last, your incredible new baby has arrived  -- sweet, innocent, and utterly dependent on you to provide for all of his needs. There is a lot to learn  -- feeding, burping, bathing, comforting  -- but don't panic. It's all pretty straightforward. To help, here's a handy reference for those first few weeks. Use it when you're stumped, curious, or just in need of some reassurance. And remember, while there are a few basics you need to master in order to keep your baby safe and comfortable, the rest is a matter of fine-tuning your skills (you'll get plenty of practice) and listening to your instincts. In the meantime, your newborn won't mind if his diaper's a bit askew, if you wash his toes before his tummy, or if you don't know the name of that tiny birthmark on his neck. What he wants and needs most of all is what you're most capable of giving him  -- your love.

There, There

It's a fact of life: babies cry. Don't take it personally, but do try to find out what's wrong. Is he wet? Hungry? Cold? Tired? Gassy? Sometimes babies cry just to release tension. Once you have all of the basics covered, try a comforting tactic or two:

  • Hold Baby close, ear against your chest, so he can hear your heartbeat.

  • Calm things down. Dim the lights, turn down the TV, and take a deep breath yourself.

  • Try repetitive, rhythmic motions  -- rocking, swaying, or swinging.

  • Give him something to suck on  -- breast, pacifier, even your pinkie.

  • Massage him. Gently stroke his abdomen or lay him on his stomach and give him a back rub.

  • Put him in a sling or carrier and go for a walk.

  • Take him for a ride in the stroller or the car.

  • Give him a warm bath.

  • Sing to him, play soft music, or try "white" noise, such as the sound of the clothes dryer.

  • Swaddle him snugly in a receiving blanket.

To Have And To Hold

Tiny? Yes. Vulnerable? Sure. Delicate? Not really. Still, you need to know a few things about handling your newborn so that she'll be safe and secure in your arms.


  • Support her head by placing your hand or arm behind her neck.

  • Use a position that Baby enjoys. Some need a little space, while others feel secure only when held close.

  • Bend at the knees, not the waist, when picking up something while holding your infant.

  • Hold your baby close to you when handing her to someone else.

    Let him slide his arms underneath her before you remove yours.


  • Handle her with jerky movements. Smooth motions are best.

  • Wear your baby in a carrier while you're cooking, slicing vegetables, or engaging in other potentially risky activities.

  • Hold your baby in the car; always buckle her into a rear-facing infant car seat that's safely secured in the back seat.

  • Shake a baby  -- even in play. Infants under 6 months of age are susceptible to "shaken baby syndrome"  -- bruising and bleeding of the brain, spinal cord injury, eye damage, and even death  -- as a result of having their heads shaken.

Bonding Basics

Bonding isn't a one-time, pass or fail task. It's the natural process of becoming close to your baby. Much has been said about the importance of early bonding, but the fact is, you can start and continue it anytime. The sooner the better, of course  -- you want to get your relationship off to a great start  -- but don't fret if circumstances make connecting difficult at first. You'll have the opportunity to bond whenever you take care of your baby. It's simple: Spend time with him and show him your love as soon, as often, and as completely as you can. Hold him skin to skin, look into his eyes, talk to him, carry him with you, and cuddle up with him every chance you get. Give Dad plenty of time to snuggle, caress, and form a strong attachment, too.

To Sleep, Perchance...

Q: How much should a newborn sleep?

A: A 1-week-old sleeps about 16 1/2 hours a day. At 1 month, it's 15 1/2 hours. But don't expect uninterrupted nights of slumber, since she needs to refuel every few hours. In a couple of months, she'll organize her sleep into a few daytime naps and four- to six-hour stretches at night.

Q: How can I help her get into a routine?

A: Just before you turn in for the night, feed her, burp her, and change her diaper. Make things as unexciting as possible when she wakes up for a feeding  -- keep the lights low, your voice soft, and distractions to a minimum.

Q: Where should she sleep?

A: This is a matter of preference. For many parents, it's a nearby bassinet or cradle. For others, it's a crib in a separate nursery. And some find that the best place is tucked in bed beside them.

Q: How will I know that she's safe?

A: Don't let her sleep in a bassinet or cradle once she can roll over or sit up. After that, make sure her crib has a JPMA seal, the mattress is firm and fits snugly, crib slats are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart, and head- and footboards have no cutouts or posts. Never put pillows, stuffed animals, or heavy blankets in the crib with a baby. If she sleeps in bed with you, remove extra pillows and covers. And no matter where she snoozes, lay her on her back to reduce the risk of SIDS.

The Best Ways To Burp

Swallowing air along with breast milk or formula makes Baby fussy, so burp him during and after every feeding. If he doesn't burp in a few minutes, you can stop  -- he may have silently expelled the air. A few methods to try:

1. With his bottom resting on your forearm, hold your baby upright with his head cradled on your shoulder. Rub or pat his mid- to lower back.

2. Sit your baby upright on your lap, facing to one side. Support his chin with one hand while you rub or pat his back with the other.

3. Lay Baby tummy down on your lap, with his arms extended and his head turned to the side. Raise your leg to elevate his head and chest. Steady him with one hand on his bottom and pat his back with the other.

First Feedings

A baby can be well nourished on formula, but breast milk is undeniably best. Whatever you choose, remember that you're filling more than Baby's tummy. Make the time together count: Hold her close and watch her lovingly so that you nourish her spirit, too.

Breastfeeding moms often need some help getting started, but in most cases problems can easily be solved with the help of a supportive nurse, a lactation consultant, or a La Leche League volunteer (call 800/LA-LECHE for a referral).

