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It’s true: Your baby is absolutely beautiful and probably the sweetest tiny human ever born, but even the most stunning infants need a bit of grooming now and then. And, as you’ve figured out by now, newborns don’t come with manuals, so we’ve rounded up some expert tips for keeping your baby looking (and feeling) her best.

Caring for your newborn’s umbilical cord stump

What’s an umbilical cord stump?

Babies in the womb receive nourishment and oxygen through the placenta, which is attached to the inner wall of the mother’s uterus. The placenta is connected to the baby by the umbilical cord, which attaches to the baby through an opening in the baby’s abdomen.

After your baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut close to your baby’s body. It’s a painless procedure. And it leaves an umbilical stump attached to your baby’s belly button.

How long will my baby have an umbilical cord stump?

The stump will dry up and drop off in about 7 to 21 days, leaving a small wound that may take a few days to heal.

For the first few weeks of your baby’s life, you’ll need to keep the umbilical stump clean and dry.

When the stump falls off, you may notice a little blood on the diaper – don’t worry, it’s normal. Sometimes, after the stump falls off, there’s some drainage of clear or yellow fluid, and some bits of lumpy flesh may remain.

These “umbilical granulomas” may disappear on their own, or they may need to be treated by your child’s doctor. But they aren’t serious and don’t contain nerves, so if treatment is necessary, it’ll be  painless for your baby.

How do I take care of an umbilical cord stump?

Until your baby’s umbilical cord stump falls off:

  • Keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry. Fold your baby’s diaper away from the stump (or buy newborn diapers with a cut-out space for the stump). This exposes the stump to the air and prevents contact with urine.
  • Give your baby sponge baths instead of tub baths.
  • If the weather is warm, have your baby wear just a diaper and loose T-shirt to let air circulate and speed the drying process.
  • Avoid dressing your baby in bodysuit-style undershirts.
  • Never attempt to pull off the stump, even if it seems to be hanging by a thread.

Don’t use alcohol to clean the stump. The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) used to recommend cleaning the base of the stump daily with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. But researchers have found that untreated cords heal faster than alcohol-swabbed cords and carry no more risk of infection, so the AAP changed its recommendation.

What are the signs of an umbilical cord stump infection?

Infections are rare, but consult your baby’s doctor if:

  • Your baby cries when you touch the cord or the skin next to it.
  • The skin around the base of the cord is red.
  • The stump smells foul or has a yellowish discharge.

Bathing your baby

A bath can be a time of fun and closeness for both of you. Choose a time when your baby is not hungry.

Your baby only needs bath two or three times a week. Bathing your baby too often may dry out her skin. Use a soap made for babies that do not have perfumes and dyes. Use very little soap during bath time.

There are two ways to bathe your baby: a sponge bath or a tub or sink bath. Give your baby a sponge bath until the umbilical cord falls off.

If your baby’s skin is dry, check with your baby’s health care provider before applying lotion. It is normal for newborn skin to be dry.

How to give a sponge bath

Gather everything you need before you undress your baby. You will need:

  • a baby tub or a clean sink
  • warm water
  • mild baby soap
  • baby shampoo
  • washcloth
  • towel
  • soft bristled baby brush
  • clean diaper
  • clothing

Lay your baby on a towel on the changing table or counter. Keep her covered with a towel so she doesn’t get cold. Keep bath time short.

  • Test the temperature of the water on your wrist or inside of your arm. It should feel warm, not hot.
  • Only uncover the part of your baby you are washing. Pat the area dry and re-cover with the towel.
  • Use a soft washcloth and warm water to clean your baby. Rinse the cloth after washing each body area.
  • Wash your baby from where she is clean to where she is dirty.

The order is:

  1. eyes
    Use the clean edge of the washcloth to clean around each eye. Gently wipe outward starting from the corner of the eye by the nose.
  2. face and neck
  3. tummy and back
  4. arms and hands
  5. legs and feet
  6. genital area
    • for a girl: wash the inside of the labia by wiping down toward the buttocks. Use a clean part of the washcloth for each side.
    • for a boy: gently wash around the penis and around and under the scrotum. If your son is circumcised, only use water on the penis until healing is complete. This usually takes seven to 20 days.
  7. buttocks

When the bath is over, wrap and dry your baby with a soft towel.

Don’t use powder. It can get in your baby’s lungs and make her sick.

Brush your baby’s hair or scalp with a soft-bristled baby brush.

How to give a sink or tub bath 

  1. Use both hands to gently place her in the tub.
  2. Gently support her head and neck with one hand while you bathe her with the other hand.
  3. Hold your baby so her shoulders and head are over the tub when you wash her head.

Gather everything you need before you undress your baby. You will need:

  • a baby tub or a clean sink
  • warm water
  • mild baby soap
  • baby shampoo
  • washcloth
  • towel
  • soft bristled baby brush
  • clean diaper
  • clothing

If you are using a sink or a plastic tub, it is helpful to line it with a towel or receiving blanket to make the surface less slippery.

