Newborn baby: essential advice for the first 3 months of parenthood

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Baby on the way? Here are the practical basics you need to know, from how many nappies your baby might get through each day, to vaccinations, health visitor appointments and more.

By Claire Chamberlain

If you’re currently in the third trimester of pregnancy, you probably have a lot on your mind right now. From finalising maternity leave plans to decorating the nursery and stocking up on cute baby grows, preparing for a new baby involves quite a bit of admin.

You may have some concerns too. What will labour be like? What if you don’t bond with your baby? How will you cope with the sleep deprivation that comes with caring for a newborn? Not to mention all the practical aspects of caring for a new baby: the nappy changing, feeding, vaccinations and more.

Well, take a deep breath and read on, to discover some of the practical basics it’s helpful to know before your baby is born:

Feeding your newborn baby

It’s important to remember that, when your baby is first born, they will have a very small stomach – about the size of a cherry. By day three, their stomach will have grown to the size of a walnut (still small!), and after a week it will be roughly the size of an apricot.

This means your baby is going to need to feed little and often. While you may be keen to get baby into a routine, in the early weeks it’s best to be guided by your baby, feeding on demand as and when they signal they need milk. Learn to look for cues that your baby is getting hungry. These include:

  • Stirring
  • Opening and closing their mouth
  • Turning their head (rooting)
  • Stretching/increased physical movement
  • Sucking their fist
  • Crying

Also remember the amount your baby takes in at each feed may differ: sometimes they may want the equivalent of a full ‘meal’; other times they may simply be thirsty and just need a quick drink. Again, be led by your baby as to how long they feed for.

Many new mums are concerned their baby is not feeding enough. It can be hard to know how much milk your baby is drinking at each feed, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Rest assured, if they are still producing regular wet nappies and passing stools, it’s a sign they’re feeding well.

Breast or formula milk?

Breast milk is scientifically proven to be the best nutritional option for your baby, because it’s created specifically for them. However, that’s not to say it’s always the right choice for you.

There are many reasons why some women decide to stop breastfeeding, from pain and discomfort, to having to return to work. Some mums experience a lot of guilt around giving up breastfeeding, and if this is you, please don’t beat yourself up about it. As long as you’re feeding your baby – whether it’s breast milk, formula milk or a combination of the two – you’re doing a great job!

When making up formula milk, it’s always important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Some general guidelines include:

✔️ Always use freshly boiled water, not water that has been boiled before.

✔️ Do not use bottled water – this may contain higher sodium level and is not sterile.

✔️ Always add the correct amount of formula to the water; too much and your baby may become constipated; too little and they may not receive all the nutrients they need.

✔️ Do not add baby cereal to your baby’s formula.

✔️ Do not heat bottles in the microwave. This can create ‘hot spots’ that can burn your baby’s mouth.

Newborn baby nappies

It can be hard to know how many nappies to stockpile prior to baby’s arrival. Whether you’re using reusables or disposables, it’s important you have enough to hand (you’ll have enough going on during this time, without the need for a panicked dash to a 24-hour supermarket at two in the morning).

Generally speaking, during the first few days your baby will be passing meconium (a blackish, tar-like substance made up of things your baby has ingested in the womb, such as amniotic fluid).

Of course, when it comes to babies, there is no real ‘normal’ – just what’s normal for your baby.

Once this has been pushed through, your baby will start producing runnier, yellowish, sweeter-smelling poos – and they might do up to five a day! This means you could be getting through anything from five to eight nappies every 24 hours, so make sure you’re well stocked.

Of course, when it comes to babies, there is no real ‘normal’ – just what’s normal for your baby. Some babies may only do one poo a day, or even every other day – this can be more true for formula-fed babies.

In the UK, nappies come in sizes 0-8. Generally speaking, size 1 nappies will fit most newborns, as they are designed to fit babies weighing 2-5kg (4-11lb).

JGI/Jamie GrillGetty Images

Newborn baby bath time

Giving your baby their first bath can be a nerve-racking experience for most first-time parents! For their first ever dip, you may wish to have an extra adult around, for support and reassurance.

Some babies love the feel of the water straight away, finding it soothing and relaxing. Others take longer to get used to it. You don’t have to bath your baby any more that two or three times a week if you don’t want to: it really comes down to how much both you and baby enjoy the experience.

Newborn baby bath time tips

When bathing your baby stick to the following tips:

✔️ Your baby’s bath should be 37-38 degrees, which is around body temperature.

✔️ Start off in a baby bath (or the kitchen sink). When your baby’s very little, the big bath can be trickier, as you need to lean down a lot further.

✔️ At first, you’ll only need about 10cm of water.

✔️ Put the cold water in first, then add the hot. If you don’t have a thermometer, use your elbow to check the temperature (it should feel the same temperature as your elbow).

✔️ Support your baby’s head and neck while in the bath.

✔️ After bath time, have their towel read. Wrap them in it straight away and dry them thoroughly, before dressing them in clean clothes.

✔️ Never, ever leave your baby unattended in the water.

✔️ Make bath time fun for baby, with lots of smiles and reassurance.

Newborn baby bedtime

In the first few months, your baby is unlikely to be in a routine, which can mean a lot of sleep deprivation for you, as you gently help them learn the difference between day and night.

A bedtime routine can be helpful when they are a few months old if you wish to do this – it could be as simple as a bath, getting dressed in a clean baby grow, a feed, and cuddles in a darkened room.

