This postpartum survival guide culls our favorite experts' tried-and-true tips about how to make the best of this challenging rite of passage.
Here's what you'll need to know:
At the hospital, your baby is examined by the pediatrician, who will explain to you any obvious curiosities (for example, birthmarks or a pointy head shape). After you get home, however, your baby may produce some unexpected sights and sounds; most are normal.
The Umbilical Cord
The stump of the cord may seem very black and unwieldy for such a tiny infant. This is OK; it will disengage within three weeks. Until then, keep it clean (fold diapers down clear of it) and dry (give Baby sponge baths only until it falls off).
The Spit Up
Not to worry, just keep lots of cloth diapers at the ready. Two effective ways to diminish returns, offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Caring for Your Baby and Young Child (Bantam Books) are to burp your baby every three to five minutes during feedings, and to place the baby in an upright position in an infant seat or stroller right after feeding her. Or just do what comes naturally: Hold her.
In the very beginning, Baby's poop is blackish green, and then it approximates certain shades of green, yellow or brown, and it can be runny, pasty, seedy or curdy. Unsettling as this may be, it's all normal. An early breastfeeding bonus: Baby's poop usually doesn't smell at all.
RELATED: Baby Poop: What's Normal?
You won't believe how you'll crane to hear your baby respire. Any fewer than 60 breaths per minute is normal, as are pauses of about six seconds, according to Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., in Your Child's Health. Take note of any wheezing or rapid breathing, since this could indicate a respiratory problem.
Bathing a newborn can be a challenge. You can either do this by holding her in a big bowl or plastic tub or by wetting a washcloth and washing her on her changing table. Here are some other tips: Baby needs a full bath only about once or twice a week, but she needs to be "topped and tailed" (a term from child development expert and author Penelope Leach) every day. This means washing the baby's head, face and bottom.
Make sure she's been fed (but not right before the bath), that the room is warm and that you have everything at the ready (you can't leave her for even a nanosecond).
Shampoo the scalp first (only once or twice a week), shielding the water from Baby's eyes. Supporting her head, start washing Baby from the top down, using soft cloth and tap water or mild baby soap. Moving down, be sure to get in all those nooks and crannies. Be sure to wash her face well. Left around the mouth, milk and spit-up may cause a rash. Wash eyelids and under the chin. Rinse baby well and pat her dry with a towel.
Since their tiny tummies cannot hold much milk, newborns must be fed often, which is one reason they wake so frequently. Still, you can begin the process of getting the whole household on the same schedule.
“Keep night feedings as sleepy and brief as possible," Leach also suggests. "When he cries, go to him immediately so he has no time to get into a wakeful misery. Don't play or talk while you feed him." Bring him to bed with you if you want to fall back to sleep quickly.
Newborns often sleep for four hours at a stretch and a total of 16 hours or more a day. As for how quiet the house should be while Baby sleeps, Leach says the following:
"A sleeping baby need not mean a hushed household. Ordinary sounds and activities will not disturb him at this early age. However, if everybody creeps about and talks in whispers while he is asleep, there may come a time when he cannot sleep unless they do. It is therefore important to let him sleep through whatever sound level is normal for your household so that he does not come to expect a quietness that will make all your lives misery."
RELATED: How to Swaddle a Baby
Crying is the only means an infant has to communicate. Your quandary: What is she telling you?
Check her out. Is she hungry? Too cold or hot? Is her bedding or clothing tangled? Is her diaper dirty? Are the lights too bright, noises too loud? Is a burping in order? Is she ill?
If you've run this gauntlet and put things right and she's still inconsolable:
All babies have their fussy period during the day (for many it's between 6 and 10 p.m.); at a certain point there is nothing you can do. Although trying to calm a distressed infant can be exasperating, always respond to the cry. "You cannot spoil a young baby by giving him attention; and if you answer his calls for help, he'll cry less overall," suggests the AAP.
The physical recovery from giving birth, along with sleep deprivation, can conspire to make big dents in your maternal self-esteem. Particularly for a new mother who has previously spent years being independent, the realization that you are responsible for another human so dependent on you can throw you for a loop. To help you get through this period, you owe it to yourself to...
You may be vulnerable to uninvited advice as well as the most well-intentioned misguided comments of friends and family. If someone doesn't approve of your mothering techniques, Leach suggests lending him or her a parenting book that supports your philosophy (then soliciting a discussion about the differences in your opinions).
The first six weeks can be a real trial. You and your baby are getting to know each other, and you and your partner are adjusting to your new roles. Hold on to the thought that right around that six-week mark you will be rewarded with one of the most gratifying milestones in your entire parental career--your baby will beam a genuine smile at you. Yes!