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As the old saying goes, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Nor does childbirth automatically give a mom insight into what’s happening to her own body. But that doesn’t mean new parents have to be totally on their own.
From Web sites to books, there’s more information available than ever before; you just have to know where to look. To help you get through the first six weeks after giving birth, here’s some expert obstetric and pediatric advice, as well as a guide to the best information and support sources out there.
Bringing a baby home can be terrifying for first-time parents. However, as any experienced mom or dad will tell you, caring for a newborn is easier than it looks. Here’s some soothing advice on caring for your baby from Gwenn O’Keeffe, M.D., a pediatrician at Harvard Vanguard Associates in Burlington, Mass., and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass.
Umbilical-cord stump: Keep the area where the cord attaches to the belly as clean and dry as possible. Wipe it after every diaper change, using a cotton swab or ball dipped in alcohol. Then fold the front of the diaper down so it doesn’t cover the stump. Stick with sponge baths until the umbilical cord drops off, usually in two to four weeks. If the area becomes red or pus-filled, call the doctor: Though rare, umbilical-site infections can be serious.
Circumcision site: The area will be red and raw for a few days but should heal within a week. Your doctor probably will recommend applying a topical antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin or bacitracin, or even plain petroleum jelly at each diaper change. If the site looks unusually swollen or red, seems warm or has pus on it, call your pediatrician immediately.
Crying spells: “Babies cry,” O’Keeffe says. “It’s normal.” So instead of panicking, go through a mental checklist of what could be wrong. Is he hungry? Cold? Poopy? Gassy? Hot? Lonely? Nursing, rocking, bouncing or walking with your baby often helps — but not always. “Some babies just have irritable temperaments,” O’Keeffe says. And some have colic, a term that doctors define differently.
Generally, a colicky baby is one who has long crying spells on a regular basis, usually every day at about the same time. Sometimes they have obvious gas pains during their crying spells, sometimes they don’t. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, but rest assured that this, too, shall pass, usually by 4 to 6 months of age.
Bathing: Stick with sponge baths until the umbilical cord stump drops off. Wrap the baby in a towel on a cushioned surface and wash him with a soft cloth using warm water only. Unwrap just the body part you’re washing so he stays warm. After the stump is gone, you can put the baby in a baby tub or in a sink lined with towels to keep him from slipping.
To prevent his skin from drying out, limit full baths to two or three times a week, and use only baby soap. Oils and lotions are unnecessary unless his skin is very dry; powder should be avoided since it’s easily inhaled. Remember, newborns can get cold easily, so have all supplies and a warm towel ready before you start the bath.
Sleeping: Unless your pediatrician recommends otherwise, place your newborn on his back, and only on firm surfaces. Keep him well away from pillows and fluffy blankets or toys that could suffocate him.