When a baby is born, the only way it can communicate is through crying and touch, the only way a mother can communicate with a baby is with touch, her facial expressions and tone of voice. It’s important to hold your baby firmly, to let them know they are safe and secure, and show them with your voice, touch, and happy expressions when holding them, that you love them.
There are also a few physical things to watch out for with a newborn baby to reduce risk of infection or illness.
In that magic hour after birth, you can start breastfeeding and develop your breastfeeding relationship. There may be times when this is not enough fluid if its a hot day, so you can give your baby water in a sterile eye dropper or spoon, once it has been boiled. You can tell if your baby needs more fluids by checking its fontanel - if it’s depressed, it may need more water to replenish its fluids.
After you give birth your midwife should provide you with support in breastfeeding and check that the baby is latching on well. Make sure that it is a deep latch with the nipple towards the back of the baby’s palate. Some babies will want to feed straight away and others will take a while. You may need to hold your breast, pinching the nipple so that it stands out more. Holding your baby so that the head and body face yours and stroking its lips with your nipple can coax it to feed. If your nipples are sore beyond a few days, or get cracked or bleed, this is not normal and you should get breastfeeding support. Once your milk comes in and your breasts get full and heavy, your baby’s nuzzling will cause a let down reflex, making the milk flow out.
After your baby finishes feeding you might need to burp it by holding it against your chest and patting its back, or sitting it up straight with your hands supporting its head. This will help them sleep better after feeding. Baby might also spit up, with milk coming out and drooling over it very gently. This is different to throwing up, which is more projectile. If this happens often, talk to your midwife or doctor. If the baby starts to gag then sit it up immediately and see if that helps, if its still choking, put the head lower than the body and give the baby a small whack on the back. You can wash your finger and put it down the throat to check for any foreign object and pull it out. In some instances, baby may need mouth to mouth CPR.
Baby’s first poo is called meconium. It will be a dark black/green sticky poo within the first 24 - 48 hours of birth. The baby should pee within the first 24 hours. Once they start pooing normal poo it may be a mustard yellow colour for a while and they could go anywhere from twice a day to 6 - 7 times a day. If it’s more than seems normal to you or if it smells, they may have diarrhea and you should see your doctor just to be on the safe side. Keeping baby’s bum clean and dry will prevent diaper rash and thrush. If your baby gets a flat red rash or bumpy red rash it may be for two different reasons, you can speak to your pharmacist about over the counter creams you can try. Keep the area as dry as possible. Changing diapers can be a bit of a chore but if you let your baby know that you love them even when you’re changing their diaper, and clean all those delicious folds with love, they will feel more secure about themselves.
While every baby is different, in general, you should be able to tell if your baby is getting enough to eat by checking how many wet diapers you get - usually 8 or more a day. Ina May suggests that babies lose 5% of their birth weight in the first few days after birth and then once they move from colostrum to breast milk, they will start to gain weight. You should weigh your baby twice a week until they regain their birth weight, and then once a month just to check that they are continuing to gain weight. This will slow down as they get older. There is no need to compare your baby with other babies weight gain as they all grow at their own pace and every baby is different. As long as your baby is gaining some weight don’t worry too much.
There have a lot of mixed messages over the years - the back to sleep campaign, the prone sleeping position, sleeping sideways. I’m personally not sure on what is really correct - although the back to sleep campaign had a lot of statistics, this also coincided with more awareness about SIDS so who knows if it was sleeping babies no their backs or the increased education that stopped babies dying unexplained deaths? Ina May Gaskin suggests in Spiritual Midwifery that you should always sleep a baby on their side, propped up with a pillow so that if they spit up or throw up they won’t check. She also states like other hypnomamas and natural birth advocates that if you get the urge to check your baby at night, do it, as it’s a natural urge. There are also studies that show that mothers who breastfeed are able to respond to a baby’s needs more accurately and are able to sense when their baby may be restless at night or need to move. If you choose to cosleep make sure that there are no loose bedcovers or ties etc in your sleeping environment and that neither you nor your partner have drank alcohol or smoked.
