Learning Baby Basics

Much of childrearing know-how is picked up on the job. Here are some tips on burping, bathing, and diapering your newborn.
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Erin Patrice O'Brien

  • Burping. All babies need to burp halfway through and again at the end of each feeding. Burping allows excess air, swallowed during sucking, to escape. If air is left in the stomach, the baby will fill up sooner, taking in less at each feeding. There are three positions in which you can burp your baby: with her looking over your shoulder, facedown on your lap, or sitting up. Try them all to see which works best for you. Supporting your baby with one hand, use the other to firmly to pat or rub her back. If you decide to burp your baby in the sitting position, lean her forward, and support her head with your hand.
  • Diapering. Until your baby is a month old, don't use packaged wipes, which can irritate sensitive skin. Instead, use cotton balls or a washcloth soaked in warm water for cleaning, and a dry washcloth or towel for drying. Skip the lotions and powders (lotions can be irritating to newborn skin; talcum powder is carcinogenic and can be dangerous if inhaled by babies). Use cornstarch powder if necessary to keep baby drier in warm weather (still being careful to keep powder away from her face so it is not inhaled) and ointments only if your infant has a diaper rash. There is no need to clean your baby at all if his diaper is simply wet; if it's dirty, clean thoroughly, always wiping from front to back (away from the genital area) for hygienic reasons.
  • Cord care. For the first week or two, until your baby's umbilical corn stump dries up and falls off, you shouldn't bathe her in a tub. A quick sponge bath every few days is all that is necessary. And many doctors advise using only water on newborn skin. Keep the umbilical stump dry and exposed to the air when possible during the day, and swab it with rubbing alcohol at each diaper change to hasten drying and keep it clean. If the area around the navel turns red or the stump begins to ooze, consult your doctor.
  • Skin. Many newborns develop little white pimples called milia on their nose and chin, caused by the clogging of immature oil glands. Within a few weeks, these whiteheads disappear on their own-there is no need to squeeze of scrub. Babies may also develop infant acne, caused by their mother's hormones, which are still circulating in their bodies. The only treatment necessary is to wash the area with water two or three times a day and pat dry. The pimples should clear within a few months and leave no lasting marks.
  • Sleeping. Beginning on your first day home, place your baby on his back in his crib or cradle when he's drowsy but still awake. This way, he will learn to drop off without your help. Don't worry if he doesn't fall asleep right away. If he starts to cry, you can rock him, but once he's calm, place him back in the crib-before he falls asleep. When he wakes for his middle-of-the-night feedings, keep the lights low and the feedings quick and businesslike. If you make it too enjoyable, you might encourage more frequent nighttime feedings. If it's too stimulating, he'll have trouble falling back to sleep.

Tools For Learning

Crib mobiles
Hang a mobile 8 to 14 inches away from your baby's eyes and let her watch it twirl. Since she can't see colors yet, black-and-white designs will be the most stimulating choices right now. Most newborns also respond best to bold, geometric patterns, such as bull's-eyes, stripes, checkerboards, and simple faces. Crib toys don't necessarily have to move to be stimulating to your baby; a stationary mobile (which is called a stabile) will work just as well.

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