Your Newborn's Needs

The needs of newborn babies are very simple. They need to eat and sleep, and they need lots of warm cuddling, holding, and skin-to-skin contact to establish their sense of security and well being. You can't spoil a baby. Talk to her, sing to her, and call her by her name. One thing you can do for both yourself and your baby is become aware of her daily routine. This will help you to determine whether she is acting normally, or whether something may be wrong and you need to call her health care provider. You may also want to ask your baby's health care provider for a checklist of things you need to keep track of, when to call, and some of the things you need to know.


  • Until the umbilical cord falls off, it should be kept dry with no tub baths. You can give your baby sponge baths as needed with warm water and a washcloth. Try to focus on areas where dirt can hide, such as the face, the folds of the neck, and behind the ears.
  • After the cord falls off, it’s fine to bathe your baby every other day or so. Wash your baby's hair with a mild soap or baby shampoo during bath time. Don't worry about the soft spots. After shampooing, be sure to rub the scalp gently with a soft towel to dry the hair. Some babies have a condition called “cradle cap”. This means they have waxy scales on their scalp and sometimes on their forehead. Shampooing with a soft brush and soap can help prevent cradle cap. Your baby’s health care provider can also tell you ways to treat it.

Cord care

  • Within 10 to 14 days after birth, your baby's cord will turn black and then fall off. Until this happens, keep the diaper folded below the cord, and the baby's shirt folded up in order to allow the cord to dry. Your health care provider will tell you exactly how to take care of the umbilical area until the cord falls off. Usually a cotton-tipped applicator dipped in rubbing alcohol is swabbed around the base of the cord at each diaper change. If the area around the cord looks red or swollen, begins to bleed, or has pus, be sure to call your baby's health care provider right away.

Care of the genitals

For a boy
  • Circumcision is a surgical procedure that removes the foreskin, the skin that covers the head of the penis. It is usually done for religious purposes or to improve hygiene. It is not considered a medically necessary procedure, and is often not covered by insurance outside of the hospital setting. If your baby is circumcised, you can avoid penis irritation by using petroleum jelly on the area at every diaper change. Until the area heals, you can wash it with warm water. If you are concerned or if you notice pus or blood, you should call your baby’s health care provider immediately.
  • If your baby is uncircumcised, the foreskin will be snug for the first year of his life. Don't try to pull it back to clean underneath. You should wash the outside of his penis during bath time and diaper changes.

For a girl
  • During diaper changes, you should wash the outer lips of your baby’s vagina gently using a soft washcloth or cotton ball. And remember to wipe from front to back whenever cleaning your daughter's genitals so that no bacteria from her bowel movements infect her vagina.

Diaper rash

  • Diaper rash is common in babies. It occurs when urine and stool come in contact with the skin for prolonged periods of time. To prevent diaper rash, change your baby's diapers often, and wash the area well with water or a baby wipe after each change. You may also want to let the area air dry before putting on a new diaper, and/or use baby ointment or cornstarch after changing the diaper to prevent or soothe a rash. Never use talcum powder; it can irritate the baby's lungs.

Dressing your baby

  • The general rule of thumb about dressing your baby is to dress her as warmly as you would dress yourself, with the addition of a hat in cooler temperatures (babies lose a significant amount of their body heat through their heads). Don’t overdress your baby; she can become fussy and overheated.
  • Loose, comfortable clothing (undershirts, nightgowns, socks) are best for wearing in the house, while sweaters, coats, and hats are best for outings and trips in cool/cold weather. In hot weather, a lightweight cotton hat will protect your baby from the sun's rays. During sleep, a light covering is good for warm nights and a warm blanket or sleep sack is good for cooler nights. Wrapping a younger baby snugly (called swaddling) in a blanket and placing her on her back (or on her side with another blanket rolled against her back) can make her feel more secure.

Your baby's emotions

Like you, your baby has a wide range of emotions. But babies cannot express feelings through words. Instead, they use actions, like crying, to let you know how they feel. The first year is very important for your baby. This is when she begins to find her place in the world, and develop feelings about herself. Newborn babies can’t be spoiled. This means that you can never give a newborn too much attention.
  • You and your partner should hold your baby often and be sure to make eye contact.
  • Babies respond to being stroked and touched. Touch has been proven to be extremely important to a baby's development and growth. And physical contact is one of the best ways to show your baby how much you love her.
  • Many babies love to be massaged. Use an edible plant oil such as sesame, olive, and avocado. Avoid any nut oils as they can trigger allergies. Don’t use powder, and make sure the room is warm enough.

Continue to "Newborns and Crying" journey to parenthood

Most recent page update: 9/9/2010

© 2016 National Partnership for Women & Families. All rights reserved.

Founded in 1918, Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Together, these two women's health powerhouses are transforming maternity care in the United States.
News and Features
Featured Resource

Check out our resource, "Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care"
Read more

Special Announcement

Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Read more

Our Vision

We want all women and babies receive the best possible maternity care.
Play video

Get Involved

Read our 2020 Vision, Blueprint for Action, blog and more
Sign up for email updates
Find us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Support us