Your New Baby and You
by Alisa Ikeda

You've outfitted the nursery and tethered the infant seat to the car. You use words like "layette," "onesie," and "swaddle" with authority. But no matter how well read you are or how fully stocked your diaper bag, you're in for a wild ride with plenty of unexpected twists and turns.

Not until you hold him for the first time will you know how it feels to be paralyzed by how seemingly fragile your newborn is and how overwhelmingly precious he is to you. The simplest things—like dressing the delicate babe—can make even the most composed of us break a sweat. But relax. Rest assured that you'll be the foremost expert on your baby in no time flat. Until then, here's a crash course on baby basics to steer you in the right direction.

Still Waiting?
If "D Day" hasn't yet taken place, you still have the opportunity to do a few simple things to make the transition from childless to child-blessed an especially smooth one.

  • Attend an infant care class. Many couples are so focused on the labor and delivery that they fail to consider the days and weeks following birth. Since babies don't come with instruction manuals, most local hospitals and parenting resource centers offer inexpensive infant care classes. Invaluable to the many of you who've had little to no experience with a newborn as well as those who haven't babysat for years and could use an up-to-date baby how-to refresher, these information-packed classes are excellent confidence boosters.
  • Take a breastfeeding course and/or locate a certified lactation consultant or your local La Leche League. While breastfeeding is a most natural thing, it doesn't always feel like it. If you're planning on nursing, learn all that you can, and be prepared for any number of difficulties. Having a support system in place will help you ensure a successful breastfeeding relationship with your new baby.
  • Take an infant choking and CPR course. Simple logic: if you know it, you probably won't need it.
  • Fill up the freezer. Stock up on easy, nutritious meals like soup, lasagne, and casseroles. You'll be glad you did when the only energy you can muster is that which makes your tummy growl.

Once baby arrives, a few things become plenty apparent: babies cry, eat, poop, and sleep (not necessarily in that order). And parents manage to take delight in (almost) all of it.

Babies Cry.

A lot. They cry when they're tired, hungry, gassy, bored, or overstimulated. Sometimes they cry just because they can. So what are frazzled new parents to do?

  • Try anything and everything. Go for a walk with the baby in a front carrier or sling (it's like they're lined with baby Prozac!). Take a drive. Play music. Dance with her. Rub her back. Swaddle her. Put her in a swing. Run the vacuum (some parents swear by it!).
  • Relax. Don't panic if you can't recognize the difference between a hungry cry or a tired cry or a gassy cry. Just see to it that her needs are met (she's fed, rested, and has a clean diaper), and then accept the fact that, while it may never be music to your ears, her crying is natural (if the crying seems truly excessive, consult with your pediatrician). She knows of no other way to communicate, after all, and yet she no doubt has a lot to say about her new world!
  • Take a break. Allow yourself a guilt-free escape every now and then. A rejuvenated parent is much more patient and able to cope than a frazzled one.
  • Trust that your baby won't cry her way through high school. These crying jags will be but distant memories in a very short time.

Babies Eat.

New parents are often obsessed with how much, how often, and how heartily their babies eat. Simple but wise advice is to follow your baby's cues. Feed when she wants to eat. Even wiser advice is to take advantage of feeding as a time for you to rest. Feeding, even at 3:00 a.m., can be a wonderful chance to bond and truly relax. If you bottle feed, do so in a position that is restful and pleasant for you (perhaps in a glider under dim lights). If you breastfeed, learn to do so lying down. Remember to always burp your baby during and after a meal.

Babies Poop.

You knew she would. But did you know how often? Here's the scoop on poop.

  • Your baby's first few poops will be an unbelievably thick, dark greenish-black, tar-like substance called meconium. That's normal.
  • Your baby may have up to 8 to 10 bowel movements a day. But don't be concerned if she doesn't, or if her output varies from day to day. So long as she's eating well and wetting a minimum of 6 diapers a day, she's in good shape. (If you're concerned about several poop-free days, you might want to consult your pediatrician who may opt to move things along for her).
  • When diapering a baby boy, cover his penis with a clean cloth as you go (to avoid an unexpected shower), and remember to point his penis down in the diaper (if you forget, he'll remind you later with a wet t-shirt).
  • Wipe little girls from front to back.
  • Keep one hand firmly on your baby's tummy at all times—even little ones unable to yet turn over have been known to miraculously manage acrobatics off the changing table.
  • Use unscented, alcohol-free wipes. Better yet (and far less expensive), use water! A moist washcloth and a spray bottle are all you need.
  • Avoid baby powder.
  • Until it heals, keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry so it won't become infected (redness or a foul smell could indicate infection—seek medical attention); fold the diaper below the stump so it remains exposed to the air (it will dry and fall off in a couple of weeks).

Babies Sleep.

Everyone tells new parents to "sleep when your baby sleeps." But it's not easy advice to heed. When else will you be able to return those calls and emails, tidy up the family room, or attack that heap of laundry? But, once again, remember that a rejuvenated parent is much more patient and able to cope than a frazzled one. So sleep when your baby sleeps. Seriously.

Of course every baby is different, but newborns tend to sleep about 16 hours a day, typically in 2-3 hour stretches. Be sure that your baby's sleeping time is spent on her back on a firm mattress with no pillows or stuffed animals and in a comfortably warm room. You can help your little one understand night from day (and thus sleep better and longer at night) by keeping her room bright and the house livelier and noisier during the day, and by being more subdued and quiet at night (keep the lights low even during night feedings).

Mommies and Daddies Revel.

Every new parental mission accomplished—the first bath, nail trimming, or nasal aspiration session—is worthy of celebration. Each brings you that much closer to "seasoned parent" status. And when you're confused or exhausted or overwhelmed by it all, put it into perspective: if you consider the headaches to come (the Terrible Twos, bake sales, driving privileges, first dates, college tuition…), you'll be reminded of the unmatchable innocence and simplicity of these first weeks and months as parents. Sit back and enjoy! Trust your baby, and trust yourself. Before you know it, you'll be longing to do the whole thing all over again.

Alisa Ikeda is a writer and editor in Marin County, California, with a B.A. in sociology and a background in book publishing.