Having a newborn can be both exciting and terrifying, especially for first-time parents. It can be overwhelming to know that your new little bundle of joy is completely dependent on you.
So be prepared and take steps to help keep your new baby safe, happy and healthy. Make sure you are staying on top of your baby's doctor appointments, and create a safe and smoke-free environment.
Here are some general health and safety tips to get you started:
Pick a pediatrician before your baby arrives. You will feel more at ease if you do, and this gives the pediatrician time to review any medical problems and offer advice for caring for your newborn before he or she is born. If you don't have someone in mind, ask your OB-GYN or a trusted friend for a recommendation.
Schedule (and keep) well-baby checkups. Well-baby exams and screenings are important so the doctor or nurse can evaluate your baby's health and chart his or her growth and development, including vision and hearing tests. If you are concerned about your baby's health in between visits, especially if you notice a high fever, skin rash, unusual irritability or sleepiness, loss of appetite, yellow skin (jaundice), difficulty breathing, persistent vomiting or diarrhea or dehydration (fewer wet diapers), contact the doctor right away.
Stay on top of vaccinations. Immunizations, also called "shots" or vaccinations, start at birth and are one of the easiest ways to protect your child from more than a dozen dangerous illnesses, including hepatitis B, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Be sure to keep your baby's immunization record in a safe place and bring it to every doctor or clinic visit to ensure your baby is up-to-date. If you have concerns about vaccines, speak with your pediatrician.
Support good (and safe) sleep. Make sure your baby has a safe sleeping environment and establish healthy sleeping patterns for your baby and family. Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, even for short naps.
Promote good nutrition. For a baby, breast milk is best. It has all the vitamins and minerals your little one needs, plus lots of other health benefits for mom and baby. He or she will probably nurse about 8 to 12 times every 24 hours. If you can’t breastfeed, formula is deigned to be healthy and nutritious for your baby. Babies should be given breast milk or formula exclusively up to the first six months of life. It’s important to follow directions when mixing formula—don’t dilute it to make it go farther, for example, so baby gets the full nutritional benefit.
Think about child care now. It may seem too soon, but time flies, and competition for day care or in-home care can be fierce. Do you plan to return to work? Can you establish flex time? These are all things to think about early on.
Bundle up, but not too much. Make sure your baby is warm, especially when you venture outside, but try to avoid overheating (infants' bodies don't cool as easily as adults'). Several thin layers will keep him or her dry and warm—a good rule of thumb is to add one more layer than what you’re wearing to stay warm and comfortable.
Use a car seat for every ride. Take time to correctly install your car seat before you bring your newborn home from the hospital. Your baby should ride in the back seat in a safety-approved, rear-facing car seat. Never place him or her in the front seat. If you need help, contact your police or fire station; they often hold car seat clinics to help new parents ensure their car seats are securely installed.
Never leave your baby unattended, especially in the tub or on high surfaces like his or her changing table, a counter, couch or bed. No matter how quickly you will return, never leave him or her alone in the car.
Never leave small objects within an infant's reach. They are quick to explore and put things in their mouths.
Begin safety-proofing your house. It's never too early to start looking for hidden dangers in your home. Older babies are fascinated with cords and string, so keep window blind cords and electrical cords tied up or hidden. Consider using safety latches on kitchen and bathroom cabinets to prevent poisonings, covers for your outlets to prevent electrocution and safety gates for stairs to prevent falls.
Be pet smart. If you have pets already, make sure they are kept in good health and vaccinated appropriately. Ask your pediatrician when and how you should make the first introduction between your pet and newborn. Only allow pets near your newborn when you are there to supervise. And be sure that you and any siblings wash hands with soap and water after touching pets. If you're thinking of getting a new puppy or cat, talk with your pediatrician and veterinarian about breeds that are child-friendly.
A final note: Be sure to schedule time for yourself so you feel rested and can give your baby your full attention. There's a lot to learn as a new parent, so do your homework. But remember to trust your instincts as well—eventually, you'll have to figure out this parenting thing on your own. Don't be afraid to ask for help from trusted family members and friends, especially in the weeks after you get home from the hospital. The "baby blues" are not a myth. After the giddiness of the birth wears off and the reality of motherhood—complete with little sleep—sets in (helped along by plummeting hormone levels), you may feel down, weepy or depressed. This is completely normal and usually disappears within a few days to a few weeks. If those "blue" feelings persist, however, or become more intense, you may have postpartum depression, which is not normal and can be a serious condition affecting your ability to care for yourself and your baby. Symptoms include:
- Feeling restless, irritable or anxious
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life
- Loss of appetite
- Less energy and motivation (not related to lack of sleep)
- Problems falling asleep or staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning
- Feeling worthless, hopeless or guilty
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Showing little interest in the baby
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
If you have several of these symptoms for more than a few weeks or they interfere with your ability to complete everyday tasks, call your health care professional or ask someone to call for you to make an appointment. Support, therapy and, if necessary, medication can restore you to your old self and the joys of motherhood.
Questions to Ask My Health Care Professional
As a new parent, you may find the following questions helpful. Remember, there are no stupid questions. It’s important to feel comfortable about how best to take care of your baby and keep him or her happy and healthy.
- How can I best prepare my older children for the arrival of the new baby?
- Is it too early to apply sunscreen? Which sunscreen would you recommend?
- When can I travel with the baby?
- Should I limit the number of well-wishers during the baby’s first few weeks?
- How do I know if my baby is sick? How high is too high for a fever?
- What should I do in the case of a medical emergency?