Surviving your baby’s first week at home

From feeding and diapering, to bathing and sleeping ― we cover all this and more!

Surviving your baby’s first week at home

Didn’t the hospital nurses just make it look oh, so, easy, when they changed your newborn’s diaper in 10 seconds, burped him with ease, and made swaddling look like a walk in the park?

For many new mums, reality hits when they take their newborns home from the hospital. Indeed, life will never be the same again once you have a wailing little human being to care for.

To walk you through the essentials of surviving your first week at home with bubba, we spoke to Dr Wong Boh Boi, assistant director (clinical) and senior lactation consultant at Thomson ParentCraft Centre

Do you see a lot of anxiety among parents taking their baby home for the first time?
Dr Wong:
Yes, many first time parents are concerned and anxious more than anything. They actually know what to do, but they are frightened. They often just need someone to reassure them, have patience in what they are doing, and of course,s some new skills on caring for their baby. They need to learn these skills, but information from books and website is never the same as hands-on learning. Holding a brand new baby can be awfully frightening ― some parents hold their babies too tensely or rigidly, because they are afraid to drop the baby, so the baby feels uncomfortable.

What’s the right way to hold a newborn then?
Dr Wong:
The most important thing is to be careful of the baby’s neck. Use the C-hold to support your baby under her neck with one hand, with the other hand under her buttocks. Gently swing the baby on the crook of the same arm as the hand under her buttocks – that’s the cradle hold. Swing the baby towards your waist, and that’s the football hold. Support your baby’s bum, then hoist her gently over your shoulder, and you have the upright hold. A baby carrier can be a good idea for mums, to give additional support.

Always ensure that your baby’s face is not in the mum’s cleavage to reduce the risk of suffocation. Holding the baby is more about confidence than anything else. If you have fear, the baby can sense it. After enough practice, your baby will get used to you holding her.

Why is it that some babies can sleep so well, but some just can’t?
Dr Wong:
In general, newborns can sleep up to 16 hours. By 3 months, this number reduces to 14 hours and by 12 months, they may sleep just 12 hours. Some babies can’t sleep well for several reasons ― if they are hungry, bloated, or perhaps they are not comfortable in the environment and the temperature. Check if the clothes are too thick or too thin. If you have a good bedtime routine, like a good soak in the evening, it will help baby to relax and sleep better. Be flexible ― you don’t need to stick so strictly to the schedule – 10 or 15 minutes later won’t make much of a difference. 

Some babies have sleep disorders but this is rare. Usually, babies don’t sleep well at night when their biological clock isn’t set yet ― so, she sleeps in the day but wakes up every hour during the night. What you can do is to make it noisier and brighter in the day, but darker and dimmer at night.

Holding the baby is more about confidence than anything else. If you have fear, the baby can sense it.

So, do you have any tips for better sleep?
Dr Wong:
Research has shown that babies sleep deeper and longer when in their parents’ room. It also allows the parents more rest, particularly if you are fully breastfeeding ― you don’t have to keep going into the next room to pick baby up. Emotionally, your baby bonds better with you and this builds your relationship. Don’t let you baby sleep in the same bed with you, as this increases the risk of SIDs. Place the cot right next to your bed, where it’s easy for you to reach out to her. Make sure that the sheets are made of breathable cotton and there isn’t anything in the cot that can cover your baby’s face and cause suffocation.

As a bedtime routine, give your baby a quick soak in the evening before bed, a rub down and a massage. Feed her, then swaddle her for the night. Swaddling allows her to sleep much better because when babies are born they have the startle reflex, and they get a shock and wake from their sleep. Don’t feed the baby till the baby is asleep. If she falls asleep on the breast, but wakes up alone in her cot, she will be scared when she wakes suddenly. And make sure that your baby has been burped properly, so that she doesn’t feel gassy and can sleep comfortably.

It’s one thing for the baby to be able to sleep well, but what about the mum? How can she get enough rest in her first week?
Dr Wong:
If you baby sleeps well, you’ll likely be able to sleep well, too. But it’s not always up to the baby. Sometimes, mums make it hard for themselves to sleep: If you don’t bathe or wash your hair, you drink wines and tonic that makes you break out in rash, binding your tummy to the extent that you get hives, there’s no way you’ll be able to sleep.

I recommend mums to take a nice warm shower three days after giving birth, and shampoo and blow-dry your hair. Wear comfortable clothes, and be comfortable ― even in an air-conditioned room, if you need it. Don’t overeat ― make sure you have your fruits and veggies, so you don’t get constipated. Don’t worry too much about your baby, you’ll be able to hear her if she is sleeping in the cot next to you. You don’t need a baby monitor, or to leave your baby with the nanny in the next room ― if you let the baby sleep with the nanny, you will be in trouble when she leaves because your baby won’t be used to sleeping with you.

Is there a right or wrong technique when it comes to changing your baby’s diaper?
Dr Wong:
You need to ensure there’s no infection, so, use the right technique ― wipe front to back. And never hoist your baby’s legs up too high ― if you overdo it, your baby may injure her back, or vomit if she has just drunk milk. You don’t have to use cotton wool and water to wipe your baby’s bum ― this was a practice in the past when parents didn’t have the option to use baby wipes. These days, wipes are gentle and biodegradable, which makes things easier for the parents. I’ve seen parents who clean a baby’s bum with cotton wool, and after cleaning once, they dip their fingers back into the water and clean again – that’s how infection happens.

If your baby gets a diaper rash, it’s important to air their buttocks and change the diapers frequently ― don’t let their skin soak in wet diapers for too long. If the rash is bad, you can use a little diaper rash cream. Also, if you don’t use the diapers properly, the frills can cause irritation to your baby’s skin.

When can you start cutting your baby’s nails?
Dr Wong:
Fingernails should be cut from six weeks onwards. Before that, your baby will be wearing mittens, so you don’t have to cut her nails. Never file her nails because the nail bed is quite weak, and the nails are very soft. Cut her nails after six weeks, because she should remove the mittens by then, so she can practise using their hands and fingers.

Click through for tips on what to do when your baby can’t stop crying!