How to Take Care of Your New Baby

Newborn in someone's hands

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Baby care basics weren't something I thought about while pregnant. I remember arriving home from the hospital with my first. We'd spent many hours at the hospital fussing with the car seat and her going home outfit. I was tired and sore and yet terribly excited. I walked up the three flights of steps with my episiotomy stitches pulling the whole way, anxious to get my baby home.

As she sat sleeping in her car seat in the middle of the living room floor, my husband and I debated and finally argued over what to do with her. Should we lay her in her new crib? Maybe she should have a change of clothes. Finally, she woke up and cried, giving us an opportunity to try out all of our new parenting skills.

The good news is that taking care of a baby's basics needs is very simple. I've collected a group of instructions on baby care basics for your new baby from bathing to diapering, from feeding to holding. 


Diaper changing is probably the most dreaded of all baby care activities. The truth of the matter is that diapering has gotten much easier as the years have gone by. 

Disposable diapers are everywhere. There are many brands to choose from in a variety of costs and features. But the basics of how to get the diaper on the baby is much the same.

Gather Supplies

The first step is to be prepared. Gather up a couple of diapers, wipes, ointments ... anything you'd need to change the baby. For safety reasons, you don't want to be searching for something with a wiggly baby waiting for you. I also always open a wipe or two and have it unfolded and laid out ready to use.

Lay Baby Down

Most people have a specific area to change baby. This can be a changing table or changing pad. If you have a table, be sure to use the strap for baby's safety. Never leave baby unattended while changing him or her. Unfasten the old diaper, but don't pull it out from under the baby yet. This allows for some margin of safety in case the cold air inspires baby to let go.

Hold On

Grasp the baby's ankles and gently lift their bottom-up and begin to wash their bottom with the wipes. If the area is heavily soiled you can use the front part of the old diaper to remove part of the mess. As you finish with each wipe, gently place it under the baby (clean side up) for easier cleanup. When the baby's skin is clean, pull the diaper and wipes out from under baby and set it aside.

Provide Clean Diaper

Place the new, clean diaper under baby and secure the fasteners. If you still have a newborn, you might need to fold down the top of the diaper to make room from the umbilical cord. Don't be afraid to pull the diaper on snuggly. If you have it on too loosely... Well, you can imagine the mess that makes!

Clean Up

After putting the baby's clothes back on, take the old diaper and use the fasteners to make it into a small ball, crisscrossing the fasteners. Place it in the diaper pail or trash. I always keep a container of liquid disinfectant near my changing table to use on my hands. Then I handed the baby off to someone else or lay her down and wash my hands at the sink.

Consider Alternatives

Gone are the days of diaper pins and wiggly babies. Now you only have to contend with wiggly babies! Cloth diapers have become very user-friendly. Many are now what we call All in Ones (AIO). This means that they are used just like a disposable diaper. They fasten with Velcro.

Other cloth diapers are used as disposables, though you may need to fold or use a pre-folded diaper followed by a cover that is usually fastened with Velcro® for a waterproof cover. Both varieties can be done at home or with a diaper service if one is available in your area.


Bathing can be such a great relaxing time for you and the baby. Older kids also love to help out if your baby isn't the first one on the block. Here are some baby bathing basics. Remember to talk to the baby as you are bathing. They love this interaction and it stimulates their brain and makes them feel more comfortable.

Gather Supplies

Being prepared is usually the first step with anything having to do with a baby! So, gather a towel, washcloth, any soaps or lotions you intend to use.

Set Up

It doesn't matter what form of the tub you're using, whether it's the regular bathtub, a baby bathtub or container, the water needs to be shallow and just the right temperature, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people suggest testing the water with your wrist, an area of more sensitive skin. You also want to ensure that whatever room you are in is warm enough and free of drafts.

Remove Clothing

Talk to your baby as you remove their clothing. Hold them close and make them feel secure. If you have a baby who absolutely hates to be naked, try to do a sponge bath for the first few weeks, and slowly undress them and wrap them in a towel, and only uncover the part you're currently washing.

Start Bathing

Place the baby in the tub, but always hold on with one hand for safety. Use your other hand, or any small helpers, to take the washcloth and begin washing the baby. Remember to start with the face and neck and do the diaper area last. Many soaps for baby can be used in their hair. You also have the option of not using soap on baby's delicate skin.

Finish Up

Once the baby is washed, wrap him or her in a towel and leave the bath stuff for a clean up later. Use the towel to dry baby off. You can, if you desire, use lotion on the baby after a bath, though it's not necessary for most babies. Put a clean diaper and outfit on the baby. Once the baby is sleeping or with someone else, you can then clean up the bath equipment.

Consider Alternatives

As with everything, there is always more than one way to do it! While the above is the traditional way that many people use to bathe their babies, there are alternatives.

A great one to use is to actually bring the baby into the bath with you. They love skin-to-skin contact. You simply cradle the baby on your lap and bathe them. When you're done, you can either hand the baby off to another adult and finish your bath or get out and take care of the baby.

