How to take care of a newborn baby

You're home with your new baby! Now what? 

new parents sitting on a bed next to the window with their newborn in father’s arms
Photo credit: / Mikolette

You've probably heard that all a newborn baby does is eat, poop, cry, and sleep. Sounds simple, but chances are it won't seem that way at first. You'll be feeding your newborn around the clock, dealing with sleep deprivation, changing diapers, and learning how to soothe your crying baby.

Knowing what to expect from your newborn will make your first weeks home together a little less overwhelming. Here's what you need to know about caring for your brand-new baby.

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Newborn feeding

Because their stomachs are so tiny, newborns need to eat small amounts frequently – about 1 to 3 ounces at a time. Some want to nurse or have a bottle every two to three hours, and others will be hungry even more often.

While some babies announce their hunger with strong cries, others give more subtle hunger cues such as sucking on their hands, smacking their lips, or rooting (when a baby purses their lips and turns their head toward the breast or bottle).


In their first few days, newborns typically lose about 7 percent of their body weight. Although this is normal, you'll want to feed your baby every two hours or so until they're back at their birth weight. Here's how to tell whether your newborn is getting enough breast milk or formula.

Newborns are sleepy, so you may need to wake your baby up to feed and give them gentle encouragement to stay awake while eating. Try undressing your baby down to the diaper, rubbing their head or back, or talking to them. The goal is for your baby to be back to their birth weight at their two-week checkup.


Newborn burps, hiccups, and spit up

Some newborns need to be burped frequently, while others burp on their own and need very little assistance from you. If your baby is fussy or seems uncomfortable during or after a feeding, that's a cue to burp them.

You can also burp your baby when you switch breasts, after every 2 or 3 ounces, every 10 to 15 minutes of feeding, or when your baby's finished eating. After a day or two of feedings, you'll find a pattern that works for your little one.

No need to whack your baby's back – a gentle circular motion or soft pats will bring up the bubbles. There are several burping positions to try, including holding your baby with their head resting on your shoulder, sitting them upright on your lap with the fingers of one hand supporting their chest and chin, or laying your baby tummy-down across your lap.

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Don't be alarmed by hiccups or spit up. Hiccups are normal for new babies and don't cause them discomfort. Likewise, spitting up during and after feedings – whether in just small amounts or what may seem like the entire feeding – is normal.

If your baby's spitting up seems excessive, or if they also arch their back or cry, they may have a type of reflux. Read more about the difference between reflux, which is normal and improves with your baby's head control, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which requires treatment. Whatever the cause, keep a burp cloth handy.

Newborn pee and poop

A breastfed newborn will have at least five wet diapers a day. A formula-fed baby may have even more than that – up to 10 per day.

There's also a large range for what's considered a "normal" number of bowel movements. Breastfed babies tend to poop more than formula-fed ones because formula takes a bit longer to digest. But the regularity of breastfed babies can vary widely: Some go as seldom as once every four or more days to as often as once per feeding. Formula-fed babies typically poop a few times a day, but it can range from one poop every other day to several poops per day.

Keep track of your baby's pee and poop schedule because the doctor may ask about their urine and bowel movements at their next doctor visit.

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The very first bowel movements – called meconium – usually happen within the first day or two after birth, often while you're still at the hospital. These first poops are black and have an almost tar-like consistency. The ones that follow won't look much like grown-up poop either.

From a breastfed baby, be prepared for seedy poops that are greenish, light brown, or, mustard-yellow. A formula-fed baby's poops tend to be pastier and vary in color. Call the doctor if there's whitish mucus or streaks or flecks of red in your baby's stool because this can indicate a problem. (Red flecks can indicate there's blood in your baby's stool.)

The consistency of normal poop also ranges from very soft to watery, with breastfed babies having looser poop. This can easily be confused with diarrhea. Basically you want to keep an eye out for a change from your baby's usual pattern or consistency – which is admittedly hard when your baby is first creating a pattern. When in doubt, check with your doctor.

