Congratulations on swapping your bump for a baby. Now you are all set to swap your handbag for a change bag! Worry not, all new mums on the baby block feel overwhelmed at first, but with the help of our bootcamp baby care basics you’ll soon be up to speed.
Nappy know how
Like it or not, nappies come with the teeny tiny territory – and are the butt of many a baby care joke! With baby feeding every few hours you will soon become an expert in your chosen style of derriere dressing.
Always change baby on a flat, sturdy surface, either on the floor or at waist height. You should never leave baby unattended so it is advisable to have dedicated ‘nappy stations’ stocked with nappies, wipes, cream – and spare clothes. Just in case!
Disposable or reusable
Disposable nappies are popular because they are convenient. Having said that, re-usable nappies have come a long way. Some companies offer a laundry service so, depending on your budget, you may not have to wash them yourself. Eco-friendly disposable nappies offer the best of both worlds and fragrance free nappies with biodegradable materials contain fewer chemicals.
Whatever type you choose you will want to make sure you do not cover your baby’s umbilical cord stump. Once this has fallen off, the small wound will need to heal. You do not need to buy special nappies for the first few weeks, simply fold down the top of your usual nappy.
Make change time more cheerful by viewing it as an opportunity for bonding. You have a captive audience so practice your lullaby lyrics, kisses and toe tickling – once you’ve grasped the basics of course!
Clean your baby by gently lifting up their legs, by firmly holding their ankles. Wipe down with a soft cotton pad or wipe before you put on the new nappy.
Preventing nappy rash
Most babies’ suffer from nappy rash at some point but prevention is better than cure and you can minimise the risks of skin irritation by changing frequently. Barrier creams can help and fresh air on skin is soothing too. If the skin looks broken and bleeds contact your doctor or health visitor who will advise you how to treat it.
The poop guide
Medium, light brown, and ‘wet’ no longer relates to your Starbucks order. You will soon become au fait with the contents of your baby’s nappy, which will never cease to amaze you!
There is a whole panorama of healthy poo; here are some shades that you may become acquainted with;
- Murky meconium
First poo, meconium, is a greenish black stool made up of things ingested in the womb. It throws new parents in at the nappy changing deep end because it is so sticky to wipe off baby’s peachy bottom!
- Your two to four day old baby’s poo
After the greenish black sticky meconium stool has passed poo will become lighter in colour but may still be green! This transitional bowel movement is an indicator that all is well with the intestinal tract and breast milk or formula is being digested.
- Breastfed baby’s poo
Becomes a little like Dijon mustard and can be yellow or slightly green. It can be quite runny bit isn’t very smelly, honest! It can sometimes look like cottage cheese and have seed like flecks in it.
- A bright green or frothy breastfed baby’s poo
Indicates that they are having too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk. This comes at the end of a feed and is creamier and fuller in fat. To remedy this try putting baby on the breast that you ended the last feed on and you should see an improvement.
- Formula fed babies poo
This is browner and more like peanut butter than a breastfed babies poo. It is smellier too!
- What goes in must come out!
If you change what you feed baby it figures that you’ll change what comes out!
Iron supplements can turn poo very dark green or black, this is normal but if your baby’s poo is this colour without an iron supplement check in with your doctor, it could signal the presence of digested blood.
Once you begin to wean baby the fun really starts! Poo becomes browner and smellier and you may see identifiable chunks of food in it. This isn’t anything to worry about unless it happens all the time, in which case your doctor may want to check that the intestines are adequately absorbing nutrients.
- Problem poo
Diarrhoea is runny poo and can lead to dehydration. It can be quite explosive and seep beyond the constraints of a nappy. It could signal an infection or allergy and you should contact your doctor if your baby is less than three months old and has several very runny nappies.
Speak to your doctor if you are concerned that your baby is laying pebbles and they may suggest water or a high fibre drink to help things along.
You should also mention slimy mucus poo to your healthcare team as it could indicate an infection or allergy. Sometimes, if a baby drools a lot, mucus in the saliva goes undigested and comes out the other end, but it is best to rule out anything more serious.
You will become used to what is a normal nappy for your baby, if things change suddenly and you are concerned then pop along to your doctor to talk about poo!
Bathing your baby without the capable hands of a midwife nearby can be daunting, but you can gain confidence by starting off with topping and tailing. Cover your change station with a fluffy towel and use warm, clean water and cotton pads to clean baby’s face first, and then bottom, making sure they don’t get cold.
