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What are the Newborn Care Basics? A Pediatric Nurse Shares

dad holding newborn baby on shoulder

There are so many questions and not enough answers to becoming a mother and caring for a newborn baby. These are the basic needs of care you must know.

I became a first-time mom in January 2021. I have been a nurse for nearly ten years within neonatal and pediatric nursing, and yet, being a mother to my own newborn blurred all that I knew and highlighted all that I didn’t.

Motherhood is less clinical, less black and white—it’s embracing the gray. I found myself like any new mom: Googling endlessly at 3 am and searching Instagram pages for answers and validation in the way I was taking care of my baby. 

Perhaps you’ve been there too?

dad holding newborn baby on shoulder

Please note: the information contained in this post is for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always seek advice from your pediatrician or other qualified health care provider with questions or concerns.

What are the basic newborn needs?

In moments of pure exhaustion and insecurity, I wish I had bullet points on how to care for a newborn. Something easy to reference, recall and revisit when needed. 

While I highly encourage all new parents to be the decision-makers and intuition followers, here are some newborn care basics (remember the three B’s: bellies, booties, and baths) to follow when you need some extra support.

Jump to a section:

Bellies

  • How much do I feed my newborn?
  • How long are breast milk and formula good for?
  • Tips for safely preparing milk

Booties

  • How often to change a diaper
  • How to change a diaper to prevent a rash
  • How to safely treat diaper rash
  • Diaper rash must-haves

Baths

  • How often do I bathe my newborn?
  • How to give a sponge bath
  • How to give a bath in the tub
  • Bath time must-haves
  • Important safety tips
  • Tub vs. sink bath tips
collection of newborn baby items

1. Bellies

How much do I feed my newborn in the first month?

Keep in mind that every child has different needs—always talk to your pediatrician about your baby’s goals and feeding methods.

On average, a newborn will feed:

  • Bottles: 8-12x/day (every 2-3 hours) between 1-3oz 
  • Boobs: nursing occurs 8-12 times/day every 2-3 hours ~20-30 min per session

Remember: feeding frequency is measured from the beginning of the feed (for example, if you start a bottle/breastfeeding session at 8 am, the next feed is due between 10-11am).

How long are breast milk and formula good for? 

Conflicting recommendations can be found depending on your references—only to make things more confusing. As a pediatric nurse, I live by the following chart:

Room TemperatureRefrigeratorSipped by BabyFreezer/Deep Freezer
Breast Milk4 hours4 dayswithin 2 hours6 months/1 year
Formula2 hours24 hourswithin 1 hour
Mixed1 hour24 hourswithin 1 hour
Breast milk and formula safety chart

Tips for safely preparing milk

Breast milk

Never use a microwave.

Thaw oldest milk first by:

  • Running under lukewarm water in a container
  • Placing in the fridge overnight

How long is thawed milk good for?

  • Use within 24 hours of last ice crystal
  • Use within 2 hours of warming

Formula

  1. Wash your hands before handling the formula and bottle.
  2. Add water first and then powder.
  3. Add the level, unpacked scoops to the water.
  4. Gently stir, don’t shake.

Read more about safely preparing a formula bottle, including how long formula lasts once prepared, safe storage instructions, and more.

mom bottle feeding newborn baby

2. Booties

From diaper changing basics to treating a diaper rash, there are important things to know about newborns and diaper care.

How often do you change a diaper?

It’s best practice to change diapers every two to three hours or as needed. If the diaper is dirty with solid waste, change immediately. If the diaper is simply wet, it’s okay to wait until the diaper is a bit more full, but never going past three hours.

How to change a diaper to prevent diaper rash

Pee diaper

No need to use wipes. Simply leave the previous barrier cream (reapply more if needed) and change the diaper only.

Solid diaper

  1. Gently pat off the solid from booty with a water-based wipe (do not wipe skin as this will undo the healing you’re working toward)
  2. Apply a thick layer of diaper cream (really, really thick!)
  3. Apply Aquaphor to seal in diaper cream
  4. Close the diaper

Important: Please consult a pediatrician if there is no improvement within 48 hours to evaluate for signs of a yeast rash.

Treating diaper rash

Often diaper discomfort and rashes can cause a baby to be upset. It’s important to address rashes with consistent care and prevention.

See Also
Couple with pregnant wife sitting on a grey couch

The goal is to create a barrier and maintain a consistent routine to protect the skin and prevent further breakdown. This will help aid in healing diaper rash.

What you need

mom changing newborn baby diaper

3. Baths 

How often do I bathe my newborn?

  • Before umbilical cord falls off: sponge baths as needed
  • After the umbilical cord falls off: tub time ~3x/week

How to give baby a sponge bath

  1. Lay on a flat surface that’s comfortable for both of you
  2. Start from top to bottom, washing face to feet (wash baby’s booty last)
  3. Keep newborn from getting cold by exposing only areas you’re wiping down and cover with a dry towel

Don’t miss these spots

Pay special attention to creases and rolls, neck, arms, behind the ears, between fingers and toes, and diaper area.

Sponge bath safety suggestions

Make sure to prepare before you begin.

Get everything you need within arm’s each, including warm water, your soap of choice, a soft washcloth, a dry towel, a diaper plus add-ons, baby oil or lotion, and a change of clothes.

mom giving baby a bath in the tub

How to give a bath in the tub

  1. Fill the tub and check the water temperature to make sure the water is warm, not hot—use a tub thermometer, elbow, or wrist to test.
  2. Undress the baby and place into bath feet first, slowly lowering rest of body
    • Most of body/head/neck should be above water; pour warm water frequently to prevent from getting cold
  3. Shampoo, wash and rinse face to feet (remember, booty is last)
  4. Remove from the tub and wrap head and body in a dry towel, gently pat dry
  5. Apply a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free lotion like this one to prevent dry skin

Don’t miss these spots

As with a sponge bath, make sure to pay special attention to creases and rolls, neck, arms, behind the ears, between fingers and toes, and diaper area.

Bath time safety suggestions

Like a sponge bath, get everything you need within reach, including warm water, your soap of choice, a soft washcloth, a dry towel, a diaper plus add-ons, baby oil or lotion, and a change of clothes.

Using a tub vs. a sink

Newborn tubs

Use an infant tub (this one has a heat-sensitive plug) and optional newborn sling

  • Infant tubs should be produced after October 2017 to meet current standards

Sink

Just about any fully-enclosed sink will do.

mom giving a newborn baby a sponge bath

More on newborn basics and care

Looking to learn more about newborn basics? Check out our list of top must-have newborn baby items to help make sure your registry is complete.

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