Master baby basics

Your new bundle of joy can seem overwhelming when you’re trying to do everything at once in those first few days. Our health visitor gives a masterclass…

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  • Lifting and carrying

    Hands up who worries they’ll drop their baby on his head or hold him the wrong way? Yep, every mum! So rest assured, your confidence will grow the more you pick him up. When lifting and carrying your little one, supporting the head is crucial as babies take a few months to strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles. However, you’ll be amazed how quickly your baby learns to help you by getting himself ready for a lift and nestling into your body, gripping you to support himself with his legs.

    • First, clear a seat so you know where you’re going to sit down again with your baby.
    • Tell your baby you’re going to pick him up for a cuddle. It gets you used to communicating with him, signposts what’s coming, and builds his confidence.
    • Remove any extra blankets and covers, allowing you to lift him safely.
    • Pop one open hand under his back, while the other supports behind his neck and head, and gently lift him up to your body. This allows you to move him into the crook of your arm, with his body turned into you.
    • Or place a hand under each armpit, fingers spread across the back, reaching up behind the neck and head, and lift him up to you, being careful his head doesn’t jolt back.

    Mum’s story

    “Before I was a mum, I used to worry about picking up other people’s babies – they seemed so fragile. But when Idris was born it was as if some instinct kicked in and all the fears I’d had went away. When he cries and wants picking up, I chatter to him and this really helps to soothe him – I get a few odd looks when we’re out, but his needs are more important than people’s opinions!”

    Debbi Sonko, 36, from Didcot, mum to Idris, 1 month

  • Feeding - Breast

    However you decide to feed your little one, use it as an opportunity to be close to him as you get to know each other. It may feel as if it’s all you do in the beginning, and feeding does take up a lot of your day, but this changes, so make the most of it while you can.

    • Feed in any position you find comfortable.
    • Before you start, prepare where you’ll sit down, and get yourself a drink as it can be thirsty work.
    • Support yourself in an upright position allowing yourself space to hold your baby close to you, his nose level with your nipple.
    • Let his head tilt back, the top lip brushing against the nipple to encourage him to open his mouth wide.
    • Allow the chin to touch the breast first, with more areola (the round, flat part of your nipple) visible above the top lip than the bottom one. You’ll notice his cheeks getting full and hear him swallowing.
    • Feeding should be pain-free for you, so your baby can feed as long as he needs.
  • Feeding – Bottle

    • When your baby starts showing early signs of hunger, prepare your feed at a cleaned area, after washing your hands. It’s easy to get flustered if your baby is crying.
    • Stick to the manufacturers’ guidelines when making up feeds, with water boiled at 70˚C, no more than 30 minutes beforehand. This kills off any harmful bacteria.
    • When the feed is made up, cool it down again, as at 70˚C it can scald. Hold it under the cold tap and then test the temperature by dropping a little onto your wrist, until it’s warm to touch. If your baby prefers cool milk, that’s fine.
    • Get everything you need ready – a comfy chair, plus muslin or bib for your baby.
    • Give your baby the time he needs and remember he doesn’t have to finish every feed. Let his appetite guide you. He’ll be hungrier at some mealtimes than others.
    • Allowing his natural appetite control to develop encourages him to learn to read his own cues as to when he’s had enough food, and discourages over-eating in the future.
  • Winding

    Some babies get air trapped in their tummies during or after a feed and this can cause spasmodic, griping pains. All babies differ in how much wind they suffer from and how much burping they’ll need – whenever it happens, here’s how to help.

    • Let your baby rest on your shoulder, while you support his body and bottom and gently pat his back.
    • Resting his tummy against your body can ease tummy pain and help air to come up.
    • Some babies are more comfortable sitting up on your lap, facing away from you with the head draped gently forwards resting over your hand. You’re aiming to keep your little one’s back straight while you gently pat or rub it. You could also try using a round motion, firmly and rhythmically.
    • While in this position you can gently move your baby’s body forward and backward, or round in a circular motion to help release any trapped air.
    • Babies can feel tense when they’re uncomfortable, so keeping your tone calm and reassuring will help.
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  • Nappy changing

    Changing a nappy probably looks pretty simple when you see another mum do it. But it’s not always so easy when it’s just you and your little one’s wriggling legs and a load of sticky tabs and creams – and worse. Practise will make perfect, and here’s how to start:

    • It’s up to you to decide when your baby needs changing. You’ll usually smell a poo, but you need to check for wee, too – all dirty nappies need changing promptly as the mix of poo and urine can damage skin. Either before or after a feed is often a good time.
    • You need everything within arm’s reach. So have a supply of nappies, a change of clothes in case he’s dirtied them, and all the creams and wipes you need on your changing station. That includes cotton wool, warm water (baby wipes or lotion if you prefer), a changing mat or towel.
    • If your baby is dirty, wipe off most of the poo with the nappy, fold it over and put it out of the way of kicking feet. With your cotton wool or wipes, gently clean away all the rest until the skin is really clean again.
    • Boys need to be cleaned all around the penis and testicles to prevent soreness in the creases. If the foreskin is dirty, gently wipe off any debris, but don’t pull it back, as you could damage it. The same thorough cleansing is needed with a wet nappy.
    • Girls need to be wiped from front to back to avoid any germs getting in the vagina.
    • When all the area is squeaky clean, dry with cotton wool, especially in any cracks and creases. Let your baby have a minute or two with no nappy, to encourage her to kick and play. Use this time to coo, chat and sing with your baby, to help bonding. It’s not a race against time.
    • Using creams that act as a barrier works well for some babies, but for others it makes little difference and can clog up nappies if excessive. Make sure you fasten the nappy securely to avoid leaks. With baby boys, point the penis downwards to avoid them peeing up over their tummies.
    • Always wash hands thoroughly after each nappy change to avoid spreading bugs.
    • Check you’re using the right size nappy for your baby’s weight – you need to review this regularly and consider it if you buy in bulk, you don’t want to end up with boxes full of too-small nappies.

    Mum’s story

    “It’s been a steep learning curve, getting used to changing a little boy after Isobel. My essential rules now are: don’t take the dirty nappy off without a clean one ready to put on, as he often wees! And don’t change him in a room with a carpet you like. I swear he laughs every time he catches me out!”

    Vicky Clarke, 31, from Kingston, mum to Isobel, 2, and Sam, 3 months