Test the temperature of the water in the sink or tub on your wrist or inside of your arm before you use the water or place your baby in it. It should feel warm, not hot.

If you are placing your baby in a clean sink or tub, make sure the water covers your baby’s body up to her shoulders. This will help keep her warm.
You can position your baby on her back, supporting her head with your arm. Or, sit her up, supporting her head and neck with one hand. The water may not reach her shoulders.

Hold your baby firmly. Babies are slippery when wet.

Wash your baby from where she is clean to where she is dirty.

The order is:

  1. eyes
    Use the clean edge of the washcloth to clean around each eye. Gently wipe outward starting from the corner of the eye by the nose.
  2. face and neck
  3. tummy and back
  4. arms and hands
  5. legs and feet
  6. genital area
  7. buttocks

Rinse the soap off well after you have cleaned an area.

When the bath is over, wrap and dry your baby with a soft towel.

Don’t use powder. It can get in your baby’s lungs and make her sick.

Brush your baby’s hair or scalp with a soft-bristled baby brush.

How to wash your baby’s hair

You only need to wash your baby’s hair one or two times a week. You can wash your baby’s head before you put her in the bath, or after the rest of her bath is done.

  • Hold her so her shoulders and head are over the tub.
  • Scoop up some of the bath water to wet her head and use a small amount of tearless shampoo.
  • Rinse her head well and dry it with a towel.
  • Brush your baby’s hair or scalp with a soft-bristled baby brush.

How to care for your child’s uncircumcised penis

How to clean your baby’s penis

In the first few years of your son’s life, while the foreskin is still attached, you can simply clean the outside of his uncircumcised penis with ordinary soap and water at bath time, or with a wipe when you change his diaper.

Some experienced parents offer this advice to new moms and dads: Clean your baby’s penis as you would a finger and only “clean what is seen.” In other words, don’t try to clean under the foreskin, a fold of skin that covers the head of the penis.

In uncircumcised baby boys, the entire foreskin is attached to the head of the penis and can’t be pulled back (“retracted”). It usually remains that way for years before separating naturally. Forcing it to retract sooner can cause pain and bleeding, or even damage the penis and cause scarring.

How and when the foreskin separates

Eventually, the foreskin separates from the head of the penis, remaining attached only at the base of the head. At that point, it can be rolled back over the base to reveal the head.

This separation happens for about half of boys by age 5, but for some, it doesn’t happen until the teenage years. The foreskin may separate from the head gradually – over months or years – or within just a few weeks.

At well-child visits, your child’s doctor might check on the status of the separation by gently pulling back on the foreskin or asking your child to, if he’s old enough and willing. You can check it yourself once in a while during diaper changes, or ask your child to check it himself in the bath.

Penis cleaning once the foreskin starts to separate

Once the foreskin begins to separate from the head of the penis, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you or your child occasionally retract the foreskin and clean underneath.

Dead skin cells accumulate under the foreskin, creating a cheesy white substance called smegma. This is perfectly normal. But an occasional cleaning helps prevent infection and inflammation.

While your son is young, you may be the one to clean his penis for him at bath time: Gently pull the foreskin back as far as it will go and wash the head of the penis – as well as the inside of the foreskin – with soap and warm water. (Boys typically enjoy playing with their penis in the bath and are often happy to take on this task themselves.)

Rinse well and then gently pull the foreskin back over the head of the penis (or check that your son has done so). This step is important: If the foreskin isn’t moved back over the head, it can get stuck in the retracted position and require medical attention.

 

When to call the doctor

Call your child’s doctor if:

  • You notice that urine is coming out in only a trickle.
  • The foreskin balloons out during urination.
  • The foreskin becomes red, itchy, or swollen.
  • The foreskin gets stuck in the retracted position.

Circumcision in newborn boys

Circumcision is a surgical procedure to remove the foreskin, a fold of skin covering the end of the penis.

The foreskin is a double-layered fold of skin and mucous membranes that protects the head (glans) of the penis from dryness and irritation that may be caused by contact with urine, faeces, and clothing.

Circumcision is optional. Some parents choose to have it done and some don’t. If you’re considering it, here’s more information.

Does a circumcised penis require special care after it heals?

Sometimes, after a circumcision, a little bit of foreskin remains attached at the base of the head of the penis. You might not be able to tell whether your baby has any leftover foreskin. But if leftover foreskin is present, it may adhere to the head of the penis – and that may create a pocket of skin where bacteria can grow and cause infection.

To prevent this situation, your baby’s doctor might recommend doing the following each time you change your son’s diaper: Gently hold the head of the penis at its base and push the skin back. If there’s a fold of skin, clean underneath it with a wipe.

If leftover foreskin does adhere to the penis, the doctor may recommend waiting to see if it comes unstuck during a spontaneous erection or as your son grows. (You may be asked to apply a steroid cream.) If that doesn’t happen, the circumcision might have to be redone.

Circumcision care

You will need to provide special care until the penis is healed.

