“It was much harder than I expected.” This is a common refrain among new mothers, whose lives are often a blur of feedings, diaper changes, dirty dishes, smelly laundry and crying. (The crying baby and the crying mommy, that is.) But you will get through it.
“After four or five weeks, you’ll have the dance figured out,” says Cat Larsen, 38, a mother of two in St. Louis. “One morning you’ll wake up and you and the baby will be clean, clothed, fed and happy.” We’ll help you along the way, with suggestions from parents and experts on how to get through all the “firsts” of the first six weeks: your baby’s first diaper change, first bout of inconsolable crying, first bath, first hint of illness.
We’ve also got tips on taking care of yourself: how to squeeze in a few hours of much-needed sleep, lose the pregnancy weight and get your pre-baby body back. And we give you tricks to help you breastfeed like a pro. Granted, it can be a tall order to absorb all the details of caring for a new baby, but take heart: Soon it will all be second nature.
The Big Firsts
Until your baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off—usually after seven to 10 days—stick to sponge baths. Here’s how to do it: Lay your baby on his back in a warm room. Gently wipe the soiled areas, such as his bottom and neck, with warm water and a baby washcloth or cotton balls. Keep him wrapped in a towel as you clean him, exposing only the parts you are washing.
For the first full bath, have everything ready ahead of time—washcloth, towel, cotton balls or cotton swabs, baby soap and shampoo, and a plastic cup for rinsing. Set the mood: Turn on some relaxing music. Soften the lights and warm the room. Fill the bath with a few inches of lukewarm water, then proceed slowly.
Ease the baby in gradually, feet first; he may startle easily, so lean him backward gently. Wash your baby’s body first, paying special attention to the genital area, behind the ears, and the folds under the arms and neck. Wash his hair last so he doesn’t get cold. Use a cup to rinse his entire body with warm water, then wrap him in a warm towel to dry off.
First Diaper Change
Before you begin, make sure you have everything you need on hand: a clean diaper, diaper ointment, clean clothes, cotton balls and a washcloth. Note that baby wipes aren’t mentioned here; that’s because they can contain oils or cleansing agents that are irritating or allergenic to your baby’s skin, says Steven P. Shelov, M.D., chairman of the pediatrics department at Maimonides Medical Center in New York and editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Your Baby’s First Year. Many experts therefore advise waiting at least a month before using them; in the meantime, lukewarm water and cotton balls will do the job. Now, down to business:
-Lay your baby on his back on the changing table; keep a firm hand on him at all times so that he can’t roll off the table.
-Remove the dirty diaper and roll it up. If your baby is a boy, keep a cloth diaper or washcloth handy to place over his penis so that he doesn’t pee on you or himself.
-Wipe your baby clean, working from front to back.
-Let him air dry for a moment, apply diaper ointment if needed, then tuck the back of the clean diaper under his bottom, pull the front between his legs and fasten.