Most parents will agree that the newborn stage is a whirlwind. It is both magical and challenging and seems to be gone in the blink of an eye. Taking care of a newborn involves feeding, changing, soothing, and snuggling your little one. This routine may sound easy; however, its simplicity is deceiving.
Though not complicated, taking care of a newborn is not easy. Newborns require around-the-clock care due to their strict feeding schedules, and they can be difficult to soothe as they adjust to their world. While parents are busy making their little one comfortable, these demands can lead to sleep deprivation and feelings of inadequacy, and stress.
Read on to learn more about what to expect when caring for a newborn and common hardships.
Is taking care of a newborn hard?
Aside from their difficult schedule, learning to read your baby’s cues and how to best soothe them takes time. A baby cries an average of three hours a day. In the beginning, you may feel helpless when your newborn is crying uncontrollably. This combined with the lack of sleep can be very overwhelming.
Caring for a newborn is relatively simple; however, it can be both mentally and physically taxing. Parents often find themselves with little time for sleep or breaks, which can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression.
New breastfeeding mothers may go through additional hardships as they begin breastfeeding. In many cases, breastfeeding doesn’t come as naturally as some may think. Low milk supply, poor latching, breast engorgement, and sore nipples can all lead to pain and frustration.
Day to day with a newborn
Newborns require a lot of time and attention from their parents.
Most of the day (and night) consists of feeding, diaper changes, sleeping, and a little bit of play.
With 12 feeding sessions, 10 to 12 dirty diapers, and over 16 hours of sleep in a day, a typical day for a newborn may look like this:
Day-to-Day with a Newborn
|7:30 a.m.||Diaper change and feed||7:00 p.m.||Play|
|8:00 a.m.||Sleep||7:30 p.m.||Feed and change diaper|
|9:30 a.m.||Feed and diaper change||8:00 p.m.||Sleep|
|10:00 a.m.||Sleep||9:00 p.m.||Sponge bath|
|11:00 a.m.||Play||9:30 p.m.||Feed and change diaper|
|11:30 a.m.||Feed and change diaper||10:00 p.m.||Sleep|
|12:00 p.m.||Sleep||11:30 p.m.||Feed and change diaper|
|1:30 p.m.||Feed and change diaper||12:00 a.m.||Sleep|
|2:00 p.m.||Sleep||1:30 a.m.||Feed and change diaper|
|3:00 p.m.||Play||2:00 a.m.||Sleep|
|3:30 p.m.||Feed and change diaper||3:30 a.m.||Feed and change diaper|
|4:00 p.m.||Sleep||4:00 a.m.||Sleep|
|5:30 p.m.||Feed and change diaper||5:30 a.m.||Feed and change diaper|
|6:00 p.m.||Sleep||6:00 a.m.||Sleep|
Whether you are nursing or formula feeding, one thing is for certain: you will spend a lot of time feeding your baby.
You can expect your baby to eat approximately every two hours for at least their first month of life.
Though every two hours is common, in the beginning, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends feeding your baby on demand or responsive feeding. Responsive feeding requires you to watch for signs that your baby is hungry rather than watching the clock.
Hunger cues include:
- Making sucking motions or licking their lips
- Rooting or looking for a nipple
- Mouthing at their hands
- Clenching their fists or fingers over their stomach
- Flexing their arms and legs
- Fussing (a later cue)
When nursing, feeding sessions are around 20 minutes or longer. If your baby begins eating at 10:00 a.m., they may finish around 10:20 a.m. and need to nurse again at noon. Additionally, you may be pumping after each nursing session to stimulate your milk supply. You can see how this around-the-clock feeding schedule can become overwhelming.
Though formula feeding may seem more straightforward, it’s by no means easy. Preparing formula and sanitizing bottles time after time can also require a lot of time and energy.
Between their feeding sessions, your newborn will probably be sleeping.
A newborn sleeps for roughly two-thirds of the day. Though this may seem like a lot, their schedule consists of frequent short naps. So, even though your little one is getting plenty of sleep, you may get very little.
Though eventually, your baby will be able to sleep for longer stretches, this shouldn’t be the goal for newborns. If your baby does not wake up for a feeding session, you must wake them up. According to the Mayo Clinic, newborns should not sleep for longer than four hours at a time due to their feeding schedule.
