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10 tips for taking care of a newborn

Bringing your newborn baby home for the first time can bring up a lot of emotions. You may feel excited to bring them home but anxious about having to do everything on your own.

Luis Garcia, MD, a pediatrician at OSF HealthCare, shared tips on your baby’s first few days of life.

How do you take care of a newborn?

“One of the most important things is giving your baby a loving environment,” Dr. Garcia said.

“And that includes everyone. It’s about teamwork.”

Your baby is entirely dependent on you. Making sure they’re safe, loved and cared for is the most important thing.

After that, Dr. Garcia said that parents need to manage expectations. Caring for a newborn means needing to be flexible. Babies don’t have any routines yet. They can be unpredictable. If parents have expectations for the way they want things to go, they may be disappointed or frustrated when they don’t go as planned.

There’s no one thing that is normal for babies. They operate on a range of what’s normal.

“Babies may poop four to seven times a day. Or they may poop once every seven days. And that could be normal,” Dr. Garcia said.

That’s true of their eating and sleeping habits, as well. But Dr. Garcia said babies need four major things: sleep, food, hygiene and play.


The most important thing when it comes to sleep is keeping your baby safe. Your baby should sleep in a bed of their own, not in a car seat or swing and not in bed with you. Their bed should be completely empty except for a crib sheet.

“Keep your baby’s room quiet, dark and temperature controlled. Their room should be around 70-71 degrees Fahrenheit,” Dr. Garcia said.

Babies usually sleep about 16 hours a day – sometimes more, sometimes less.

For the first three or four months, babies don’t have a regular sleeping routine. They don’t know the difference between night and day. Many babies sleep all day and are awake a lot through the night.

Many new parents find sleep deprivation to be the hardest part of caring for a newborn. It would be a lot easier if your baby slept through the night, but even if they could it wouldn’t be healthy for the baby.

“Don’t let them sleep through the night in the first few months. Especially premature babies,” Dr. Garcia said.

For at least the first four months of life, babies need to wake up at least once during the night to eat.

If you think your baby isn’t sleeping as well as they should, your child’s pediatrician can help you to find some ways that may help your baby sleep through the night.

How do I swaddle a newborn baby?

“Swaddling is not a requirement, but it’s soothing,” Dr. Garcia said.

Babies don’t have control of their arms and legs. So, sometimes they stay awake or get fussy just because their arms are moving when they don’t want them to.

“Swaddling may help remove the excessive movement from their arms,” Dr. Garcia said.

If you want to try swaddling, here’s how Dr. Garcia suggested to do it:

  1. Lay a square swaddling blanket out flat. Fold down the top point.
  2. Lay baby in the blanket with their head on the folded part and their feet at the opposite point.
  3. Fold one side of the blanket in over their belly and tuck the side underneath their back.
  4. Fold the other side of the blanket over the top of the tucked side.
  5. Fold up the bottom point over their legs and tuck into the folds of the swaddle.

Be careful not to swaddle your baby too tightly. If it seems like they don’t like being swaddled, don’t force them to stay swaddled.

How to soothe uncontrollable crying

“Babies cry a lot for every reason, and sometimes for no reason at all,” Dr. Garcia said.

It can be hard to deal with your newborn’s uncontrollable crying.

“If you make a routine for your baby, it should be easier to pinpoint what is bothering your baby when they cry,” Dr. Garcia said.

Some babies are beyond fussy. When a baby cries when they should be completely content, they may have colic. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if they ‘re crying uncontrollably.

Still have questions?

> Talk to your pediatrician


How you decide to feed your baby is a big decision. Breastmilk has many health benefits, including infection fighting antibodies. When breastfeeding, you don’t need to measure how much your baby is eating.

How to know if your baby is full

Babies will likely give you a sign that they’re done eating. If they’re breastfed, they may break the latch. Or they may just lose interest.

If you’re formula feeding your baby, give them three ounces more than their age. So, if your baby is 3 months old, give them six ounces of formula.

