Baby Basics: Caring for a Newborn

Baby Basics Caring for a Newborn

Having a new baby at home can be a little daunting. Here are some tips to help you diaper, dress and bathe your newborn like a pro.

Once your baby is born, you’ll have a brand-new little person to take care of. Babies may be small, but they have big needs. It’s normal to feel a little anxious about all the things that need to be done to care for a baby.

Relax! Babies are very forgiving. You may not have mastered the art of diapering or dressing a baby, but you’ll have plenty of chances to practice and you’ll soon become an expert. Just take your time and enjoy getting to know your baby.

How to change a diaper

One of the first decisions a new parent will need to make is whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. Many parents choose disposables because they are easy to use. Others prefer cloth diapers because they create less waste. Some use cloth diapers at home and disposables when they travel. Either type of diaper is fine for your baby, so you can choose based on cost, environmental concerns, convenience and how your baby’s skin responds.


Whichever type of diaper you choose, be sure you have plenty on hand. Most newborns will go through about 10 diapers a day.

Also, check that you have other needed supplies in easy reach of the changing area:

  • Fasteners and waterproof diaper covers if you are using cloth diapers.
  • Cotton balls or diaper wipes. For a baby younger than one month, use cotton balls dipped in warm water and a washcloth to dry baby’s bottom. For older babies you can use diaper wipes. Choose alcohol-free diaper wipes to reduce the risk of irritating your baby’s sensitive skin.
  • Ointment (such as petroleum jelly or A&D ointment) if your baby has diaper rash.
  • An extra set of clothing, including socks, in case the baby’s clothes are wet.

Changing a diaper

Follow these steps to easily diaper your baby:

  • Wash and dry your hands.
  • Place your baby on a changing table or on a protective pad on a firm, flat surface like a bed or the floor.
  • Take off the dirty diaper.
  • Use cotton balls dipped in warm water or diaper wipes to clean baby’s diaper area. Always wipe front to back on girl babies.
  • Apply ointment if your baby has a diaper rash.
  • Put on the new diaper:
    • Most cloth diapers come pre-folded and ready to put on your baby. Place your baby on the middle of the cloth and fold the center up and the two sides in toward the center. Then fasten and put on a plastic diaper cover.
    • With disposable diapers you open up the diaper, place your baby on it, and use the tape fasteners on the sides of the diaper to secure it.
  • Dispose of the soiled diaper in a sanitary manner.


  • Never leave your baby alone on a changing table. Falls can happen in the blink of an eye and cause serious injury.
  • Always keep at least one hand on the baby’s body.

How to give a baby a bath

Newborns don’t need much bathing. Clean the diaper area well at each diaper change, and you can bathe baby just two or three times a week for the first year. More frequent bathing may dry out baby’s sensitive skin.

Give your newborn sponge baths for the first week or two, until the stump of the umbilical cord falls off. Submerging the cord may interfere with its drying out.

Once the umbilical area is healed, you can bathe baby in a basin filled with about two inches of warm water. Her first baths should be gentle and brief. If she seems to protest too much, go back to sponge baths for a week or two. Your baby will let you know when she’s ready for a real bath.


Make sure the room is warm and you have all the supplies handy before you undress your baby. Here are some supplies you’ll need:

  • Mild baby soap
  • Washcloths
  • Towel
  • Baby shampoo (once she has hair)
  • Cup for rinsing

Giving a sponge bath

  • Prepare a basin of warm water before you undress your baby.
  • Lay baby on a padded surface that is flat and comfortable. If the baby is on a surface above the floor, keep one hand on him at all times to prevent falls. Don’t depend on a safety strap.
  • Keep your baby wrapped in a towel, and expose only the parts of his body you are washing.
  • First, use a dampened washcloth without soap to wash his face, so you don’t get soap in his eyes or mouth. Then, using soap, wash the rest of his body, and finally, the diaper area. Pay special attention to creases under his arms, behind the ears, around the neck and in the genital area.
  • Don’t scrub. This can irritate baby’s skin. Instead, pat his skin with the washcloth, and then blot dry with the towel.

Giving a baby tub or sink bath

  • Fill the tub with two inches of water that feels warm, not hot, to the inside of your wrist or elbow.
  • Undress your baby and put her in the water right away so she doesn’t get cold. Support her head with one hand and put the other under her bottom. Speak to her gently as you lower her into the tub, feet first.
  • Most of her body and face should be well above the water level for safety. Pour warm water over her body often to keep her warm.
  • Start at the top. Use a soft washcloth to wash her face. Use shampoo to wash her hair once or twice a week. Gently massage her entire scalp. Cup your hand across her forehead when rinsing so the suds won’t run into her eyes.
  • If soap gets in her eyes, simply wipe her eyes with a wet washcloth, using plain, lukewarm water until the soap is gone.
  • Wash the rest of her body from the top down, doing the diaper area last.
  • When the bath is finished, dry her off with a baby towel. Towels with built-in hoods will help keep her head warm while she’s wet.


  • Never leave your baby alone in the bath.
  • Do not use cotton swabs in the baby’s ears. The swabs just push the earwax back in, which leads to blockage. You could also place the swab too deep and injure the eardrum or scratch the ear canal.

How to dress a baby

It’s not always easy to dress or undress a newborn. Clothing choices can make a big difference. Simple clothing such as one-piece sleepers or gowns may be best for the first few weeks. Look for clothes that:

  • Snap or zip down the front instead of the back
  • Snap or zip down both legs, which makes diaper changing easier
  • Are roomy with loose-fitting sleeves
  • Don’t have ribbons or strings that could increase the risk of choking
  • Are made from stretchy fabric

Try these tips for dressing your baby with a minimum of struggle:

  • Place your baby on a changing table or a flat surface like a bed.
  • Select a garment and stretch the neckline so it will be easier to slip over your baby’s head. Tug it on gently to avoid hurting your baby’s head and ears.
  • Instead of trying to push your baby’s arm through the sleeves, reach into the sleeve, gently take hold of your baby’s hand and pull it toward you.
  • To avoid snagging when your baby is wearing a garment with a zipper, pick up the zipper. Move it up or down while it’s pulled away from your baby’s body.


  • Make sure all baby clothing is flame-retardant. The label will tell if clothing has been treated.
  • Newborns usually need several layers of clothing to stay warm, such as a diaper, undershirt, sleeper and blanket. A premature infant may need another layer until he reaches full-term weight.
  • Check baby’s body temperature by feeling his feet and hands. If they are cold, add another layer for warmth. If they are hot and sweaty, baby may need less clothing.

How to trim a baby’s nails

A baby’s nails are very soft and thin. Cut them when they get long or ragged so your baby’s face does not get scratched.

A baby’s nails grow very fast so you will probably need to trim your baby’s nails one or two times a week. Toenails don’t grow as quickly as fingernails. They will need to be trimmed only one to two times a month.

Here are some tips for safely trimming your baby’s nails:

  • The best time to trim nails is while your baby is asleep. Another good time is after a bath, when the nails are even softer and your baby is relaxed.
  • Use baby nail clippers or small blunt-nosed scissors.
  • Work in a well-lit place so you can see what you’re doing.
  • Trim just the tips of the nails and smooth them with a soft emery board.
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