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Taking Your Baby Home: Caring for Your Newborn

image for feeding infants article
You may feel both excited and scared about bringing your baby home from the hospital. It is normal to feel this way. Being prepared can go a long way in making you feel more confident and making your baby feel more comfortable.

What will your newborn need? He will need the essentials—food, clothes, diapers, and a quiet and safe place to sleep. Of course, your baby will also rely on you for love and attention.

Feedings

Whether breastfed or bottlefed, a newborn needs to be fed throughout the day. In the first few weeks, you should wake your baby to feed if 3-4 hours have passed since his last feeding.

If you are breastfeeding, you will likely need to feed your baby every 2-3 hours. Or he may have 6-10 formula feedings (2-4 ounces each). If you do decide to use formula, be sure to follow the product’s instructions for storing and warming it.

Some supplies that you may need include:

  • Formula
  • Bottles and nipples
  • Bibs, washcloths, and towels

Clothes

Dress your baby in comfortable clothes that make it easy for you to change his diapers. Be sure that the clothes do not have anything hanging from them, like strings or ties, which can become a choking hazard. Also check to make sure that your baby’s sleepwear is flame-retardant. Newborns can sometimes have trouble regulating their own body temperature. As a result, overclothing can result in overheating, just as underclothing can result in heat loss. For room temperatures of 75°F (24°C) or less, use several layers of clothing. As a guideline, dress your baby in one more layer of clothing than you are comfortable wearing. In hotter weather, you can use a single layer of clothing. Here are some examples of clothing items that you may want to have at home for your baby:

  • Receiving gowns
  • Footed sleepers
  • Undershirts and onesies
  • Blanket sleepers
  • Sweaters

Diaper Changes

When you first bring your baby home, he will not have regular-looking stool. It will be thick and sticky and have a greenish-black color. If your baby is breastfed, the stool will be more liquid in consistency, seedy, and yellow. For formula-fed babies, expect soft, pasty, and yellowish-brown stool. Hard or dry stools may be due to your infant not getting enough fluid or losing too much fluid due to an illness. The frequency of bowel movements can vary greatly in infants. If your baby has many bowel movements or if you have any concerns, call your doctor.

Your baby will have 6-8 wet diapers per day. If your child looks to be in pain while urinating, let your doctor know, as this may be a sign of a urinary tract infection.

Supplies that you will need include:

  • Safe changing area for your baby—Have all of the supplies that you will need in the changing table’s drawers. Never leave your baby alone. Use the safety straps on the table to secure your baby.
  • Extra diapers
  • Baby wipes
  • Towels
  • Diaper rash ointment
  • Diaper pail and trash bags—You can buy a diaper disposal system, like the Diaper Genie, to prevent odors.

Sleep Time

Your baby will develop his own sleep routine. Your baby may sleep 12-20 hours per day. He may sleep for 1-3 hour intervals, and it is common for your baby to wake up during the night for you to feed her and change her diaper. When you place your baby down to sleep, always place her on her back. This is the safest position.

Your baby will need:

  • A safety-approved crib or bassinet that has a firm mattress—Look for products that are certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.
  • Fitted crib sheets
  • Waterproof crib pads

Avoid having anything in the crib or bassinet that could restrict your baby’s breathing. Do not place pillows, quilts, comforters, stuffed animals, or other items in the crib. Also, do not use sleep positioners. Sleep positioners can increase your baby's risk of suffocation.

You can help your baby sleep better by keeping her calm and in a quiet environment during changing and feeding at night. Try to put her in the crib when she is drowsy but not yet asleep rather than waiting until she is fully asleep. This will help her to learn to fall asleep by herself. If she is fussy, wait a few minutes to see if she falls back to sleep on her own. If crying continues, you can check on your baby, but try not to pick her up. If crying persists, try to determine if she is hungry, has a wet diaper, or is not feeling well.

Other Day-to-Day Activities
Giving Your Baby a Sponge Bath

Your baby’s umbilical cord stump needs time to dry and fall off. Until that happens, you will need to give your baby a sponge bath, rather than a tub bath. Gently clean your baby girl’s genital area from front to back. For an uncircumcised baby boy, do not pull back the foreskin. This can cause swelling and other problems. If your baby has been circumcised, follow the doctor’s instructions for caring for your baby.

For your baby’s first sponge bath, you will need:

  • Wash clothes
  • Hooded towels
  • Mild bath soap
  • Cotton balls—Do not use soap on your baby’s face. Instead, use a wet cotton ball to gently wipe your baby’s eyes.

