How to handle your newborn
You’ve carried your baby inside you for nine months, but most new parents are full of nerves about handling their tiny newborn. Here’s how to get over those new-mum and dad nerves.
Support his head
Your baby’s head is big and heavy compared with her body, and she doesn’t yet have the strength to hold it up herself. If you pick her up without supporting her head and it flops back, she’ll feel she’s going to fall and fling out her arms and legs, probably shocking you both. A good way to pick her up and put her down is with your whole arm so it supports her spine, neck and head and helps her feel secure.
Most new mums feel nervous of the ‘soft spots’ or fontanelles on their baby’s head and worry they’ll cause damage by touching them. But it’s fine to gently touch, stroke and wash your baby’s head without avoiding these areas. The soft spots are there because a newborn’s skull is made up of four plates that have not yet fused together. They’ll gradually close up as she grows.
Enjoying some skin-to-skin contact with your naked newborn baby is more than just a nice thing to do – it’s also really healthy for her. According to Dr Mary Price, a lecturer in midwifery at the University of Salford who’s earned a PhD for her research into skin-to-skin care, it helps both of you bond and gets breastfeeding off to a good start. Dr Price suggests you begin skin-to-skin contact in the first hour after birth, known as the ‘golden hour’.
‘If you can hold your baby against your skin at this time, you’ll probably find she takes around 10 minutes to settle down, 10 minutes to find her way towards your breast and will probably feed for 20 minutes before she falls asleep. Your baby is pre-programmed to search for food and has a good sense of smell that leads her towards milk. And the earlier your baby breastfeeds, the more likely it is she’ll still be breastfeeding weeks and months down the line.’
Don’t panic if you miss out on this bonding hour, though – obviously any urgent medical needs for you or your baby must come first. But if you’ve had a difficult birth or complications and still feel able to manage skin-to-skin contact, it’s a great way to calm your baby and reduce her adrenaline levels. If possible, discuss skin-to-skin contact with your midwife before the birth and make your wishes clear.
The prospect of getting those tiny, floppy limbs into the sleeves and legs of a bodysuit for the first time can feel daunting. Take it slowly and remember being dressed is a new experience for your baby, too, so she may cry as she gets used to you taking clothes on and off her. You’ll find it easiest if you place your baby on a flat surface such as a changing mat as you dress her. When you’re trying to put her arms into sleeves, use your hand to gather the sleeve up before you gently guide her fist through. When popping a vest over her head, roll the vest up first and widen out the neck with your thumbs to make it easier.
Knowing how to hold your baby for her first bath will help boost your confidence – especially if you’re feeling nervous that she might slide out of your grasp. Start by lying her on her back and put one hand under her shoulders, supporting her head at the same time. Lift her by putting your other hand under her bottom and lower her into the bath. Keep one hand under her shoulders so her head is out of the water and use your free hand to wash her.