Whether you’re expecting soon or have just had a newborn, you’re in for a very exciting time. In the beginning, everything your baby does will feel just as new for you as it is for them. If you’re not sure exactly what to expect (and you’re somewhat exhausted), you’re in the same boat as pretty much every new parent.
Although all the newness can feel daunting, your first visits with your pediatrician are a perfect time to ask any questions you may have. Here are answers to some of the most common questions that parents ask during their first visit.
Whether breastfeeding or formula feeding, almost every newborn loses some weight at the beginning of life. For breastfed babies, although the initial amount of milk they receive is relatively small, this initial milk, known as colostrum, is rich in nutrients and antibodies and is an excellent source of nutrition for the first few days of life.
Although every newborn is different, generally, a good goal is to aim to feed at least every 2-3 hours “on demand.” That means any time your newborn seems hungry, you should feed them. It’s okay if there isn’t much of a schedule at the beginning, and it is normal at times to cluster feed, having multiple feedings close together before taking a longer break.
You should expect your baby to make 1 wet diaper per day of life (1 on day 1, 2 on day 2, etc.) up until 5 days of life, and from then on, at least 5 wet diapers per day. If your newborn is making the appropriate amount of wet diapers and gaining weight well (or not losing too much weight), those are the best signs that they are eating enough.
Many parents are surprised when they see how dark and sticky their newborn’s first bowel movement is. This initial stool, known as meconium, is very normal and usually is first seen within the first 24 hours of life. As newborns start to feed more, this gradually transitions over a few days to be anywhere from yellow and seedy to green or brown and mushy.
It’s often normal for newborns to pass stool every time they eat at the beginning of life, and as their brains and guts mature, this gradually slows down to a few times a day. There is a very wide range of normal colors, textures, and frequency for stool, but if you see blood in the stool, you should let your pediatrician know.
This is a really important question because fevers in the first two months of life are considered an emergency. In general, if your newborn doesn’t feel hot and you haven’t noticed any change in activity, then you do not need to check their temperature. If something seems off to you and you need to check their temperature, the best way to check is rectally.
If your newborn’s rectal temperature is 100.4 or higher, you’ll need to bring them to the emergency room so that tests can be done to determine if they need any treatment. Most things in pediatrics are not so black and white, but with fevers in newborns, 100.4 is the strict cutoff.
After your newborn has turned 2 months, which is also when they will receive their first set of vaccinations, if they have a fever, it’s safe to call your pediatrician to discuss the next steps for what to do. Your child’s first set of vaccinations is a critical piece of maintaining their overall well-being. The initial vaccine series, given at 2, 4, and 6 months, will provide valuable protection against a number of different infections to which newborns are most susceptible.
If you have any questions about childhood vaccinations, your pediatrician will be able to discuss those with you at any of your well visits. A good source of reliable information can also be found here through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Bath time can be a great opportunity for bonding as a family both in the newborn and throughout childhood. It’s best to wait until the umbilical cord has fallen off and the base has completely dried before your child’s first bath. This generally occurs around 2 weeks of life but occasionally happens a little earlier or a little later.
Always make sure to check the water temperature before submerging your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends ensuring your home’s water heater does not exceed 120 degrees to lower the risk of scalding injuries. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the water is off before placing your newborn in the tub. Occasionally, the water temperature can change quickly, especially if there’s a lot going on and one of the nozzles is accidentally switched off.
The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in their own space, on a firm surface, flat on their back, in your room, and without anything else in the crib or bassinet. Having your newborn in a safe sleep environment near you is not just safe, but it also allows you to be right there when they need you. Although sleep training will come up later, in general, at the beginning of life, if your newborn is calling out to you, it is because they need something.
Since the Back to Sleep campaign started in the 1990s, there have been significant declines in sleep-related infant death. This infographic from the NIH provides some helpful tips to make sure your newborn’s sleep environment is safe. Sleep plays a very important role in your newborn’s development (and in your well-being as a parent).
Hopefully, this guidance can help ensure that your newborn’s sleep environment is safe so you can rest easy as well. More information on safe sleep can be found here.
It is very typical at the beginning of life for newborns to mostly wake up to eat and then go back to sleep. This phase doesn’t last long, though, and newborns pretty quickly get busy learning all the things they’ll need to do in their young lives.
Over the first two months, you can expect your newborn to start to smile, look at faces, follow you with their eyes, and improve their head control. It’s never too early to start reading to your child, which in addition to being fun bonding time, provides them with both social cues and exposure to language to help further their development.
Another great way to help your newborn with their development is through tummy time. Once they’re having some stretches of awake time, you can start putting them on their belly while awake and being supervised for short periods of time. In the beginning, this may only be a minute or two. As your baby matures, this will become a go-to position for playtime and a way to help strengthen their core muscles to get ready to crawl and eventually walk.
Though this is a good starting point, every newborn is their own unique and special individual. Your best source of information is your newborn’s pediatrician, and there is no question too small. Many parents even write down a list of questions to make sure they don’t forget anything they want to ask during their visits. Parents are generally the first ones to pick up when something is wrong, so you should always feel empowered to ask any questions on your mind.