After giving birth to my son, I was over the moon. He looks so peaceful, I thought as I watched one of the nurses at the hospital expertly lift his tiny legs to put a new diaper on him as I skimmed the hospital cafeteria menu.
Fast-forward 24 hours and we were home on our own. I fumbled with his diaper as he wailed, and then wailed some more. Behind me, a row of baby books lined his little bookshelf, their authors beaming big, reassuring smiles. I have no idea what I’m doing, I thought.
Taking care of a newborn the first week can feel like being asked to run a marathon when you haven’t jogged in months. But with a few tried-and-true tips and a little bit of practice, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
9 tips to make your first week home with baby smooth
1. Develop a routine
A routine may not be the first thing you think you need to establish during your first week with baby, but it’s crucial. Babies do four basic things at the beginning of their lives: eat, sleep, poop and, eventually, play. There are as many routines out there as there are babies, but the most important thing is to find one that works for both of you.
Begin by tracking their natural rhythm in an app or a good old-fashioned notebook. How often does your baby want to breastfeed or take a bottle? How long are they sleeping, and when? How many wet or soiled diapers do they have in a day?
Once you have tracked your baby’s patterns for a few days, you can figure out the best routine for both of you. And it isn’t just about bringing order to your new life; having a routine also helps you narrow down what your baby might need when they’re crying.
2. Make feeding comfortable
Breastfeeding is a natural, simple way to feed your baby. It can also be surprisingly difficult. Feeding baby for the first time at home without the support of hospital staff or your midwife can be daunting.
Set up a comfortable, peaceful place to breastfeed where you and your baby can focus on the task at hand. Make sure you have plenty of water to drink and use a nursing pillow or comfortable chair for support. Follow the tummy-to-tummy, nose-to-nipple position when helping baby latch. Like learning any new skill, practice makes perfect –– for both of you.
Be kind to yourself as you and your baby learn the best positions for you and ask for help from another mom or a certified lactation consultant when you need it. If you’re bottle feeding your baby, choose a quiet, comfortable space where you both can enjoy the meal. Tilt the bottle enough so that there is formula or milk in the nipple but not that it flows too quickly. Allow baby to suckle and take breaks for burps or snuggles when they need to.
A crying baby may be one burp or fart away from a contented one
3. Burp your baby
Ah, gas. Before you became a mom, you probably never thought much about how another person passes gas. But taking care of a baby will make you an expert! Burp your baby after each feeding to help them get rid of excess wind.
You can hold baby to your shoulder and pat their back, or sit them on your knee, supporting their head and neck with one hand as you pat their back with the other. Have a burp cloth nearby to catch any spit up.
If your baby is fussy and needs help farting, lie them down on their back and gently bring their knees into their tummy or move the knees up and into the tummy in small circles. Remember, a crying baby may be one burp or fart away from a contented one!
4. Don’t fear the diapers
Your baby’s first poop will be meconium, a sticky, dark green, tar-like substance that contains stuff your baby digested in the womb (gross, we know!) and is almost odorless. Once your baby begins breastfeeding or drinking formula, their poop will range in color from yellow to green to brown, and can be seedy, squishy or more formed. All are considered normal, but if your baby’s poop is red, hard or diarrhea, consult your doctor.
Newborns should have at least six wet diapers in a 24-hour period, so it’s good to keep track to make sure your baby is being properly hydrated. Newborn pee should be clear or light yellow, so if it is a dark orange, consult your doctor.
5. Splish, splash! It’s time for a bath
After your baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off (usually seven to 10 days after birth), it’s time for baby’s first bath. While the cord is still attached, it’s fine to give baby a sponge bath, being sure not to touch the cord stump. After it has fallen off, prepare for baby’s first bath by getting everything ready before you bring them into the bathroom.
Make sure the room is warm and comfortable, and then fill an infant bath tub with warm water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot or too cold by using the inside of your wrist or your elbow, where the skin is more sensitive. Gently use unscented soap or baby wash on baby’s body. Just water and a clean washcloth will do to wipe their eyes corner to corner and on their face.
When you’re done, gently lift baby out of the bath and wrap them in a warm towel. Never leave baby alone in the tub. And don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t immediately love the bath –– many just need a little practice before it becomes their favorite part of the day.
Newborns sleep as much as 20 hours per day, but usually in one-to four-hour spurts.
6. As different as night and day
Babies are still developing their circadian rhythms and learning the difference between day and night, so help them by making day and night feel different. During the day, open the curtains, play soft music and feel free to talk. When it’s time for a nap or bedtime, close the curtains and make baby’s space as quiet and peaceful as possible. Rocking and shushing can also help your baby get to sleep.
7. Catch up on sleep where you can
Newborn babies sleep as much as 20 hours per day, but usually in one-to four-hour spurts. If you’re the type of person who can cat nap, do it! But if you take a bit longer to fall asleep, consider taking shifts with your partner or other loved ones. If you’re breastfeeding, it may be easier to be the one to get up to feed your baby during the night. But consider having someone take over in the morning so you can get some rest during your first week with baby and beyond.
8. Ask your doctor when you need to
Pediatricians are used to fielding calls, emails and text messages from worried new parents, so don’t be embarrassed to reach out during the first week. Always check with your doctor if your child is sick and has fever or if you have concerns. Reassurance from your doctor that everything is okay will give you much more peace of mind than hours and hours of frantic Googling.
9. Let someone take care of your baby so you can take care of yourself
Giving birth is a beautiful, transformative and physically exhausting process. Whether you have had a C-section or a vaginal birth, you are likely dealing with aches, pains, bleeding and soreness. Handing baby over to your partner or another loved one so you can take a shower, take a nap or eat a nutritious meal is crucial for your own recovery. As a new mom, self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s essential. Taking good care of yourself will help you take good care of your little one in the first days, weeks and beyond.
Kaelyn Forde is a mom, journalist and yoga teacher. She writes about motherhood and teaches yoga to new moms and their babies in New Jersey.