Because each baby is unique is a unique individual, all babies cannot be treated the same way. They are active or placid, tense or easy-going, jolly or subdued by nature—though most babies, like the rest of us, have a combination of traits both pleasing and otherwise. All babies, however, have the same basic need for security and affection. They should be accepted as they are and given a loving, relaxed atmosphere—as well as attention to their physical requirements—in order to develop their full capabilities.
Here are some things you can do to create such an atmosphere:
Be careful about trying to ‘train’ the baby. Most babies fall into good habits with the proper encouragement as far as eating, sleeping and amusing themselves are concerned. Toilet training should not begin before 18 months at the earliest. True, a baby who wants to sleep all day and stay awake all night will require extra patience from you. A fretful baby can drive new parents frantic, especially if he has colic. Try not to let fatigue, resentment, or guilt upset you unduly. Make certain you get some time off, and keep in touch with your doctor or clinic for advice.
Avoiding Needless Worry
Don’t worry about your baby’s being fragile. He is not. The soft spot, or fontanel, on top of his head is safe to touch and wash; the membrane covering it is quite tough. The odd shape of the newborn’s head will soon improve, as will the loose, ‘cottony’ look of his skin as he fattens up.
The baby’s navel may have a raw spot on it when the stump of the umbilical cord first drops off; it should be kept dry and gently cleaned with soft cotton and alcohol. Notify your doctor only if the area becomes swollen or red. A slight puffiness or enlargement of the breast or genitals, in both boy and girl babies, is normal in the first week or two. A girl may also have a slight discharge from the vagina and may even pass a small amount of vaginal blood. Mild inflammation of the eyes in the first days (caused by the medication given in the hospital to prevent infection) will also disappear in a short time.
Nor is your baby fragile emotionally. He or she will not be warped for life if you are human enough to be occasionally preoccupied, irritable, or over-attentive. It is his basic security that counts.
A baby needs a father as well as a mother. Although the mother is usually considered the most important figure in the infant’s life, today’s father plays an increasingly active role. Contemporary fathers often attend child-rearing classes, are present during childbirth, and take part in the baby’s daily care. Some fathers, however, still feel wary of small babies. It may take tact and time to persuade the father that caring for a baby is not ‘unmasculine’ but a natural part of parenthood. It is worth the effort, however, to insure that the relationship between father and baby is close and easy from the beginning—especially in a time when many mothers go to work.
Calling the Doctor
If you think your baby is sick, call your doctor or clinic immediately. Do not delay simply because you’re not sure what is wrong—parents are not expected to be expert diagnosticians. Your best guide is your own feelings. If he looks sick or acts sick—if he is feverish or unusually cold, if he is abnormally restless or listless or loses his appetite, if he has difficulty breathing or has prolonged vomiting or diarrhea—call! Take the time to make a list of all your questions beforehand, and write down the instructions the doctor gives you.
Do not give your baby any medicine or treatment on your own or try to force him to eat. If he is not vomiting or having diarrhea, let him have his milk as usual. If he is, try to get him to take a little boiled water frequently, unless he vomits it; in that case, wait an hour or two before trying again. Keep him quiet and let him sleep as much as possible. Do not let him cry if rocking or some similar motion will help soothe him.
A healthy baby does not need heavier clothing than anyone else in the family. He will be far more comfortable in his gown or stretch suit (add a sweater in cold house) when he is out of bed. Avoid uncomfortable fancy clothes. If he wears a cap, it should be a light knitted one so that he can breathe if it slips over his nose, and it must not have the kind of drawstring that can accidentally tighten under his chin. Never put a pillow in his bed or carriage. In general, the house temperature should be about 20°C to 22°C in the daytime and can be kept at 15°C at night if the baby is wearing a warm sleeper.
Let the baby sleep on his stomach most of the time; it is the safest position in case he spits up. If he always turns his head in a certain direction, face him first one way in the crib, then the other so that his head won’t flatten on one side. Incidentally, when the baby is asleep is a good time to clip his nails. Get nail scissors designed for babies. In general, do not make any special effort to keep the house quiet while the baby sleeps. Most babies can get used to an ordinarily noise house as easily as a quiet one.
Change his diapers as soon as possible when they are soiled; when they are wet, change them if she fusses or if you are picking her up anyway. Get all traces of the bowel movement off her skin, especially in the creases. Baby lotion and cotton balls, or pre-moistened wipes designed for babies, can be used to clean his bottom. (Wipe back, away from the genitals, especially with a female infant.) If the baby’s navel is not yet healed, fold the diapers below it so that the navel stays dry.
In case of diaper rash (red pimples and rough, red patches), you may need to wash the skin gently after each change. Ask your doctor to recommend a good, protective diaper-rash ointment. If the rash persists, discontinue plastic-covered disposable diapers or waterproof pants until it clears up. If it still does not heal or you suspect infection, call your doctor. He may suggest that you leave the diaper area uncovered for several hours each day.
Shake soiled diapers into the toilet before you put them in a covered pail of water; you can add some mild laundry soap to the water for soaking. If you launder the diapers, wash them in a very hot water with mild soap and rinse them thoroughly; dry them outdoors or in a dryer.
A baby’s normal bowel movements often seem quite loose and odd-looking to first time parents. Young babies usually have between one and six bowel movements a day. Breast-fed babies have a light yellow or greenish-yellow stool which may be watery. Babies usually pass their stool quite easily, even if they move their bowels relatively seldom. Bottle-fed babies tend to have a pastier, moist movement which is yellow or brownish.
For prickly heat (tiny pimples that usually start around the neck in hot weather) you can rub on a little talcum powder. Never shake any powder over a baby; he may inhale it. Put a little in your hand (away from his face) and then rub it on the skin. Do not be afraid to keep the baby lightly dressed in very hot weather.
Handling the Baby
When you pick your baby up, support his head as well as his body. When you carry him, hold him with his head leaning over your shoulder a little so that it will not bob backward. He will need this kind of support until he is about three months old when he can hold up his head by himself.
Some fresh, cool air is good for him. By the time he weighs 3kg, he can go out when the temperature is 15°C or above, and a 4kg baby can stay out about two hours if it is above freezing and the wind is not too strong. Larger babies can go out in even colder weather if they are kept in a sunny, sheltered spot.
Every baby is bound to be exposed to some germs but do not expose yours unnecessarily. There should be no kissing from visitors and no contact with older children who have colds, sore throats, or contagious diseases of any kind. If you have a cold, buy some disposable sterile masks to cover your nose and mouth while you tend the baby, even one with only a cold, is a worry to everyone, the doctor included.
Observe safety rules carefully. Never leave any baby, however small or placid, alone for a second on a changing table, chair, or bed, or in the bath. If you must answer the door or phone, pick him up and hold him or put him in his crib or playpen. Do not leave babies alone with young children; they may be feeling jealous or experimental. Do not leave anything around that the baby might swallow. Beware, especially, of open pins or other small objects on the changing table or around the bath.
He may choke on one of them. If he swallows a small, smooth object that goes down easily, tell your doctor; but such things often pass readily through a baby. An open pin or other sharp object can be quite dangerous, so take him to a doctor or hospital immediately if he swallows one. Do not hang toys or other objects from strings inside the crib or playpen; the baby could get tangled up in them
Sources and References
Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia
Mother-Newborn Couplet Care from Theory to Practice to Ensure Zero Separation for All Newborns by Stina Klemming, Siri Lillieskold and Bjorn Westrup
Involving men to Improve Maternal and Newborn Health: A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Interventions by Mariam Tokhi et al