Checklist for Your Newborn’s Health & Habits
Holding your baby in your arms for the first time is one of the most singular, special moments you’ll experience as a new parent. Yet, just like during pregnancy, there are now new responsibilities in the caring and keeping of your baby’s health.
It’s important to know the daily tasks, routines and even signs to spot during your first few weeks of parenting. We put together a brief, head-to-toe checklist or ‘survival guide’ for some of the most important phases of your little one’s life, starting from day one at the hospital to several days after you bring your little bundle home.
1. Apgar Score
First, is the Apgar score, which is a test to analyze a baby’s living condition outside of the womb. It checks your baby’s skin color, heart rate, reflexes/responsiveness, muscle tone and breathing rate. Essentially the elements of a routine pediatric ‘check up’. It is administered at 1, 5 and often 10 minutes after birth.
The maximum score is a 10, but a score of 7 and above means your baby is in good condition. This is protocol after birth and the responsibility of your doctors/nurses to carry out.
Fontanels are spongy, “soft spots” between the skull bones that allow space for your baby’s brain to grow big and healthy. Babies usually have these little areas on the top-front and back of the head until the age of 18-24 months old.
As new parents, we know some of you may feel anxious about touching the fontanels. But, there is truly no need to worry about these petite patches. Not only is it crucial for you to know how to check your baby’s fontanel, but they reveal certain developmental signs that are essential to your baby’s wellbeing. At times, fontanel can become concaved, distended or delay in closure. These symptoms are associated with certain medical conditions or irregularities that must be further inspected by your doctor immediately if they do persist.
3. Ears- In’s & Out’s
In the first week of your infant’s life, your doctor will ask if you would like to run a series of free tests to check that everything is A-OK. One test that is highly important is: the hearing test. This screening detects both sound responsiveness and any internal abnormalities, such as ear fluid/matter blocking the ear canal or momentary middle ear fluid. These tests take only a few minutes and don’t hurt your sweet pea at all, as they are usually given when your baby is asleep.
Since a baby’s behaviors can be hard to read and they’re often restless, it’s smart to take more than one hearing test to be sure your baby passes.
Outer Ear Exam
More often than not, the physicality of your baby’s ear isn’t checked post-birth. We are often told a baby’s deformed ear(s) will repair with time, as it is reported that 30% of these malformations self-correct.
However, this isn’t always true.
Truthfully, some ear deformities can stay the same or even worsen. It’s estimated that as many as 1.2 million babies per year have an ear deformity in the U.S. alone. This matter can be treated with InfantEar’s simple, secure and non-surgical ear molding device. Treating your child in the first few weeks of life yields the greatest success rate. One 2-week molding treatment is usually all that is required to correct the deformity. If he/she is older than 3 weeks, your child can still be treated, but one or two additional molding treatments might be necessary. InfantEar can fix your little one’s ear(s) forever as opposed to having intensive surgery, or allowing your child to face the harsh reality of living with a deformity.
4. Blood Test
The “prick” blood test is a screening where your nurse/midwife takes a small blood sample from the bottom of your baby’s foot to test/prevent early-onset conditions. Your baby may cry from discomfort, but the test is over quick and is important to catch any examples of such ailments early.
Most test results are normal or negative since these conditions are typically rare. If there is a risk or positive test result, your doctor will contact you with any concerns and instruct you to make an appointment for further testing.
For more information on these specific conditions, check out: https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/neonatal-screening-test
Although newborns are naturally more restless sleepers than adults (there’s a lot they have to get used to!), they will sleep on and off throughout the day, especially after feeding. After 3-6 months, they will start to develop more of a pattern, only waking up once or twice at night. By 6-12 months, their pattern will start to be more like yours, reducing the daytime naps and staying asleep longer at night. Before you know it, you will be counting sheep again.