Baby baths come in lots of shapes and sizes and are a useful way of graduating to an adult bath – but ensure your choice of vessel is suitable for newborns as many are intended once baby can support their own head.
You can test the water temperature with the inner part of your elbow and it should feel warm but not hot; 37°C (98°F) is about right. Babies scald more easily than children and grown-ups and you might like to invest in a thermometer for peace of mind.
Towels that fasten around your neck like an apron leave both your hands free to hold baby close to you securely. Having clean clothes and a fresh nappy ready before you start bath time can help minimise muddles, and you may be relieved to hear that you do not need to bath baby every day but it can be a useful part of your bed time routine and signal the end of the day.
Babies tend not to enjoy having clothes pulled over their heads and novice parents tend not to like it much either. Wibbly wobbly heads make it all feel a bit tricky. Opt for styles that have easy openings, like poppers at the neck.
Babygrows and vests are the easiest wardrobe choices for the early days; a short-sleeved vest can be worn underneath a babygrow and have popper fasteners that do up over the nappy. The all in one babygrow suit covers the arms and legs. If you favoured a onesie in the latter stages of your pregnancy then they will feel familiar!
Babygrows with poppers or zips down the front are the easiest to take on and off and the ones with feet negate the need for socks, which never stay on for long! In warmer weather footless ones will keep babies cool, and many mums cut the feet off babygrows to make them last a bit longer!
Newborn babies are not very good at regulating their body temperature and some naturally run a little warmer and others a little cooler, so check how your little one’s temperature gauge is doing and layer up accordingly with hats, cardigans and blankets. It is important that they stay warm but they can easily overheat under too many layers. The best way to check their temperature is by placing your hand on the back of their neck or tummy; if it feels sweaty or too warm remove a layer and add one if it feels cool.
Although tiny shoes look super cute they are not necessary until walking is imminent, usually from nine to 18 months when your baby begins to stand up and cruise around the room. When you reach this exciting milestone make sure you have their feet measured regularly for correctly fitting shoes. Your child will continue to grow rapidly and you want their feet to feel comfy for life.
Baby proofing your home
The health and safety changes needed to keep baby safe around your home will change as they grow.
In the very early days when you take baby home from hospital you are likely to feel tired and clumsy; make sure nothing is left on the stairs to trip you up and put non slip pads under rugs or mats.
Consider changing light bulbs so you are not left in the dark at a crucial moment!
If you put baby furniture together in your nesting phase have a quick check for spare parts that may have been forgotten. It is worth giving everything the once over before you use it for the first time.
It can be useful to put spare parts in labelled envelopes so that when the time comes to change your cot to a bed you don’t feel like you are looking for an allen key in a haystack.
It can be hard to imagine your static sleeping newborn ever causing too much mobile mischief but, before you know it, they will be on the move; be prepared and insert plug-socket covers to prevent curious fingers going where they shouldn’t. Beware of lids and toilet seats that can slam down on little digits and fit hinge protectors to drawers and cupboards.
Medicines and harmful items should be placed out of reach or locked away. As well as the obvious hazards keep a check on scissors and paperclips which all pose risks. Wastebaskets and bins are fun for inquisitive little fingers to explore, and usually at the right height to be tempting too. Think about the risk of what you are discarding and beware batteries, razors and lengths of dental floss.
Appliance cords and blind pulls should be made safe and heavy furniture bolted to the wall to prevent it toppling over. Corner protectors can soften sharp table edges and colourful stickers can stop a keen walker waddling into a glass door. Fit locks on low windows and make sure radiators are covered. The humble cup of tea can become hazardous so keep an eye on guests who are not used to being as vigilant as you.
Smoke alarms are not just advisable postpartum, and the same goes for carbon monoxide alarms.
Supervision, common sense and precautions are the best weapons in keeping baby safe.
Out & about
When you’re ready to ditch the pjs and leave the house, make sure you invest in a change bag and have it packed so you are ready to roll when the mood takes you.
The exact contents will depend on the weather, your baby, and the nature and duration of your trip out, but the following should get you started;
- Disposable changing mat
- 3 nappies
- Pack of wipes
- Small pot of nappy cream
- Nappy bags to dispose of dirty nappies
- Change of clothes for baby
- 2 cartons of formula
- 1 sterilised bottle
- 1 muslin
- Some suitable toys
- Top for you – just in case!
If you have multiples, you will need to double (or triple!) up on nappies, formula and bottles and spare clothes.
Regardless of how many babies you have, make sure you check the contents of your change bag regularly as your babies will quickly out grow items in your bag. It can help to re-stock the bag when you get home so you are always good to go.
