Your Newborn: A User's Guide

Your baby needs special care right after birth. Follow these simple, doctor-recommended tips for keeping your newborn clean and healthy.


Eyes: Some babies have a yellowish discharge or crusting in the eye or on the lid, which is usually caused by a blocked tear duct. This condition can last several months, but take heart—it's probably more distressing to you than to your baby. Care tip: Wipe the eyes with a cotton ball moistened with warm water or breast milk.

Nose: Babies' narrow nasal passages tend to fill with mucus. Care tip: Gently unclog nostrils with a nasal bulb syringe.

(To loosen mucus, try a little breast milk or saline solution before suctioning.)

Face: It's disconcerting to see a newborn with a red, blotchy face, but baby acne is a common, harmless condition. It usually appears in the fourth or fifth week. Care tip: Wash your baby's face daily with a mild baby soap.

Head: Many newborns develop a scaly scalp condition called cradle cap. It typically disappears in the first few months. Care tip: Wash your baby's hair with a gentle baby shampoo no more than three times a week and gently brush out the scales daily. For a natural remedy, try rubbing a combination of jojoba oil, tea tree oil and grapefruit-seed extract on his scalp. Note: Your baby's pulsating soft spot may alarm you, but don't worry—it's perfectly normal.

Nails: A newborn's nails usually are soft, but they can scratch his sensitive skin. Care tip: Use baby-nail clippers or blunt-nosed scissors. Clip after his bath when nails are soft, or when he's asleep and his fingers are relaxed. (There are also specially made mittens you can use to cover nails.)

Skin: Some babies have a yellowish tint, called jaundice, at birth. This usually is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the baby's system. Care tip: Jaundice usually goes away on its own in one or two weeks. Otherwise, it can be treated with light therapy, which your doctor will prescribe.

Umbilical Cord: Keep the stump of the umbilical cord clean and dry; it will shrivel up and fall off within a few weeks. Care tip: Avoid covering the cord area with diapers. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sticking to sponge baths until the cord falls off, many doctors now believe it's OK to bathe newborns as long as the area is dried thoroughly afterward.

Bottom: Too much moisture plus sensitive skin can equal diaper rash for many babies. Care tip: Change diapers frequently and apply them loosely. Rinse your baby's bottom with water during each change and blot dry with a soft towel.

Circumcision Care: If you decided to get your son circumsized, expect the tip of his penis to be swollen; a yellow scab will also appear. Care tip: If your baby's penis is bandaged, replace the bandage every time you change his diaper. Use petroleum jelly to protect the site and prevent the bandage from sticking.

Legs: Newborns' legs are bowed out and the feet are turned in, which is no surprise, given their previous cramped living quarters. Care tip: Don't worry about it—your baby's legs and feet will straighten in anywhere from six to 18 months.

Still Concerned? Call your doctor. These care tips should work in most instances, but consult your pediatrician for specific advice about your newborn.