Newborns feel small and fragile, which is why first-time moms and dads are often nervous about holding them. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, either, so care for a newborn, including the simplest tasks like bathing and nail trimming, can make parents feel stumped. Their little ones are so delicate after all.
How to care for a newborn’s delicate body parts
It’s easy to worry about a newborn especially because they have physical features that surprise and confuse parents. But most of the time, there is nothing to worry about. To help you care for a newborn, we’ve come up with a handy guide on how to properly handle your baby’s delicate parts.
In commercials, baby’s skin is often shown as soft, smooth, and silky. But your newborn’s skin isn’t perfect. Sometimes, the skin is dry, and peeling can occur. This is caused by the skin’s sudden exposure to the air now that vernix, the substance that protects the baby from amniotic fluid, is not covering your newborn.
This is not a cause for worry. “Peeling skin is a normal newborn process and requires no treatment,” according to HealthyChildren.org, a site run by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Newborn babies will also develop all sorts of spots and rashes, most of which will disappear on their own, according to the book Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare, 9th Edition. “These harmless spots, known as milia, typically disappear on their own within a few weeks,” says Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Spock says you need to wash only the outer ear and the entrance to the canal. Wipe baby’s ears gently using a wet washcloth. Do not use cotton buds to clean baby’s ears as it can actually cause earwax to build up, according to David L. Hill, a pediatrician and author of Dad To Dad: Parenting Like a Pro. The use of cotton buds can cause the earwax to be pushed back inside the ear, which can create a blockage and cause infection. Remember: wax is formed in the ear canal to protect and clean it.
Your newborn’s eyes are healthy and are constantly bathed by tears (and not just when she’s crying!), so there’s no need to put any drops on it. Baby’s mouth also does not need any extra care.
According to Dr. Spock, our noses have a “beautiful system for keeping itself clear,” so mucus will collect on the nose hairs, and will tickle the baby until she sneezes or rubs it away.
When drying baby after a bath, you can moisten a corner of the washcloth and gently wipe out any balls of dried mucus. Be quick about it as your baby may get irritated with the motions.
If it gets too hot, dried mucus can collect in the nose and interfere with your newborn’s breathing. You’ll be able to tell she’s having a hard time breathing because each time she breathes in, the lower edges of the chest are pulled inward. Click here for tips to clear baby’s clogged nose.
To care for a newborn also requires cleaning their hands and feet. Some parents are especially scared to trim their baby’s nails. The best time to do this is while the baby sleeps, and Dr. Spock suggests using baby nail clippers instead of nail scissors. Even better, try a nail file! Just file the nails smooth and there will be no sharp edges to scratch your baby’s face when she’s waving about, plus you won’t risk pinching or clipping her fingertips. Just the thought makes us shudder!
The soft spot on top of your baby’s head is called a fontanelle. It is an opening in a baby’s skull where the skull bones have not yet grown and joined together. The size of the fontanelle at birth varies per baby and a large one is nothing to worry about, but it might be slower to close than the smaller ones, according to Dr. Spock. Fontanelles can close as early as nine months and up to two years for the slow ones. The average is between 12 to 18 months.
Since the fontanelle is soft, parents are wary of touching the spot. But it is covered by a tough membrane and Dr. Spock says you cannot hurt the baby if you care for your newborn as you normally would.
When you give birth, your newborn’s belly button will have a small piece of the umbilical cord attached to it. This umbilical cord stump will eventually dry up and fall off after seven to 10 days, according to pediatrician Dr. Ina Atutubo.
Once the stump falls off, it leaves a raw spot which can take a number of days or weeks to heal. Dr. Spock says this must be kept clean and dry. This is also the time when your little one can take tub baths.
Bathe your baby with lukewarm water. You may opt to use soap and water to gently clean the belly button area while giving your baby a bath. Use a cotton swab to ensure that the inside is thoroughly dry.
Don’t be surprised if there is a little bleeding or “drainage” a few days after the stump falls off and until the cord completely heals. If the scab on the unhealed belly button gets pulled by clothing, there may be a drop or two of blood. There’s no need to worry about this, says Dr. Spock.
Clean your daughter’s private parts as you would any other part of her body. Spread the labia and gently wash out the creases — there is no need to go any deeper as her body will take care of naturally cleaning the inside of the vagina, according to WebMD. Use warm water and avoid soap. Remember to wipe from front to back to avoid contamination. Do the same for every diaper change.
“Parents may also see some clear white, or even bloody-looking discharge that, while normal, can be disconcerting,” explains Laura Jana, M.D., a pediatrician and author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality 2nd Edition, to Parents. “It’s not necessary or recommended to try to scrub away discharge.” If it continues to bother you, it is best to discuss with your doctor so she can assess if it’s anything serious.
To care for a newborn boy, you’d need to know how to care for his private parts. In the first few months, you may clean and wash your child’s uncircumcised penis with soap and water, according to HealthyChildren.
The foreskin, the sleeve of skin that covers the head (glans) of the penis, is connected by tissue so don’t try to retract it. The opening of the foreskin is large enough for baby to pee, but also small enough to protect him from diaper rash. The AAP advises observing how your baby urinates to ensure that the hole in the foreskin is large enough to permit a normal stream.
As your child grows older, the foreskin will separate from the glans and becomes retractable. Your doctor or pediatrician will tell you when the foreskin has separated and can be retracted safely. This will not be for several months or years so don’t try and force it as it may cause painful bleeding and tears in the skin, says Healthy Children. Regular washing will be enough to keep your baby’s penis clean and healthy.
If you see a white, waxy material at the end of your baby’s foreskin, don’t panic. This is called smegma and is perfectly normal. Smegma is secreted by the cells on the inside of the foreskin as a natural lubricant between the foreskin and the glans, according to Dr. Spock.
Infant circumcision is a sensitive topic and not a popular one among Filipinos, as it is often seen as a rite of passage for tween boys. However, the AAP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) maintain that in some cases, the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks. One of those significant health benefits is that infant circumcision can prevent urinary tract infections (UTI) in the first year of life.
Even though you may feel anxious at first when you care for a newborn, you will soon be able to develop a routine that will make her feel safe and loved. Click here for a survival guide for baby’s first seven days of life. You can do it, moms and dads!