For the first six months, your baby should sleep in the same room as you, either in a crib or cot. You may also wish to co-sleep with your baby in your bed. If you decide to do this, there are ways to ensure baby stays safe.

In the first few months, your baby is unlikely to be in a routine, which can mean a lot of sleep deprivation for you.

When putting your baby into the crib or cot, they should always sleep with their feet at the end of the cot (‘feet to foot’), to ensure they can’t wriggle down beneath any blankets.

It’s important your baby is a comfortable temperature at night. Try to keep the room temperature at 16-20C, and tuck your baby in with a lightweight blanket, or pop them in a well-fitting baby sleeping bag. These are great, as they can’t fall over your baby’s face, and baby can’t kick them off in the night, meaning your little one will stay safe and cosy.

The company Grobag recommends its baby sleep bags are only used once your baby weighs 4kg (8lb 13oz) or above. There is also a handy temperature guide on their website.

Weighing your newborn baby

Your baby will be weighed shortly after birth, and this weight will be recored in your Personal Child Health Record (this will be given to you after the birth). You will need to keep this record safe, as you will need it at all future appointments relating to your child’s health, including vaccinations, tests and reviews with your health visitor.

Your baby will then be weighed again by a health visitor, usually at your local health centre or clinic, within the first two weeks.

Most babies lose weight during the first week after birth, so don’t worry about this. Generally speaking, most babies have regained their birth weight by the time they are two weeks old.

Your baby’s weight will be plotted on a chart (in your Personal Child Health record), so you can see they’re growing as they should. Their growth will usually follow a centile (a curved line on the chart). Again, don’t worry if they go up or down a centile, as this is normal.

NHS guidelines recommend you get your baby weighed:

  • No more than once a month up to six months of age.
  • No more than once every two months from six months to one year of age.
  • No more than every three months over the age of one of age.

Newborn baby health checks

Your midwife and/or health visitor will perform a number of health checks for your baby within the first few weeks of their life. These will include:

  • A physical examination

This is generally performed within the first 72 hours after birth, and will include a check of your baby’s eyes, heart, hips and testicles (boys).

  • Heel prick test

This involves testing a small drop of blood from your baby, to screen for a number of diseases, including cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease. It is usually performed when your baby is five days old, and is done by your midwife.

  • Hearing test

The newborn hearing test screens for permanent hearing loss. It’s generally done in the first four to five weeks (if you gave birth at hospital it may be offered before you’re discharged, but otherwise it’s generally performed by your health visitor). The test involves a small earpiece being placed in your baby’s ear, through with small clicking sounds are played. It normally takes just a few minutes.

These tests are standard practice and are nothing to be concerned about. If you have any concerns about any of the tests, speak with your midwife or health visitor.

Newborn baby vaccinations

Your baby will be offered a series of vaccinations during their first four months of life. They will need to have them at eight weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks. They include:

  • 6-in-1 vaccine

This protects your baby against diphtheria, hepatitis B, Hib, polio, tetanus and whooping cough. It will need to be given at eight weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks (your baby will need three doses, to ensure strong immunity).

  • Pneumococcal vaccine

Also known as the pneumonia vaccine, this will be offered to your baby at 12 weeks (and again at 12 months).

  • MenB vaccine

This vaccine protects against meningococcal group B bacteria infection, and will be offered at eight weeks, 16 weeks and one year.

  • Rotavirus vaccine

This vaccine protects against rotavirus, a common cause of sickness and diarrhoea in babies and young children. It’s given as a liquid for your baby to swallow, and is offered at eight weeks and 12 weeks.

Vaccinating your baby is the best way to protect them against potentially serious illnesses and diseases, and rest assured all vaccines offered are safe. The vaccinations will usually be performed by the nurse at your GP clinic – you will need to bring your baby’s Personal Child Health Record along each time, so the nurse can record the vaccinations.

Registering your newborn baby

After you have your baby, you have 42 days in which to register the birth. You will usually need to make an appointment at your local register office to do this, although sometimes you can register the birth at the hospital where your baby was born. before you leave.

To register your baby’s birth, you will need to know the following details:

  • Date of the birth
  • Place of birth
  • First name, surname and sex of the baby
  • Dates and places of parents’ births
  • Date of parents’ marriage/civil partnership (if applicable)
  • Mother’s maiden name (if applicable)
  • Parents’ occupations

For more information on registering your newborn baby, please visit gov.uk/register-birth.

Childcare options

While going back to work may not be the first thing on your mind as soon as you’ve had your baby, if you are planning on returning to work, it can be a good idea to investigate childcare options sooner rather than later. Options include:

  • Day nurseries
  • Childminder
  • A nanny
  • Getting help from a relative

Depending on where you live, nursery and childminder waiting lists can be long, so you might want to consider visiting a few close to you, so you know your options and can plan accordingly.

Childcare costs

Unless you have a relative close by who’s willing to take care of your little one while you go back to work, childcare costs can be high. According to the Money Advice Service, the average cost of full-time childcare in the UK is £221 a week (in inner London this rises to £303 a week), so forward planning can be key.

You may be able to get help with childcare costs – check out Government Childcare Choices for details on tax-free childcare, tax credits for childcare, Universal Credit for childcare, and 15- and 30-hours free childcare for two- to four-year-olds.

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