Caring for a newborn baby is a big responsibility. So here we talk about baby care basics like how to hold your baby, change their nappy and comfort them.
The early days with your new baby can feel overwhelming. Getting to know and care for your little one is a steep learning curve. So here we share tips for caring for your newborn, to help your confidence grow as a new parent.
You’ll find plenty of baby care information and support available, from articles about everyday baby care to classes like NCT Early Days. Classes can give you the chance to meet other new parents in your area. You can also call support lines like ours on 0300 330 0700 if you have any questions or concerns about newborn care.
Watch our video to find out more about looking after yourself and your baby
Ten tips for caring for a newborn baby:
1. Holding your newborn baby safely
Newborn babies often like to be cuddled and need to be held in a safe way that supports their head. Mums should be encouraged to have skin‑to‑skin contact with their babies as soon as possible after the birth (NICE, 2006).
Your baby might be happy snuggled against your chest, where they can hear your heartbeat. They will also enjoy being cradled or supported in your arms or with their head resting against your shoulder.
Some newborn babies like to be swaddled and there is some evidence to suggest swaddling calms infants and helps them sleep (Irving, 2014). See our article about swaddling and how to safely swaddle your baby for more info.
2. Feeding your baby
Newborn babies feed little and often. So you can imagine how feeding your baby will be a major focus. Your baby will probably need to feed at least eight times in 24 hours during the first few weeks (NICE, 2006).
Recognising the early signs your baby is hungry might help them to feed more calmly. Feeding your baby frequently can be tiring, especially when it’s through the night. So it’s important to take care of yourself too and rest when you can.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, take a look at our feeding articles. They contain information on what to expect, where to get support and how to tell if your baby is feeding well. You can also call our feeding support line if you have any concerns.
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the contents of your little one’s nappies as this can help tell you whether they’re drinking enough milk and are healthy.
3. Bathing your baby
If you’d like support with giving your baby their first wash or bath, a midwife at the hospital should be able to show you how. They’ll also show you how to keep your baby's umbilical cord stump clean and dry until it drops off after about a week (NICE, 2014; NHS, 2018a).
There’s no need to rush into giving your baby a bath straight away. You can simply ‘top and tail’ them every day. This means washing their face and bottom. Always check water temperature with your hand first to prevent scalding.
It’s not good to use bath products, cleansing agents or medicated baby wipes on your newborn (NICE, 2014). That’s because their skin is sensitive, so simply using water and cotton wool for washing them is enough in the early days (NHS, 2018a).
As part of your baby’s bedtime routine, you might like to try baby massage. Some babies seem to enjoy this and it's a good way to help them relax before bed. You can learn more about baby massage at an NCT baby massage course.
4. Changing your newborn’s nappy
Changing your baby’s nappy for the first time is a major milestone. Some parents use disposable and others use washable nappies. But whichever you use, you’ll soon know how to put on a nappy. After all, young babies might need nappy changes about 10 to 12 times each day (NHS, 2018b).
5. Keeping your baby warm
Your baby needs to be kept warm, especially outdoors (RCM, 2018). But it’s also important to make sure they don’t get too hot or overheat.
A good rule of thumb is to give your baby one extra layer of clothing than what you’re wearing (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016). For example, if you’re in a t-shirt and jumper, dress them in a vest, sleepsuit and cardigan or jumper.
Remember to remove extra clothing when you come in from outside or go into a warm car, bus or train.
6. Newborn baby healthcare
It’s always a good idea to ask visitors to wash their hands before holding your newborn baby. Don’t worry, they’ll understand you just want to reduce the risk of your baby getting an infection early on.
You’ll also need to ask smokers to smoke outside and to wash their hands thoroughly before holding your little one (NHS, 2018c). You could suggest they wear a jacket while smoking, which they take off before holding your baby.
Keep an eye on your baby’s temperature so they don’t get too hot (or too cold). You can feel their chest or back to check their body temperature. If you’re concerned about your newborn baby’s feeding or health, trust your instincts and contact your GP.
7. Baby safety tips
If you plan to drive home from a hospital or midwife-led unit after your baby’s birth, you’ll need a suitable car seat. Check out our articles about choosing car seats and car seat safety to make sure you have what you need.
Once you’re home and tiredness is setting in, so too might the coffee habit. Just make sure you don’t have hot drinks or boiling water anywhere near your baby. Take care too when you’re tired not to fall asleep on a sofa or chair with your baby (Lullaby Trust, 2018a).
8. Newborn baby sleep
There are a few rules to learn for putting your baby down to sleep. Always place your baby on their back to sleep and follow safe sleeping guidelines (Lullaby Trust, 2018b; NHS, 2018d). You’ll also need to put them in the ‘feet to foot’ position in their cot (NHS, 2018d). For more on sleeping, see our sleep articles.
