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Oh, newborns. So sweet. So cuddly. So squishy. So confusing and stressful. Are they breathing? Is that smell normal? Should their heads look like they’re turning into dragons? (Read: cradle cap: super weird). They’re really more fun when you have (some semblance of) an idea what you’re doing. Now that I have my second baby, I’m realizing how much easier my first-time mom life would have been with a bit more newborn knowledge. If you’re a new mama (or even a veteran — I know I needed a refresher course before #2), here is my top advice for you!
1. Babies need approximately a crap ton of sleep. But really, they probably need more sleep than you think. An over-tired baby monster is very easy to obliviously create. You’ll learn to recognize your own baby’s sleepy clues, but as a general rule, I start my little one’s pre-nap routine (more on that below) soon after I see a yawn. For brand-spanking-new babies, this may mean he is awake just long enough to eat and have a diaper change. Newborns will usually fall asleep when they’re tired (anywhere and everywhere) for the first few weeks, but there comes a point when you have to teach them to fall asleep, which is where this next handy tip comes in!
2. Have a pre-nap and bedtime routine and start it younger than you think. A schedule will most likely mean nothing to a baby a handful of weeks old, but familiarity and repetition will be comforting before long. Our nap routine, for example, is to swaddle, read a book, sing (the same) song, then lay him down awake. Bedtime is similar, with a prayer in between our book and song. You want these routines to be almost identical, with bedtime having a few more steps. Try to make your routine easy to replicate for sitters, too! You don’t want to be stuck as the only person who can get your baby to sleep.
3. Sleep leads to sleep. If you try to keep your baby up all day in hopes that he’ll sleep better at night, he won’t. BUT, don’t let your baby nap longer than 2-3 hours at a time during the day because he’ll have to account for those lost feedings at night. We like to use a three-hour rotation where baby wakes up, eats, plays, then sleeps until the three-hour period starts over. Most newborns will only be able to stay awake (and should only stay awake) for forty minutes to an hour and a half, so this translates to roughly one hour awake and two napping.
4. Swaddle. Swaddle. Swaddle. Swaddle the heck out of that baby! His flailing little arms probably do not mean he doesn’t like it, it just means he’s a newborn who can’t control his arms. If your baby is bursting out of his swaddle, it’s not secure enough. I highly recommend getting something that zips shut as opposed to a blanket. It’s fail-safe for tired parents who can’t remember which stupid corner of the swaddle blanket goes where.
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5. Cover him in washcloths or a small towel during bath time. We put about four or five rags in the warm bath water and cover our baby with them. He loves it and it makes bath time so much nicer! Getting out of the bath may be rough for the first few weeks. Don’t bother trying to put a towel in the dryer; it’ll be cold in about two seconds. Just try to make everything quick, make sure the ceiling fan is off and offer some warm snuggles after you’ve diapered that poor, cold thing.
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6. Beware of overstimulation. This is huge! Babies have different temperaments of course, but if you have exactly 434 friends and relatives over at once and they are each in your baby’s face trying to ooh and ahh at him, he may start to freak out before too long. Sometimes little things can set your baby off, too, so try to observe the environment from his point of view if he seems fussy for no apparent reason. If you think baby may be overstimulated, try taking him to a dark and quiet room, turning the sound machine on (by the way — have one!) and swaddling, giving a paci, rocking/swaying/gracefully dancing like a pro ballerina – whatever it takes to calm him down.
7. Learn what a gas cry sounds like. It will save you lots of time and energy trying to figured out why the heck that precious angel is screaming like a not-so-precious-angel. It’s very strained sounding and chances are your baby is also kicking his legs, arching his back, or struggling to eat (if he’s eating). If your nursing baby is having a tough time latching, flailing around, acting like he’s starving and crying, it’s gas. Burp that poor little guy.
8. Know your sleep regressions. There are several good resources for more info on this, but the big ones in baby’s first year are about 3-4 months and 8 months. They are rough, but they will end. Do what you can to survive. If you’re nursing and your little one is suddenly having a ton of night wakings, try sending Dad in with a bottle for a few nights in a row (I know you won’t argue, mama!). Do whatever you can to get them to nap during the day – remember, over-tiredness is no good for baby (or for your sanity)! I would try to avoid sleep training during this time. Your baby will need your attention, love and cuddles more than usual, and that’s okay. Soak it up and snuggle your sweet baby.
9. Have a good baby carrier. It is a life-saver! Some days they will have tummy troubles or need to be close to Mom and you will need to get things done. My own baby does significantly better running errands in a carrier than a car seat. I’m all about multi-purpose, too, so I recommend a soft-structured carrier that has an infant insert (often sold separately, so do your research). That way you can buy one good carrier that will grow with them!
10. If your baby gets fussy in the car, find a static station and crank it. You can also try calling a friend, praying out loud (because asking the dear Lord for your sanity at this moment should not be too hard), talking to yourself — whatever! Baby will like the sound of your voice. I can’t tell you how many calls my mom got with my first words along the lines of, “Hey Mom. Yeah, ignore the crying baby. I’m trying to get him to fall asleep,” and most of the time he would!
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Bonus tip! Trust your instincts, but don’t be afraid if you occasionally have none. Sometimes you automatically know what your baby needs and sometimes you have no flipping clue and just do the totally wrong thing; that’s okay. Check Pinterest. Talk to mom friends. Call your doctor. Decide for yourself what’s best but get help when you need it!
You rock, Mom. Go mother that baby.
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