Eight ounces is the maximum formula your baby should have at one feeding.

In the beginning you may worry that your baby didn’t get enough to eat.

“How do we know our baby is being adequately hydrated and fed? Their wet diapers are going to tell us how their feeding is going. If the pool is full, it drains,” Dr. Garcia said.

They should have a wet diaper every two to three hours.

How to burp a newborn baby

“Babies don’t always burp,” Dr. Garcia said.

If you think your baby needs to burp or you want to keep cuddling with your baby after they’ve eaten, Dr. Garcia shared a few ways you can burp a newborn.

“The one that I’ve found is most effective is having the baby resting on your shoulder and gently rub or pat their back,” Dr. Garcia said.

“On the lap on their tummy and gently rubbing or patting can work, too.”

Sometimes babies spit up, and that’s normal.

“Keeping your baby upright after feeding, encourages any of that gas to get out of their tummy,” Dr. Garcia said.


When to start bathing your newborn

Keeping your baby clean and dry helps to prevent things like urinary tract infections (UTIs), diaper rash and cradle cap.

You can start bathing your baby right away. But Dr. Garcia said you should start with sponge baths for the first six weeks.

After the first six weeks, you can start using a baby bathtub. Never leave your baby unattended in water. Babies can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.

How to keep your baby’s diaper area clean

Keep your baby’s diaper area clean. Bathe your baby a few times a week and use wet wipes to clean your baby at every diaper change.

You don’t want your baby to sit in a dirty or wet diaper for very long. If they sit in their diaper, their skin is likely to get irritated.

Many babies experience diaper rash. Besides changing them often, there are some other things you can do to prevent or get rid of diaper rash.

“We recommend some air drying every day. Clean everything in their diaper area and let your baby air dry for a few minutes before putting a clean diaper on,” Dr. Garcia said.

Try not to over-wipe your baby. Baby wipes often contain alcohol. This will likely dry out your baby’s skin. But be sure to wipe enough that your baby is entirely clean.

“Wipe them from front to back, especially for girl babies, to prevent UTIs,” Dr. Garcia said.

How to care for your baby’s umbilical stump

Your baby has a stump where their umbilical cord was cut and tied. Keep their diaper away from the stump. This can be done by folding the top of their diaper down. Don’t mess with the stump or try to take it off. The stump should fall off on its own when your baby is between one and three weeks old.

Gently clean your baby’s umbilical stump with a washcloth and room temperature water every few days.


For babies, play time is hard work. They gain muscle strength, coordination, problem-solving skills, social skills and many other important functions by playing.

Interact with your baby. Look them in the eyes. Talk and sing to them, make faces and smile at them and read to them.

If you don’t know what to say to your baby, try narrating everything that you’re doing as you’re doing it. Even though babies can’t talk, they pick up language and communication by listening to the people around them.

When to start tummy time with an infant

“Tummy time is the best gym,” Dr. Garcia said.

Start tummy time right away with your baby. For the first few weeks, tummy time can be laying on your chest or across your lap.

After the first few weeks, you can lay your baby tummy down on a blanket on the floor. Start with about three minutes about five times a day. When they start gaining strength, tummy time can last longer.

Surprising aspects of caring for a newborn

Dr. Garcia said a lot about babies can be surprising. But something that he sees parents do a lot is keep their babies too warm.

“We tend to keep babies very wrapped,” Dr. Garcia said.

“Babies need one more layer than we need as adults.”

If you think you need a sweatshirt, your baby needs to be wearing long sleeves and an extra layer.

The most difficult part of taking care of a baby

Many people say parenthood is the hardest, most rewarding thing they do.

“I hear from parents that the unpredictability of caring for a baby is the most difficult part,” Dr. Garcia said.

Comparing your newborn to other parents’ experiences or your other children when they were newborns often sets you up for added stress.

Dr. Garcia said it all goes back to managing expectations.

“Every baby is different. And, again, normal for babies happens on a range,” Dr. Garcia said.

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About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity, Kids & Family