Some people find it helpful to consider the first three months of their baby’s life as the fourth trimester. The idea is that it’s a transitional period for your baby to adjust to life outside the womb and they need lots of attention to help them through (Ockwell-Smith, 2012).
In the early days, your baby will wake around the clock to feed and to be held and comforted (NHS, 2016). But don’t worry, this won’t last forever. As your little one’s tummy grows and they learn the difference between day and night, they will eventually feed less often and sleep for longer at a time.
For some babies, movement might help them sleep. They might like being carried or they may snooze while moving in a baby carrier, sling or pram. Some parents say white noise, swaddling or holding their baby skin to skin can also help.
Some parents co-sleep with their babies but it’s really important to do so safely – take a look at our co-sleeping article for more info.
9. Soothing a crying baby
To begin with, your newborn baby’s only way of communicating is crying. If your little one is crying it can be helpful to run through a quick checklist:
- Are they hungry or thirsty?
- Do they need a nappy change?
- Are they too hot or too cold?
- Are they tired or overstimulated?
- Could they be ill?
- Do they simply need to be held and comforted?
If your baby is crying continuously, or their cry changes to a high-pitched or an unusual cry, seek medical advice.
If your baby cries a lot but is otherwise healthy, your GP might say they have colic (NHS, 2018). Take a look at our article about how to cope and keep calm with a crying baby. Excessive crying can be tiring and emotionally challenging so try to remember that there is help available and it’s important to seek support.
10. When to get medical help
Trust your instincts. You know your baby well and will know what usual behaviour is for them (NHS, 2017). So if you think your baby is seriously ill, even if there are no obvious symptoms, call your GP, NHS 111, or call 999 in a medical emergency.
Get medical help immediately if:
- your baby has a high temperature that doesn’t decrease with ibuprofen or paracetamol; or if they have a temperature and they’re under eight weeks old
- they’re crying constantly and inconsolably in a way that doesn’t sound normal for them
- their vomit is green
- your baby turns blue or very pale
- their breathing is quick and difficult, or makes a throaty noise
- they are exceptionally hard to wake up, unusually drowsy or confused
- they have glazed eyes and do not focus on anything
- your child is under eight weeks old not feeding or is reluctant to feed
- your baby’s nappies are more dry than normal.
If you’re very concerned about your baby, take them to accident and emergency or call an ambulance if:
- they’re not breathing
- they won’t wake up
- they have a rash that doesn’t fade when you press a glass tumbler against it
- they’re younger than eight weeks old and you’re extremely concerned
- they have a fit and they’ve never had one before
- they have a severe allergic reaction
- your baby has been seriously injured by someone.
This page was last reviewed in October 2018.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and allow you to meet other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016) Tips for dressing your baby. Available from: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Dressing-Your-Newborn.aspx [Accessed 23rd April 2018]
Irving J. (2014) Swaddling: benefits, risks and current advice. Available from: https://www.nursinginpractice.com/article/swaddling-benefits-risks-and-current-advice [Accessed 23rd April 2018]
Lullaby Trust. (2018a) Sharing a room with your baby. Available from: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/room-sharing/ [Accessed 23rd April 2018]
Lullaby Trust. (2018b) The best sleeping position for your baby. Available from: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/sleeping-position/ [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NHS. (2016) Breastfeeding: the first few days. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-first-days/ [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NHS. (2017) Does your child have a serious illness? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/spotting-signs-serious-illness/ [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NHS. (2018a) Washing your baby. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/washing-your-baby/ [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NHS. (2018b) How to change your baby's nappy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/nappies/#how-to-change-a-nappy [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NHS. (2018c) Passive smoking: protect your family and friends. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/passive-smoking-protect-your-family-and-friends/ [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NHS. (2018d) Reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/reducing-risk-cot-death/ [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NHS. (2018e) Colic. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/ [Accessed 8th September 2018]
NICE. (2014) Care of women and their babies after birth. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37/resources/care-of-women-and-their-babies-after-birth-pdf-629528429509 [Accessed 8th September 2018]
Ockwell-Smith S. (2012) The fourth trimester – AKA why your newborn is only happy in your arms. Available from: https://sarahockwell-smith.com/2012/11/04/the-fourth-trimester-aka-why-your-newborn-baby-is-only-happy-in-your-arms/ [Accessed 13th September 2018].
RCM. (2012) Magic of touch. Available from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/sites/default/files/magic_of_touch.pdf [Accessed 8th September 2018]
RCM. (2012) Immediate care of the newborn. Available from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/sites/default/files/Immediate%20Care%20%20of%20the%20Newborn.pdf [Accessed 8th September 2018]