On the first few days of your baby’s life, you may only have a couple of wet or dirty diapers, but by the time they are a week old, they may need their diaper changed after every feed.
Keep track of how many wet and dirty diapers your baby is having each day, and make note of any changes.
Your baby’s diapers may give you insight into your baby’s overall health:
- Too few wets may signal that they are not getting enough milk.
- Pale, black, green, or loose poop may be caused by an allergy or infection.
- Poop that is foamy in consistency may signal that a breastfed baby is getting an incorrect foremilk to hindmilk ratio.
Between your baby’s busy feeding and sleeping schedule, it’s important to make time for play.
Most babies will only play for 10 to 20 minutes at a time; however, it is a great way to bond with your new baby.
Play ideas for newborns include:
- Looking at high contrast books or pictures
- Looking into a shatterproof mirror
- Reading aloud to your baby
- Singing to your baby
- Smiling and making faces at your baby
- Tummy time
- Giving baby different toys or objects to feel
Before you know it, your little one will be hitting newborn milestones. These milestones may introduce new responsibilities into your daily life.
Soon after you bring your baby home from the hospital, your pediatrician will ask you to start doing tummy time.
Tummy time helps strengthen your baby’s back, neck, and core muscles to help them hit developmental milestones down the road such as lifting their head, sitting up, and crawling.
Newborns should get about two or three 3-minute tummy time sessions a day, which will increase to over a combined 30 minutes a day by the time they are three months old. Designated tummy time should be continued until your baby begins spending time on their belly on his or her own, which is usually when they begin crawling around 7 to 9 months.
During tummy time, you will lay your newborn on their tummy in a soft, safe place. Tummy time is typically most successful when your baby is well-rested, has just had a diaper change, and does not have a full belly.
Unfortunately, tummy time can be challenging for babies, and some babies hate it. This may be due to acid reflux, digestion issues, or general discomfort. Here are some things to try if your baby is struggling with tummy time:
- Try slightly elevating your baby’s chest with a rolled towel, blanket, or support pillow such as the Boppy Tummy Time Prop Pillow.
- Carefully use a therapy ball to help your baby become more comfortable in tummy time. Surround your baby with visually stimulating toys or books to help pass the time.
- Use a baby gym designed for tummies such as the Fisher-Price Go Wild Gym and Giraffe Wedge.
- Try different surfaces; for instance, if your baby is struggling on the floor, try doing tummy time on the bed.
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When your baby is just a week or two old, they may already be going through their first growth spurt. Your little one may seem fussier during these times, experience changes in their sleeping habits, and be hungrier than usual.
Growth spurts may result in longer and more frequent feeding sessions known as cluster feeding. While your baby is cluster feeding, you may feel like you are feeding them non-stop. Though this can be difficult (especially through the nights), your baby will settle back into their usual feeding pattern.
Growth spurts tend to happen around the threes, and can be expected around the following ages:
- 1 to 3 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
A full bath is not recommended for newborns until their umbilical stub falls off. Additionally, baby boys who have been circumcised need to fully heal before they are submerged in water.
You will need to give your baby sponge baths before progressing to full baths for the first couple of weeks.
The World Health Organization even suggests waiting to sponge bathe a newborn until after the first 24 hours. Reasons for this include:
- Maintaining body temperature
- Preventing stress associated with drops in blood sugar
- Promoting successful breastfeeding
- Not disrupting skin-to-skin bonding
- Allowing the vernix, the white waxy coating that protects babies’ skin in the womb, to remain on their skin to prevent dryness and bacterial infection
When it’s time to start giving your little one baths, it won’t be a daily occurrence. Depending on your baby’s skin type and the climate you live in, your baby may only need to be bathed a couple of times a week. Overbathing can dry out your baby’s delicate skin. As your baby becomes mobile, you can begin giving them more baths.
Though we all have experience managing our own hygiene, bathing a newborn is a little different. Here are some tips to keep in mind while you are giving your newborn their first bath:
- Keep the water temperature around 100°F.
- Never leave your baby unattended.
- Use gentle soaps and shampoos or avoid them altogether.
- Start by cleaning your baby’s eyes and end with their diaper area.
- Pay special attention to creases and folds.
Umbilical cord falls off
The umbilical cord carries oxygen and nutrients to your baby during pregnancy. It is clamped and cut after delivery, leaving a short stump attached to your baby’s belly button.
