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Your newborn baby

Now that you are at home, you may feel unsure about how to care for your baby, particularly if this is your first baby. Take time to get to know your baby and learn to understand their needs.

It can take some time to develop confidence in caring for your baby. As your confidence grows, you will become more relaxed in your role as a parent and this will help in developing a bond between you and your baby.

Your baby is born with the ability to taste, smell, hear, see and feel. Very soon after birth they show recognition of their mothers’ voice and can see faces when they are no more than 30cm from the face. Within weeks of birth babies will copy simple activities like poking out their tongue or opening its mouth wide.

Though babies are not born with words they do give us messages of their needs. Some messages are obvious like crying for hunger, discomfort, boredom. Rubbing eyes for tiredness, lots of eye contact for attention and avoiding eye contact when tired. Babies have expressive faces and use their expressions to respond to situations that bring them pleasure like seeing a parents smiling face and gentle voice or displeasure like a loud sudden noise.

From birth babies are learning their social skills. By about six weeks your baby will respond to you with smiles. When you return the smile your baby will show pleasure and continue to smile. Babies are very sensitive to their parent’s emotions. When your baby is quiet and alert it is a good time for parents to be looking face to face, smiling, talking, singing, cuddling and kissing.

Bonding & attachment

Bonding and attachment are important because the early social interactions and relationships between you and your baby have a profound influence on your baby’s emotional, cognitive and neurological development.

  • How your baby communicates with you

    Your baby may smile at you from the first day onwards.

    Even on the first day your baby can reach out their hand a little way towards you.

    Your baby can copy movements you make with your face.

    Your baby will communicate when they are overwhelmed by blinking or looking away.

    Your baby’s crying lets you know when they feel hungry and tired or alone.

  • Parent–infant interaction and attachment

    The most important thing for your baby is a nurturing relationship with you that is responsive to their needs. Bonding and attachment are important because these experiences have a profound influence on your baby’s emotional, cognitive and neurological development.

    For the first six weeks your baby is working out what happens in their body and may sometimes be distressed by new sensations and experiences. Comfort your baby when they are upset by gently rocking them or singing or speaking to them in a soothing voice.

    A surprise may be how interactive your baby is from birth, and how aware, responsive, active, curious and alert they are. They will enjoy hearing you talk, sing or read to them and will imitate your facial expressions from a very early age.

  • Bonding with your baby

    Ideas for bonding with your baby:

    • Talk and sing to your baby – they find voices interesting. Especially your own as they have been listening to your voice for many months now and will find your voice very reassuring.
    • Hold and touch your baby – skin-on-skin contact reduces stress and improves breathing and heart rate.
    • Spend time with your baby – sing songs, recite nursery rhymes, imitate their facial expressions.
    • Soothe your baby when they are upset or distressed.
    • Read stories to your baby from the beginning.

    Don’t be concerned if it takes a little while to ‘fall in love’ with your baby. It may be something that develops slowly rather than an immediate, overwhelming sensation. If feelings of disconnectedness persist after a couple of weeks it may be helpful to discuss this with your Maternal and Child Health Nurse or family doctor.

Caring for your baby

  • The umbilical cord

    After your baby is born the umbilical cord will be cut and clamped. This does not hurt the baby.

    The cord will dry up and fall off within a week. The base of the cord may look “gooey” and have a slight smell.

    The cord needs to be exposed to air and cleaned around the base of the cord and then dried with a towel or cotton bud.

    When cleaning there may be discharge, however redness, a rash or swelling at the base of the navel may be signs of infection and you should see your doctor as soon as practical. An infection of the babies’ umbilicus may require treatment by antibiotics.

    Umbilical care –

  • Newborn rash

    Erythema toxicum is a harmless rash, which many newborns get. It happens in up to half of all term babies. It’s less common in premature babies. It’s also called ‘toxic erythema of the newborn’ or ‘erythema toxicum neonatorum’.

    It is a common condition affecting as many as half of all full term neonates. It is most prominent on day 2, although onset can be as late as two weeks of age. This rash often begins on the face and spreads to affect the trunk and limbs. Palms and soles are not usually affected. These general go away quickly and do not need to be treated.

    Erythema toxicum –

  • Newborn head shape

    When babies are born vaginally their skull bones can become moulded as a result of the baby being squeezed through the birth canal. Your baby’s head may be elongated or lopsided. The part of your baby’s head that was pressing on the cervix may be swollen. This is called caput and will quickly resolve. The baby’s face may be squashed or swollen and the nose could be flattened.

