How to survive your baby's first year

Chapter 1-Your Newborn

Congratulations on Your New Baby!

You have a new baby, and you are a proud parent. Do you sometimes feel excited but also a little nervous about taking care of your new baby? Then you are like most parents. Even in the first days of life, your baby is starting to find out who you are.

Research has found that very young babies know the difference between their parents and strangers. There are many changes that take place and new things to learn when you become a parent. It doesn't happen overnight. Be patient with yourself. The love you have for your baby will help you learn to become a good parent. Just as no two babies are exactly alike, no one takes care of a baby in exactly the same way. Be a loving parent. Do your best. Enjoy your baby! Ask questions if you need help.

Newborn Health Screening

Your baby is tested for certain medical conditions when she is born. Many conditions can be treated if they are found early enough. Early treatment means your baby can grow up healthier.

Newborn tests are given in the hospital right after birth. The tests are given again at your baby's first checkup.

The second series of tests is important. It must be done one or two weeks after the first tests. Be sure to take your baby to the doctor or clinic for this second series of tests. At this visit, your doctor will also check other things to make sure your baby is doing fine.

A small amount of your baby’s blood will be taken. It will be tested and you will be told if there is any cause for concern.

Your doctor or nurse can answer questions about the tests. If you don’t have health insurance for your baby, you can learn about resources in your state by contacting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Insure Kids Now Program.
To learn more, call 1-877-KIDSNOW or visit their Web site at

What a Healthy Newborn Looks Like

Newborn babies don't usually look like the cute babies in diaper ads. Newborns' heads are often more pointed than round. Their skin may be wrinkly and reddish in color. This is normal.

In the center of your baby's head is a “soft spot” where the skull bones have not yet joined. This allows your baby's head to be flexible during the birthing process. The skull bones will grow together to cover this spot as your baby grows. Meantime, the soft spot allows your baby's brain to grow.

Sometimes there are dark red patches on the baby's eyelids. They can also be on the bridge of the nose or back of the neck. No one knows what causes these. They usually go away during the first year.

Some babies are born bald, some have thin hair, and others are born with thick, dark hair. For many babies, this first hair rubs off. For others, the color may change.

Eye color can also change after birth. Eye color is usually set by the end of the first year.

The umbilical cord that is left on the navel at birth will drop off in five to 10 days. The place where it falls off will become your baby’s belly button.

Sometimes baby girls bleed from the vagina. Sometimes boys or girls will have swollen breasts. They may even produce a few drops of milk at birth. Hormones from the mother cause this. The discharge is harmless and will soon disappear.

Newborn Reflexes

Babies have special reflexes that last only a few months. It helps to know what the reflexes are so you are not alarmed when they occur.
The following reflexes are normal for newborns:  Moro or “startle” reflex: This occurs when your baby's head shifts position quickly. Or when her head falls backward. Or when your baby is startled by something loud. She will react by throwing out her arms and legs and extending her neck. Your baby will then quickly bring her arms together. She may cry when doing this. This reflex should go away after two months.

 Rooting reflex: This is how your baby hunts for her mother's breast. If you gently stroke the side of her cheek with your finger, she will turn her head toward your finger. This lasts for three to four months.

 Grasp reflex: Your baby will clench her fist around anything pressed into the palm of her hand. You can show this to a big brother or sister. Say, “The baby wants to hold on to your finger.” This reflex goes away at five to six months.  Stepping reflex: If you hold a newborn baby upright under her arms with her feet on a hard surface, her feet will make a stepping action. This happens even though it is a long time before she is ready to stand or walk. This usually lasts a couple of months.

Ask your doctor if you have any questions about your baby's reflexes.

Your Baby Depends on You for Checkups

Your baby needs medical checkups during her first days, weeks and months so the doctor can see if she is growing right. The way your baby grows in her first year can affect her health for life.

Checkups are a normal and important thing for babies. Even though your baby seems healthy, she should get checkups at one to two weeks of age, and at two, four, six, nine, and 12 months of age.

Your baby's first visit to the doctor will be a week or two after birth. Ask your doctor for the results of the hearing screening if it was done in the hospital. If a hearing test was not done, ask your doctor for a referral for the test. You need to know as soon as possible if your baby has hearing problems. If she does, she may need special help now so she can communicate with people. This will help her when she learns to talk and read.

At each checkup, the doctor or nurse will:

 Examine your baby's head, eyes, ears, heart, lungs and other body parts

 Measure your baby's length, weight and head size  Ask about your baby’s hearing and vision  Ask you questions about how she eats, sleeps and acts

 Give you information about how a baby develops and grows

A Special Word to Fathers

As a father, you have an important role to play in taking care of your baby. Your baby needs you. And mom needs you to share many of the responsibilities of taking care of your new baby. When you do things with your baby, you and your baby get closer. You and your baby form a bond that helps her feel safe and happy.

You may feel nervous around a newborn. Or you may be afraid to touch your baby because you have never done it before. The best way for you to get over the uneasiness is to hold your baby.

Here are some things you can do to be a part of your baby’s life. You will find that the more you do with her, the more comfortable you will be.

 Hold and cuddle your baby.

 Smile and laugh with your baby.

 Talk to your baby. Your baby will quickly learn your voice and know that you are her daddy.

 Change your baby’s diapers.

 Cuddle with mom and your baby during breastfeeding.

 When mom’s breast milk or formula has been put in a bottle, you can give your baby the bottle. Cuddle with and talk and sing to your baby during bottle time.  Take your baby for a walk. Babies love the sights and sounds of the outdoors.

 Play with your baby.

The Baby Blues (Take Time for Yourself)

Some new mothers go through what is known as the “baby blues,” or postpartum blues.
This happens because your body goes through many changes during pregnancy. These “blue” feelings may happen to you before your baby is born or afterward.

You may feel discouraged or tense, or feel like crying over little things that would not usually bother you. Don't worry. These feelings are common. They won’t last forever.

You may also have trouble sleeping. If you do, at least take time to rest. You are under a lot of stress. Getting some rest may help you handle your feelings.

It may help to talk about your feelings with others. Talk with family and friends. You can find out if there are any parent groups in your community. Or contact the National Mental Health Association for a list of local affiliates at 1-800-969-NMHA or visit their Web site at Churches and religious organizations in your community may be able to help you find someone to talk to. You may also want to talk to your doctor.

If you have friends or family who will help you with meals, housework or shopping, now is the time to ask them. It is also a good time to let your baby's father help out.

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