See our complete baby poop slideshow for a visual guide to what you might find in your baby's diaper.


Newborn crying

There's no getting around this one: Your newborn will cry. How often, how hard, and how long is entirely variable and will change over time.

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For the first few days, many newborns are remarkably quiet and sleepy. But by two weeks old, a typical newborn will cry about two hours a day. (Crying usually increases until about six to eight weeks of age, then starts to taper off.) If your baby has colic, they'll cry for more than three hours in a row, three or more days a week, for at least three weeks running.

Over time, it'll get easier to figure out why your baby's crying. At this point, run through the most likely culprits – soiled diaper, hungry, overtired, uncomfortable – and you'll probably find the source. If not, another reason for early fussiness can be overstimulation. Some infants get fussy when they're amidst too much commotion or activity.

There will be times, however, when your baby cries with no clear cause, and you'll need to figure out what soothes them. Remember: There's no such thing as spoiling a newborn, so respond to their cries with attention and affection.

There may be times when you can't figure out why your baby's upset, and they're inconsolable no matter what you do. It's normal to feel helpless, frustrated, or angry in this situation. Ask your partner, friends, or family to help out so you can take a break. If you're alone with your baby and reaching your limit, take a deep breath and gently place them on their back in the crib or bassinet. Go in the next room to calm down, and call someone you trust or a parent hotline for support.

Newborn sleep

Your newborn's tiny tummy will likely keep them from dozing more than a few hours at a time before waking up to eat. All the short naps will add up, though – newborns sleep about 16 to 18 hours total each day. You may want to track when and where your baby sleeps, to identify patterns and answer any questions from your baby's doctor.

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Luckily, newborns have the amazing ability to fall asleep pretty much anywhere – in the car seat, baby carrier, bassinet, or in your arms. No matter when or where your baby sleeps, always put them on their back and remove all loose blankets, as well as bumpers, pillows, quilts, and toys to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Though it can be difficult as a sleep-deprived new parent, be careful not to fall asleep next to your baby when holding them in a chair or lying on the couch – this isn't safe. Also, never leave a snoozing baby unattended on a couch or bed as the risk of rolling or falling is always present, even if your baby can't roll on their own yet.

Many new babies love being swaddled. Being snugly wrapped up mimics the environment your baby is used to and keeps their startle reflex from waking them up.

Once your baby is asleep, don't be surprised if you hear them making strange noises. If it sounds like your baby has a cold, it's probably because babies are natural nose breathers. Since your little one can't clear their nasal passages by themself yet, you can use a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator to clear them. This may make it easier for your baby to breathe and sleep – and even eat.

Newborn breathing

Another newborn habit is periodic breathing. Your baby may breathe quickly, pause for a few seconds, then start breathing again. Although normal, it can be unnerving.

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However, the following signs aren't normal and warrant an immediate call to your baby's doctor:

  • Grunting
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Chest retractions (sucking in the skin above the collarbone, between the ribs, or below the ribs)
  • Breathing that's consistently fast
  • Wheezing from the chest (rather than the nose or throat, which is a sign of garden-variety congestion and stuffiness)
  • Heavy, noisy breathing (audible wheezes, whistling sounds, or crackly sounds during inhalation and exhalation)
  • Pausing more than 10 to 15 seconds between breaths

See more signs you should call the doctor for your newborn.

Newborn bathing

Keeping your baby clean in the first couple of days is pretty basic. For now, you won't need a baby bathtub. While your baby's umbilical cord stump is still hanging on, follow your pediatrician's advice on bathing your baby. Most advise against immersing the stump in water. Sponge baths are enough to keep a newborn clean for the first week or two. In fact, too much bathing could dry out your baby's skin.

Use a warm, damp washcloth or unscented wipes to gently wipe around neck folds and other areas where breast milk, formula, or moisture might accumulate, finishing with the genitals. If you notice any redness or irritation in the diaper area (diaper rash), a swipe of diaper cream or petroleum jelly after every diaper change should squelch it.

