By: Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP
Welcoming your newborn into the world brings so much joy—but those first few days can be stressful, too, especially if this is your first child.
If you're nervous, take a deep breath. Here are tips that will help you navigate the changes and challenges that might come up before your first pediatric visit, which should be scheduled within the first week after birth.
Bringing baby home: your newborn's first car trip
Babies born in hospitals or birthing centers will experience their very first car ride soon after leaving the warmth and security of your body. To make the trip safe and comfortable, have the right equipment and clothing ready.
First, install a rear-facing car safety seat in the back of your vehicle. (Note that all U.S. hospitals will check to make sure you have one—so this isn't optional.) If you haven't chosen a car safety seat yet, here's
a handy guide.
In dressing your baby for the ride home, remember that newborns have never felt sunlight or outdoor breezes before. Dress them in a soft cap or hat and use a lightweight blanket to shield delicate skin. (Infants have surprisingly large heads, which makes them susceptible to heat loss. Just take off the hat when your baby sleeps to avoid
Cooler temperatures call for an infant coat with soft, absorbent layers underneath and blankets to chase away chills. In the car, though, your baby should be dressed in thin, snug layers like a long-sleeved bodysuit and leggings, with the coat and blankets placed OVER the car safety seat straps. In a car crash, fluffy padding in a coat immediately flattens out from the force, leaving extra space under the harness that a child can slip through.
Creating a safe sleep space for your baby
sleep between 14 and 17 hours a day. Here's how to prepare your baby's bed for healthy sleep and protect them from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.
Based on extensive research, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that newborns
always sleep on their backs to prevent sleep-related deaths. Additionally, your baby should sleep on a firm, flat surface. Make sure you use a crib, bassinet, portable crib or play yard with a mattress that meets
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) safety standards.
Keep your baby's sleep space free of blankets, pillows, pads, bumpers, or toys. For extra warmth and comfort, you can
swaddle your baby; just be sure to position them on their back when it's time to sleep.
Find more safe sleep essentials here: "How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained."
Feeding your newborn
If your baby arrived prematurely or has certain medical conditions, your pediatrician might suggest scheduled feedings. But most healthy, full-term newborns can be fed on demand, a practice called
How will you know when baby's ready to eat? Crying is a classic hunger signal, but there are others to watch for:
Lip licking or sticking their tongue out
"Rooting," or moving the jaw, head or mouth around in search of breast or bottle
Repeatedly putting their hands in their mouth
Restlessness or fussiness
Sucking on everything around
Most newborns will eat every 2 to 3 hours, but your baby's pattern may vary (and be perfectly healthy). For the first 2 days, your baby might take in just a half-ounce per feeding, moving up to 1-2 ounces after that. Your pediatrician will ask about feeding routines and suggest any changes to help your little one thrive.
Learn more about feeding your newborn
Knowing what to expect in the diaper department
Of course, what goes in must come out—which brings us to diapering. You'll see a few important changes in the first few days, all healthy and expected.
Formula-fed newborns who take well to the bottle will wet 5 or more diapers within the first day or two. Breastfed newborns might wet less until the nursing parent's milk supply has come in fully. But don't worry:
breastfed babies get their share of necessary calories from the early milk (colostrum) that mom produces. Within 3 to 5 days, both breast-fed and bottle-fed babies will wet about 8 diapers every 24 hours.
newborn poops you'll see are typically thick, tarry, and black. This lovely, gooey mess, known as
meconium, is simply the poop that accumulated before birth.
As breast milk or formula makes its way through your baby's system over the next few days, their poop will look different. Breastfed babies usually produce mustard-yellow, seedy-looking poop, while bottle-fed babies put out different shades of pasty brown. This transition from dark, sticky poop to lighter-colored output suggests your baby is getting plenty to eat.
Keeping an eye out for jaundice
Watch for signs that your baby's skin is turning a bit yellow. This may indicate
jaundice, a fairly common condition in newborns. While most cases are harmless and gradually go away on their own, you should consult your pediatrician right away if your baby's skin has a yellowish tint.
Jaundice means your baby's body is working extra hard to handle bilirubin, the substance left behind when our systems break down and get rid of old red blood cells. Some babies experience higher-than-normal levels of bilirubin as their livers learn to cleanse it away. Since some cases can be serious, call your doctor if you see signs of jaundice.
Read more here: "Jaundice in Newborns: Parent FAQs".
Caring for your baby's umbilical cord
You can expect the little stump of your newborn's
umbilical cord to dry up and fall off within 1 to 3 weeks. In the meantime, all you have to do is keep it clean and dry.
If the area gets soiled, just use ordinary soap and water to cleanse it. There are no blood vessels or nerve endings in the cord itself—so you don't have to worry about hurting your baby.
When to call your pediatrician
Most concerns about feeding, sleeping and overall health will be covered in your first pediatric visit. If you're unsure of what's normal (and not), here's a
helpful article. However, always call the doctor if your newborn has these symptoms:
Signs of jaundice
Hardness in your baby's abdomen, especially if they haven't pooped in the last 24 hours
Persistently blue skin tone
Frequent coughing or gagging while feeding
Excessive crying, especially if you sense pain
Failure to wake up for feedings, or disinterest in eating
Unusually fast breathing, flaring of nostrils, grunting while breathing or ribs sticking out with each breath
New parents may feel reluctant to call the doctor, but follow your instincts – they're usually spot-on. Remember, your pediatrician is there to help you navigate the challenges of parenthood and will be happy to provide care, reassurance and support.