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Babycare tips: how to look after a newborn

A newborn baby is a big responsibility. Here are tips on babycare regarding safety, changing a nappy, holding a baby, feeding, bathing and umbilical cord care.

The early days with your baby can be a steep learning curve as you get to grips with looking after them and your new life as a family. It can feel scary, exciting, tiring and perfect all at the same time. Your baby will change day-by-day and you will feel more confident as you get to know them.

The good news is there is plenty of baby care information and support for you as a new parent. For example, NCT runs Early Days postnatal groups which are designed to help you feel confident about life with your new baby and meet other new parents in your area. You can also call our helpline on 0300 330 0700 if you have any questions or concerns about newborn care.

Here we look at some of the basics of caring for your baby.

Feeding your baby

Feed your baby will be a major focus in the early days and weeks, especially as newborns need to feed frequently. Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, take a look at our Feeding section for information on what to expect, where to get support and how to tell if your baby is thriving.

Holding a baby

Newborns don't have strong necks, so they need to be held in a way that supports their head. Your newborn may be very happy snuggled against your chest, where they can hear your heartbeat, supported in your arms or with their head against your shoulder.

Newborns generally like to be swaddled and might appear to be startled by the free movement of their arms and legs at first. Read more about swaddling in our article here.

Keeping your baby clean

If you're nervous about washing your baby, don't worry, you don’t have to bath them every day – once a week is enough. Some babies love their bath straight away, and it may help them to sleep. But if yours doesn’t, just ‘top and tail’ her every day - that is wash her face and bottom. The midwife at the hospital will show you how to do this, or ask your health visitor.

They’ll also show you how to keep your baby's cord stump clean. If they don’t – feel free to ask them.

For more information about umbilical cord care see 'Life with your newborn' and 'Parenting 0-3 months'.

As part of your bathtime routine, you might like to massage your baby afterwards. Many babies enjoy this and it's a lovely way to bond with them.

Changing a nappy

Whether you decide to use disposables or washables, you'll quickly learn how to put on a nappy and check that your baby is doing a healthy amount of poo and wee. Your midwife or antenatal teacher (if you do an antenatal course) will be able to show you how to put on a nappy - and you can always practise on a teddy or doll. For more about what to expect in your baby's nappy, including making sure your baby is producing enough wet and soiled nappies, read our article here.

Keeping your baby warm

Your baby needs to be kept warmly dressed, especially out of doors, but make sure they don’t get too hot. Here are some guidelines:

  • Remove extra clothing when you come in from outside or go into a warm car, bus or train.
  • New babies usually hate being undressed, so keep their outfits simple.
  • All they need in the first few weeks are a vest and sleep suit (with a cardigan or shawl and hat, mittens and bootees, plus blankets when you go outdoors in winter).
  • A good rule is to give one extra layer of clothing than you’re wearing. i.e. If you’re in a T-shirt and sweater, give her a vest, sleepsuit and cardigan.
  • In the summer, if it’s very hot, she’ll probably be fine in a vest, nappy and pair of socks.
     

Baby safety

  • Don’t let your baby get too hot (or too cold). Feel their chest or back to check their temperature.
  • Don’t let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby.
  • Be very careful not to have hot drinks or boiling water anywhere near your child.
  • Don’t fall asleep on a sofa with your baby.
  • Place your child on its back to sleep.
  • If they are in a cot, put them in the ‘feet to foot’ position, with their feet touching the bottom of the cot so they don't wriggle down under the bedclothes and overheat.
  • You'll need a car seat suitable for a newborn if you plan to drive home from a hospital or midwife-led unit after birth.
     

When to call the GP

You should contact your doctor immediately if:

  • You think your baby is ill, even if there are no obvious symptoms.
  • She turns blue or very pale.
  • Her breathing is quick and difficult, or grunting.
  • She is exceptionally hard to wake or unusually drowsy or does not seem to know you.
  • She has glazed eyes and does not focus on anything.
  • You see any sign of bruising or bleeding.
  • Your child is not feeding or is reluctant to feed.
  • She has a rash that doesn’t fade when you press a glass tumbler against it.

You can call NHS direct on 0845 4647 (open 24 hours) if you think your newborn might be ill and want to speak to a nurse. If you are concerned about anything, ask your midwife, GP or health visitor for advice.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 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.

NHS Direct symptom checker (recommended for infants over 12 months, so parents of babies should call NHS direct on 0845 4647)

NHS Choices Birth to five

NHS Choices Safety for Under-fives

See also Start4Life campaign