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Baby Steps – Newborn Care Guide

Many mothers envision a blissful experience when they bring their new baby home, but in reality the first weeks are often the busiest and most stressful. “Most new parents are overwhelmed by the amount of time they spend caring for their newborn,” says Linda Goldberg, a registered nurse/lactation consultant. “The idealized vision of sitting in a rocking chair, cradling your newborn, with your hair and makeup freshly applied quickly evaporates once you are home. The first few weeks are spent recuperating from birth and just getting to know your new baby.”

It’s important to keep in mind that every new mother responds differently to a new baby, and every newborn behaves differently, says Dr. Katharine Golden Kelter, who specializes in pediatrics. Some babies seem to sleep all the time, while others never seem to stop crying, for example.

“I try to assure mothers that all these variations in baby’s behavior, as well as mother’s emotions, are normal,” says Dr. Kelter. “Mothers should feel confident that they are capable, and they will learn how to respond best to their baby’s unique personality and needs.”

With variations of “normal”, it’s important to consult your pediatrician with your concerns along the way, says Suzy Martyn, a mom and parenting consultant. Then, the doctor can help evaluate if any further steps need to be taken.

Sleeping patterns

Many new mothers worry about whether their infant is sleeping too much or not enough. The fact is newborns sleep from 14 to 18 hours per day. Periods of sleeping and wakefulness vary from baby to baby, depending on sleep cycles and eating patterns.

“Most newborns wake up when they are hungry and fall asleep again when they are satisfied,” says Goldberg, author of Pea in a Pod: Your Complete Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth & Beyond. “This rhythm usually continues throughout the day and night, except for that possible late afternoon fussy period.”

Do not try to regulate your baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns during those first weeks. Even if your baby has their day and night mixed up, do not try to change them immediately. “As long as your baby is waking to feed eight to 12 times each 24 hours, use his awake times for feeding, and his sleep times for you to also get some sleep,” says Goldberg.


It’s important for new moms to know that crying is the baby’s only way to communicate. “Babies cry. It has nothing to do with you. Don’t take crying personally,” says Faith Ploude, manager of an outpatient lactation centre.

Again, every baby is different. Some babies are more expressive and seem to cry constantly, and others cry only when hungry, says Dr. Kelter. Extreme fussiness or colic usually starts around week two and usually resolves on its own in one to three months. Trying to cope with a crying baby can be frustrating for new parents, and it can be difficult to know why your baby is crying, says Goldberg.

The most common reasons for a baby to cry are hunger, discomfort, gas, loneliness, boredom, over- stimulation, under-stimulation and colic. Check out if your baby is crying for one of those reasons and then try to calm the baby down, knowing the process takes time and the baby may continue crying.

Feeding patterns

Another common concern of new mothers is whether their babies are getting enough to eat. Breastfed babies usually feed every two hours, at least eight to 12 feedings in 24 hours. Babies generally nurse about 15 minutes per breast at each feeding.

“At times, babies cluster feed and may want to feed as often as every one to one-and-a-half hours. This is okay,” says Dr. Kelter. “Family members and friends can give mom a break by making sure she is eating well, drinking plenty of water and chipping in with diaper changes, burping and other baby care.”

Bottle-fed babies usually feed every three hours in the first few weeks. This quantity varies, anywhere from one-half to two ounces in the first few days, increasing to about two ounces or more in the first few weeks.

“For breastfeeding moms, a little known fact is that the prolactin hormone (the one responsible for producing milk) is highest between 1am and 5am,” says Liz Maseth, registered nurse and lactation consultant. “That’s why babies are often awake during that time. They instinctively seem to know that’s when they should be feeding.”

After that feeding, babies generally settle in for the longest sleep in the morning, so moms should sleep during that time too. “If you are a mom with other kids, try getting someone to come and watch them while you nap in the morning,” says Maseth. “You and baby will quickly get in the groove.”

Diaper changes

After one week, babies should have about six to eight wet diapers per day. In the first few weeks, a baby should have about three to four stools per 24 hours. After the first few weeks, stool patterns may change to be as frequent as every feeding or as infrequent as once per week, especially with breastfed babies, says Dr. Kelter.

“As long as the stool is soft, the baby is not constipated,” says Dr. Kelter. “If the stool is hard, by four weeks of age the infant can have diluted prune juice or Karo syrup. But speak to your doctor first.”

Umbilical cord care

Other questions of new parents centre on how to care for the umbilical cord stump. At one time, wiping the cord with alcohol with each diaper change was recommended. This practice is no longer necessary. The cord should fall off within a week or two. It may ooze a little or develop a yellow film over it - this is healing tissue and should not be removed, says Dr. Kelter.

“Do not give baby a full bath under water until the cord has completely healed,” says Dr. Kelter. “If baby’s umbilical cord is still oozing after a week or two, talk to your doctor.” Kim is a writer and mother of two daughters. 

Caring for you

It’s easy to forget about yourself when you have a newborn. Yet experts agree that it’s vital that you take care of yourself as a new mother  so you can be at your best for your baby.

Here are some tips:

• Accept help when offered and get enough rest during the first few weeks to increase your ability to enjoy your baby.

• Take comfort in knowing that postpartum blues are normal for the first couple of weeks. But if you are finding you are having extreme issues taking care of yourself or the baby, seek help right away and let your significant other know what’s going on.

• Cut back on company and postpone long visits. Rather than having your parents help the first week, invite them to visit a month after the baby arrives. You will feel more adjusted, and you will have a better idea of where you could use the help.

• Make a conscious effort to reconnect with your husband after the baby is born. He will be more willing to help with middle of the night diaper changes. After a couple of months, plan a date night.

• Even with the sleep deprivation and normal stresses that come with having a newborn in the house, it’s meant to be a time to enjoy to the fullest. It’s easy to lose perspective, but take a quiet moment each day to just gaze at your little wonder and soak it all in. This time goes by too fast.

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