The essentials of baby care
When the umbilical cord is cut, a small stump will be left behind which will quickly shrivel up and fall off in a few days. Keep it clean and dry, using cotton wool dampened with sterilised water to gently clean the base of the cord if necessary.
When you change your baby’s nappy, fold the front down so that it doesn’t irritate the stump. If it looks sore or you think it may be infected, speak to your midwife or GP.
BATHING YOUR BABY
Giving your tiny baby a bath is a lovely experience. However, babies don’t need bathing for some days after birth – at least until after the cord has dropped off.
When you do bathe your baby it is best to use plain water – evidence suggests babies washed only in water are less likely to develop eczema, rashes and similar skin conditions.
When introducing commercial baby wash to your baby’s bath and washing routine, it’s best to stick to mild formulations while your baby develops his or her own natural skin barriers.
In the first day or two, your baby’s nappies will contain a dark substance called ‘meconium’ which is sticky and tar-like. This is your baby’s earliest poo, composed of what the baby ingested while still in your womb including mucus, water and amniotic fluid. When your baby increases his milk intake, the poo will gradually become more soft and yellow and the amount of wee will also increase.
Nappies need to be changed regularly: when you know the nappy is dirty, change it straightaway; otherwise the nappy area will quickly become sore. It’s not unusual to change a tiny baby’s nappy every two hours in the early days. Changing dirty nappies is just as important at night: if you are organised and nappy changes are done quickly and quietly, it should not disturb the baby too much.
To begin with, stick to using water and cotton wool to clean your baby’s nappy area. After a few weeks you can introduce mild baby products to your cleaning routine.
A boys’ nappy area is easy to clean. But it can take at least two years for the foreskin to naturally retract from the penis. In the meantime, it’s important to avoid pulling the foreskin back to clean under it: it isn’t necessary and could cause bleeding and tissue damage.
Don’t be alarmed if you find his scrotum seems large after birth: this is normal and usually the result of exposure to your maternal hormones in the womb. They should go down in a few days.
Girls have more folds than boys and it’s important to clean from ‘front to back’. Her genitals may be swollen or red after birth but try not to worry: this is very normal and is due to exposure to your maternal hormones in the womb. This may also cause a white or bloodied vaginal discharge but this should quickly stop.
If you are concerned, or if the swelling or discharge continues for more than the first few weeks, speak to your midwife or family doctor.
Your tiny baby’s skin is very delicate and particularly prone to becoming dry. Keeping baths to a minimum will help minimise dry skin because bathing removes the baby’s natural oils. When you introduce bath time, restrict it to a few minutes and use warm water with a mild, soap-free baby wash or cleaner.
EYES, NOSE AND EARS
Never use cotton wool buds to clean your baby’s ears and nose. They can accidentally be pushed too far. It can also have the effect of pushing dirt further into the ear or nose. It’s best to use cotton wool (damped when necessary) to clean the nose and ears when necessary.
Use cool, sterilised water to gently wipe your baby’s eyes.
Baby’s nails grow very fast and it’s not uncommon for babies to scratch their faces. Scratch mitts can help solve that issue.
It’s advisable to resist cutting your baby’s nails for the first month. You might then be able to pinch them off with your fingers as they are very soft. Otherwise, cut them gently straight across with baby nail scissors, having another adult hold your baby if he or she wriggles.
‘Tears’ are continually produced by your baby’s eyes to keep them moist, and excess tears drain away through the tear glands. However, sticky eyes are common in young babies and is caused either by a temporary blockage of the tear duct or because it is not yet fully developed.
In severe cases, the affected eye can get very crusty and your baby may find it difficult to open an eye when waking up. Use cool, boiled water to wipe or remove excess tears and crusting from the eye. Some mothers swear by using expressed breast milk to clean sticky eyes.
If the affected eye becomes pink or inflamed, or the discharge changes colour you need to see your doctor for treatment.
A sticky eye usually clears up on its own by the time your baby is a year old. You can help by gently massaging the area on the side of your baby’s nose from top to bottom using your little finger.
If the sticky eye continues, your doctor may refer your baby for a minor operation to unblock the tear duct. However, some doctors prefer to wait at least a year before the procedure is carried out.
BABY ACNE AND MILIA
It’s very common for new babies to develop acne within a couple of weeks of birth. Baby acne might be visible as little red spots on the cheeks, forehead and chin. If your baby is too warm or unsettled, or there is saliva or remnants of milk around the mouth or cheeks, this can exacerbate the acne.
It’s best to avoid any oily lotion or moisturiser. Wash your baby’s face with water and a mild soap daily. It should clear up on its own.
Tiny white bumps on your baby’s face are called ‘milia’ (sometimes called milk spots). Milia is caused when particles of dead skin are trapped in tiny pockets on the skin’s surface.
These should soon disappear. Don’t be tempted either to squeeze them or put creams or moisturiser on them.
Dry, scaly or crusty skin on your baby’s scalp is cradle cap and extremely common. It is usually a yellow or light brown colour and can look unsightly. It might clear on its own very quickly, or it can last for a year or more.
It is not known what causes cradle cap but experts believe it could be linked to an overstimulation of the oil-producing glands. It is not related to a poor cleaning routine. Don’t be tempted to pick at it, particularly when some scaly bits start to come off.
What you can do is gently rub olive or almond oil into the scalp and leave it overnight; then wash your baby’s hair in the morning. By gently drying your baby’s scalp you should find that a lot of the cradle cap will come off quite easily. There are also baby shampoos specifically formulated for cradle cap that are worth trying.
When you wash your baby’s hair, make sure you thoroughly rinse the shampoo out. Use a soft baby brush to brush the hair regularly, which can also help some of the scales to lift off.
In cases of severe cradle cap, for instance if there is any bleeding or inflammation, see your doctor.
Bedtime and Sleeping
Moses baskets are ideal for new babies because they are small and cosy, and not as overwhelming as a normal cot. They are also mobile and easily moved from one room to another, which is ideal when your baby sleeps so much in the early days.
Your baby’s room should ideally be between 16-20 C (18?C is the optimum recommended temperature). Use a thermometer if necessary.
During the winter months, protect your baby from any draughts and open windows, and avoid your baby sleeping next to a radiator or heater.
Ideally, use a baby sleeping bag or lightweight baby blankets and sheets, avoiding duvets. Layering your baby’s bedding is advisable because they can easily be taken off one by one if your baby gets too hot.
Avoid using pillows, as they are potentially dangerous if your baby’s head becomes covered.
If you’re finding the early days daunting always ask an experienced mum, your health visitor, midwife or your doctor for help and advice. It will become easier.
About the Author
Nicola Laver is a mum of four and freelance journalist who writes regularly for business and lifestyle titles.