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Today's Family Magazine

Newborn Care 101

By Christa Melnyk Hines

Transitioning to life with a newborn can be as gratifying as it is overwhelming. Read on for time-tested tricks and expert tips that will help your baby, and you, thrive during the first few weeks postpartum.

Expect a learning curve.  No, it's not just you.  New parenthood is rife with uncertainty.

"As the mother of a newborn, I know from recent experience that every little thing can be challenging - from burping to changing diapers to breastfeeding and even trimming tiny nails, no matter if it's your first or third child," says family medicine physician Jenna Eschol, MD.

Gather information wisely.  In the midst of a perplexing dilemma, what parent hasn't turned to Google or an online parent support group for quick answers?  But, proceed with caution.

"If it doesn't seem like that online advice really fits your baby, maybe it really doesn't.  Talk to your pediatrician or at least a trusted relative who has seen the baby and knows the situation a little better than generic online advice," says pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Simpson.

Make it a date.  Don't skip your newborn's well-baby checkups.  Your baby's physician will assess their overall health and ensure they are gaining weight.  A newborn should have regained their birth weight by around 10 to 14 days of age.

Your baby's appointment is also a good time for you to ask questions and raise any concerns.

Tiny renegades.  Newborns don't understand schedules.  Plan to sleep when your baby sleeps.

"Babies are little rebels.  They don't follow rules," Simpson says.  "Babies are the schedulers and the parents are the people that get scheduled."

Hungry?  Just as babies don't care about clocks when it comes to sleep, they also eat on demand, anywhere between eight and 12 times in a 24-hour period.

"Babies eat a lot during their first weeks thanks, in part, to their tiny tummy size, and the rapid physical and mental growth they experience in the first couple months of life," Eschol says.

If you're breastfeeding, how do you know if your baby is eating enough?

"If your baby seems happy and your pediatrician has assured you that weight gain is commensurate with the age, and enough dirty diapers are being produced (eight to 12 a day), then your baby is probably getting plenty to eat," Eschol says.

If you participate in a breastfeeding support group at an area hospital, lactation consultants usually conduct weigh-ins too.

Dry skin.  Because a baby's skin is sensitive and thin, they are more susceptible to dry, chapped skin.  Avoid long baths.  Bathe your infant in lukewarm water only two or three times a week using fragrance-free hypoallergenic soaps.

"And no bubble baths!" Eschol says.

Power bonding.  For a newborn, nothing is as comforting as mom or dad's arms.
"Babies have been held for the last nine months so they don't understand having to lay in their own crib.  They like to be held whenever they are awake," Simpson says.

In addition to skin-to-skin contact, talk and sing to your baby, and show her storybooks with high contrast colors like red, black and white. 

Sleep safe.  While you should cradle your baby as much as possible, don't fall asleep while holding him.

"The number one thing that causes sudden infant death (SIDS) is unsafe sleep practices," Simpson warns.

Place your infant on his back in his bassinet near your bed at night. Do not use fluffy blankets, pillows, stuffed animals or crib bumpers.

Baby tears.  Babies often cry when they're hungry, tired or if they have a dirty diaper.  Other times they seem to cry for no apparent reason.

"Colic isn't caused by pain," Eschol says.  She suggests the following "tried-and-true" tips for a colicky baby:
• Try a pacifier
• Hold your baby while rocking in a rocking chair or glider.
• Place your baby in a mechanical swing.
• Softly talk or sing or play soothing lullabies at a low volume.
• Cuddle your baby or try carrying them in a sling or baby carrier.
• Take them for a stroller or car ride.
• Give your baby a warm bath.

Sometimes tears can signal a health issue.  Call your doctor if your baby seems sick, has difficulty breathing or isn't feeding.

If you find yourself becoming increasingly frustrated with your crying baby and no one is around to help, take a time out.

"Lay the baby safely on their back in their crib and hop in the shower for a sec to get out of earshot or use headphones to get out of earshot for a short period of time and give yourself a little break," Simpson says.

Find support.  Without taking time for self care, attending to your baby's needs can become exceptionally challenging and overwhelming.

"A good support system is essential for all moms and can include friends, families, counselors or support groups," says Kelli Knapp, a board certified women's health nurse practitioner.

Sleep deprivation can exacerbate depression and anxiety.  Sleep while your partner, a relative or a friend watches the baby.  Or hire a nanny, baby nurse or postpartum doula. Taking breaks away from your baby, like a shower or a walk outside are also beneficial.

"Even finding 10 to 15 minutes for yourself each day can improve your outlook," Knapp says.

Know that postpartum mood disorders are common and curable. Contact your healthcare provider if you are struggling.

"A mom who admits she needs help is an amazingly strong woman and mom," Knapp says.  "Women who experience disorders during pregnancy or after a baby often feel like they are failing as a mom.  A mom who reaches out for help is giving her child a huge gift, and they are already making a big step to the road to recovery."