New baby basics
You can never fully prepare to become a mom or dad for the first time. Whether you're giving birth or not, life will change as you go on a roller coaster of emotions. Caring for a newborn baby can be a little scary at first. Your baby might seem small and helpless, making you feel like you might break them. But don't worry; babies aren't as fragile as they look. In no time, you'll be taking care of your baby with confidence.
In the first few days
After your baby is born, you will need to:
Register your baby's birth to apply for a birth certificate
Sign up for the medical services plan for BC residents
Apply for Canadian Child Benefits
Follow up after birth
If you gave birth at a hospital, a Public Health Nurse will call 24-48 hours after to check in with you.
If you are receiving care from a midwife after delivery, a Public Health Nurse will contact you 6-8 weeks after.
If you haven't been contacted and have questions before then, find your local health unit and give them a call
Learn more about the first days
Babies don't need to have a bath every day as long as you take care to keep them clean and dry. However, a daily bath can be a nice way to build a bedtime routine. Giving a bath can be tricky, but a health professional can show you how to do while you're in hospital. Take a minute to read bath time safety information and never leave your baby in the bath alone.
Bathing and skin care for newborn babies - Healthy Families BC
Biliary atresia is a rare but serious liver disease that begins to affect newborns in the first month of life. It is the most common reason why children need a liver transplant. It is life-threatening if it is not treated.
Biliary atresia home screening program - Perinatal Services BC
Signs of biliary atresia
- If your baby has jaundice for longer than two weeks AND
- Has pale yellow, pale green, chalk white, or clay-coloured stools
Learning to breastfeed your baby can be challenging, and it’s important to have a good support system to get off to a good start. Overcoming early difficulties is well worth it. Breast milk is the only food your baby needs during the first 6 months. Visit the breastfeeding page to learn about the following:
- Benefits of breastfeeding
- Learning to breastfeed
- Breastfeeding in the first 3 weeks
Vitamin D supplements
Babies who are breastfed need a liquid vitamin D supplement of 400 IU every day to help them grow strong teeth and bones. Breast milk has some vitamin D but it is not enough to meet your baby’s needs.
Vitamin D supplements for breastfeeding babies - Healthy Families BC
You can expect to be changing diapers 10-15 times each day in the beginning. Make diaper time a fun time to talk, laugh and play with your baby. Always keep one hand on the baby and never turn your back while they are on the changing table.
Tips for diapering a newborn baby - Healthy Families BC
All babies cry. It's the way they communicate. But sometimes you've tended to all their needs and your baby still won't stop crying. If it's been a long day after a poor night's sleep, this can be very challenging but it doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. Many babies will go through a Period of Purple Crying – a time where they regularly cry and can't be soothed. Unfortunately, it's developmentally normal and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It will just have to run its course.
Coping with crying
Here are some ways to help you cope when the crying seems like it will never end:
- Try these tips for soothing from Healthy Families BC
- Ask family or friends to come help you. (Never ask anyone to help if you know or suspect they have a problem controlling their anger.)
- If you have a partner who is available, take turns giving each other breaks that let you leave the home.
- Work your frustrations out through intense exercise like running in place or hitting a pillow against the wall.
If you feel like shaking or hitting your baby, put the baby down in a safe place (like the crib) and go to another room. Plug your ears or play loud music, if needed. Call another trusted adult for help. Don't pick the baby up again until you are calm.
Remember, it may seem as if the baby has been crying forever, but the truth is you are in a temporary situation. This stage will not last forever. You will get through it.
Learn more about Period of Purple Crying and get tips on how to cope.
For information on safe food handling to prevent food poisoning, visit the food safety at home webpage.
One in every 300 babies born in BC has hearing loss. If it's caught early, much can be done, and problems with developing language skills can be avoided. That's why the BC Early Hearing Program is working on screening all babies born in BC Hospitals. Most babies in BC have their hearing screened before they go home from the hospital. Hearing screening is offered at your local audiology (hearing) clinic or community screening clinic for babies who were not screened in the hospital.
The test is not painful or uncomfortable for the baby, and you will get results immediately. In most babies, it is clear that their hearing is fine, and you can get peace of mind. Many babies, however, will need follow-up testing. This does not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong. In most cases, it simply means that a straightforward reading wasn't possible. There may have been too much background noise, for example. However, it's essential to go to all of your follow-up appointments so that if there is any hearing loss, your baby can get help immediately. Learn more about the BC Early Hearing Program.
Injury prevention & safety
Children learn new skills quickly. That's why it's important to be two steps ahead when thinking about safety. As your child is learning to crawl, you should prepare your home to be safe for them as though they can already walk.