It’s important to keep newborn babies warm but not overdressed. You can check that its hands and feet are a little cool but the babies core temperature should be warm if you touch its neck or back or legs. Make sure there are no drafts and it’s not too stuff.
If you think your baby has a fever, you can check its temperature rectally as this is the most accurate way. Ina may recommends putting some petroleum jelly on the tip of the thermometer and gently putting it in the baby’s rectum about ¼ inch. Ear thermometers have become more accurate over the years so talk to your doctor about what they recommend. If your baby still has a temperature for more than one day or if it is quite high, call your doctor.
If your baby has a snotty nose you can suction out the nose a few times a day with a syringe but don’t over do it. You can also use a salt water solution and put 2 - 3 drops in each nostril and suction out the nose to thin the mucous. If it’s just a snotty nose but otherwise your baby is healthy, dont worry too much. Babies have narrow nasal passages so it can sound worse than it is. If your baby looks sick and tired with the cold, then get it checked out by a doctor and they can prescribe some cold medication for a baby. While they are ill try to give them as much water as possible to stop them from getting dehydrated.
Keep an eye on the umbilical cord as it starts drying up once its clamped. Ina May suggests in spiritual midwifery to keep the belly button clear of any material and check the area frequently in the first 24 hours. She also suggests putting a few drops of alcohol of honey on the end of the cord where it was cut and at the base where it touches the baby’s body. If there is any redness, a bad smell, or oozing from the navel, contact your doctor as there is probably an infection, especially if there is any active bleeding.
Other infections to watch out for are thrush and cradle cap. If you have a yeast infection when you have the baby, baby can pick it up as it comes through the birth canal. You will notice white spots on the baby’s tongue. You can treat this by washing your nipples with vinegar and giving your baby a few drops of sterile water after feeding so that the yeast can’t grow. You can also use a cotton bud to apply a vinegar solution to its tongue. Cradle cap looks like dandruff with white scaly patches on your baby’s head. Rub some baby oil on its scalp and leave for a few hours before carefully washing it off with shampoo. Get it checked by a doctor if it spreads or gets infected.
Jaundice is very common in newborns because their liver is so immature and cannot breakdown the old red blood cells and get rid of them. Their palms or soles of their feet may be yellow. See your doctor for specific treatment but usually this goes away on its own. If your baby gets Jaundice after birth see your doctor immediately as it may be linked to breastfeeding. The doctor will keep monitoring their bilirium levels and let you know if its too high and you may need to stop breastfeeding for a while. If this happens, remember to keep expressing milk to keep up your supply so you can get back to breastfeeding when baby is better.
Bathing the baby
Wash baby with warm water and a soft washcloth. Make sure to wash behind its ears, all the cracks and creases and delicious folds of fat on its thighs. Until baby’s belly button is fully healed, there is no need for a full bath as this may cause it to get infected. You can use baby oil and baby lotion but make sure its pores don’t get clogged up. Sometimes its good to have someone helping you while you first bathe your baby. Having one person hold the baby and the other parent or helper pour water can take the edge off as you get used to holding a slipper squirmy little human. As you get more confident in holding your baby firmly, they will sense that they are being held securely and not going to be dropped and will learn to trust you. If baby has any signs of infection e.g. pimples, use an antiseptic ointment and wash the area. See your doctor if the infection persists.
Cleaning your baby's eyes
Sometimes a baby’s eyes may be a bit infected or have discharge or mucus. This could be due to a blocked tear duct. You can use an antibiotic ointment to treat it or Ina May Gaskin even recommends your own breastmilk. If the discharge is yellow or green or there is pus, or the baby’s eyes are red and puffy or irritated, see your doctor as this may be an indication of an infection like conjunctivitis which should be treated with antibiotics.
References: Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
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