How to Care for Your Newborn

Welcoming the newest member of your family is an exciting, beautiful time. Learn how to take care of your baby and help them thrive.

Sleep Safety

Developing healthy sleep patterns is important for a newborn baby, and also for new parents. Putting your baby to sleep safely will help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant.


While it’s impossible to completely eliminate all risk of SIDS, there are steps you can take to keep your baby safer during sleep and put your mind at rest.

  • Put your baby to sleep on their back, at night and for naps, until your child is at least 1 year old.
  • Baby should sleep alone in their bed/crib/bassinet.
  • Newborns should sleep on a firm mattress in their own bed or bassinet.
  • Dress your baby warmly in a single onesie or single-footed pajama, but don’t let your baby get overheated during sleep especially by using too many clothing layers.
  • Don’t use a swaddle after baby is 2 months old, which is when some newborns start to roll over on their own.

Items That Shouldn't Be in A Crib

  • Baby wipes
  • A bottle
  • A pacifier with a string (any item attached to a string or cord is a strangulation risk)
  • Soft toys or stuffed items
  • A blanket (in the crib or hanging over the side of the crib — neither is recommended)
  • A book
  • A pillow
  • A baby lounger
  • Extra diapers
  • Extra clothes

Bath Safety and Skin Care

Bath time can be fun for babies, but it’s important to stay close to your child (within arm’s reach) at all times, even when they can sit on their own. A baby can drown quickly in a very shallow amount of water without adult supervision.

Here are some newborn bath basics to keep your baby safe in the bath:

  • Check the temperature of the water before placing baby into the tub. It should be slightly warm to the touch, not hot, not cold. Many nurseries have free bath temperature color cards to check the water. Ask your nurse if one is available.
  • Use only a shallow depth of water, enough to get baby clean.
  • Make sure the room is warm to prevent your baby from getting too cold.
  • Give sponge baths until your baby’s umbilical cord falls off and, if done, a circumcision heals. Until then, pay special attention to keep the umbilical cord clean and dry.
  • Use mild soap and shampoo made especially for newborns.
  • Wash your baby’s head last so it doesn’t get too cold.
  • Wrap up your baby in a towel immediately after a bath to keep baby warm.
  • Give baths about twice a week to prevent baby’s delicate skin from becoming dry. Other days, “spot clean” your baby, washing mouth, neck and groin areas.
  • Change diapers frequently to avoid diaper irritation. And if baby is circumcised, carefully rinse and apply plenty of prescribed ointment to the site until it is completely healed.

Help Your Baby Thrive

As you welcome your newborn into the world, you’ll want to help your baby thrive in as many ways as possible.

  • Hold your baby close. Snuggling “skin to skin” with your baby is a great way to bond. Remember, it takes some time for baby to get used to not being in your belly, so baby will want to be close to you often. You cannot spoil a newborn by holding too often.
  • Talk and sing to your baby! Even though your baby can’t talk back, newborns love to hear the voices around them. You can stimulate baby’s hearing with a rattle or music.
  • Feed your baby frequently, usually every two to three hours. When breastfeeding, feeding on demand - whenever your baby acts hungry — is a good way to make sure your baby is getting enough to eat and to help your milk supply regulate. You may have to wake your baby up if it has been three hours for breastfed babies or four hours for formula-fed babies since the last feeding.
  • Give your baby some supervised tummy time two or three times a day for 10 to 15 minutes. This will help your baby strengthen neck muscles and coordinate head movement. 
  • To help soothe your baby, you may want to use a swaddle, which is a blanket wrapped snugly around your baby. Remember, the blanket should be snug, but not too tight. It will keep baby’s arms close to the body while allowing leg movement (simulating still being in the belly and providing a feeling of security to baby). Only use a swaddle up until baby is 2 months old.

Don’t hesitate to call your baby’s doctor if you see warning signs, such as:

  • Refusing to eat for several feedings
  • Any diarrhea, vomiting (more than just spitting up), or other gastrointestinal problems
  • Drainage from one or both ears
  • Has a rash on any part of the body
  • Redness on belly skin around the umbilical cord, discharge or a bad smell coming from the umbilical cord
  • Changing redness, bleeding or discharge at the circumcision site
  • Behavior changes, such as lethargy, acting very sleepy with little movement for longer than usual or persistent crying


Call the pediatrician, NurseLink or the emergency room right away if your newborn:

  • Has a fever of 100.4°F or higher (checked with a thermometer under the armpit or forehead scanning thermometer, never rectally as this can cause injury)
  • Shows signs of dehydration, such as fewer than 6-8 wet diapers a day or sunken soft spot on top of the head
  • Has fallen from any height
  • Has blood in vomit or stool
  • Has yellowish skin or eyes, which is a sign of jaundice
  • Won’t wake up, or sleeps more than usual

Call 911 if your baby:

  • Is limp or has a seizure
  • Has difficulty breathing

Stress Management

Having a new baby can be an exciting time, but it’s often stressful. It’s important to take care of yourself.

Here are some steps you can take to protect your own health and well-being:

  • Establish rules for visitors, including times and lengths of visits. Don’t be afraid to say no to visits if it’s not a good time for you. Make a nice sign for the front door or ask a designated friend or family member to help enforce the times. Allow only well (non-sick) visitors and require handwashing before visitors touch baby.  
  • Eat a healthy diet and try to get enough sleep. You’ve heard “sleep when the baby sleeps,” which is a good idea to help you get much needed rest. It may be tempting to do chores during your baby’s nap time, but that’s what help from friends and family is for and “over-doing it” after delivery can prolong your postpartum recovery time
  • Get out of the house, whether that’s visiting a friend, doing some stress-free shopping, or taking a walk with your baby in a stroller. A change of scenery and some fresh air are good for both you and your baby.
  • Life with a new baby can be a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s normal to feel both elated and depressed. If sad feelings persist or get worse you may have postpartum depression, which can be treated and your first call should be to NurseLink, your doctor’s office or one of the postpartum resources provided to you after delivery.
  • If you ever have any thoughts or feelings of harming yourself, family or baby, call 911 immediately. Tell them you recently had a baby and what you are feeling. You will receive judgment-free help right away.

University Health Is Here for You

University Hospital is a certified Baby-Friendly facility. Our staff have met rigorous standards in caring for newborns and mothers. We're here for you when you have questions or concerns about caring for your newborn.

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