You may feel intimidated by the big wide world outside your nest but a change of scenery can be good for you all. Your first outings are likely to be to the baby clinic for check-ups and weigh ins, these are great confidence boosters as your destination is a supportive environment full of trained professionals and like-minded mums in the same baby boat as you.
Travelling further afield takes a bit more organising but with the right planning you can take the headache out of the holiday. It can help to plan for the worst-case scenario and then be pleasantly surprised! Bulk up on the basics so you are sorted if there are unforeseen delays.
It is safe for babies to fly but they can find the pressure of take-off and landing uncomfortable, feeding them or giving them a pacifier encourages them to suck which can minimise the risk of ear-related discomfort.
First aid essentials
Prevention is better than cure but unfortunately accidents can happen, so it is sensible to have some first aid items to hand. Pre-packaged infant first aid kits are an affordable way to build the basics. Remember to tell primary carers where your kit is kept and store it safely, out of reach of children.
It is useful to put key names and numbers in your first aid kit; for example the number for your family doctor or paediatrician and perhaps a neighbour or friend who you might like to contact in case of an emergency.
If you want to build your own box from scratch you might want to start with the following, ensuring your choices are age appropriate for your baby;
- Calpol – to relieve fever and mild pain
- Hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion – for insect bites and rashes
- Antibiotic ointment – for cuts and scrapes
- Saline nose drops – to clear stuffy noses
- Irrigating eye wash – to rinse irritants
- Sterile cotton balls and swabs
- Assorted plasters and bandages
- First Aid Manual
Knowing your healthcare team
You may not be given a Fairy Godmother to take home from the hospital, but two weeks after the birth of your baby you are allocated a health visitor who will visit you and baby at home and help you to find your feet in the early daze!
A health visitor is a qualified nurse or midwife who has undertaken further training. There care continues from the time a child is two weeks to five years and they can advise you on your baby’s emotional and physical development, feeding and sleeping, coping with minor illnesses, immunisations, and any concerns you have about how you or your partner are coping.
The frequency with which you get to see your health visitor can depend on where you live and how many mums and babies they are caring for, if you feel you need more support than they are able to offer you contact your local clinic or surgery who will ensure that your needs are met.
Immunisations protect against a range of serious illnesses, we are fortunate to live in a part of the world where children are offered the following as part of the recommended immunisation schedule.
Expert advice from our resident GP Dr Nicola Harrison
Postnatal Depression (or PND) is a type of depression some women experience after having a baby, usually developing within the first six weeks of giving birth but is often not apparent until around six months. PND is more common than many people realise, affecting around one in 10 women who have had a baby.
You are more at risk if you have had general depression before, or if you are having a rough time in your relationship and are not very supported, or if you are experiencing stressful life events like moving home, the death of a loved one or work problems.
Health Visitors and GPs usually use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale as a screening questionnaire at various stages after birth. You can test yourself using this questionnaire here: http://www.fresno.ucsf.edu/pediatrics/downloads/edinburghscale.pdf A score of over nine (out of 30) indicates possible depression so you should see your GP or Health Visitor. A score of above 12 indicates probable post-natal depression so you should see your GP urgently.
Although PND can be lonely and frightening, there are many treatments available and it is a temporary condition you can recover from. Treatment ranges from psychological (talking) therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for example, to medication in the form of anti-depressants.
You can read more about treatment options here.
In addition to speaking to your doctor you might find this book useful; Overcoming Postnatal Depression: A Five Areas Approach, by Drs. Christopher Williams, Roch Cantwell and Ms. Karen Robertson. ISBN number to buy it online: 0340972343.
Expert Advice from our resident GP Dr Nicola Harrison
Being a parent can be exhausting and you can find that you have no time or energy to exercise, however upping your activity levels can; relax you, help your body recover after childbirth, keep you fit, lift your mood and make you feel better and more energetic.
Women often wait until their six week postnatal check to ask whether they can start to exercise again – my advice is start exercising as soon as you feel ready to after the birth, every woman is different.
Start slowly and gradually build up the length of your workout and level of exercise. If you experience any abnormal symptoms like pain, extreme fatigue or changes to your lochia – the bleeding after birth – (if it flows more heavily or changes colour to pink or red), stop and consult your GP immediately.
It’s a great idea to join postnatal exercise classes or ‘buggyfit’ sessions so you can be sociable with other new mums. You can start swimming once your lochia has stopped. The main key is to have fun and enjoy getting back into shape.