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Life with a newborn baby is challenging, to say the least. The swirl of emotions, surges of hormones, moments of self- doubt, and seemingly endless days of sleep-deprivation can be overwhelming. Having even a few simple tricks to try in frustrating situations can make all the difference. Anything to help a new mama feel a little less helpless and a little more confident and empowered is worth it.
When I first gave birth to our son I was amazed at the intense, deep, fierce love that I had for him. I was equally impressed by how clueless and overwhelmed I felt most of the time. Even changing his diaper every couple of hours seemed like an exhausting chore. Plus, nursing was a seemingly insurmountable struggle. Seriously? I was having a difficult time feeding my baby, how could that not be the most intuitive natural thing ever? No one mentioned changing diapers and nursing as demanding parts of parenting. I started to worry maybe I wasn’t cut out for this new gig!
It’s easy to assume that other people are more “natural” at parenting because we don’t see what goes on behind closed doors; especially in the middle of the night when parents are overwhelmed and frustrated. We assume everyone else in the world is sleeping. We must be the only ones losing our minds trying to change a diaper and nurse a screaming newborn, when all we want to do is sleep!
Simple logic is remarkably easy to forget in stressful situations. Here’s a list of ideas to help you with the most common challenges! Definitely keep these newborn tips and tricks in mind.
1. Fussiness Tricks
- Feed & diaper. If the baby is fussy, there are 3 things to check immediately:
- A) Hungry? Attempt to feed
- B) Wet/dirty diaper? Check to see if the diaper is wet or poopy. (Yes these are obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of times our son would be fussing and Hubbs would ask “did you check his diaper?” and I would be like “duh, of course, I did” as I discretely actually checked.) Some brands of diapers have a yellow strip on the front that is a wetness indicator. If it has turned blue, the diaper is wet.
- C) Temperature? Could the baby be hot or cold? Newborns have difficulty regulating their own body temperature so doing skin-to-skin as much as possible is a tremendous help. When that’s not possible, be sure baby is dressed just a touch warmer than you are. It’s not necessary to go crazy and bundle them up too much.
- White noise. If you don’t have a noise machine to flip on or a shusher, look up ‘Baby Got Colic’ on YouTube. The video is creepy so don’t watch it, but I’ve seen the sounds instantly calm several babies. It’s free, and you will always have it with you as long as you have your smartphone near you, which, is probably always 😉
- The 5 S’s. Swaddle, side position (holding baby in a side position, not sleeping), shush, swing, suck (pacifier). For more detail check out Dr. Karp’s method to soothe babies, at his website. He also has a book, but I recommend the DVD, Happiest Baby on the Block, so that you can watch it whenever you need a refresher. Sometimes I was too tired to read, so watching it was more manageable. Plus I could walk through the steps with the show.
- Knee to elbow. Some babies have a lot of gas and it can make them extremely fussy. You can help them pass it and become more comfortable with this simple trick. Lay baby on his back, move his right elbow and left knee towards each other like they are going to touch, and then do the same on the opposite side. Repeat until baby stops passing gas. If this motion isn’t effective, try “bicycling” one of the baby’s knees up and gently pressing and then alternate sides repeatedly until baby stops passing gas.
2. Diapering Tricks
- Size up. The first few days or weeks, newborns may poop at night and need mid-night diaper changes. However, you can use the next size up on their diapers, and if they don’t poop then it can save you from having to do a wet diaper change in the middle of the night! (For example, a newborn is wearing newborn size diapers, put on a size 1 at night. It will add enough extra absorbency so that urine won’t leak through, as it often will for the newborn size.) I found that changing a diaper woke us both up a lot more than just nursing, so if it could be avoided until morning, everyone got a better night’s rest. If you do need to change a diaper, do it BEFORE feeding because feeding will release oxytocin for you and baby and help you both get back to sleep.
- Changing pad liners. Our son blew out diapers. All. The. Time. If there was a mess, which was always, changing the changing pad cover constantly was a hassle. It created a lot of laundry, risked staining the cover, required sanitizing the pad (because the cover wasn’t waterproof), and I couldn’t change the pad cover one-handed. I found that changing pad liners was the answer! If there was a super messy blow-out, it was easy to lay baby on top of the liner on top of the changing pad and if there was a mess, toss the liner in the laundry and grab a clean one. Our daughter doesn’t blow out as many diapers, but when she does, the changing pad liners are still super handy.
- Car seat liner. Again with the diaper blowouts. Our son was tiny, and a friend and I developed the theory that maybe his butt cheeks weren’t big enough to hold his poo in his diaper, so it shot up his back almost every time 😛 Maybe it’s overkill, but even one blowout in a car seat is a HUGE mess. In the early days I didn’t need one more thing to push me over the edge of insanity, so having a car seat liner gave me peace of mind that I wouldn’t have to clean the car seat or put a baby back in a dirty car seat if we were out and about.
- Diaper rash. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If a wet wipe is wet enough to do its job, it also leaves behind moisture. We have a box of tissues near the wet wipes and dry baby’s bottom after cleaning-up. Our firstborn had a rash until I started doing this. Our daughter didn’t have even the slightest rash until she was 6 months old when we went on vacation, and I didn’t use the tissues to dry and then she got a major rash. On that note, if the baby does get a rash, cornstarch is the best baby powder! (Yes, the same stuff you may already have in your kitchen.) No need to buy the expensive powder with perfume and chemicals in it, just use the essential ingredient. The powder is nice during the day when it can be applied frequently to keep baby dry, but a barrier for nighttime is best. SPRAY Aquafor is a miracle in a can. Not only does your finger not get messy applying it, but it doesn’t pull on baby’s rash when it’s applied. Aquaphor worked better for us than any other diaper rash cream. At daycare, they use it for not only the diaper rash but as a cure-all haha!
