Many first-time parents experience a surge of fear when they’re discharged from the hospital and sent into the world with a brand-new baby. No matter how much you prepare, nothing can get you ready for the realization that you’re suddenly in charge—and woefully unqualified for the full-time job. The truth is: Babies are both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world to take care of. But like millions of parents and caregivers before you, you’ll figure it out. Here’s what you need to do for proper baby care.
Your baby will come out of the gate ready to eat. If you’re breastfeeding, go ahead and give it a try in the delivery room. An early start will decrease your odds of experiencing nursing woes down the road. From there, you’ll be on feeding duty around the clock (and may sometimes feel like a human pacifier). “Generally, breastfed babies need to eat every hour and a half to two hours since breast milk empties out of the belly quickly,” says Mary Ellen Renna, MD, pediatrician in New York City and active Fellow of The American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP).
Nursing is not always an effortless endeavor, so prepare yourself for the task ahead of time by researching the process and potential pitfalls and lining up a lactation consultant. Although you’re equipped with all you need (your breasts), there are a few things you can grab before baby arrives to make your life easier, such as a nursing pillow, a few supportive nursing bras, a breast pump (you’re likely eligible for one through the Affordable Care Act) and some ointment for sore or chapped nipples.
Newborns who are formula feeding will have about three to four hours between feedings (instead of one to two). But, Renna notes, “Each infant has different needs, so check with your pediatrician to ensure the right feeding schedule for your baby.”
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When choosing a formula, whether as a supplement to breast milk or as baby’s sole food source, Renna suggests parents start with a cow’s milk-based option. “Look for an infant formula with omega-3 DHA and omega-6 ARA fatty acids. Iron fortification is also important,” she says, adding that prebiotic fiber and lutein are pluses.
Although you’ll be waking up your baby to feed through the night at first (or, more likely, he’ll be waking you), this won’t last forever. Renna explains that most babies lose weight after birth, but begin to gain it back as feeding is established. Most return to their birth weight by 2 weeks of age. Once this happens, you can stop setting your alarm for night meals. However, keep waking baby for feedings during the day, advises Renna, to help him sort out day and night.
As baby feeds, air can get trapped in the gastrointestinal system, which can cause discomfort if it isn’t dispelled. Burping baby before switching breasts (or after a few ounces of formula) can help. Hold baby upright on your shoulder or on his stomach across your lap, and gently but firmly rub or pat his back to encourage a good belch. (If your baby isn’t a big burper, don’t stress. All little guys operate a bit differently, and some won’t require it.)
Spit-up is common, but if your baby is spitting up a large amount after every meal and you’re worried he isn’t ingesting enough to gain weight and thrive, give your doctor a call.