Practical tips on how to care for your newborn

By Mater Mothers' Hospital

When bringing your baby home for the first time you may feel excited but also nervous – each baby is different and they don’t come with their own manual.

Mater Mothers’ Hospitals has provided some practical tips on getting through those first few weeks.

Nappy changing

  • Gather everything you need and place it all within easy reach before you commence a nappy change so that you are not tempted to leave your baby unattended on a change table, for whatever reason

  • The height of the change table or any surface used for changing, or bathing, your baby should be just under the level of your bent elbow, so that your back stays straight
  • Always keep one hand on your baby, especially as they get older. At this point you could consider changing baby on a lower surface or a change mat on the floor
  • Encourage eye contact with your baby during nappy changing

For girls:

Wipe from front to back, wiping away any bowel motion or urine from their skin, leaving any protective mucous in the vagina. Baby girls can also have a small loss of blood from the vagina in the first week, like a small period. This usually lasts a few days only and there is a very small amount of blood.

For boys:

Clean all around the folds of skin of the penis and scrotum, but leave the foreskin in place. If the foreskin is pulled back too early, scarring of the head of the penis may occur. The foreskin may take many years to roll down naturally. Boys can spray urine everywhere, so be very prompt when replacing the nappy.

Please note: some babies, both boys and girls, can also have swollen breasts that feel quite lumpy and hard which may even ooze milk. Swollen breasts and vaginal blood loss in babies result from the hormones passing from the mother to the baby before birth. They are of no concern and usually resolve quickly.

Normal infant urine and bowel habits


You could expect that your baby will have one wet nappy on the first day, two on day two and three on day three, and so on until breastfeeding is established. Then you would expect approximately six to eight heavy wet nappies per day, with the urine a pale yellow in colour.

If using disposable nappies it can sometimes be difficult to tell if the nappy is wet—feel the front and bottom of the nappy to check the crystals inside the nappy—if wet, they should feel full.

Some disposable nappies have a “wetness indicator” which changes colour if the nappy is wet.


Your baby’s first bowel motions, called meconium, are black/dark green in colour and should occur within 24 hours of birth. After a few days of feeding the bowel motions change colour to brown/green and then to a yellowish mustard colour which is loose with small curds in it like cottage cheese.

Your breast milk contains natural laxatives which prevent constipation. In the early days babies may have a bowel motion with every feed but this will slow down. The normal range of bowel motions is eight per day to one per week. If you have any concerns contact your midwife, doctor or child health nurse.

Formula fed babies are more prone to constipation. If this is a problem please seek assistance from your midwife, child health nurse or doctor.


  • Gather everything you need and place it all within easy reach before you start bathing your baby. Never leave your baby alone in the bath
  • The temperature of the bath should be warm but not too hot. You can place your elbow or wrist in the water to check the temperature—if it is comfortable then it should be suitable
  • Babies may only need to be bathed every second day in cooler weather but in warmer months a daily bath is recommended

Cord care

  • The umbilical cord will feel cold and clammy, initially, and then will become quite dry and brown in colour
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before, and after, handling the cord
  • Check at each nappy change—there should be no blood loss
  • When re-dressing your baby, fold down the nappy. This helps keep the cord exposed to air (keeping it dry), reduces undue pressure on the cord and prevents potential for infection through faecal contamination
  • When bathing your baby wash the cord with water and dry gently when drying your baby
  • There are no nerve endings in the cord so you will not hurt your baby when cleaning the cord
  • There is a variation in the length of time it will take for the cord to separate: however, this usually occurs between five and 15 days. When it is close to dropping off, you may notice old blood around the base of the cord. It is normal for the cord to smell at this stage. Just clean as previously described
  • If the skin around the cord becomes red or hot to touch, looks inflamed, is offensive to smell or is noticeably draining pus, show your midwife, nurse, doctor or child health nurse as soon as possible.

Dressing your baby for climate

  • Dress your baby in similar weight clothes to yourself. The general rule is what you are wearing plus one layer, which is usually a light wrap. Hats should not be worn inside the house once you are home from hospital as babies need to lose excess heat from their heads and faces. If you have air conditioning make sure the room does not become too cold—a room temperature of around 24–26 degrees is appropriate.


  • It is normal for your baby to lose some weight in the first few days, but they usually regain their birth weight by approximately two weeks of age. In hospital your baby will be weighed at birth and on discharge
  • If you wish to have your baby weighed after discharge there are several options, including:
    • Child Health Clinic—by making an appointment. Some clinics have a drop-in area for self-weighing
    • Your GP

Related topics

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

Gain more Parenting Insights at our Expos

Get your Expo tickets today! View Expo dates