If this is your first baby, it’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed by their care needs – some new parents have never changed a nappy or bathed a baby before. Newborns are so small and seem so fragile, and it’s common to feel nervous about taking care of them at first.
The umbilical cord is attached to your baby’s tummy, connecting them to the placenta. After your baby is born, the cord will be clamped with a plastic clamp and then cut, either by your midwife or your birth partner. The cord is made up of three blood vessels, it doesn’t contain any nerves so cutting it will not hurt your baby.
After the cord is cut, your baby will be left with a small stump, with the plastic clamp still attached. Over the next few days, the stump will start to dry up, go hard and become darker until it is almost black. The stump will fall off by itself, usually between 5-15 days after birth. Do not try and remove it yourself, as this should be left to happen naturally.
You can use warm water and cotton wool to wipe around the area to keep it clean. It is normal for the stump to be a little smelly as the tissue dies. Most will heal with no problems, however very occasionally the stump can become infected. If there is any redness or inflammation around the cord, or a very foul smell coming from the area, it’s best to contact your midwife, general practitioner (GP) or NHS 111.
Changing nappies is not really any parent’s favourite job, but changing your baby regularly is really important, and regular wet and dirty nappies are a good sign that your baby is healthy.
One thing that surprises new parents is just how often their baby does a wee or a poo – by the time your baby is a week old, they may be having more than six wet nappies a day and two or more dirty nappies!
This table shows how often your baby should have wet or dirty nappies based on their age:
|1-2||1-2 or more||1 or more black/dark green|
|3-4||3 or more||2 or more dark green/changing|
|5-6||5 or more||2 or more becoming yellow and looser|
|7-28||6 or more||2 or more yellow, watery, seedy appearance|
Regular wet and dirty nappies show that your baby is feeding well and healthy. If your baby is having fewer wet or dirty nappies than usual, you should speak to your GP or midwife. If your baby hasn’t had a wet nappy for 12 hours, you should seek medical advice right away as they may be dehydrated.
Newborns have extremely sensitive skin, so they need to be changed regularly to prevent nappy rash. You should always change a dirty nappy right away to prevent damage to the skin, but you don’t necessarily need to change nappies as soon as they are wet. If your baby’s skin isn’t as sensitive, you can wait until before or after a feed to change them.
You might see urate crystals in your baby’s nappy, especially in the first few days. This has the appearance of an orange-red stain and can be mistaken for blood. These can also be a sign of dehydration (internal link), so look out for other symptoms and seek medical advice if you are concerned.
If you have a baby girl, she may have a small amount of bleeding from her vagina in the early days, like a “mini period”. Babies are exposed to your hormones in the womb, so when they are no longer getting these it can cause some vaginal bleeding. This is completely normal and nothing to be concerned about, but if you are at all worried you should speak to your midwife or maternity support worker.
A newborn’s fingernails can be long and very sharp because they are so thin. Babies can scratch themselves with their nails, so it’s important to trim them regularly. You can buy special baby nail scissors and nail clippers, or you could try filing them with an emery board if cutting them is just too daunting. Their nails grow quickly so you’ll need to check them regularly. You might want to use some scratch mitts if your baby scratches themselves often.
It can be nerve-wracking caring for a newborn. They can’t tell you what they need, or whether something is wrong, and most new parents find this quite daunting. In time you will learn to understand your baby’s feeding cues, and they will develop different cries which can help you to understand what they need.
In the first few weeks, it can be really difficult to tell if your baby is unwell, especially if this is your first baby and you’re unsure what’s normal.
When to seek help
If you feel concerned, it’s best to get your baby checked out. If you see any of these symptoms in your baby, you should contact your midwife, GP or 111 right away:
Your baby isn’t interested in feeding, or is having difficulty feeding
Your baby is lethargic and it’s quite difficult to wake them
Your baby has a temperature above 37.5C or below 36.5C
Your baby is grunting, breathing very quickly or their breathing is laboured (you might see the skin pulling in around their ribs, their nostrils flaring or their stomach sucking in when they breathe)
There are long pauses in your baby’s breathing, when they’re awake or asleep
Your baby has a high-pitched cry, a weak cry or you cannot settle them at all
Your baby becomes jaundiced within 24 hours of birth
Your baby’s jaundice becomes worse (jaundice can cause lethargy, yellowing of the eyes, reluctance to feed, fewer wet or dirty nappies, and pale or white stools)
Your baby has not passed meconium (baby’s first poo which is very dark and tar-like) within 24 hours of birth
Your baby has not had a wet nappy for 12 hours
Your baby develops a rash all over their body
Your baby’s soft spot on their head is sunken or bulging
You should call 999 or go to A&E if your baby has any of the following symptoms:
Your baby is floppy and unresponsive
You cannot wake your baby
Your baby has a blue tinge to their lips or around their mouth
Your baby has a pinprick rash which does not fade when a clear glass is pressed firmly against the skin
Your baby feels abnormally cold to the touch
Your baby’s skin is mottled or blue
Your baby has a fit or convulsion