Basics of baby care

The birth of a baby is a big change for the family. After the child is born, you will spend the first days learning new things. Every day is different, and the baby’s behaviour also changes from day to day. The baby’s most important needs are food, love and cleanliness. As you get to know your baby, you learn how to best respond to the baby’s needs. The weeks after childbirth are spent learning new things. Give yourself time to get to know the baby, and enjoy the time your child is still small.

Navel

Navel.The baby’s umbilical cord stump will fall off within two weeks after birth. Clean the navel at least once a day, or more often if necessary. To clean the cord stump, take a wet cotton bud and use it to wipe all around the stump. After this, carefully dry the bottom of the navel by patting it with a dry cotton bud. If the baby’s navel is smelly, clean it with a cotton bud that you have moistened with an antiseptic solution. Some tissue fluid and blood may come out of the baby’s belly button up to a week after the umbilical cord stump has fallen off.

Bowel movements

During the first few days after birth, the baby’s poop consists of meconium, a dark green, almost black substance. By the third day, the baby’s bowel movements start to be lighter in colour.

The texture of the stool of a breastfed baby can vary from sticky to runny, and it is usually mustard-coloured and only has a mild odour. From time to time, the baby’s stool may be green or orange or contain mucus or clumps. Such changes in colour are normal and do not mean that there is anything wrong.

The density and volume of the baby’s stools reveal whether the baby is eating enough. After the first 3–4 days, the baby’s bowel movements should become more frequent. When the baby is a week old at the latest, they should pass yellow stools 2–3 times a day.

If the stools are brown, the baby may not be getting enough milk. If there is blood in the stools, the mother’s nipples may be bleeding. The reason for the blood in the baby’s stools must always be investigated.

After the first 4–6 weeks, the baby’s bowel movements may become less frequent. The baby may for example pass stools once a day, or every three days. When the baby is feeling well, their stools are sticky, soft and yellow.

Urination

During the first couple of days after birth, the baby’s pee may contain sediment and be of reddish colour from time to time. This is normal. Baby urine is usually clear like water, but there is nothing to worry about if it is occasionally darker. Starting from the age of 4–5 days, your baby should thoroughly wet six diapers a day if they are getting enough milk.

Disposable or cloth diapers

It is up to you as parents to decide whether you want to use disposable diapers or cloth diapers for your baby. Some families use both. When you are at home, cloth diapers may be a good option, whereas disposable diapers may be a better solution when you go out.

There are a lot of disposable diapers from different manufacturers on the market. They are easy to use and absorb moisture well. Their downside is that they are non-biodegradable and expensive. Cloth diapers are made of breathable synthetic fibres or various natural fibres. As cloth diapers can be washed in the laundry and reused, they are a less expensive option than disposable diapers. The thing to remember is that using cloth diapers means that you need to do laundry more often. Children who have allergies may benefit from cloth diapers because they contain no allergens.

A baby is being washed. Irritation caused by stool or urine and a lack of air under the diaper may cause a diaper rash. The rash causes redness around the baby’s bottom and in the folds of their skin. If your baby has a diaper rash, they will feel uncomfortable when you change their diaper. A good way to avoid a diaper rash is to change the diaper frequently and wash the baby’s bottom with water. As the baby’s skin also needs air, “air time” is an important way to treat diaper rash. If necessary, you can also apply a thin layer of zinc cream over the irritated skin or use talcum powder that absorbs moisture from the baby’s skin.

Always change the diaper after your baby poops. Depending on the diaper’s ability to absorb fluid and the condition of the baby’s skin you may also need to change the diaper after the baby has urinated.

Eyes

Babies’ eyes are wet because their tear ducts are still underdeveloped. Clean the baby’s eyes every day at the same time you wash their face. If there is eye discharge, wipe it away with a swab dampened with water. If the discharge is hard, you can use water to soak it first. Then wipe the baby’s eye gently with the wet swab, starting from the outer corner of the eye and moving towards the inner corner. Use a different swab for each eye to avoid transferring potential bacteria from one eye to the other. If the baby’s eyes are red and have a lot of discharge even though you keep cleaning them carefully, the baby may have an eye infection that requires a physician's assessment and possibly medication.

Ears

The baby’s ears secrete yellow ear wax that protects the ear canal.  It is important to gently clean the opening of the ear canal and the ear lobe with a dry cotton bud after the baby’s bath time. However, do not put the cotton bud into the ear canal.