Bottle-feeding mothers may need to experiment with nipples and  -- with the pediatrician's help  -- formulas. A few cautions: Never give your baby cow's milk; she can't digest it (cow's milk formula, however, is fine). Never prop a bottle in Baby's mouth; doing so can cause tooth decay or choking. And, if you warm formula in the microwave, shake the bottle well to break up any pockets of hot liquid and carefully test the temperature before giving it to Baby.

Most newborns nurse every one to three hours, even at night. How can you tell if she's getting enough? You should hear the baby swallow frequently, and she should have six to eight wet diapers and at least two bowel movements a day. A formula-fed infant will typically take 2 to 3 ounces every three or four hours, and increase to 3 to 4 ounces a feeding within a month. If your baby isn't interested in eating as often as you'd like, don't force it. But do try every few hours, and if she refuses two feedings in a row, talk with her doctor.

Sponge Baths

  • Gather a hooded towel, washcloths, shampoo, and mild soap.

  • Fill a basin with warm water.

  • Undress Baby, wrap him in the towel, and lay him on a padded surface, never taking your hands or eyes off him.

  • Wet a washcloth and gently wipe any discharge from his eyes, then clean his face and pat dry.

  • Using one arm to support his back, neck, and head, hold the baby over the basin and use your other hand to wet, shampoo, rinse, and dry his hair (or scalp).

  • Lay your baby down and wash his neck, chest, arms, and legs, opening the towel to expose only one area at a time. Rinse with a wet washcloth and pat dry.

  • Lay him on his stomach and wash his neck and back. Rinse, dry, and turn him over.

  • Remove his diaper and gently wash that area. (Don't use soap on a newly circumcised penis.) Rinse with a wet washcloth, wiping front to back, and pat dry.

Cord Care

It's not her prettiest feature, but the umbilical stump won't be around long  -- it usually dries up and falls off in a week or two. In the meantime:


  • Fold the front of Baby's diaper below the navel so it doesn't irritate or moisten the area around the stump.

  • Wipe the cord after each diaper change with a clean cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol (if her doctor advises it).


  • Hold off on tub baths and keep the cord completely dry until it falls off.

  • Don't put ointment on the cord unless it's prescribed by her doctor to treat an infection.

  • Never ignore bleeding, redness, discharge, swelling, irritation, or bad odor around the navel. Report signs of possible infection to the doctor right away.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Baby In The Tub

When Baby's ready to brave deeper waters:

  • Gather the same supplies you would for a sponge bath, and make sure that the room is warm.

  • Line the sink or baby bathtub with a small towel to prevent slipping, and fill the tub with a few inches of warm  -- not hot   -- water.

  • Slowly slide your baby into the water, supporting his head with one hand and his bottom with the other.

  • Start with his eyes and face, and work your way to the diaper area.

  • To avoid chills, shampoo last.

  • Let him relax in the water if he seems to enjoy it. If not, make it snappy.

Bundling Up

It's tempting to pile on the clothes, especially during the chilly winter months. But don't overdo it  -- dress your baby in only one more layer than you need yourself. In fact, layering is a good idea, since you can add or subtract clothing in response to temperature changes. Because a small infant can lose a lot of heat through her head, cover it with a knit cap whenever you venture out. To make dressing easier on both of you, keep the room warm and change only one article of clothing at a time. Choose easy-to-handle items  -- tops and sleepers that snap in front, knit pants that pull off and on, and shirts that slip easily over your baby's head.

Out And About

At first you may feel the urge to keep Baby home, protected from everything and everyone. But when it's time to venture out  -- because errands or the great outdoors beckons, or because you want to show him off  -- you may have a few concerns:

Q: How soon can I take my newborn out?

A: As long as he's dressed for the weather and you feel up to it, you can hit the road within a few days of birth. You'll both wear out quickly, however, so keep these first outings brief.

Q: How can I protect him from germs?

A: Breastfed babies receive antibodies against many diseases, but it's still wise to take precautions. Avoid close, crowded areas, and allow strangers to look but not touch. Let healthy friends and family hold Baby, of course, but encourage them to wash their hands first.

Q: What should I bring?

A: Even if you're merely popping out for a quart of milk, it's best to be prepared. Take the diaper bag along and be sure it's stocked with clean diapers and wipes, a changing pad, plastic bags for soiled diapers, an extra set of baby clothes, a receiving blanket, and a pacifier if your baby uses one. Nursing moms needn't worry about feeding supplies, but if you're bottle-feeding, include bottles and formula for longer trips.


As much as you've longed for your baby's arrival, all of his care and feeding can leave you feeling a little depleted. Don't forget: You need some TLC right now, too. So be sure to get plenty of liquids (especially if you're breastfeeding); lots of good, energy-boosting nourishment; and as much sleep as you can. (No, lack of sleep won't do you in, but it can certainly diminish your coping skills.) Of course, to ensure that both you and Baby are well cared for, it's a good idea to have lots of support. Asking for help from relatives and friends  -- or even hiring a doula or a baby nurse  -- isn't a sign of weakness or inability, it's a sign of competence. In order to take the best possible care of your newborn, it's vital to take care of yourself as well. Doing so will have a huge impact on your success in this most important new endeavor.

When To Call The Doctor

While most of your newborn's idiosyncrasies are normal, healthy responses to her new world, you understandably don't want to take any chances. Never hesitate to call the pediatrician when in doubt, and contact her immediately if you notice any of the following:

  • Fever higher than 100(degrees)F

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Forceful or repeated vomiting

  • Persistent diarrhea

  • Blood in her urine or stool

  • Frequent, inconsolable, or high-pitched crying

  • Persistent lethargy

  • Yellow- or orange-hued skin or eyes

  • A rash, blisters, or irritated skin

  • White patches in her mouth, which may indicate thrush (the condition isn't serious, but it can make Baby uncomfortable and unable to nurse or bottle-feed well)

  • Any unusual discharge from her eyes, nails, navel, or genitals