    A long labour, assisted birth using forceps or ventouse (vacuum cup) will also potentially cause bruising or abrasions. This too will usually heal within a few days.

  • Settling the newborn

    Resources about settling your baby:

    Responsive settling for babies 0-6 months – Raising Children Network
    Steps for settling your baby – The Royal Children’s Hospital
    Newborn sleep: what to expect – Raising Children Network
    Newborn baby routines: in pictures | Raising Children Network

  • Changing and bathing your baby

    It will be helpful for you to have a designated area for changing your baby. This will help by having all of the things you need to change nappies and dress baby at your fingertips.

    Never leave your baby unattended during changing.

    Make sure that the area you select for changing your baby is the right height for you.

    Babies do not need to be bathed every day, however it is imperative to ensure that your babies hands, face and nappy area are clean. Soaps can be very drying on your babies skin so if you decide to use soap just use a little.

    Bathing is a lovely time for enabling your baby to relax and enjoy spending time with you. It can also be a great chance for you and your baby to bond.

    When bathing your baby:

    • Ensure the room you will be bathing the baby in is not cold
    • Position the bath in a safe place
    • Ensure the bath is positioned at a suitable height to protect your back from bending over for a considerable length of time
    • Collect everything that you need before you start
    • When filling the bath add the cold water first and then the hot
    • Test the temperature of the water with your inner wrist. The water should feel neither hot or cold
    • Bathing can be combined with baby massage to sooth and relax your baby.

    Baby bath – preparation and safety (vide0) – The Royal Women’s

    Skin care for your baby – The Royal Women’s

  • Caring for the nappy area

    The nappy area is exposed to constant moisture, occlusion and rubbing which may irritate and damage the skin causing nappy rash. To prevent this:

    • Change your baby’s nappy frequently
    • Consider using disposable nappies so the moisture is absorbed quickly, leaving the skin dry and less susceptible to breakdown
    • If you prefer to use cloth nappies, make sure you use an absorbent nappy insert
    • Avoid baby wipes. Cleanse with lukewarm water and soft disposable towels or cotton wool. A pH neutral soap free cleanser may be used as needed
    • Apply a barrier cream containing zinc in a thick layer at every nappy change
    • Do not use talcum powder
    • Allow your baby as much nappy free time as possible

    Nappy rash – The Royal Children’s Hospital

    Nappy rash treatment and prevention – Raising Children Network


  • Newborn nappies - first poos

    Baby’s first poos are greenish-black in colour, have the consistency of tar, are very sticky and is called Meconium.

    By day 2, the bowel motions should be softer, but still dark in colour. Over the next few days, the bowel motions change to a greenish-brown and then to a mustard-yellow, as the milk comes in.

    As the colour changes they become less sticky and larger in volume.

    In the first few weeks your baby may have a poo after every feed or your baby may go a week without having a poo. The stools are not offensive smelling and are never hard or dry.

    Formula fed baby’s poos change from light brown to gold or a greenish colour depending on the formula that you choose. Your baby will typically do a poo every 1-2 days and baby’s fed on formula are often constipated. If you find that your baby is having difficulty passing stools it is best to speak with your Maternal and Child Health Nurse.

    Poos and wees – Raising Children Network

  • Newborn nappies - wet nappies

    A baby should have at least 1 wet nappy on day one, at least 2 on day two, at least 3 on day three, at least 4 on day four and at least 5 on day five. Plenty of wet nappies is a good sign – it shows that your baby is getting enough milk and other fluids. The wetting will happen less as your baby gets older, but it might still happen at least 6-8 times a day.

    Over the first few days, salts of uric acid in your baby’s wee may leave a rusty, orange-red stain on the nappy. This is normal during this time. If you see this after day 4, consult a medical adviser.

    Poos and wees – Raising Children Network

  • Keeping your baby stimulated

    As your baby grows and develops stimulation will become important. Types of stimulation that will give your baby pleasure are;

    • Holding your baby close while talking to your baby
    • Music
    • Bright colourful things to look at
    • Objects to see and touch
    • The sounds of conversation and family life

    There is a balance with stimulation though. Babies require quiet time to facilitate sleep. Feed, followed by play, followed by sleep provides a balance for babies.
    You will know when it is time to stop the play when your baby may start to cry, stop responding to you or simply goes to sleep.

Page last updated: 27 July 2023

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