Newborns are completely dependent upon others to stay healthy, and parents as well as caregivers must have a very good understanding of an infant's needs. First-time parents often worry about many little things, and it's important that they never hesitate to contact their health care provider with any questions they may have. Here is a short list of tips gleaned from the staff at Deaconess Medical Center's Mother and Baby Unit.
Temperature -- During the first 24 hours of a baby's life, it is crucial to keep the infant warm. One of the best ways to keep babies warm is to lay them on the mother's stomach, or between her breasts, which are made to heat and cool in a way that keeps newborns comfortable.
Babies should be swaddled in warm blankets and clothes. To see if a baby is too cold, feel his hands and feet -- extremities are the first to get cold.
Hats are not just a fashion statement. As much as 70 percent of body heat actually escapes through the head, so a hat is important.
Once at home, check for drafts near doors and windows near the baby's crib and play area.
Bath water should be tepid, or at skin temperature. What feels only warm to an adult can be too hot on the sensitive skin of a newborn.
General Safety -- A newborn's skin is sensitive, and bones are still hardening, so it should go without saying that you never shake or grab a baby; handle all infants gently.
Infants should be laid on their backs to sleep. Fewer SIDS deaths occur when babies are kept from sleeping face down. Also, have suction nearby if the baby should spit up, so they do not choke.
Animals and other children in the household are often curious and excited around newborns. Monitor all contact they have with an infant closely and make sure everyone gets to meet the new member of the family in a safe manner.
Make sure to have a crib ready for the baby upon return from the hospital. The crib should not have a pillow and the mattress should fit snugly into the crib space. All blankets should be clean and soft. All surfaces around and in the crib should be smooth. A bumper guard is a good way to keep the crib railing soft.
And of course, avoid toys with sharp edges and small pieces.
Cleanliness -- Germs are everywhere. Although adults have built immunities to lots of the germs we come in contact with, infants haven't had a chance to develop many defenses. Before holding an infant, wash hands and forearms with an anti-bacterial soap.
Infants need to be bathed and kept clean as well, but avoid scrubbing an infant's skin too hard or using water that is too warm.
Make sure that a baby's diaper is checked often, and keep a stock of diapers at home and in the car, as well as in a bag that you take with the baby on outings.
The environment the baby is living in should also be kept clean. Avoid setting babies on dirty floors or counters, make sure they are swaddled in clean garments, and wash their hands and faces, too.
Feeding and sleeping -- Babies need to be nursed often. Lactation specialists say a baby will feed eight to 12 times in a 24-hour time period. For babies taking formula, this may be less because formulas tend to take longer for an infant to digest.
A baby will stop nursing on his or her own when he or she is full. Often an infant will fall asleep afterwards. If you are concerned about your baby's eating habits or schedule, contact your health care provider. Yes, they have probably heard all the questions before -- but they will gladly answer them again, so there is no need to be embarrassed.
Sleep is an important part of a newborn's growth process and should not be disturbed if possible.
Baby Sitting -- Make sure you know who you leave your baby with. Don't leave your baby with strangers -- not even for a brief period -- and when it comes to selecting a permanent caregiver or daycare provider, ask for references and visit the facility or home where your baby will be taken care off.
Talk to parents who already use the caregiver, and be alert while you visit: Happy kids playing in a clean environment are good indicators of the quality of the place.
A good question to ask is how many infants there are per caregiver -- the smaller the ratio the better.
Prevention -- Immunization saves lives and prevents the spread of many diseases. The U.S. Department of Health provides vaccines for children (ages 0-18) at no cost to doctors, community health clinics and local health departments. According to Washington State law, all children must be immunized before they enter a licensed childcare facility or school. Keep records of all your child's immunizations.
Take your child to a doctor for regular checkups. If you don't have health insurance, there are programs that can help you find it. Call the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies toll-free at 800-322-2588 for a local referral.