Fingernails

A newborn’s fingernails grow quickly. To avoid the risk of infection, it is recommended that you should cut the baby’s nails for the first time at 1–2 weeks of age. The baby should wear mittens or socks over their hands before the fingernails are cut, so that they will not accidentally scratch their face. Cut the baby’s fingernails in a straight line and avoid rounding the corners to avoid the risk of inflammation. It is a good idea to trim the baby’s fingernails when they are asleep because this is when the baby’s fists open more easily and cutting the fingernails is safer.

Skin and bathing

The baby’s skin may begin flaking or peeling during the first weeks of life. Avoid using base creams for the baby as a routine. If necessary, you can apply a small amount of ordinary unscented base cream on the baby’s wrists or the tops of their feet, for example.

The baby’s skin needs to be washed. Wipe the baby’s face, behind the ears, under the skin folds, the armpits and groin areas with a piece of cloth dampened with water. Wash the diaper area with running water every morning and evening and whenever necessary.

Bathe the baby 1–7 times a week depending on the condition of their skin. The temperature of the bath water should be 37 degrees Celsius. There is no need to add soap to the bath water. If necessary, you can add a small amount of baby oil. Moisturising the baby’s skin is not automatically recommended. You can apply lotion to smaller areas of the baby’s skin if this is necessary.

Perheaikaa: bathing the baby (in Finnish) 

Baby acne (hormonal spots)

Baby acne, or hormonal spots, may appear on the baby’s body but it is harmless. Baby acne most typically occurs in the baby’s face, chest and upper back. The hormonal spots will disappear over time, and they need no treatment.

baby acne

Yeast infection in the mouth (thrush)

Candida albicans is a species of yeast and the most common cause of yeast infections in the mouth. Babies often have oral thrush after being born and up to the age of a few months.  It causes a creamy white or greyish coating on the palate, tongue and the insides of the baby’s cheeks. Oral yeast infections are usually temporary and heal within few days. It is easy to treat oral thrush with home remedies such as a few drops of lingonberry juice or unflavoured mineral water that you can apply into the baby’s mouth with a cotton bud. Also wipe the baby’s dummies, bottle teats and the mother’s nipples with acidic foods. If these home remedies do not cure the thrush in a few days, you should go see a doctor, as medication may be necessary.

Cradle cap

The baby’s forehead and scalp may sometimes develop brownish-yellow, scale-like patches. These patches are harmless and can be treated with oily base cream or baby oil. Massage the cream or the oil into the scaly patches and let it stay there for an hour. Then wash the area thoroughly. If the baby has a severe case of cradle cap and the area gets infected, consult a doctor.

Going outdoors

In the summer, you can take the baby outdoors almost immediately after birth, and you can quickly start spending longer times outdoors. Protect the baby from direct sunlight. In the winter, you should start taking the baby outdoors at a slower pace. Keep the baby indoors if the temperature drops to or below –10 degrees Celsius.

Treating fever and the common cold at home

Take the baby’s temperature with a rectal thermometer or an ear thermometer. A temperature of over 37.5 degrees Celsius means that your baby’s temperature is higher than usual. If a newborn or a young baby has a fever of over 38 °C, a doctor should determine the cause of the fever and make sure that the fever has not been caused by a serious illness. To treat the fever at home, try to reduce fever by taking off some of the baby’s clothes or wiping the baby’s skin with a cloth that you have dipped in lukewarm water. If your baby is older than three months, you can also give the child fever medication, administered as a suppository that is inserted into the rectum, or as a liquid that the baby can swallow. If the baby is less than three months old, do not give them fever medication unless a doctor has told you to do so. If your baby is already a bit older, you can keep an eye on their condition at home for a day or two. If the baby is awake and lively and eats well, there is usually no need to worry.

Influenza vaccination of the baby’s family members

Babies who are less than six months old are susceptible to influenza. The family members and other loved ones should get vaccinated against influenza to protect the baby from getting ill. It is absolutely important that the people close to a baby younger than 6 months get vaccinated. Maternity and child health clinics offer influenza vaccinations for free. The vaccination is voluntary.

Influenza vaccination reduces influenza infections, periods of hospital and institutional care, cases of severe influenza and secondary illnesses it causes such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The majority of people who get vaccinated avoid contracting influenza, and even if they get it, they usually recover faster after enduring milder symptoms.