6. Time to Eat!
Breastfeeding starts pretty soon after your baby is born. Each time you breastfeed, it could last 50-60 minutes or more. The first milk is a yellowish colored fluid called the “colostrum”, and is ideal for your baby’s first nutrient intake. This coloration is completely normal and will only occur at the beginning of feeding until the milk becomes more pure white.
Breastfeeding has several health benefits, such as adding proper nutrients for your baby’s growth, childhood obesity prevention and promotion of proper jaw development. Of course, bottle-feeding (using breast milk or formula) is also a valuable time for bonding between mother and baby.
7. Importance of Vitamin K
Vitamin K is essential for new babies, since they don’t get enough during pregnancy, as it helps blood to clot when necessary. Without it, a baby can develop a vitamin K deficiency, which may cause serious or fatal internal bleeding to the brain.
However, don’t fret; the easiest, most dependable solution is to give your baby vitamin K by injection that will protect him/her for months. Second, is the pill option, which must be taken in 3 doses for optimal protection: 1 after birth, 1 3-5 days later and 1 at four weeks when the baby is breastfed. If fed by formula, you don’t need to administer the third dose.
8. Umbilical Cord Cleaning
Cleaning the umbilical cord can be a nerve-racking part of your baby’s care routine and you are not alone. We recommend being prepared ahead of time with a mini cleaning kit: cotton swabs, baby toilettes/baby soap, a small bowl of water, soft sponge, a comfy towel for your baby to lie on and a change of clothes for after the cleaning.
First, inspect around the cord for any possible redness or infections. If all is clear, dip cotton swab in warm water, squeeze out any excess water and gently clean around the base of the cord. Second, hold the ‘stump’ with a clean, absorbent cloth to dry it completely. It is important that the umbilical cord remain clean and dry until it falls off naturally. In the past, people used alcohol to clean umbilical cords, but it's no longer recommended. Studies show the cords fall off sooner when allowed to dry naturally, making your cleaning/maintenance period shorter, too!
9. Poo-fect System
A poo-fect baby is a happy one! “Baby’s first poop” will appear dark and can look startling. But, this is only the normal meconium (baby poop). Newborns often poo a little before or after feeding and will often go several times a day, especially once on a regular feeding schedule. A baby’s poo-color will often change, which is normal, but if there is a heightened smell, diarrhea, paleness or jaundice in color, consult your nurse/doctor.
With diarrhea, some easy-solves or home-remedies include - keeping your baby hydrated with rehydration fluids such as Pedialyte; make sure everyone that comes in contact with your baby washes their hands; continue breastfeeding; and keep your baby away from other children until it subsides.
Skin-to-skin bonding as a new mother is SO important when your baby is first born and throughout development. It not only establishes the human connection started in the womb, but translates to a nurturing existence in the outside world.
Once home, moments like breastfeeding, sleeping at the same time, talking with eye contact, or visible contact with you/your partner, establishes a nurturing parental and familial bond for your baby. These are small, but significant ways to bond with your little love and make all the difference when they grow up in a warm, supportive environment.
11. Keep Track
With all these new elements added to your mutual daily routine, it helps to keep a journal of any changes, concerns and, of course, progress you see in your child. A log is also supportive if you ever need to recall details of strange occurrences or abnormalities to your nurse/doctor. In addition, it is a meaningful way to collect and remember the early stages of being a parent.
We realize this list may be a lot to absorb or a bit intimidating to taking in all at once. But, we ALSO know you are beyond ready for this journey—we are excited for you, because we know you can do it! Remember, all babies are unique individuals who will make certain phases or aspects of your childrearing experience diverse, too.
Take one step at a time, and enjoy these precious early days while you can. Cherish all the stages of your child growing up because parenthood cannot be duplicated by any other experience in your life.
Johnson, Robert V., and Walter J. Cook. Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby's First Year. RosettaBooks, 2007.
Murkoff, Heidi and Mazel, Sharon. What to Expect the First Year: 3rd Edition Workman Publishing, Co. Inc., 2014.