This tissue slowly dries and eventually falls off. The umbilical area typically takes one to three weeks to heal. During this time, extra precautions must be taken to ensure that an infection does not develop.
Here are some tips for caring for your baby’s umbilical stump:
- Keep the umbilical stump dry. Do not submerge the umbilical area in water and avoid getting it wet during sponge bathing, unless it needs to be cleaned (e.g. a diaper blowout). Always make sure the umbilical stump is dry before dressing your baby.
- Watch for signs of infection. As the stump dries, it turns from yellowish to black. Dried blood is normal; however, pus may be a sign of infection.
- Avoid friction when diapering and dressing your baby. When changing your baby’s diaper, fold the diaper down or cut a notch in the front section to prevent the diaper from rubbing, irritating, or prematurely separating the umbilical stump. You may also purchase diapers, such as Huggies Little Snugglers Diapers, which are designed with a notch for the umbilical stump. Tight-fitting clothing should also be avoided while the umbilical stump is healing.
- Let it fall off on its own. It may be tempting to pick off this strange dried tissue; however, removing the umbilical stump before it’s ready can cause excessive bleeding. It may even happen by accident while bathing or dressing your baby. Be careful and, if excessive bleeding occurs, contact your pediatrician.
Of course, introducing your loved ones to the new member of the family is exciting, but it can be overwhelming for you and your baby.
Consider spacing out visitors to ensure that you and your little one are getting time to bond and establish a routine. Do some planning before hosting or visiting family.
Here are some things to consider:
- Make requests of family members; these may include washing or sanitizing their hands, wearing a mask, or limiting perfume.
- Schedule around your routine to avoid a cranky baby. With all of the feedings and naps, your newborn’s schedule stays full. Try to carve out time for visitors when your baby is well-fed and awake.
- Plan short visits with a few people at a time, so your baby does not become overwhelmed. Be clear about your plans so everyone is on the same page.
When does caring for a newborn get easier
The first few weeks of parenthood are often the hardest. Mothers are recovering from delivery, babies are adjusting to the world outside the womb, and there can be a lot of uncertainty.
However, caring for your baby will get easier over time. Your baby is growing quickly, and you are becoming a more experienced parent.
Feeding a newborn can seem nonstop in the beginning, but as your little one’s stomach grows, they can eat more during a feeding session and eat less frequently. According to Healthline, this is how your feeding frequency may change over time:
First year feeding schedule
|Age||Number of Feeding Sessions|
|Newborn||8 to 12 times a day|
|1 to 3 months||7 to 9 times a day|
|3 months||6 to 8 times a day|
|6 months||6 times a day + solids|
|12 months||4 times a day + solids|
As your baby gets older, they can sleep for longer stretches at a time. The following chart from Stanford Children’s Health shows how you can expect your baby’s sleeping habits to change over the course of a year:
Sleeping habits in the first year
|Age||Total Sleep||Nighttime||Daytime (Naps)|
|Newborn||16 hours||8 to 9 hours||8 hours|
|1 month||15.5 hours||8 to 9 hours||7 hours|
|3 months||15 hours||9 to 10 hours||4 to 5 hours|
|6 months||14 hours||10 hours||4 hours|
|9 months||14 hours||11 hours||3 hours|
|12 months||14 hours||11 hours||3 hours|
Along with the relief provided by fewer feeds and longer stretches of sleep, many parents gain confidence as their babies grow. Understanding your baby’s cues and meeting their needs will become like second nature, and this can make parenthood less stressful.
Taking care of your family with a newborn
Caring for a newborn can be all-consuming, which makes fulfilling other duties extremely difficult.
Among other things, many new parents find it difficult to:
- Make time for their older children
- Make time for their spouse
- Take care of pets
- Plan meals
- Clean the house
It is important to remember to prioritize the things that really need to be done, delegate what you can, and let go of the things that can wait.
Taking care of yourself with a newborn
A woman is considered postpartum for the first 6 to 8 weeks following childbirth.
During this time, a new mom will go through many physical and hormonal changes, which can be overwhelming. Although recovery is important for new mothers, they often feel like they have no time to take care of themselves. Many mothers struggle to make themselves a priority well after their postpartum period.
Reach out to friends and family if you are feeling overwhelmed.