Newborn Health:
A Guide for First-Time Parents

See also: Feeding Babies

You've successfully navigated pregnancy, labor, and delivery and are now ready to return home and start a new life with your baby. But if you're like most first-time parents, you might feel completely lost.

Nothing can compare to the joy of bringing a new baby home. The delight and exhilaration that parents experience are very difficult to put into words. It's also normal to feel some anxiety as well, especially if this is your first baby. No matter how much you plan and prepare, you'll always have some challenges to overcome.

These challenges could include sleep deprivation, difficulties with nursing, and money troubles. It's also impossible to predict exactly how a child's first few weeks and months would go because no two babies are the same. One family's struggles may be vastly different from another's.

Fortunately, there are a few general guidelines that can provide new parents, grandparents, and caregivers with the tools they need to get through this exciting but often stressful stage.

Mother and newborn baby.

Getting Help After the Birth

You might want to think about getting help during this stressful and overwhelming period. While you're at the hospital, don't hesitate to ask the doctors and nurses around you. In many hospitals, there are feeding specialists or lactation consultants who can help you learn how to nurse or bottle-feed your baby. Nurses can also teach you how to properly hold, burp, change, and otherwise take care of your newborn.

If you're looking for in-home assistance following the birth, you could hire a postpartum doula, a baby nurse, or a responsible and trustworthy teen that lives nearby and can help you out for a short time. It's also possible to get more information and referrals through your doctor or the hospital.

Relatives and friends are often eager to lend a hand. Even if you don't agree with them on some points, don't write them off. However, if you're not ready for guests or have other worries, don't feel bad about limiting their visits.

Handling a Newborn

A newborn's fragility can be scary if you don't have a lot of experience handling them. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Newborns haven't had enough time to develop their immune systems, so you need to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before handling them.

  • You'll need to support your baby's head and neck whenever you pick them up, lay them down, or carry them.

  • You should never shake a newborn because this can result in brain hemorrhage and even death. You can look up shaken baby syndrome for more information. If you need to wake your baby up, tickle their feet or gently blow on their cheek, but don't shake them.

  • You'll also want to limit any activity that's too bouncy or rough. They're not ready for being thrown in the air or being jiggled. Make sure that they're safely strapped into their carrier, stroller, or car seat to reduce movement.


Whether you prefer to use cloth or disposable diapers, know that you will need to change your newborn about ten times per day. Make sure you have all of your supplies close at hand before you start in order to avoid leaving them unattended on the changing table. You'll need a fresh diaper, fasteners (if you're using prefold cloth diapers), diaper wipes, and diaper ointment.

You'll need to change your baby's diaper every time they have a bowel movement or when their diaper gets wet. You lay them on their back, remove the dirty diaper and clean them. You can either use wipes or water and cotton balls or a washcloth. Make sure you're gentle.

With boys, you'll want to proceed with caution because exposure to air can trigger urination. With girls, don't forget to wipe them from front to back to avoid urinary tract infections.

The diaper ointment is necessary to prevent and treat diaper rashes. Diaper rashes are a common concern. There are usually red and bumpy and subside after a few days by giving your baby warm baths, applying diaper ointment, and giving them a little break from wearing diapers.

Rashes usually occur because babies have very sensitive skin, and they get irritated from damp or poopy diapers and even dry diapers. If the diaper rash persists for more than three days or appears to be worsening, consult your doctor since it might be caused by a fungal infection.

After changing diapers, always wash your hands thoroughly.

Health Concerns

Most babies have regular checkups with their pediatrician to make sure they are growing and developing as they should be. Pediatricians are trained to identify any signs of illness. Parents are often worried about how to identify these signs and how to know if they need to take their baby to the doctor.

The Mayo Clinic outlines some of the most prevalent indications that it may be necessary to take a baby to the doctor:

  • Fever
  • Changes in appetite or behavior
  • Tenderness in the area around the navel or the genital area.

Parents should also consult their pediatrician if their child experiences symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or a rash that lasts more than a day or two.

Make a list of questions on your phone to bring with you when you go to the pediatrician. Remember that no question is too trivial. It's their job to help you with the health and development of your child.

One last thing that may be upsetting to read but needs to be mentioned. When we go to the doctor or the nurse, we have a lot of faith in them, and we expect them to follow a certain standard of care. But not all medical professionals make the best decisions.

If you suspect medical negligence during your pregnancy, delivery, or afterward, contact an attorney and learn about your options from reliable sources such as

Health care providers must be held liable for their negligence, especially when those actions lead to harm. This maintains the standard of care the profession upholds and protects other potential victims.

Common Mistakes First-Time Parents

Every parent makes mistakes at some point. If you take a moment to think about mistakes your parents made with you, you'll almost certainly come up with a list. Nobody is perfect, especially new parents.

For example, parents often waste their baby's first year fretting about all the things that could go wrong, obsessing over every detail and what it could mean. They think their baby has too many or too few bowel movements, that they're crying too much or too little or that they're not eating enough.

Crying is especially challenging as a first-time parent. We tend to think of crying as a sign that something is wrong, and, as parents, we need to fix it. But babies are designed to cry. It's how they communicate. Even when perfectly healthy, fed, and diapered, they might still cry.

There are, however, some situations where you should call your pediatrician right away. A fever, rash, vomiting, bloated belly, or any other unusual symptoms should be reported to your pediatrician.

Another common mistake first-time parents make is ignoring their marriage. When you have a baby for the first time, it's important to stay connected with your partner. Having a baby often amplifies any problems in the relationship. This means that even though it's important to give your baby the time and attention they need, you still have to keep in mind that you are a couple.

About the Author

Cynthia Madison is an experienced blogger who loves writing about a wide variety of topics, from marketing and finance to travel and healthcare. When she’s not in front of her computer working on her next article, she enjoys reading a good book or exploring new hiking trails and backpacking routes across the country.