Caring for Your Baby

“Some of my fondest memories in the first few months were
being able to hold my little one as she fell asleep to a bottle.” - New Dad

Caring for Your Baby

“Some of my fondest memories in the first few months were being able to hold my little one as she fell asleep to a bottle.” - New Dad

Despite worries you may have, learning to care for your baby will come quickly, especially if you dive in at the hospital. With babies, you learn by doing, and once you start, your instincts will kick in. 

You'll find a parade of challenges with each new issue, like crying, sleeping, and baby acne, and the sheer workload will be shocking. Babies are made cute and cuddly to steal your heart; you will give your baby every opportunity to do so by just caring for them.

It Doesn't Seem Like It, But Babies Grow Fast

You care for them one day at a time and each day can seem like an eternity. Then you compare a picture of your 3-month-old with one from when they first came home, and its “Wow!” 

IMAGE: They grow fast; The difference 12 weeks makes.

This dad took pictures of his baby for the first 365 days and compiled it in a 1-minute video: How a newborn baby changes over one year.

How a Newborn Baby Changes in a Year -
One Year in One Minute (1:06)

bathin-baby
bathing-baby-mobile

Bathing

For the first few weeks, give your baby a sponge bath. Here's how:

  1. Put warm water in a bowl, have some mild soap handy, undress him, and place him safely on a towel. 
  2. Wet a soft cloth, add a little soap and wipe him down gently, starting from his head to his toes. Be thorough on his bottom and any skin creases.
  3. Rinse him using another cloth with clean water, then dry him off and dress him in a clean outfit. 

After the umbilical cord falls off, here is how you should go about Bathing Your Baby.

READ: Expanded Information on Bathing Your Baby.

Your baby may not like the bath at first, and if you find a squirming, wet, slippery infant a little unnerving, put socks on your hands. After getting used to it, most babies find their bath soothing, and for many dads, it becomes the highlight of their day. When your baby discovers the joy of splashing and kicking like a frog (both are apparently instinctual), you may want to get in and join him (you can). 

Swaddling 

During the last months of pregnancy, babies are stuffed tight, secure and warm in Mom’s womb. Swaddling a baby replicates that secure feeling and helps keep them calm. Babies are swaddled soon after birth in the hospital, and the nurse will be happy to give you a lesson. Do it a few times and you'll get good at it. If your baby has Houdini escape skills and breaks free, try this. 

How to Adorably Swaddle Your Newborn Baby (2:04)

Swaddling Your Baby (3:13)

Massaging

Your hands-on time with your baby is the key to bonding, and you cannot get more hands-on than with massage. It relaxes and helps put babies to sleep too, but is way underused by dads. Most babies like massage, some don’t, and the only way to find out is to try. You can massage his head with your fingertips; keep it gentle and more than a tickle to start, and then move to his face, shoulders, arms, and hands, and back, legs and feet.

Watch how he responds; if your baby relaxes, he likes it, and if he arches his back or starts moving, he doesn’t. If so, you can dial it back to five seconds, very gentle rubs to get him used to it. Massage doesn’t take long, relaxes you too, and if you do it regularly, it becomes a thing just you and your baby share. You can do it over their clothes, but on their soft skin feels better. You don’t need lotion or oil but can try it out to see what works best. Wait for an hour after a feeding to massage their belly.

WebMD: How to massage your infant (1:52)

Fun Baby Massage (2:17)

Dressing Your Baby

To assert yourself as a dad, regardless of the pile of clothes that were gifted to your cause, man up and go to a baby store and buy her an outfit you choose. Seeing her in a new dress and headband will score big points with Mom – regardless of your fashion sense - but matching Chicago Bears team shirts will “promote your bonding”, the go-to excuse for anything you want to do with your baby. The baby grunge look - diaper and dirty t-shirt – won’t cut it.

Hands down the trickiest task of caring for a baby. When you put a sock on, you point your toe. When you put a sock on a baby, she curls her toes. Stick both thumbs deep into the sock so you can snug it up against her toes and then pull it the rest of the way up.