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Don't be surprised if your newborn's skin doesn't look like the perfect baby skin in the commercials – that will come later. Many newborns have a range of minor skin irritations, such as newborn rash, cradle cap, peeling, or general dryness after emerging from their nine-month bath in amniotic fluid. You may even spot some fine hair on your baby's shoulders and back called "lanugo"– most full-term babies are born with it. Lanugo it usually falls out within a week or two.

Read more about baby body care.

Newborn clothes

Cute outfits will probably take a back seat to ease and comfort at first – after all, you want clothes that are easy to change, and that work well for your baby's many naps. Many parents use some combination of one-piece bodysuits and footed pajamas, plus a swaddle blanket or a sleep sack in cold weather or at night.

If your newborn dislikes having clothes pulled over their head or their umbilical cord stump is sensitive, kimono-style one-piece outfits that snap at the sides can come in handy. For warmth, most hospitals send newborns home with a hat, but unless it's quite chilly, a hat is optional.

Use your common sense as well as your own internal thermostat to gauge how many layers to put on your baby. Many people adhere to the age-old "what you're wearing plus one layer" rule. When in doubt, add a light blanket or hat – you can always remove it if your baby feels warm.

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Read more about baby clothes for the first six weeks.

Newborn gear

During your pregnancy, you may have amassed a small mountain of baby gear. For now, you won't use much of it. You need a safe place for your baby to sleep, a properly installed car seat, and perhaps a baby carrier, baby sling, or baby wrap. Extras such as bouncy seats, activity mats, toys, and other baby gear will come in handy eventually, but don't worry about them this week. Your newborn's needs right now are both all-consuming and surprisingly simple.

Check out our handy list of newborn must-haves to see what's most useful in the first weeks home with your baby.

Your transition home

Bringing home a baby is a life-altering change. It may take anywhere from a few days to a few months to get your bearings. While you're navigating this huge adjustment, remember to cut yourself some slack and let go of your ideas about how things "should" be.

Your body is dealing with fluctuating hormone levels and recovering from giving birth. You're seriously sleep-deprived. And your mind is adjusting to this new stage of life. You may laugh, cry, be frustrated, get excited, and feel a myriad of emotions within mere hours – or minutes. And you'll probably find that caring for a newborn – simple as those needs are – takes up an astonishing amount of time, making it hard to fit in even the basics for yourself.

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About 70 to 80 percent of new mothers experience the "baby blues" during the hormonal roller coaster that is the first few weeks after delivery. Luckily, the baby blues are short-lived, generally fading within two weeks. All parents should be aware of them, though, and of the signs of postpartum depression (PPD).

Compared to the baby blues, PPD lasts longer and is more severe. PPD affects 1 in 8 new moms in the U.S. – and some new dads as well. Getting treatment is important for both you and your baby, so if you have symptoms of PPD, talk to your partner or someone close to you for support and discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

One way to combat the baby blues is to carve out tiny bits of time to tend to yourself, and enlist family, friends, or hired help to handle chores and errands. Don't be shy about asking your friends and family to help stock the fridge, bring meals, or run a load of laundry.

While your baby sleeps, use the time to take a nap, grab a shower, or just spend a few minutes zoning out. Anything you can do to recharge your batteries between feeding, burping, changing, and cuddling your baby will help.

Learn more:

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Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

AAP. 2019. Burping, hiccups, and spitting up. American Academy of Pediatrics. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

AAP. 2021. Baby's first days: Bowel movements and urination. American Academy of Pediatrics. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Mayo Clinic. 2020. Feeding your newborn: Tips for new parents. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Nemours Foundation. 2019. Sleep and newborns. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Nemours Foundation. 2018. A guide for first-time parents. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

OWH. 2019. Newborn care and safety. U.S. Office on Women's Health. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Liz Krieger
Liz is a writer, mother and erstwhile runner living in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters, and two appallingly naughty cats.