newborn baby care basics

A Guide to Newborn Baby Care Basics: What you Need to Know When You Leave the Hospital

Brand new parenthood is absolutely magical – and also, terrifying. Caring for your tiny baby brings both overwhelming love and near-constant worry. On top of tending to your own sore and healing body, learning to care for a newborn is all-consuming. When you’re a first-time parent, the learning curve can feel especially steep. But want to know a secret? You’re going to do just fine. Babies are a lot of work, but your love and dedication will carry you through as you get to know your baby. And knowing the basics of newborn care ahead of time will start your parenting journey off on the right foot. Let’s explore newborn baby care basics and what you need to know when you leave the hospital with your little one.

Feeding

Newborn babies have tiny stomachs. In the first couple days of life at the hospital, your baby’s stomach is the size of a mere marble! By day 3 of life, it’s about the size of a walnut, growing to golf-ball size by day 10. To keep that belly full, newborns need to eat frequently – every 2-3 hours. That’s 8+ feedings per 24 hours at a minimum. Many newborns also have periods of “cluster-feeding” (often in the evening around dinnertime) when they feed every hour. And since normal newborn feedings can take 20-45 minutes, plus time to burp during and after feedings, it can feel never-ending! Read more about how to tell if your newborn is hungry and how to burp your baby

It’s normal and expected for newborns to lose some weight in the early days of life – up to 7%-10% of their birth weight. With 8+ good feedings per 24 hours, newborns should gain around an oz per day and be back up to birth weight by or before 2 weeks of life. 

If you’re breastfeeding or pumping, the first milk you produce is a thick, nutrient-dense substance called colostrum. It’s deeper yellow in color and packed full of important nutrients and antibodies. It will transition to mature milk around days 3-5 postpartum for most moms. For this process to go smoothly, it’s essential that your baby learns to latch comfortably and effectively. That way, when they remove the milk at each feeding, your body learns to make more. 

If you’re formula feeding, your baby will still need to eat every 2-3 hours, typically 1.5-3 oz per feeding. Formula is available in powdered (mix with water), liquid concentrate (mix with water), or ready-to-feed preparations. Visit the CDC’s website to learn about formula preparation and storage. 

Sleep

Newborns need at least 14-17 hours of sleep per 24 hours. But since they need to eat frequently, newborn sleep is broken up into many shorter chunks. For the first few weeks, you can expect your baby to be able to stay awake no longer than 30-60 minutes at a time. This can quickly lead to pure exhaustion for parents, so plan ahead for how to survive sleep deprivation during the newborn phase

All babies under the age of 1 should be put to sleep in a crib or bassinet on their backs, every single time. Never put a baby to sleep on their side or stomach. Put nothing in the crib except a tight-fitting sheet and a pacifier, if you’re using one. Blankets, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, etc. are not safe for infants as they pose a suffocation risk. To learn more about safe sleep, read our blog on the ABC’s of safe sleep and keeping your sleeping baby safe

Diapering 

At the hospital, your nurses will help keep track of newborn baby care basics like your baby’s pees and poops. You can’t be discharged from the hospital until your baby is showing that they’re on track with elimination. At first, your baby will pee only once or twice a day. Your baby’s first bowel movements will be a dark, tarry substance called meconium. Gradually, your baby will pee more frequently and their bowel movements will transition to a liquidy yellow (if breastfeeding) or a tan, peanut-butter consistency (if formula feeding). 

Here’s what to expect in your baby’s diaper in the early days:

Day 1: 1+ pee, 1+ meconium 

Day 2: 2+ pees, 2+ meconiums

Day 3: 3+ pees, 2-3+ meconiums or brown/yellow transitional stool

Day 4: 4+ pees, 3-4+ brown/yellow transitional stool 

Day 5: 4+ pees, 4+ transitional brown/yellow stool

Day 6: 4+ pees, 4+ yellow/orange or “seedy” stools

Day 7: 4+ pees, 4+ yellow/orange or “seedy” stools

All in all, expect to need around 10 diapers per 24 hours after the first few days. A baby’s urine and bowel movement habits are a good predictor of their overall well-being and weight gain. If you’re concerned that your baby isn’t peeing or pooping enough, call your pediatrician. 

It’s also important to note that it’s not uncommon for baby girls to pass a small amount of blood in their diaper, like a “mini period,” due to their exposure to maternal hormones. These hormones can also make baby girls and boys alike to develop temporary protruding breast buds. 

Bathing and Hygiene 

Newborns have sensitive skin that can dry easily. As a result, they don’t need to be bathed often. Two or three times a week is enough, with spot cleaning as needed in between. Make sure the room is warm, water is body temperature, and gather everything you’ll need before you begin the bath: baby soap and lotion, 2 washcloths, hooded towel, diaper, new baby outfit. Wash from cleanest to dirtiest areas, using a separate washcloth for the diaper area. You don’t have to wash your baby’s hair every bath. Use unscented baby soap, or no soap at all. Unscented lotion or coconut oil afterward can help prevent dry skin. Read more about how to give your newborn a bath

Trimming sharp fingernails is one aspect of newborn baby care basics that new parents find daunting. Trim your baby’s fingernails and toenails while they’re asleep to make the process easier. Make sure you have good lighting, and enlist the help of your partner or family member if you’re nervous. Push the pad of the finger away from the nail, then trim the nail. Cut fingernails along the curve of the finger and cut toenails straight across. You can file your baby’s nails down with an emery board to smooth sharp or rough edges. 

Bonding

Bonding with your baby begins in utero, and after birth a whole new chapter begins. Your main job after birth is to care for yourself, your baby, and to bond. Spend lots of time skin-to-skin with your baby, talk and sing to them, make eye contact when they’re awake, and lay beside them during tummy time. It’s normal to feel moments of self-doubt and uncertainty about being a parent, but if those feelings linger or you’re struggling to bond with your baby, reach out for help. No one is meant to do this journey alone. Our team of professional newborn care specialists and doulas are a wonderful asset to new parents, helping you learn the ropes and thrive as a new family.