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Caring for Your New Baby

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These instructions give you general information on caring for your new baby after you leave the hospital. Your baby’s doctor may give you other instructions. Be sure to ask about anything you don’t understand.

Be sure to make a follow-up appointment for your baby at the doctor’s office.

If you have a current Medical Assistance Card, please call 1-800-KIDS-MED (1-800-543-7633) to learn about free early screening care.

Always wash your hands before caring for your baby.

Umbilical cord care

The umbilical cord should fall off after 1 to 3 weeks. Keep the area around the navel clean and dry. If your baby’s doctor tells you to use rubbing alcohol on the cord, put rubbing alcohol on the base of the cord 3 or 4 times each day. Use a cotton ball or cotton swab like a Q-tip. Call your baby’s doctor right away if the skin around the cord becomes red, warm, and tender.

Diaper changes

Your baby should have 6 to 8 wet diapers each day (breast fed babies may not have 6 to 8 until they are 5 days old). Some babies have a bowel movement after each feeding. Others only have a bowel movement every other day. Some may have 1 every 3 days. Call your baby’s doctor if the stools are very hard or very watery.


Burping helps a baby bring up swallowed air. Most babies burp half way through each feeding. If you are breast feeding, burp the baby when you switch breasts. Your baby may need to be burped if he or she cries during feeding or right after feeding.
To burp your baby, hold the baby against your chest. Be sure to support the baby’s head and neck. Protect your clothing with a towel or burping cloth. Gently pat or rub his or her back.

Ask your doctor how often to burp your baby.

Safe crib

At night and for naps, a healthy, full-term newborn should be placed in a crib with sides or slats. Make sure the mattress is firm and fits tightly in the crib. Crib slats should be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. That way, a baby’s head can not become trapped between the slats. Never put pillows, heavy blankets, or stuffed animals in bed with a new baby. Never put live animals (like cats or dogs) in bed with a newborn.

Back to sleep

Babies should be placed on their backs in a safe crib to sleep at night and for naps. Parents have been following this advice for the last several years. People used to think that babies sleeping on their backs would be more likely to choke on vomit. This is not true. Because of “Back to Sleep,” the number of babies who die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has been greatly reduced.

Other ways to reduce the risk of SIDS:

  • Have baby sleep in his or her own crib, bassinet, or cradle in your room.
  • Keep the crib free of soft bedding and plush toys.
  • Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bed time (after 1 month of age if you are breast feeding).

It is important for your baby to spend some time on his or her tummy to develop head control and upper body muscle strength. Sit on the floor with your baby and let baby have some "Tummy Time" while you play together. As long as you are watching your baby, you may place your baby on his or her tummy while he or she is awake.

Your baby’s doctor may give you other instructions. Call your baby’s doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Calming a crying baby

All babies cry a lot during the first few months of their lives. Crying is a baby’s only way to let you know that he or she is hungry, wet, tired, not feeling well, or even bored. Feeding or changing the baby may help. There are many other ways to calm a crying baby:

  • Rock your baby gently.
  • Walk with your baby snuggled against your chest.
  • Sing to your baby or put on soft music.
  • Take your baby for a ride in the stroller or the car.
  • Gently hold your baby in different positions.
  • Talk softly to your baby.

If all your attempts to calm the baby fail, and you are very frustrated, place the baby safely in the crib. Close the door and go to another room. It may help to call a family member or a friend. You can also call the Family Resource Warmline for support and advice: 1-877-WARMLYN (1-877-927-6596).

Never shake or toss your baby. This may cause serious injuries, like brain damage, eye damage, injury to the spine, or mental retardation.


All babies

Give your baby sponge baths until the cord falls off and the belly button heals. Use lukewarm water and a mild soap or shampoo to bathe your baby. Do not use any powders. Do not clean your baby’s ears or nose with cotton swabs.

Do not use cotton swabs or special cleaning fluids to clean your baby’s genital area. Call your baby’s doctor or nurse if your baby seems to have difficulty or discomfort while urinating or the stream of urine is just a trickle.


Clean the genital area daily. Wash with gentle soap and water from front to back.

Uncircumcised boys

Wash with gentle soap and warm water. Wash the head of the penis and the inside fold of the foreskin. There is no need to pull back the foreskin and clean under it.

Circumcised boys

Your doctor will tell you how to care for your baby after his circumcision. Be sure to ask your doctor about anything you don’t understand.

The penis may have a bandage or a plastic ring on it for protection. Use petroleum jelly to keep the bandage from sticking to the diaper. The plastic ring usually drops off after 5 to 8 days.

It is normal for the penis to have a little yellow discharge or coating around the tip. This discharge should not last longer than a week. It takes 7 to 10 days for the penis to fully heal after circumcision.

Call your baby’s doctor if the penis keeps bleeding. Also call if there is redness or swelling around the tip of the penis that gets worse after 3 to 5 days.

Taking baby out

Your baby does not need any more clothing than you do. Be sure to keep your baby away from drafts and too much wind. Use a hat when out in the sun, cold, or wind.

Do not take your baby into crowded places. Do not take your baby near anyone with a cold, sore throat, or other infection or illness. A baby is not strong enough to handle many common illnesses.

When to call the doctor

Call your baby’s doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • Has a temperature of 100.4 F (38.0 C) or higher when taken under the arm
  • Has a temperature lower than 97 F (36.1 C)
  • Vomits after each feeding
  • Refuses to eat for more than 2 or 3 feedings in a row
  • Has 6 or more large, watery bowel movements in a day. Breast-fed babies may have very soft bowel movements.
  • Is less active, sleeps all the time, or is hard to wake
  • Is very fussy
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