A newborn brings along with it both, happiness and stress, in almost equal amounts. Newborns need to be properly cared for and looked after, from birth. While there are very few medicines or treatments to be given to normal newborns that are not sick, there is a lot of cleanliness and hygiene that needs to be observed, and a lot of things that need to be done, and an equal number of things that should not be done.
The primary needs
Giving a bath
Babies can be given a bath almost every day, although this is not a must. In winter and for babies that don’t enjoy a bath, wiping with warm water and drying with a towel may be enough. During a bath, a child’s hair can be washed every day, with only water or by using a mild shampoo. The body can be cleaned with a mild soap. It is important to see that water does not enter the nose, mouth, eyes or ears of the baby.
Once the bath is over, it is mandatory to completely dry the baby using towels. Make sure to dry those areas, which are hidden inside creases—like the armpit or groin—in order to avoid infection or peeling of skin in these areas.
Keeping clothes clean
The baby’s clothes need to be washed daily in water containing an antibacterial and some mild detergent, either by hand or in the washing machine. They should be preferably dried in a machine or indoors, to avoid contamination with dust and pollen. Once dry, the clothes should be folded and kept inside the cupboard, free from contamination. Since the babies tend to dirty their clothes with their secretions, excretions and with every feed, a baby’s clothes might need to be changed 3 – 4 times a day.
Caring for the cord
After the umbilical cord has been cut and clamped, the area around the cord can be gently cleaned every day with alcohol or mild soap and water. The cord usually dries and falls off between 5 – 15 days. Once this happens, sprinkle the area with an antibiotic powder prescribed by the hospital till the umbilicus completely heals and dries.
Taking care of eyes, nose, ears
The eyes, nose, ears and tongue do not need any specific cleaning or applications. Contrary to what tradition says, scientifically, it is unsafe to instil any thing into the eyes, nose, and ears or on the tongue.
Keeping private areas clean
It is a common practice to squeeze the breasts of the baby, or to push back the foreskin on the penis of the baby. These actions can result in serious infections and should be strictly avoided.
Cutting nails and hair
The nails of a baby grow very fast and may need to be trimmed with a clipper or baby scissors, frequently, when the baby is asleep. Many mothers are told that one should not cut, but bite off the baby’s nails, but this is an unscientific practice. In certain communities, it is a practice to shave the head, soon after birth. This seems to be safe and does not cause any problems, although the baby can get hurt on the scalp and that may make him prone to infections, including some serious ones like tetanus.
The same holds true for ear piercing. It is safe to wait till the baby has received its triple injections to tonsure the head or pierce the baby’s ears. This helps prevent tetanus.
Handling the baby
Make sure that anybody who handles the baby washes his/her hands with a good antibacterial soap or hand wash. Also, people who come from outdoors should clean themselves before entering the room.
Cleaning feeding bottles and other accessories
Feeding bottles should be many in number and the same bottle should not be re-used for every feed. These should be sterilised in boiling water early in the morning and should be left in the vessel with water and a lid.
As and when a feed is needed, one bottle and nipple should be removed and used. This should be put away for wash after use. At the end of the day, all the bottles should be put away for sterilising. Toys too should be wiped frequently with soap and water and kept as clean as possible. Toys that contain lead, have sharp edges or moving parts that can come off can be dangerous and should be avoided.
In general, newborns have lower immunity than adults, and the practice of a whole lot of relatives and friends descending on the hospital or at home, is not a good one and should be postponed till the baby is at least a couple of months old. The baby can be kept in an air-conditioned room, or in a room where a fan is rotating, but should be kept away from the draught.
From the mother’s point of view, she should have a daily bath, attend to her wounds of delivery, and keep her breasts clean, by washing with soap and water frequently.