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 bathe your baby
As long as you're doing a good job of cleaning your baby's diaper area, two or three baths a week usually are plenty (barring any particularly messy diaper blowouts, of course). In the winter months, when skin is likely to become dry or flaky, you may want to bathe her even less.
Whether you're giving a sponge or a tub bath, always test the water temperature using your elbow or the inside of your wrist (the water should be lukewarm), and have all your supplies—hooded towel, washcloth, and baby soap and shampoo if you're using them—within reach before you begin. If you do use soap and shampoo, stick with mild, unscented products formulated for babies.
When you're ready to start bathing, gently lower your baby into a baby bathtub or sink. Encircle her with your arm and hold her firmly under her armpit. Wash her face with plain water only, then move from the cleanest to the dirtiest parts (do the diaper area last); use soap on these areas if you like. "Pay special attention to the folds in the neck, under the arms and the creases in joints, which are prone to rashes," says Linda Carlson, RN, M.S., an adjunct faculty member at the School of Nursing at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga. To keep your baby from getting cold, shampoo her hair last.
Although some little ones enjoy a post-bath massage, don't feel that you have to use oils and lotions. Also consider skipping powders; some experts caution against them, since they are easily inhaled.
How to care for the penis
If your baby is circumcised, his penis will be wrapped in petroleum jelly-saturated gauze for approximately 24 to 48 hours. Continue to cover the tip of the penis with petroleum jelly once the gauze is removed (usually at the hospital) to help it heal—which typically takes about a week.
"This acts as a barrier to urine and stool, as well as a lubricant to keep any remaining foreskin or the diaper from sticking to the head of the penis," says Miriam Baron, M.D., an associate dean at the University of Nevada School of Medicine in Las Vegas. If the penis is not covered by gauze and comes into contact with stool, thoroughly clean the area with warm water.
How to take a temperature
Use a digital rectal or underarm (also called axillary) reading to diagnose fever in a newborn; steer clear of ear thermometers, which aren't as accurate. For a rectal reading, lubricate the end of the thermometer with petroleum jelly, gently insert the tip about 1 inch into your baby's rectum and leave it in, holding it steady, for three minutes.
Fever in an infant is defined as an oral temperature of more than 100.4° F; to get the oral equivalent, add 1 degree to an underarm reading, or subtract 1 degree from a rectal reading. If your newborn does have a fever higher than 100.4° F, call your doctor.