Taking Your Baby’s Temperature

It is good idea to have a rectal thermometer at home to take your baby’s temperature. These thermometers give the most accurate readings in infants. Follow the product’s instructions for taking the temperature. Having a temperature greater than 100.4°F (38°C) may be a sign of an infection. If this occurs, call your doctor.

Traveling in the Car With Your Baby

Your baby will need a safety-approved rear-facing car seat. Some manufacturers make rear-facing convertible seats, which can be switched to a front-facing seat once your child has reached the height and weight requirements. Rear-facing seats are the safest option for your baby. Be sure that the seat is strapped into your car properly and that your baby is buckled in correctly. On the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, you can find a local inspection station where the staff will check to make sure that the car seat is safely installed.

Taking a Walk With Your Baby

Just as with the car seat, you will want to buy a safety-approved stroller for your newborn. There are many options to choose from, including ones that allow you to attach the car seat to the stroller. Some features to look for in a stroller include:

  • Five-point harness that is securely attached to the stroller
  • Brakes that lock and work well
  • Storage area located behind and low to the ground (so items will not fall onto your baby)
  • Reclining back—If the stroller has leg-hole openings, be sure that you can close them when your baby is resting.
  • Canopy to protect your baby from the elements

Never leave your baby alone in the stroller.

Playing With Your Baby

You can help your baby to develop his brain and body by doing activities like:

  • Touching your baby (eg, cuddling, holding, rocking, massaging)
  • Talking to him—Call out his name. Tell your baby what you are doing. Sing to him.
  • Showing your baby objects—While your newborn’s vision will take time to develop, he will be able to see items close to him. Newborns like bright colors and patterned objects.
  • Moving him—If your baby is active, place him on his belly for a few minutes while supervised. Do not let your baby sleep in this position.

Some toys that your baby might enjoy include a brightly colored stuffed animal, a rattle, and a book with lots of colors. Be sure that the baby’s toys are safety-approved for infants.

Soothing Your Baby

When your baby cries, it can be very distressing. Crying is how newborns let you know that they need something, whether it be a diaper change, a feeding, or time in your arms. Over time, you will become more adept at understanding what your baby needs. Some newborns get upset by bright lights or loud noises. Their bodies are sensitive. Making their environment relaxing and quiet may help to reduce crying. Your baby may also be soothed by being wrapped in a blanket, called swaddling. Remember, it is normal for a newborn to cry for several hours throughout the day.

If you ever feel that you are becoming aggravated or angry with your baby, ask for help from friends or family right away. Never shake your baby. This can cause brain damage or even death. Get support from your loved ones to help you care for your newborn. There are many people who will be happy to help you.

If your baby is crying for a long time and may be sick, call the doctor right away.

Once your baby is home, you will soon develop a routine for taking care of her. Do your best, ask for help, and talk to the doctor and nurse if you have any questions or concerns about your new arrival.

RESOURCES:

Child Safety
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
http://www.nhtsa.gov/Safety/CPS

Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association
http://www.jpma.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Consumer Product Safety
Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/index-eng.php

Road Safety
Ontario Ministry of Transportation
http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety

References:

Child Care Aware. Bringing your new baby home: making the transition a smooth one. Child Care Aware website. Available at: http://www.childcareaware.org/en/subscriptions/dailyparent/volume.php?id=30. Published 2005. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Caring for your newborn. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at: http://www.chop.edu/export/download/pdfs/articles/nicu/nic_caring_for_your_infant.pdf. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Feeding your infant: ages 0 to 4 months. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated February 14, 2011. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Dressing your newborn. Healthy Children website. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Dressing-Your-Newborn.aspx. Updated July 12, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Getting your baby to sleep. Healthy Children website. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Getting-Your-Baby-to-Sleep.aspx. Updated June 5, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Healthy Children. Baby's first days: bowel movements & urination. Healthychildren.org. Available at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/pages/Babys-First-Days-Bowel-Movements-and-Urination.aspx. Updated January 27, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Kids Health. Bringing your baby home. Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_newborn/home/bringing_baby_home.html. Updated April 2011. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Neff D. How to take a rectal temperature. EBSCO Patient Education Reference Center website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/pointOfCare/perc-about. Updated September 1, 2011. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Sutter Health. Preparing for your baby’s arrival. Sutter Health website. Available at: http://www.babies.sutterhealth.org/laboranddelivery/ld_prep4b-arriv.html. Accessed July 22, 2012.

Women’s Health.gov. Newborn care and safety. Women’s Health.gov website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/childbirth-beyond/newbon-care-safety.cfm. Updated September 27, 2010. Accessed July 22, 2012.

10/5/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: US Food and Drug Administration. Infant sleep positioners: consumer warning—risk of suffocation. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm227733.htm. Updated September 29, 2010. Accessed October 5, 2010.



Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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