The Truth About Babies
What they can see and feel, plus how much they need to eat, sleep and more
*Teensy, miniature, fragile. The pure smallness of my first baby is what I remember being most unprepared for. I was shocked by how tiny he was, even at 8 pounds, 11 ounces. (The “-3 month” baby garments I’d brought to the hospital were useless.) For most first-time parents, that tiny new baby is a fascinating mystery, from the way he stares into your face to the softness of his skin. And while each infant is different, there are some universals, which can help you unravel why your baby does the things he does.
*they lose and gain weight
Your baby will likely lose between 5 percent and 10 percent of his weight in the first week, even if he’s eating around the clock. The weight loss is due to loss of fluid and meconium. By the second week of life, however, most babies have regained the lost weight or even surpassed their birth weight.
*They don’t need daily baths
A newborn only needs a complete bath two or three times a week; any more than that can dry out sensitive new skin. He does, however, need a daily cleansing of the diaper area with a mild baby soap and plenty of clean water (not wipes).
Until the umbilical cord stump falls off (sometime during the first two weeks), sponge baths are fine. And speaking of the bellybutton-to-be, it should be cleaned with rubbing alcohol at every diaper change until it’s completely healed.
*baby-soft skin may take a while
Some parents may be concerned about the tiny white spots, called milia, that often appear on a newborn baby’s face. More than half of all babies are born with them on the nose or cheeks, but this harmless condition usually disappears in the first weeks of life.
Other common skin conditions include cradle cap, a crusty scalp condition that usually can be alleviated by using a mild baby shampoo or, if necessary, a medicated lotion; peeling, dry skin on the hands and feet (try fragrance-free baby lotion); and, of course, diaper rash.
Besides the usual ointments, one way to discourage irritation on little bottoms is to forgo packaged wipes, which contain chemicals that can worsen a rash. The best way to clean a tender tushie? Plain old water on cotton balls or a washcloth that’s been double-rinsed to remove detergent.
*it’s ok to cry
Crying is normal and healthy most of the time and helps babies communicate hunger, pain or the need for a new diaper.
But what of those times when an infant simply breaks out in cries for no apparent reason? It may be that he needs to be held and touched. “Barring all the usual causes, it is something I call baby boredom,” says Christine Wood., M.D., a pediatrician in Encinitas, Calif. “Once you pick them up and walk around, they’re fine for a few minutes, but the minute you stop, they start again. They seem