- Stains. Rinse poop immediately with COLD water. Lay the clothing in the sunshine for a few hours and watch the stain disappear. Seriously, sunshine is my favorite stain remover- all-natural and works like a charm! If you live in a place that is dark for much of the year, as I do, the second-best solution is letting clothes air-dry after rinsing and then spraying with Shout and letting soak for about 2 hours before washing. (I keep one bottle of Shout in the bathroom near the nursery so if I’m doing a load of laundry soon it can start to soak. I keep another bottle in the laundry room.) We put the stained items in a mesh laundry bag so that I remember to check that the stain is gone after they have been washed. If the stain is gone, I dry the item with the rest of the clothes. If the stain is still visible I air-dry (heat-dry sets the stain) the item and try another round of Shout, but let it sit overnight. (Oxiclean works pretty well, but it’s also extremely caustic, causing the material to pill, thin, and sometimes it even burns holes.)
3. Dressing Tricks
- Again with the blowouts- are you noticing a theme here? 😛 Did you know that onesies that have the folds at the shoulders can be pulled down for blowouts so that you don’t have to pull the poopy clothing over your sweet baby’s head? Blowouts are easily navigated when the baby is wearing a onesie of this style. Sure, this shirt is cute, but how will you feel about it when it’s covered in poop, and you have to pull it up over your newborn’s head? If you must put on a shirt, be sure to put a onesie on underneath. The onesie will catch most of the poop and it can be pulled down. Also, only button the two outter snaps in the crotch- it’s just as secure and much easier to unsnap!
- A thousand buttons are maddening when you’re sleep-deprived, especially in the middle of the night, so a zipper is the way to go! The pajamas that have the zipper installed from bottom to the top are even better because you don’t have to totally unzip baby to change the diaper, keeping their little bodies warmer. Additionally, newborns can LIVE in pajamas, so get cute ones 😉 If it’s overwhelming to dress your baby every day, then don’t. Unless your house is unusually warm at night, get the footed pajamas because you don’t need the extra hassle of dealing with socks. A lot of newborns don’t like clothes pulled over their heads, and socks refuse to stay on, so pajamas keep your newborn warm, cozy, happy, and adorable all day long.
- Velcro swaddles are easy to use and stay on better than wrapping a swaddle blanket yourself. The velcro sleepsacks are also a nice option and you may be able to use them longer since you can swaddle with baby’s arms free once they are able to roll over. With both of these options, I didn’t have to worry about a swaddle coming loose and strangling my infant. (Yes, now as a mom these horrific possible future case scenarios play before my eyes like a modern-day Nostradamus.)
4. Jaundice Trick
- Many newborns struggle with ongoing jaundice in the early days and weeks. Simply holding/laying baby with some skin exposed in the sunlight, (even in front of a window) can resolve the issue! No billi lights necessary.
5. Pumping Trick
- If you’re pumping to build a stash, nurse baby on one side while you pump the other and you will produce A LOT more milk! If that’s not possible, at least have your baby nearby. And if that’s not possible, watch a video of your baby or look at pictures of your baby. A latched baby stimulates mama’s body to produce the most milk and often both sides will let down at the same time (and possibly several times,) so if you’re able to capture that you’ll have a higher yield.
- Anything that you can do to simulate a latched baby will trick your body into producing more milk. A hand pump or Haakaa breast pump is also nice for easy release if you’re engorged during those early days. You can do it either while nursing, or whenever you need to take the edge off and baby isn’t hungry. This way you are more comfortable, you can save the milk, and you reduce the odds of developing mastitis.
6. Nostalgia Trick
- In your smartphone, keep a simple notes page of little things you want to remember, later you can paste it into a baby book! Some of my favorite memories are the little things, precise sweet moments that would have been forgotten if I didn’t jot them down immediately. (Our son would snort and grunt when he was hungry and excited to be eating. He would also squeak when he pooped- so adorable! Our daughter had super ticklish feet and smiled every time her daddy gave her a head massage.)
7. Better Sleep Tricks
- Start sleep associations as soon as possible. For newborns, being in a carrier or tightly swaddled is essential for restful sleep (because it simulates the womb, where they’ve lived for 9 months). A newborn can quickly learn day from nighttime if you allow at least some light in the room where the baby is napping and make sure to black out the room as much as possible at night. It’s never too early to start a bedtime routine to mark the end of the day. It can be a simple routine of reading a short book or singing a lullaby.
- Gently caressing between baby’s eyebrows starting about half of an inch above the bridge of the nose will encourage those peepers to flutter shut. Or you can try using this tissue trick!
It’s ironic that one of the points in our lives when we need to be able to think straight to care for our newborn baby, is precisely the same time that we suffer from new mom brain. Yeah, we thought pregnancy brain was terrible, but that was just a preview of something worse: new mom brain. Some things that may seem evident or laughably simple under normal circumstances most certainly are NOT when you’re sleep-deprived and suffering from new mom brain. Now sprinkle that with the surges of panic that are induced by a newborn’s cry and you have a recipe for chaos.
Luckily the above is a simple checklist that we can use when our own mind fails us. Having a newborn (especially for the first time) is difficult enough, but with these tips about fussiness, diaper changes, pajamas, and even how to remember the new unique and sweet moments it will be a little bit easier to care for your newborn and enjoy that precious short season in our lives.
Which of the above are the newborn tips that worked best for you? Do you have any other favorite newborn tricks?