Get down to your child's level and look for hazards. For example, try pushing against furniture to see if it's stable enough to support your child's weight as they pull themselves up to standing. Some of the most common causes of injury you should look out for are:
- Falls. Example: Is there any furniture your child could climb on then fall off of?
- Burns/scalds. Example: Is there anything your child could climb on in the kitchen to let them reach the stove?
- Poisoning. Example: Are all household cleaners stored and well out of reach?
If an accident does happen, it's good to be prepared ahead of time. Learn basic first aid for common injuries on the HealthLink BC website.
You may not think that tooth brushing is something you need to worry about with a newborn – after all, babies have no teeth! But getting oral hygiene off to a good start from the very beginning is very important. Wipe a wet washcloth over your baby's gums every day to get them used to having their mouths clean. When the first teeth appear, it's time to start brushing by using these handy brushing tips.
In the first days after birth, a newborn may have jaundice, a condition where the baby's skin and the whites of its eyes look yellow. Newborn jaundice is common and in most healthy babies is not serious and does not need treatment. If your baby is jaundiced, make sure your baby is feeding well, at least every 3 hours. If your baby is sleepy during feeds try unwrapping and feeding skin-to-skin.
Signs of jaundice
To check your baby for jaundice:
- Hold your baby in natural light, for example, near a window
- Look to see if the white part of your baby's eyes looks yellow
- Gently press your fingertip on your baby's forehead, nose, chest, arms and legs. If these areas look yellow or orange when you pull your finger away, then there is jaundice
When to get help for jaundice
Call your health care provider if:
- You see jaundice in the legs, palms of hands or soles of feet
- Your baby is not waking to feed, not feeding at least 8 times in 24 hours, or latching is painful
- At 4 days of age, your baby is having less than 2–3 stools each day
- Your baby's jaundice lasts longer than 3 weeks
Newborns frequently wake up often and haven't yet figured out that night time is for sleeping. But as your baby gets older, they will start sleeping for longer periods during the night.
How much should your baby sleep?
There is no right answer. Each baby has its own needs. Some newborns only need nine hours of sleep in day, while others will need as much as 20 hours. Most fall somewhere in between. It's important, though, that each baby gets the most possible sleep that is right for them. Not only will it help their development, but it will give you a chance to get a much-needed break.
Have realistic expectations
Your baby is unique and their needs are always changing. Young babies will wake frequently to feed and cuddle. Most newborn babies feed at least eight times in 24 hours and may have periods of cluster feeding.
Create a safe sleeping environment
Learn how to create a safe sleeping environment for your baby. It will help them sleep better and reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Safe sleeping - Healthy Families BC
- Sleep related infant death (PDF) - HealthLink bC
- Safe sleep for your baby - Government of Canada video
- Safe sleep for your baby pamphlet (PDF) - Government of Canada
Tips to help your baby sleep as safely as possible
- Always place your baby on their back to sleep. If they roll over on their own, that's okay.
- Use an approved crib or bassinet with a firm sleep surface. Don't use any pillows or bumper pads.
- Share a room with the baby, if possible. (But don't share your bed.)
- Never expose your baby to second-hand smoke.
- Breastfeed your baby.
- Keep baby warm, but not hot. A light blanket is usually enough.
Babies need to spend time on their stomachs or sides when they're awake. We call this "tummy time," and it helps develop strong muscles, gets them ready to learn how to roll over, and prevents their head from getting flat spots, a condition called plagiocephaly.
- Tummy time: For head shape and muscle strength
- Preventing and treating your baby's flat head - BC Children's Hospital
Tips to make tummy time a success
- Put baby on their tummy while carrying or holding them in your lap.
- Always do tummy time on a firm, safe surface, like a blanket on the floor.
- Never leave your baby alone during tummy time.
- Try and have tummy time for a few minutes several times each day (maybe add it to your routine after a diaper change)
- Make tummy time fun: show your baby toys or pictures, make funny faces, etc.
- If your baby doesn't like tummy time, wait until they are rested and happy. Try to make it as fun as possible.
- Remember to always put your baby to sleep on their back.
It's normal to worry about your child and to try to keep them as safe as possible. The good news is that babies and young children are a lot tougher than we might think and there are steps that you can take to protect your child from avoidable illness and injury.
Forgive yourself and your partner for mistakes – nobody is perfect and remember to take care of yourself. Parents who are feeling lonely, afraid, sad or worried will find it hard to respond to their baby's needs. If you are concerned about your safety in your relationship have a look here for resources.