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By Abby Bordner
YOU are the most important person to your baby!
You have a new baby! Amidst all the excitement and exhaustion, many new parents are understandably overwhelmed with information about caring for their newborn. It may seem like there are a million things to remember, and you don’t want to get anything wrong.
In the first weeks and months of your baby’s life, it’s helpful to simplify. Delegate or delay any tasks that you can so you don’t feel pulled in too many directions. Focus on your baby in the early months and, little by little, you’ll be able to add in more activities, responsibilities and time to take care of yourself.
In this early stage, there is so much important brain development happening for your baby. The infant brain is absorbing experiences and making neural pathways that will last a lifetime. A newborn’s highest priority is to be in relationship with their caregiver. In fact, their survival depends on it. So, they will be seeking affection, food, interaction and comfort.
A parent’s brain is also making new connections. This is all brand new, and you are learning as you go. Be patient with yourself and keep trying! Notice when you’re exhausted, frustrated or just need a break.
Ask for help and accept offers from friends and family. You don’t have to do this all alone!
The good news is these five points are the most important things your baby needs. You can put everything else on hold — new gadgets, classes, items and tricks. Take a deep breath and focus on these, and you’ll know your baby is getting everything they need.
1. Safety and Security
Newborns are 100 percent dependent on their parents. Your baby needs you to protect them. Newborns feel safe and secure when they are in your arms or held close to your body in a loving way. Skin-to-skin is ideal when possible; the proximity releases calming hormones in caregivers and babies. The calming effects of being held and nurtured maximize your baby’s brain and body development while fostering attachment and bonding. Babies who grow up in homes free of substance use, neglect and violence develop emotional health and stronger relationships and do better in school.
Some parents worry about their first time out with the baby. Plan ahead! Accept invitations to places you’ll feel comfortable even if you need to feed your baby or they are crying. Pack your diaper bag thoughtfully, and don’t forget an extra change of clothes, a few diapers, snack, water bottle and anything you might need. It can help to go with another adult while you manage the car seat, the diaper bag and other items you’ll be carrying. Sometimes just a walk or hike outdoors feels wonderful. Invest in a great carrier and have your baby fastened to you as you walk. Physical activity and socializing can be a great way to refresh as a parent and build your confidence going out with a baby.
Newborns need to be fed at least eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period. They require constant caloric intake and proper nutrition to support their rapid growth and brain development. If you have any concerns about feedings or your baby’s weight gain, don’t hesitate to meet with a lactation consultant (see below) or contact your healthcare provider for support.
Breast milk is the best food for a newborn. Made up of the perfect proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates and immune-boosting minerals, breast milk will provide your baby with the perfect nutrition. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a minimum of 12 months of breastfeeding, while slowly introducing solids as your baby shows signs of being ready, usually at around 6 months.
Newborns need frequent diaper changes to keep their delicate skin clean and dry. Bath time can be a time of making eye contact and listening to quiet music in a calm environment of gentle, loving care. When bathing a newborn, use a mild soap. Afterward, use a mild oil to moisturize the baby's skin and give a massage. Playing soothing music (for both baby and parent) and using a gentle oil (apricot, almond or coconut oils work well) will help set the scene for a relaxing time to touch and bond with your baby.
Newborns love gentle touch, rocking, cuddling and comfort. When your baby is skin-to-skin on your chest, she can regulate her breathing and temperature, which will allow her to sleep for longer periods of time. Giving your infant a massage, holding her, dressing her, changing her diaper and wearing her in a carrier are ways to comfort and engage in early “play” together. When newborns are held skin-to-skin, they often cry less and feed more easily. Carriers of all kinds make it easier for parents to hold their baby while they’re walking, cleaning, resting or eating. Infant massage has been shown to help relax babies, ease fussiness or discomfort, and provide an important time for parents to get to know their babies. You can find videos and books to help guide you in learning about infant massage. Start with gentle touch and see what your baby likes!
5. Bonding and Connection
Your newborn knows your voice and loves to hear it! Since week 18 or 20 of your pregnancy, your baby has been able to hear you, and by birth your baby already prefers your voice to others. Talking, telling stories and singing to your newborn promote interaction, while calming and comforting him. Reading to babies early on helps expose them to different rhythms and tones of their home language. Popular infant books are Goodnight Moon, Brown Bear Brown Bear What do you See? and Guess How Much I Love You. Your public library has many more. So, let your baby hear your voice! They’re learning language.
Your baby loves your face! Newborns can see as far as 8 to 12 inches at birth, the perfect distance to gaze at your face while in your arms. When your baby sees your face, the stress hormone (cortisol) drops and the love hormone (oxytocin) rises just by seeing you.
Whatever you may hear about letting a baby “cry it out,” when your baby cries, they truly need you. By responding to your baby’s early cues for food, comfort and connection, you can reduce crying and upset. It is impossible to spoil your baby!
Resources for parents and babies
Friends, family, coworkers, faith groups and the following organizations are all sources of support. Reach out. If someone offers to help, say yes!
Christus St. Vincent Health System: Breastfeeding classes and lactation support. (505) 913-5793.
La Familia Medical Center: Breast-pump rentals, breastfeeding education and support. Alto Street Clinic: (505) 982 4425. Southside: (505) 438 3195.
Las Cumbres Community Services: Early intervention, infant and early childhood behavioral health programs, family support, home visiting and an Española-based Pre-K Therapeutic Preschool. (505) 955-0410.
Many Mothers: Free home visits by volunteers to any family with a newborn, to provide help with basic household tasks, referrals and companionship. (505) 983-5984.
Santa Fe Mommy Meet-Up Group: Activities and friendship for all moms and dads of young children, primarily birth to age 5.
The Birthing Tree: Doula care, childbirth preparation classes and a breastfeeding and postpartum recovery class. (505) 552-2454.
United Way of Santa Fe County First Born Program: Free home visits to families with a first child, throughout the first three years of the child’s life, to help parents learn about child development, parenting, safety, nutrition and more. (505) 819-0137.
United Way of Santa Fe County Great Start Program: Free postpartum home visits to support breastfeeding and maternal recovery, and to educate parents on newborn behavior and care. (505) 819-0137; www.uwsfc.org.