Most babies hate having clothing pulled down over their heads, and will let you know it, so be quick but gentle. Stretch the collar before putting it on. Once it’s down over his head, then put his arms into the armholes.  

Baby sleepers and jumpsuits often have snaps, and lots of them, and they often end up one snap off as you finish closing them. The trick is to start at the very bottom; get the first one aligned properly and the last one will line up too. 

Keeping your baby from being too hot or too cold at night can be a challenge. Newborns have little ability to regulate their own temperature and can chill easily. You may be tempted to bundle up your baby at bedtime, but overheating can be a serious problem. To keep her comfortable:

  • Keep the room temperature between 68 and 72 degrees.
  • Dress her in a diaper, an undershirt, and a one-piece sleeper.
  • Only use a thin knit blanket to cover her, and tuck it in under her.

A baby who is too hot will feel sweaty or clammy and may develop a heat rash, especially around the neck. He might look red in the face and may cry. Removing a layer of clothing (or a blanket) will help cool him down.

A baby who’s too cold may shiver and cry. Her hands, nose, and feet will feel cold. If your baby is too cold, hold her next to your body to warm her up and then add a layer of clothing or a blanket. 

Baby Care Resources

Thirty-five years ago, for most new parents, there was only one parenting book (Baby and Child Care (1946) by Dr. Spock) that emphasized parents should trust their own instincts. Now there is a massive collection of books, websites, organizations, and media that, among many things, imply the last thing you should do is trust yourself. 

So where do you find a good resource for helping you care for your baby (aside, of course, from this site)? We asked new parents, and came up with:

Circumcision

You will want to talk about circumcision before your baby’s birth, as circumcisions are typically done before you leave the hospital. There are few benefits or risks either way, and it's your choice to make. 

Circumcision has the highest number of responses of any issue on Daddit, yet we rarely hear it come up in our Boot Camps. Passionate anti-circumcision voices dominate the discussion, quoting information from organizations opposing it as a human rights issue (a baby cannot consent to a circumcision), and comparing it to removing a young woman's clitoris. Advocatitus results in the claim that circumcised men don’t enjoy sex as much; the science (see Wikipedia) concludes they do. 

Circumcision is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa, and most of Asia.  In the past, circumcision was used as a religious rite of passage for teenage boys and was promoted to reduce masturbation - done without an anesthetic to reinforce the lesson. The World Health Organization promotes circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa where they have found it reduces female-to-male HIV transmission by 50-60%. Proponent groups include religions, and the CDC, which in 2014 concluded that it helps men avoid STDs.

To assist in making your choice, we selected the following:

Pacifiers

To quiet your screaming baby, pop in a pacifier and all you'll hear is a vigorous sucking noise. That babies are built to suck will quickly become apparent, although not all babies will accept a pacifier. 

The first time your baby cries and nothing you do consoles her, the pacifier can become an issue. If Mom is also upset over breastfeeding problems with a hungry baby, it can become an acute need. Some hospitals restrict their use (see below), but not to worry. Wash your hands well and you will have ten pacifiers available (your fingers).

Some babies transition from using a pacifier to sucking their thumb, but many don't. Oftentimes the biggest drawback to using a pacifier is the difficulty of breaking the habit and possible dental damage from long-term use.

You can use your pinkie as a pacifier. Trim your nail if needed. Pick your baby up, sit down and hold him face up in one arm on your lap. Brush his lips with your finger so he opens his mouth, and then stick it in with the soft side up. You will feel instinct at work; they suck hard and you get an idea of what it is like for mom when the baby latches on to her breast.

Pacifier use is mostly an issue in breastfeeding because of "advocatitus."  The evidence against their use has been superseded with newer evidence indicating that pacifier use may actually benefit breastfeeding. There are issues to consider, however.

