you’re finally at home with your new baby. What could feel more natural? That wave of anxiety you might be feeling is pretty natural, too. For first-time parents in particular, caring for a newborn can prompt a host of questions. “Many parents are worried when they bring a newborn home; babies require so much maintenance,” says pediatrician Janet Michaelson, M.D. Michaelson speaks from experience: She’s had 20 years’ worth in her Philadelphia-area practice, and she has four sons of her own. Just hold on, Michaelson advises: “After the first six weeks, it gets easier.” To help you through those weeks, here are answers to some of the most common baby-care questions.
1. How much should my newborn be sleeping? Don’t worry if it seems like your little one only eats and sleeps—that’s really all she’s supposed to do, at least for now. Most newborns will sleep for about 20 hours a day. “Their periods of wakefulness are usually spent eating,” says Carolyn Ashworth, M.D., director of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Once fed, they’ll probably relax and go right back to sleep.”
This phase doesn’t last long. By the age of 1 month, your baby will be more aware of her surroundings. And by 3 months, your angel may be so engrossed in her new world that she may resist sleep.
2. How often should I bathe my baby and wash his hair? Until his umbilical cord falls off—typically after a couple of weeks—it’s sponge baths only. Use a warm, wet washcloth when baby’s face, neck, hands and diaper area get messy. To prevent infection, swab the umbilical stump with alcohol several times a day and be vigilant about keeping the area dry.
Once baby’s cord has fallen off, bathe him as needed—two to three times a week is fine. “There’s nothing magic about once a day or every other day,” Ashworth says. “Use your judgment.” If he has spit-up in his hair or has a particularly messy diaper, give him a bath. On days between baths, you can spot clean with a washcloth.
3. My baby seems so happy being by himself, but I’ve heard stimulation is important. How much time a day should I spend interacting with him? Relax. You don’t need a Ph.D. in child development to raise your child. “Your baby needs to hear you speak and sing, or go to the supermarket with you,” Michaelson says. “Just introducing him to the wonders of the world is what he needs.”
Constant stimulation, though, can make babies cranky. Michaelson recommends setting aside quiet time in the morning and afternoon when your baby can relax and entertain himself. There is a bonus: As he gets older, these quiet sessions often evolve naturally into naptime.