For about seven days, you need to:

  • Completely cover the tip of the penis with petroleum jelly after each diaper change. Or, use an antibiotic ointment if your baby’s health care provider ordered it.
  • Look at the tip of the penis each time you change your baby’s diaper. A yellowish-white film will appear on the tip of the penis until the healing is complete. This is normal.
  • Do not use baby wipes on the penis until the circumcision has healed

Give your son a sponge bath until the penis has healed. This can take from 7 to 20 days.

When to call your baby’s health care provider

Problems with circumcision are rare. However, call your baby’s health care provider right away if there is:

  • bleeding that doesn’t stop
  • new bleeding
  • new or increased swelling
  • a foul-smelling drainage
  • redness on the shaft of the penis
  • redness at the tip of the penis that seems to be getting worse

In addition, if your baby is circumcised after he leaves the hospital, call your baby’s health care provider if he doesn’t urinate normally within 12 hours after the circumcision.

Foreskin care

If you have chosen not to have your baby boy circumcised, his penis needs no special care.

Simply wash the genital area with soap and water during the bath. Do not force the foreskin back. This can cause bleeding, pain and possible scarring.

As he grows, the foreskin will loosen on its own. This can take three or more years. As your son grows and the foreskin can be pulled back, he can then be taught how to care for his penis.

Nail care

Babies are born with soft nails. However, they soon dry out, and babies can easily scratch themselves. When your baby is a few days old, smooth any rough edges with an emery board.

Your baby’s naptime is a great time to smooth out finger or toenails.

After a few weeks, use a small nail clipper or baby nail scissors.

Clothing

Judge how to dress your baby based on the clothing you need to be comfortable. A temperature that is comfortable for you will also be comfortable for your baby.

  • In the summer, dress your baby in cool, lightweight clothing. When you are outdoors, put a wide-brimmed hat on your baby. Be sure to protect your baby from direct sunlight. Ask your baby’s health care provider about using sunscreen.
  • In the winter, dress your baby in layers. Be sure not to overdress your baby. A baby’s hands and feet often feel cool. Touch your baby’s chest to see if his body is too warm or too cool

How to burp your baby

Why do babies burp?

Baby burps are cute – and they serve a purpose. Pint-size belches release air trapped in your baby’s stomach, making him more comfortable and less fussy. Burping also frees up room in your baby’s tummy so he can settle in and feed longer.

Burping (along with smaller, more frequent meals) can also be beneficial for babies who spit up often or have symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

That said, there’s no rule that babies have to burp after every feeding. Some babies need to burp a lot, while others rarely do.

In general, breastfed babies don’t need as much burping as bottle-fed babies because they tend to swallow less air when feeding. But every baby is different, so follow your baby’s cues.

If you’re bottle-feeding, you may find that certain types of bottles help your baby swallow less air and reduce the need to burp.

When do babies need to be burped?

If your baby seems uncomfortable while feeding, is squirmy, or pulls away and starts crying, give burping a try. A good strategy is to take a burping break after every 2 or 3 ounces if you’re bottle-feeding, or when your baby switches breasts if you’re nursing. (Don’t bother burping your baby if she seems content or falls asleep during or after a feeding.)

Many babies outgrow the need to be burped by 4 to 6 months old because they don’t swallow as much air as they become more efficient eaters.

Three ways to burp a baby

There’s more than one way to get the job done. Here are three different burping methods you can try. Experiment to find the one that’s most comfortable and effective for you and your baby.

On your chest or shoulder

  • Put a cloth over your shoulder (and even down your back) to protect your clothes from spit-up.
  • Hold your baby against your chest so her chin is resting on your shoulder.
  • Support her with one hand and gently pat or rub her back with the other.

Or try this as an alternative when your baby has more head and neck control:

  • Hold your baby farther up on your shoulder – high enough that your shoulder presses lightly on her belly, creating gentle pressure that will let out the burp.
  • Support her with one hand and gently pat or rub her back with the other.
  • Make sure your baby is able to breathe comfortably and isn’t slumped over too far. A quick peek in the mirror to check her head placement can be helpful.

Sitting on your lap

  • Put a cloth bib on your baby or a cloth over your lap to catch any spit-up.
  • Sit your baby on your lap facing away from you.
  • Use one hand to support his body, the palm of your hand supporting his chest while your fingers gently support his chin and jaw. (Make sure you’re not putting your fingers around his throat.)
  • Lean your baby slightly forward and gently pat or rub his back with your other hand.

Face down across your lap

  • Put a cloth over your lap to catch any spit-up.
  • Lay your baby face down on your legs so she’s lying across your knees, perpendicular to your body.
  • Support her chin and jaw with one hand. Make sure your baby’s head isn’t lower than the rest of her body so blood doesn’t rush to her head.
  • Pat or rub her back with the other hand.

Note: If you don’t get a burp after a few minutes, try a different position. If that doesn’t work, it’s fine to stop – your baby may not need to burp.

 

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