A worldwide campaign to promote breastfeeding defines ten steps all hospitals should take. One step is to discourage and restrict the use of pacifiers based upon observations in the 1970-80’s that mothers who used them were less likely to continue breastfeeding. The studies cited by the campaign showed a relationship between shorter breastfeeding span and pacifier use and became the basis for opposing pacifiers. 

More recently, randomized studies designed to determine the cause of the shorter breastfeeding durations found “no evidence that pacifier use is harmful to breastfeeding.” They also found evidence indicating pacifiers may be helpful to breastfeeding; mothers experiencing problems resorted to pacifiers, which quieted their babies and helped them breastfeed longer. 

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics modified their support of the Baby Friendly Hospital rule of no pacifiers because of evidence that pacifiers help prevent SIDS, and actually recommend the use of pacifiers for a year starting at one-month-old. 

Here is the evidence from two doctors with no ax to grind: 

A newborn hospitalist MD sorts out the confusion over nipple confusion.

A pediatrician clears up nipple confusion. 

While the evidence of actual problems is sketchy at best, it's good to understand the concerns. While nipple confusion should not be an issue because no milk comes from a pacifier, ask Mom if she notices any changes in your baby’s breastfeeding. The other issue is some believe prolonged sucking on a pacifier will diminish a baby’s desire to suck on Mom's breast, so you might not use it as a soothing tool for a few weeks until breastfeeding is well established.

WhatToExpect.com: Pros & Cons: Should You give your baby a pacifier.

HealthyChildren.org: Practical Pacifier Principles from the AAP.

reddit: Dads: Gave my boy a pacifier, is it the end of the world?

pacifier

Screen Time for Babies

The average child spends lots of time in front of a TV, tablet or mobile device, and screen use in homes continues to rise dramatically. Research indicates this is not good, primarily due to their lost opportunity to do other physical or learning activities. So how do you deal with screen time with your baby?

In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a zero tolerance rule for any screen time until a baby turns two years old. It was driven by the popularity of Baby Einstein videos in the 90’s, and research finding they were actually detrimental to a baby’s learning. The research was later debunked.

About 90% of new parents, including those who were pediatricians, ignored the policy, found screen time distracted and calmed a fussy baby, and many got on the path to too much screen time. A 2011 study found that 47% of babies under 2 years watch up to two hours of TV daily, and 30% had a TV in their room. Some parents followed the rules, which meant no TV on in the house, and perhaps Dad watching the game at the local bar. 

One former member of the AAP Committee on screen time wrote in a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “We can no longer afford to guide children’s media use based on our values and opinions. Evidence-based decision-making… must be brought to bear. In our zeal to advocate for children, we have largely ignored the positive effects of using media, mismanaged the public discourse, and lost the ear of many whom we serve.” The AAP recently loosened their rules, but they still do not reflect reality.

TIME Magazine: Parents, Calm Dow About Infant Screen Time.

Babies love watching sports on TV (1:01)

Strategies For Limiting Screen Time For The First Year

So where does this leave you? What happens when you discover your crying baby quickly becomes mesmerized by a video on your phone? Or your friend tells you about the iPad program his little one loves? Or how putting your baby in front of the TV buys you 30 minutes of quiet freedom? It's a slippery slope.

READ: Common Sense Media's guidelines for screen time for babies and toddlers.

BTW, your baby will be fascinated with your cell phone. There is even an app that turns your phone into a rattle. But, be careful: babies also love to stick things in their mouths...

Trimming Your Baby’s Nails

A baby’s fingernails are very sharp and can scratch their face. They grow rapidly and need to be trimmed 1-2 times a week. An awake, moving baby makes it difficult to avoid cutting the tips of her tiny, delicate fingers, so trim the nails when your baby is asleep. Most babies sleep hard enough that lightly trimming won't wake them up.

Another strategy is to trim the nails while your baby eats. One parent can distract the baby with food or a bottle, while the other has free reign over the nails. To see how other parents handle the situation, check out these videos, below.

Trimming Baby's Nails

New parents trimming their 11-day old baby's nails (2:27).

Baby will occasionally have plans of their own...(1:05)

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