Bringing home your newborn baby is one of the most thrilling and scary moments in life. New parents are filled with many emotions – fear, excitement and, of course, exhaustion. Often parents leave the hospital feeling unprepared to care for their newborn baby on their own.
Julie Kim, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, offers these tips to help expecting parents prepare for a smooth transition home from the hospital.
What do you need at home?
Not much! Babies often arrive before their due date and you may still have a long “to do” list, but that’s nothing to worry about. At home you should have newborn baby diapers, burp cloths, diaper wipes, several sleepers/onesies and a safe place for your baby to sleep. It’s also a good idea to have a rectal thermometer in case of fever, diaper cream and nasal saline spray. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a newborn baby sleep in the same room as parents on a firm mattress in a crib, portacrib or bassinet. Don’t put stuffed animals or soft decorations in the bed, just a fitted sheet.
Should you have visitors?
It’s wonderful to have the support of family and friends, but they can sometimes bring unwanted germs and viruses. Limit visits from young children for the first month or two. Young children are exposed to lots of viruses and may be contagious even before they show signs of illness. Encourage adults who want to hold your newborn baby to wash their hands first – this is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. Also our pediatricians recommend having you and other caregivers vaccinated again pertussis and the flu to lower the risk of your baby catching one of these serious infections.
Should you take your newborn baby out of the house?
Of course! When the weather is good, mom and baby should head outdoors to get some fresh air. Going for a walk is a great way to exercise.
How do you know if your car seat is safe?
The right car seat installed properly is critical for your newborn baby’s safety, and it’s more complicated than you might think. Check out car seat ratings from The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), and look for brands that have five stars in the categories “Ease of Use” and “Securing the Child.” Also, have your car seat checked professionally after it’s installed. Free checks are available in most communities.
What are the “baby blues?”
After delivering a baby, maternal hormones are running wild. Some moms develop the “baby blues” or postpartum depression, which can range from mild to very severe. Signs of post-partum depression include trouble sleeping, mood swings, withdrawal from family or friends, loss of appetite, and trouble bonding with your baby. If you notice these changes in you or your partner, seek help as soon as possible. Mild baby blues will usually fade, but some moms need more support or medications. Dads can even develop depression after the arrival of a new baby.
Do you need to watch what you eat and drink while breastfeeding?
Once you have your baby, you can resume your usual diet with a few exceptions. While breastfeeding, avoid fish like shark or tilefish since they have higher levels of mercury, which can be passed to your baby through breast milk. Small amounts of caffeine or alcohol are acceptable. New moms should drink at least 12-18 ounces of water per day and eat regular meals.
When should you call the doctor?
After leaving the hospital, newborns will usually have a check-up with their doctor in one to three days. After this first check-up, doctors will let you know how often they want to see the baby.
Reasons to call your doctor include:
- Your baby is not feeding well or has missed a few feedings
- Your baby’s skin is yellow (jaundice)
- Your baby has a fever of 100.4 or greater (rectal temperatures are most reliable)
- You are worried
Your doctor wants to hear from you if you think your baby is not well.
Trust Your Instincts
Learning to care for a newborn baby is a hands-on job. No doubt, you’ll get lots of advice from well-meaning friends, and you may read books by experts. But you are the expert in your baby. Trust your instincts and enjoy this special time.