There is no experience that compares with bringing home a newborn baby. The joy and exhilaration parents feel is profound. It’s perfectly natural for there to be some trepidation as well, especially for first-time mothers and fathers. After all, no matter how much one plans and prepares for the arrival of a little one, there are always obstacles and challenges along the way.
These challenges might include financial hurdles, difficulty with breastfeeding and lost sleep. It is also very normal for new parents to experience bouts of anxiety or depression. And, because no two babies are the same, it’s impossible to know exactly how the early weeks and months of a child’s life will unfold: The challenges one family faces may be very different from the ones another family faces.
The good news is that many parents and newborn-care practitioners who have gone before have compiled some best practices and general guidelines for navigating early infancy. These resources can equip new parents, grandparents and caregivers with the tools they need to address the challenges of having a baby.
Newborn Care: Tools and Resources
When considering these resources, it’s important to acknowledge once again that no two children are the same, and there are no “one size fits all” solutions for child care. There are, however, some general recommendations and strategies that practitioners have largely found to be effective.
Newborns can have unpredictable feeding patterns, yet parents should anticipate that it will be an around-the-clock activity. It is natural for parents to occasionally be fatigued by the routine feedings, though it’s also important to remember that this is one of the best opportunities for bonding with a new baby.
The Mayo Clinic provides some best practices for feeding a newborn, including:
It is generally recommended that moms and dads trust their instincts and look for the signs of a healthy, growing baby, including consistent weight gain and contentment between meals.
Most newborns are ready to bond with their parents right away. Parents can sometimes have more trepidation, and that’s normal. The critical thing to remember is that bonding is a process, and not a task that can be completed on day one.
An article from KidsHealth provides some helpful reminders as to the various ways in which babies bond, including touch, eye-to-eye contact and the sound of the human voice.
Especially noteworthy are some bonding tips for dads, which include participation in the labor and delivery, assisting with some of the bottle feedings (especially at night), reading to the baby, singing to the baby, and giving the baby a bath.
Sleeping poses one of the most challenging aspects of newborn care. Most parents are aware that their little one may not sleep through the night for a few weeks or even several months; it varies from baby to baby. This can be a challenging period for everyone, not least because it means that Mom and Dad may feel chronically ill-rested.
As WedMD notes, eating, not sleeping, is the driving force for most newborns, and during the first two months of life, parents may need to feed their little one roughly once every two hours. Newborns may actually sleep quite a bit (up to 18 hours a day, for as many as four hours at a stretch), but they won’t have any concept of nighttime versus daytime.
The article recommends that parents take the following steps to get their baby onto a somewhat consistent sleep schedule as quickly as possible:
Handling and Safety
Another important aspect of newborn care is safely handling the baby. There are some practical safety tips available from HealthyChildren.org, including:
Cleaning and Bathing
According to an article from What to Expect, bathing an infant has benefits beyond just cleanliness. It can also be an invaluable opportunity to bond. Parents may also find that baths have a soothing effect, and in some cases may even induce sleep. Bathtime may make a prudent addition to any little one’s bedtime routine.
Some general tips and best practices for cleaning and bathing a newborn include:
Health Conflicts and Concerns
Most infants have fairly consistent appointments with their pediatrician, ensuring they are growing and developing as intended. This also means a doctor’s watchful eye will be able to note any signs of illness. Even so, it is typical for parents to fret about if and when their baby needs to be taken in for a “sick” visit.
The Mayo Clinic shares some common signs for when it may be wise to take the infant to see a doctor. These signs include:
Parents may also wish to contact their pediatrician about symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and rash, particularly if these symptoms last for longer than a day or two.
Newborn Care: Tips for Parents and Families
It should go without saying that welcoming a newborn baby into the home is a life-altering event. This can lead to some challenges for Mom and Dad, and while caring for a little one is paramount, it’s also important to practice self-care, ensuring both parents are in top condition to parent the new child.
Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is incredibly common among parents of newborns, and over time, it can take a significant toll on parents’ physical health, mental acuity and overall quality of life. According to Parents, there are a few practical steps moms and dads can take to get a little more sleep for themselves.
One recommendation is to make up for lost sleep, particularly by napping on weekends. Catching up on even two or three lost hours can make a world of difference. In addition to napping, Mom and Dad can trade off middle-of-the-night feedings. A final tip is to turn down the baby monitor; infants tend to be active sleepers, and parents don’t need to have their sleep disrupted by every little movement.
Range of Emotions
New parents may also experience a wide range of emotions. It is normal to alternate between elation, anxiety and even depression. Negative emotions can be exacerbated by issues such as a difficult pregnancy, premature birth or mixed feelings about the pregnancy (regardless of whether it was planned or unplanned).
Baby Your Baby notes that it is important for parents to be attentive to their own mental health, and to seek help as necessary. “The help you need might be as simple as focusing on sleep, nutrition, more water or social support,” the article states. “It might also include counseling, therapy, medication, or a combination.”
Maintaining Professional/Life Balance
Newborn care may seem like a full-time job unto itself, which is especially challenging for parents who have other vocations outside the home. Parents provides some tips for working parents looking to achieve a sense of balance. Some of these recommendations include:
This article was originally published on University of North Dakota.