Your newborn care questions, answered
Written by: Laura Baginski
As an expecting parent, you are rightfully overwhelmed with all that's ahead for you when your little one greets the world. This tiny creature will depend on you for everything, and you want to be prepared to do the best for her, right?
Dr. Rebecca Unger, a pediatrician at Northwestern Children's Practice, answers some pressing questions about newborn care below, and she'll be leading a workshop about baby basics at NPN's Preparing for Parenthood: Workshops and Expo on Feb. 20 at Erikson Institute. Register today to learn more from Dr. Unger, as well as from experts on CPR, car seat safety, baby gear, infant sleep and more!
What are some things that happen in the first month of a newborn’s life that many parents are unprepared for?
Newborn babies do not come with an owner’s manual, so it is common to feel unprepared for what you experience during your first month as a new parent. Since older babies often have predictable feeding and sleeping schedules, one of the things that many parents are unprepared for is the unpredictable rhythm of newborn life. Newborns have patterns that can help provide some structure, but there is no such thing as a schedule to the day (or night) until a baby is several months old. Add parental fatigue to the mix and it can be overwhelming to make sense of how to know how to meet your baby’s needs. Once you learn that the best way to figure that out is to trust your instincts, along with depending on your pediatrician and trusted friends and relatives for information and support, you will grow to have more confidence and understanding about meeting your baby’s needs. Luckily it is a very steep learning curve!
What are some things that parents overprepare for?
Depending on the parenting style, some parents will read and read and read about caring for a newborn. Although it can be helpful to read ahead of time about how to feed, bathe, diaper, and sleep train your baby, you will learn all of those skills very quickly when you have your baby in your arms, regardless of what parenting resources you have already studied.
What are the most common behaviors or concerning symptoms that you should look for in your infant in the first week home?
Right from the start, babies have unique personality traits. Your baby might be quiet, calm and watching everything around her or she might be active, intense and fussy. All of these temperament traits are normal. You will learn to respond to your baby’s personality traits and know when and how to meet her needs.
Newborn babies can see close faces, large shapes and bright colors. Vision develops rapidly over the first year. Babies have a social smile by 6-8 weeks and even before that they will pay attention to your smile and facial expressions, your voice and being held. Within a few months, babies may even imitate and engage in your facial expressions.
Babies can have irregular breathing patterns, active startle reflexes and fussy times, all of which are normal. Concerning symptoms would be excessive crying or inconsolability, lethargy that results in poor feeding, lack of eye contact, significant vomiting and lack of urine output.
What are the most common questions you get from new parents?
1) How do I know if my baby is hungry? 2) How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat? 3) How do I know when my baby is ready for sleep? 4) When can I go outside with my baby? 5) When can I travel with my baby? 6) How often should I bathe my baby? 7) How warmly do I dress my baby? 8) Can I use a pacifier?
Answers: 1) Feed your baby every 2-4 hours, as a general guideline. Healthy babies can feed on demand—they are the boss! 2) If your baby makes at least four wet diapers/day he is getting enough to eat. 3) Your baby should sleep frequently—the sleep pattern should be up a little, down a little. Remember that sleep begets sleep so a well rested baby will sleep better than an overtired baby. Sleeping well at night will promote sleeping well in the daytime, and vice versa. 4) You can go outside with your newborn baby anytime, as long as the weather outside is not too frightful for you. 5) You can travel anytime with your baby. There are no restrictions, however once your baby is older than 6-8 weeks of age, there is less concern about development of fever. 6) You can bathe your baby as often as you like but often babies are bathed several times/week. 7) You should dress your baby as warmly as you dress yourself. 8) You can use a pacifier anytime. If you are breastfeeding and have some problems, you might want to wait until breastfeeding is going well.
Dr. Unger has been working with the Northwestern Children’s Practice for over two decades. She also works at Lurie Children’s Hospital as an attending pediatrician in the Lurie Wellness and Weight Management Clinic. Dr. Unger has enjoyed raising her children, Emily and Joey, and learning from both of them every step of the way.