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 dress her for comfort
In general, your baby should wear one more layer of clothing than you do. You can't tell whether she is too chilly by feeling her hands and feet, which may be cool because her circulatory system is still developing. Instead, check her chest or abdomen: If either feels cool or if she's shivering, she may not be dressed warmly enough. Baron also recommends looking for mottling—blotchy, marbled-looking skin—on the shoulders and chest (mottled arms and legs aren't cause for concern). Note that darker-skinned babies, even if they are cold, may not appear mottled.
It's also important that she's not overly warm. Not all babies sweat effectively, but a damp neck may signal that an infant is too hot. Fast breathing also can be a sign of overheating. Overbundling and soft bedding such as quilts and comforters have been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), so rather than bundling up your baby when she sleeps, turn up the heat a bit and dress her lightly, preferably in a blanket sack.
How to trim your baby's nails
Your baby's tiny but terribly sharp nails probably will need to be trimmed before you're even discharged from the hospital. Carlson suggests using nail scissors with rounded tips designed especially for infants, as they give you more control than clippers. Since babies have a tendency to clench their fists, you might want to trim your infant's nails when she's asleep or drowsy.
How to 'read' a dirty diaper
Think of wet and poopy diapers as signs your baby's getting enough to eat. In this regard, urine is more important than poop. "Urine output determines if your baby is taking in enough fluid," Baron explains. Look for a minimum of six wet diapers every 24 hours by the baby's fifth day of life.
Poop output is more variable. "Formula-fed infants may have two or three bowel movements a day, probably tapering to once a day, once every other day, or once every three or four days," says Corrigan. "Anything is normal as long as the baby is not passing hard little balls, which means she's constipated." As for breastfed babies: Some have one bowel movement for every feeding, while others go as long as several days between stools.
"Whether your baby takes formula or breast milk, you have to establish what's normal for your child," says Baron, but be on the lookout for diarrhea, which can quickly dehydrate a newborn. It's normal for babies to have loose, mushy stools, but something is wrong if the poop is watery rather than the consistency of mustard or pudding. A breastfed baby's stools typically are yellow and "seedy," while a formula-fed baby's can be tan, yellow or green.
Speaking of stools, when changing diapers, wipe little girls from front to back to help prevent urinary tract infections. Some doctors say commercial baby wipes are too harsh for newborns, especially breastfed babies, who typically have more frequent bowel movements. If your pediatrician agrees, use a warm, wet baby wash cloth, cotton ball or soft paper towel instead.