The wait is over. Your baby – the little person you’ve been eagerly expecting for nine months – is finally here. As you hold this tiny warm bundle for the first time, you’re bound to be flooded by a thousand and one emotions, running the confusing gamut from excitement and exhilaration to apprehension and self-doubt. And, especially if you’re a first-time parent, you’re also likely to be overwhelmed by (at least) a thousand and one questions. Why is her head such a funny shape? Why does he have acne already? Why can’t I get her to stay awake long enough to breastfeed? Why won’t he stop crying?
As you search around for the operating instructions (don’t babies come with them?), here’s something you need to know: yes, you’ve got a lot of learn (after all, nobody’s born knowing how to care for an umbilical stump or massage a clogged tear duct), but give yourself half a chance, and you’ll be surprised to find how much of this parenting thing actually comes naturally. So find the answers to your questions in the chapters that follow, but as you do, don’t forget to tap into your most valuable resource of all – your own instincts.
The old adage ‘Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ears’ is advocated not only by grandmothers but also by modern medical authorities as well. They agree that putting anything in the ear that fits – whether it’s a coin inserted by a curious toddler or a cotton swab inserted by a well-meaning parent – is dangerous. Do wipe your baby’s outer ears with a flannel or cotton wool ball, but don’t try to venture unto the ear canal itself with swabs, fingers or anything else. The ear is naturally self-cleaning, and trying to remove wax by probing may only force it further into the ear. If wax seems to be accumulating, ask the doctor about it at the next visit.
Although trimming a newborn’s tiny fingernails may make most new parents uneasy, it’s a job that must be done. Little hands with little control and long fingernails can do a lot of damage, usually in the form of scratches on his or her own face.
An infantís mail are often overgrown at birth (it’s hard to get a trim in utero) and so soft that cutting through them is nearly as easy as cutting through a piece of paper. Getting your baby to hold still for the procedure, however, won’t be so easy. Cutting a baby’s nails while he or she is sleeping may work if you’ve got a sound sleeper or if you don’t mind waking him or her. When baby’s wake, it’s best to trim the nails with the help of an assistant who can hold each hand as you cut. Always use a special baby nail scissor or baby nail clipper which has rounded tips – if baby starts to bolt at the wrong moment, no one will be jabbed with a sharp point. To avoid nipping the skin as you clop the nail, press the finger pad down and out of the way as you cut. Even with this precaution you may, however, occasionally draw blood – most parents do at one time or another. If you do, apply pressure with a sterile gauze pad until bleeding stops; a plaster probably won’t .be needed.
As with the inside of the ears, the inside of the nose is self-cleaning and needs no special carte. If there is a discharge, wipe the outside, but do not use cotton swabs, twisted tissues or your fingernail to try to remove material from inside the nose – you may only push the matter back farther into the nose, or even scratch delicate membranes. If baby has a lot of mucus due to a cold, suction it out with an infant nasal aspirator.
At birth, the foreskin (the continuous layer of a skin that cover the penis) is firmly attached to the glans (the rounded end of the penis). Over time in an uncircumcised penis, foreskin and glans begin to separate, as cells are shed from the surface of each layer. The discarded cells, which are replaced throughout life, accumulate as whitish, cheesy ‘pearls’ that gradually work their way out via the tip of the foreskin.
The safest way to place your baby down to sleep is on his or her back, Babies placed on their stomachs to sleep are at greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The incidence of SIDS is highest in the first six months, although the recommendation of ‘back to sleep’ applies for the whole first year. (Once baby starts rolling over, however, he or she may prefer to sleep on the stomach; still, continue to put your baby down on the back and let him or her decide about flipping.) You should also never place baby on soft bedding (firm mattresses only, with no ‘pillow-top’), or in a cot (or parents’ bed) with pillows, duvets or fluffy blankets, or stuffed animals because of the risk of suffocation.
For some newborns, swaddling is soothing and may reduce crying, especially during colicky periods; other very much dislike the lack of freedom that comes with being wrapped up tightly. Swaddling does not increase the risk of SIDS, as long as baby is placed on the back to sleep and isn’t overheated. In fact, some research is even showing that swaddling may reduce the SIDS risk by keeping babies safely on their backs when they sleep. Here’s how to swaddle:
- Spread a receiving blanket on a cot, a bed or a changing table, with one corner folded down about six inches. Place baby on the blanket diagonally, head above the folded corner.
- Take the corner near baby’s left arm and pull it over the arm and across the baby’s body. Lift the right arm, and tuck the blanket corner under baby’s back on the right side. (If you have a swaddling blanket with Velcro tabs, no tucking is needed.)
- Lift the bottom corner and bring it up over baby’s body, tucking it into the first swathe.
- Lift the last corner, bring it over baby’s right arm, and tuck it in under the back on the left side.
Umbilical Stump Care
The last remnant of a baby’s close attachment to his or her mother in the uterus is the stump of the umbilical cord. It turns black a few days after birth and can be expected to drop off anywhere between one and four weeks later. You can hasten healing and prevent infection by keeping the area dry and exposed to air. The following will help accomplish this:
- When putting on baby’s nappy, fold the front of it down below the navel to keep urine off and let air in. Fold the vest up.
- Skip bath baths and avoid wetting the navel when sponging, until the cord falls off.
- Though it’s been traditional to keep swabbing the stump with alcohol once baby gets home, recent studies shows that healing is faster without continued use of alcohol, and there is no increased risk of infection. Ask your doctor or midwife what he or she recommends. If you do apply alcohol, using a cotton swab will prevent irritation of tender surroundings skin.
- If the area around the navel turns red, or the site oozes or has a foul smell, call the doctor.