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Baby Boot Camp: How to Survive the Newborn Period

Attention newbie mom! Use this know-how to handle the first weeks with your newborn like a seasoned veteran.

Photo: Devon Jarvis

The first month with baby will be a true test -- of your stamina, patience and ability to handle sleep deprivation, among other things. And since you won’t have a drill instructor to bark orders at you, we thought we’d give you some smart pointers to help you get through it. Don’t worry. Once baby graduates from newborn status to infancy, you’ll have the training…er, experience, to handle most stuff parenthood throws your way.


Veteran Advice

"When people offer to help, let them! Give them a specific task that's actually helpful, like folding laundry or making you a casserole." -- Sarah C.

"Nap when the baby naps!" -- Julie R.

"Laundry and dishes can wait; a happy baby is more important than a clean house." -- Allison O.

"You handle nursing and put dad in charge of diaper changes. It's important that he and baby bond too." -- Meghan K.

"Wear white! It camouflages spit-up better than black does." -- Katie D.

"If you're not sure, call the doctor. You'll be happy you did." -- Gabrielle T.

"Forget about losing the baby weight! It will come off in time." -- Tanya F.

"Don't forget that you and your partner are a team. Lean on each other!" -- Ginny D.

"Make yourself take a break. Getting some you-time is just as important as taking care of baby." -- Paula S.

Make day and night drastically different

If you want to get something resembling a good night’s sleep in the near future, make it your mission to help baby learn to distinguish day from night. This means exposing her to the noises and, well, daylight, during the day and keeping nighttime about quiet and darkness. When baby wakes at night, make your encounter all business: Feed her, burp her, change her, and put her back in the crib. Save conversation and playing for daytime.

Let go of perfection

Baby is not going to keep a predictable schedule anytime soon, so don’t expect her to. Instead, follow the tried and true “sleep when baby sleeps” advice. That means forgetting about the sink full of dirty dishes and taking a nap- because you never know when you’ll get your next opportunity. Rest is definitely more important than cleaning.

Start a bedtime routine now

Babies learn quickly about life’s routines and what to expect next, so if you do a feeding, then rock and sing to baby, then put her in the crib (or whatever other routine you like), she’ll gradually learn that this series of events means bedtime. Instead of holding baby until she conks out, put her to bed while she’s drowsy but still awake. That way she’s more likely to equate the bassinet or crib with sleeping then to decide that she wants to sleep (or stay awake) wherever, whenever.

Let baby sleep in your room

Invest in a bassinet or a co-sleeper -- or wheel in the crib -- so baby can sleep by your bedside in he early weeks. Not only does keeping baby in your room (but not in your bed) decrease her risk of SIDS, but it also makes middle-of-the-night feedings less stressful, since you’ll barely have to leave your bed. (If you’re bottle-feeding, consider storing some supplies right in your room).


Keep a mental checklist

It takes a while to get to know your baby, so if she’s crying and you don’t know how to make her stop, don’t freak out. Simply rely on trial and error. First, start with the basics. Could she be hungry or have a dirty diaper? Try feeding or changing her. Once you’ve ruled those out, consider her comfort level. Is she hot? Cold? Does she just need something soothing? Adjust the thermostat or her clothing, hold her close and rock her. It’s okay- and totally normal- not to able to read baby like a book.

Seek help

Frequent crying or fussing can be stressful, but take comfort in knowing the crying itself doesn’t hurt the baby. And because it’s too much to deal with every single cry yourself, remember to accept help from your partner and others as much as possible so you get a break. If you suspect something’s wrong (you’ve got those mom instincts now!), take baby to the pediatrician. She could have a chronic condition, such as reflux, or a protein allergy, both of which are treatable, and babies usually grow out of them -- yay!

Do what works

If there isn’t a medical explanation and the crying happens more than three hours a day, at least three times a week, in the first three months, then your baby can be categorized as “colicky”, which is the case for about 20 percent of babies. If that happens, you’ll want to get extra creative and try out some soothing techniques to see how your baby responds to them. Some popular ones are swaddling, using a pacifier, rocking, white noise and vibrations -- or even driving baby around town. If it works and is safe for your baby, go ahead and do it. The good news: Most colicky babies outgrow it by the time they’re about three months old.