This is also a great technique for babies who are having trouble latching onto the breast. The water and skin contact can be enough to help them relax and nurse more effectively.


Feeding your baby is more than just a matter of nutrition, it's also about nurturing and comfort. Using feeding time to make eye contact and hold your baby are great ways to increase that bonding time. It's also a great time to talk to your little one. This goes for breast or bottle feeding. Here are some breastfeeding tips.

Choose a Position

You can choose any position you wish to nurse in, whether that be a seated or laying down position. It should be one that gives you the best feeding position for your baby and their needs. This may vary with the baby's age, your comfort level and even the time of day. Many people use the cradle hold, with mom seated upright, holding the baby like a cradle. This allows you to hold the baby with one hand and use the other to support or move your breast.

Provide Support

No matter what position you decide on, get some support! A nursing pillow or using couch or bed pillows to help you hold the baby up will save strain on your neck and back. Ask for help from others if you're just learning.

Check Placement 

A good latch is one of the most important parts of breastfeeding comfortably. This directly goes back to a good position of the baby. Your baby should be belly to belly with you and chin to the breast. If the baby is twisted or has their head turned it can make it not only more difficult for them to get milk, but it can make your nipples sore.

Help With Latch

Use your one hand to cup the breast and offer it to the baby. Baby should open his or her mouth wide enough to take a good portion of the areola tissue (a darker portion of the breast) into the mouth. As baby does this pull them closer to the breast and watch them nurse.

Watch Closely

While the baby is nursing you want to look for a few things to ensure all is well. The baby should have their lips flared around the breast. If you pull the lower lip down a bit (while they are nursing) the tongue should be curled around the breast. You can also usually hear baby swallowing and watch their ears wiggling when actively nursing.

Bottle Feeding

Whether you have opted to feed your baby formula or you are bottle feeding expressed breastmilk, it's important to use proper technique. Here are some tips on how to feed your baby safely.

Get Ready

Have the bottle of breast milk or formula at the temperature your baby prefers. This can even be room temperature. It is important that you do not microwave bottles, as this will cause hot spots that can burn your baby, even though you may have tested the liquid.

Get a Grip

Hold the baby on your lap with their head in the crook of your arm. Be sure to switch sides, as you would with breastfeeding to provide them with adequate stimulation of both sides of their brain.

Go for It

As the baby turns to root and opens their mouth, insert the bottle nipple into the mouth. The nipple should be filled with fluid. A half-filled nipple will cause the baby to swallow too much air which can cause gas later. To end a feeding or remove the bottle, simply pull the bottle from the baby's mouth.

Consider These Things

Some extra tips for bottle feeding include not using half-used bottles. If the baby doesn't finish a bottle you can't save it. So, store breast milk in small amounts, like 2 ounces. Or fix formula in similar amounts. This prevents waste.

The formula lasts about 2 days in the refrigerator. It's also important not to water down the formula to stretch it. This can cause your baby to become inadequately nourished and ill. If you are bottle feeding expressed milk, it will keep in your refrigerator for three days, and 3-6 months in the freezer.

You should also never prop a bottle. This can cause the baby to choke and deprives them of the physical contact they crave.

Holding the Baby

Holding a baby is such a delightful "job." I love to do it! Many people state that they could hold a baby for hours. While this is true, there are many different ways to hold a baby. There are also times where you need to be doing other things while holding the baby or there are special holds to help babies who aren't feeling well, etc.

Cradle Hold 

Cradling a baby is quite natural and simple. Place the baby's head in the crook of one of your arms and wrap your other arm around the baby or hold the original arm with the second arm. This is a great position for talking to a baby or looking at them. Many babies sleep very well in this position. It's also a good beginners position, particularly for younger kids or siblings.

Belly Hold 

This is a great position for gassy babies! Lay baby chest down over one of your forearms. Use your other arm to lay across baby's back to hold them securely. You can also do this across your lap or use it for burping. A variation is to place the supporting hand between the baby's legs for a more secure grip. I find this depends on how long your arms are!

Hip Hold 

Once baby has some good head and neck control, the hip hold is a great, one-armed technique. Sit baby on one of your hip bones facing outward and wrap the same side arm around baby's waist. This is a great way for baby to look around and yet it gives you a free hand!

Shoulder Hold 

I find this to be another natural hold for a baby. Lean baby up on a shoulder and with the arm of the same side, wrap it around baby's bottom. Use the other arm to hold against baby's back and/or to support their neck. Baby's sleep well in this position too. It also allows them to hear your heart beating and breathing.

Sling Hold

A sling is a great device that allows you to carry baby hands-free. Baby can be nestled in many positions, including positions for discrete nursing. A sling is also very useful for the parents of multiples, as it is never advisable to carry two or more babies in your arms without the use of something like a sling for fear you might fall.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.