That floppy neck, those mysterious cries, the tiny, doll-like body ... yes, caring for a newborn can be baffling and even downright scary, especially for the uninitiated. Never fear, though—our simple, mom-proven tips will make you an expert in no time.
How to calm a crying baby
Before long, you'll be able to decipher the different causes of your baby's many cries and know how to respond appropriately. Until then, make sure she's not wet, hungry or overly hot or cold. Next try these methods of soothing her:
Breastfeed her or give her a bottle.
Rock, sway or walk with your baby in your arms or in a sling or front carrier.
Stroke her head or tummy, or give her a gentle full-body massage. Also pat your baby's back; doing so may release a trapped burp.
Take her outside for a short time, making sure she's dressed appropriately for the weather. Fresh air and new distractions often do the trick.
Sing or talk to her in a calming voice.
Remember that too much stimulation can overwhelm your baby and make her cry more. If this seems to be the case, lower your voice, move more slowly, stop whatever hasn't been working and simply cuddle her in a dimly lit room.
Try the "5 S's" recommended by pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D., author of The Happiest Baby on the Block (Bantam): Swaddle her snugly, then place her on her side or stomach and swing her back and forth in your arms while making "shushing" noises that are as loud as the baby's crying. Also let her suck—whether on a pacifier, bottle, your nipple or a clean finger.
How to care for the cord stump
The indigo-blue dye used on your baby's umbilical cord stump helps prevent infection, but you'll still need to keep the area clean and dry until the stump falls off—which usually happens sometime between two and three weeks postpartum. If the idea of caring for the stump leaves you feeling a bit queasy, you're not alone. "Everybody's afraid of the cord stump," says Suzanne Corrigan, M.D., clinical associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, "but it has no pain endings. It's basically dead tissue, like a scab that needs to fall off."
Until that happens, stick to sponge baths. Also choose newborn diapers with a specially designed cutout, or simply fold the diaper below the stump. Cleaning the area with alcohol at every diaper change will help dry the stump; pull the skin away from the base and use a Q-tip dipped in alcohol to clean all the way around it. (Some experts recommend not using alcohol; check with your doctor to see what he prefers.)