Input & Output

Read Baby’s Signals

So how much are you supposed to feed this baby, anyhow? If you’re nursing, it’s hard to tell, since you won’t have bottles with ounce markings to gauge baby’s input. But luckily, babies seem to know when they’ve had enough. No matter how you’re feeding baby, she should seem content right after eating, and in those early weeks, she’ll probably fall asleep for two or three hours once she’s full. Be careful though -- some babies want to suck on something, whether they’re hungry or not. If sucking on a finger or pacifier calms baby, then she doesn’t need to eat any more.

Do diaper checks

The other indicator that baby is eating enough is her output, so keep an eye on those diapers. Newborns should wet about 8 to 12 diapers each day. As for poop, the number isn’t so straightforward -- your baby could soil 10 diapers a day (especially if you breastfeed), or she could go up to 7 to 10 days without a dirty diaper and be perfectly healthy (as long as she’s not uncomfortable!). Just beware of hard, pellet-like poop; it could be a sign your baby is constipated.

Know your colors

In baby’s first couple of days, she’ll have a black stool known as meconium -- that’s a product of all the stuff she “ate” in utero. After that, an exclusively breastfed baby’s poop is usually yellow and has a seedy look to it. But no matter how you feed baby, her poop could be yellow, brown or green- all of which are totally normal. If it’s red, black (after the first couple days) or white, though, it could mean there’s a problem, so notify you baby’s pediatrician if you see any of those weird colors.

Keep an eye on weight

Baby will likely lose up to 10 percent of her birth weight in the first three to seven days -- that’s totally normal. After that, she should be gaining about half a pound a week. Your pediatrician will help you measure and track her progress and alert you if her weight gain or loss is a cause for concern.

Be flexible

Like we mentioned before, baby doesn’t know how to follow a clock. Sure, there are newborns who are perfectly fine eating every three hours on the dot. If yours is one of those, lucky you! Others might be hungry closer to every two hours, or “cluster feed”, meaning they want what seems like back-to-back feedings. (This tends to be common in the evening, so be prepared.) Seeing how some babies take as long as 45 minutes for a feeding, you might have days where you feel like all you’ve done is feed your baby. That’s totally normal. And on those days, remember: That’s a very important thing to have accomplished!

Keeping baby healthy

Avoid large crowds

Newborns’ immune systems have a lot of developing to do, so something as run-of-the-mill as a fever could land them in the ER. That’s why you’ll probably want to avoid letting baby get passed around a crowded room of people you barely know. That doesn’t mean that you have to be antisocial, though. In the first weeks, a better idea than going to a party might be to have family and friends come see you in small groups or individually. Ask anyone who’ll hold the baby to wash their hands first, and politely ask sick people to wait to visit.

Use your best judgment

So when is it okay to take baby out? Every new mom and pediatrician thinks something different, so you’ll have to talk to baby’s doc and decide for yourself what’s best for your family. If you’re feeling cooped up and the weather’s nice, it’s probably just fine to take baby out for a fresh air and a walk in the neighborhood. Pick a restaurant with alfresco dining or somewhere not-so-crowded with lots of open air. Try to shield baby from strangers who might try to touch her or get close (you never know what some people will do!). Pulling down the stroller shade, draping a receiving blanket over the car seat or donning a nursing cover while wearing her in a carrier can signal to them to keep their distance.

Get immunizations

You, your partner, and anyone else who’ll care for baby should make sure they’re up to date on vaccinations. Particularly important are the Tdap vaccine, which helps prevent whooping cough, and the seasonal flu vaccine. If baby’s inner circle isn’t sick, she’s much less likely to catch something. Baby will get her first set of shots around her two-month birthday, which will give her immune system a bit of a boost against some communicable diseases. After six months, she should be able to get a flu shot.

The Bump Expert: Cheryl Wu, MD, pediatrician at LaGuardia Place Pediatrics In New York City

Plus, More from The Bump:

Weird (But Totally Normal) Things About Your Newborn

Top 10 New-Mom Fears

Best and Worst Things About Having a Newborn

-- Elena Donovan Mauer

See More: Newborn Basics

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