General baby care
Responsive feeding: your baby will let you know when they are hungry by becoming restless, sucking their fingers or making mouthing movements. Offerings a breast or bottle feed before they begin to get upset and cry will make feeding easier. If you are breastfeeding you can offer your baby your breast when you want a cuddle, or fit in a quick feed when you want to sit down and rest. If you choose to bottle feed, your baby will enjoy being held close and being fed by you and your partner rather than by lots of different people.
Skin to skin contact: holding your baby naked against your bare chest straight after birth is very important because it helps calm your baby, keeps them warm, steadies their breathing and gives you time to bond. It also helps get breastfeeding off to a good start. A blanket over both of you will help keep your baby warm. Your midwife will check you and your baby regularly while you are having skin to skin contact and will explain the signs for you and your partner to look out for to ensure your baby remains safe and well. If you have a caesarean section or are separated from the baby after the birth, you can still both benefit from skin to skin as soon as possible. If you choose to bottle feed your baby, you can still give your baby’s first feed whilst in skin contact.
Later skin contact: skin contact at any time will help calm and settle your baby. It can also encourage your baby to feed and help you and your partner to feel close to your baby.
Keeping baby close to you: newborn babies have a strong need to be close to their parents as this will help them to feel secure and loved. When babies feel secure, they release a hormone called oxytocin which helps their brain to grow and develop. In hospital, providing you and your baby are well, your baby will stay in a cot next to your bed at all times so that you can get to know each other and you can respond to their needs for feeding and comfort. When you go home, your baby will benefit from being close by you during the day and at night.
Safe sleep for your baby: your baby should have a clear, safe space e.g. in a separate cot or Moses basket with a firm flat mattress, without any raised or cushioned areas, no pillows, bumpers, quilts or duvets. Place your baby on their back with their feet against the foot of the cot. This is to ensure that your baby’s head does not become covered by bedding, leading to overheating. This is commonly referred to as the ‘feet to foot’ position. Babies should always be in the same room as you day and night for the first six months of your baby’s life. This means you can hear your baby and respond to their needs before they start crying or become distressed. You can also reach them easily without having to get up.
Some parents choose to share a bed with their baby – but be aware you should not take your baby into bed if you or your partner are smokers, have recently drunk alcohol, taken drugs which may cause drowsiness (legal or illegal), if your baby was born prematurely or is a low birth weight. Ask your midwife or health visitor if you need any advice about bedsharing. For further information visit www.lullabytrust.org.uk. Never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair. Move somewhere safer if you might fall asleep.
Keep your baby in a smoke free area at all times, day and night. Babies exposed to cigarette smoke before and after birth are at an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) sometimes known as cot death. It is important to not let your baby get too hot. An ideal room temperature is between 16-20°C.
Ways to wake a sleepy baby: if you feel worries about how long your baby has slept you can:
- gently wake your baby by picking them up and talking to them
- changing their nappy
- rubbing their hands and feet
- undressing them and holding them in skin to skin contact
Soothing and settling a crying baby: all babies cry at some time as a means of communicating with you and will generally settle when they are picked up and cuddled. Here are some things you can try that may help:
|hold your baby in skin contact
|offer a feed
|gently rock or sway whilst holding baby
|speak or sing in a quite soothing manner
|play calming music
|try using a baby sling/carrier
|take baby out for a walk
|give them a warm bath
Ask your midwife, health visitor or GP for help if you feel the crying is making you feel anxious, agitated, or feel unable to cope. If your baby is crying for long periods, they may be ill and require an urgent medical check.
Taking your baby out safely
Your baby is ready to go out as soon as you feel fit enough to go out yourself. Walking is good for both of you. If you use a buggy, make sure your baby can lie flat on their back. A parent-facing buggy is best so that your baby can see you and feel secure.
In a car: it is illegal for anyone to hold a baby while sitting in the front or back seat of a car. The recommended way of your baby to travel in a car is in a properly secured, backward-facing, baby seat in the back of the car. Ideally a second adult should travel in the back of the car with the baby. If you have a car with air bags fitted in the front, your baby should not travel in the front seat (even facing backwards) because of the danger of suffocation if the bag inflates. Avoid travelling for long periods of time and take regular breaks to give you a chance to take the baby out of their car seat. If your baby changes position and slumps forward, stop the car as soon as it is safe to do so and take the baby out of the car seat.
In cold weather: make sure your baby is wrapped up warm in cold weather because babies chill very easily. Take the extra clothing off when you get into a warm place, including the car, so that your baby does not overheat, even if he or she is asleep.
In hot weather: babies and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the sun, as their skin is thinner, and they may not be able to produce enough pigment called melanin to protect them from sunburn. The amount of sun your child is exposed to may increase their risk of skin cancer in later life. Keep babies under six months old out of the sun altogether.
Safety in the home: Children most at risk of a home accident are in the 0-4 age group. Speak to your midwife or health visitor for information on practical issues e.g. fitting smoke detectors and how to keep your baby safe generally. More information on preventing accidents relating to choking, suffocation, burns and scalds, poisons and emergency first aid is available at www.rospa.com. A safe sleeping discussion/assessment will be carried out by your midwife and health visitor to ensure that where your baby sleeps is a safe environment. Never leave your baby alone with any pets. Infant behaviour e.g. crying can irritate a pet. For further information visit: www.rspca.org.uk/safeandhappy.
Last Modified: 2:49pm 03/01/2024
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