You’ve probably heard that all a newborn baby does is eat, poop, cry, and sleep. Sounds simple, right? It may become simple, but chances are it won’t seem that way at first. Knowing what to expect from your newborn will make your first days home together a little less overwhelming.
To help map out what’s in store after the big homecoming, we turned to pediatricians and mothers Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu, who literally wrote the book on the topic. The second edition of their book Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality was released in September 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Because their stomachs are so tiny, newborns need to eat small amounts – about 1 to 3 ounces – frequently. Some want to nurse or have a bottle every two to three hours, while others will be hungry even more often.
While some babies announce their hunger with strong cries, others will give more subtle cues such as sucking on their hands, smacking their lips, or rooting, which is when a baby purses her lips and turns her head toward the breast or bottle.
In their first few days, newborns typically lose about 7 percent of their body weight. While this is normal, you’ll want to feed your baby every two hours or so until she’s back at her birth weight.
Newborns are sleepy, so you may need to wake your baby up to feed and give her gentle encouragement to stay awake while eating. Try undressing your baby down to the diaper, rubbing her head or back, or talking to her. The goal is for your baby to be back to her birth weight at her 2-week checkup.
Some newborns need to be burped frequently, others burp on their own and need very little assistance from you. If your baby is fussy or uncomfortable during or after a feeding, that’s a cue to burp her.
You can also try burping your baby when you switch breasts, after every 2 or 3 ounces, every 10 to 15 minutes of feeding, or when your baby’s finished eating. After a day or two of feedings, you’ll find a pattern that works for your little one.
No need to bang your baby’s back like a bongo – a gentle circular motion or soft pats will bring up the bubbles. There are several burping positions to try, including holding your baby with her head resting on your shoulder, sitting her upright on your lap with the fingers of one hand supporting her chest and chin, or laying your baby tummy-down across your lap.
Don’t be alarmed by hiccups or spit-up. Hiccups are normal for new babies and don’t cause them discomfort. Likewise, spitting up during and after feedings – in small amounts or what may seem like the entire feeding – is pretty normal.
If your baby’s spitting-up seems excessive or is accompanied by her arching her back or crying, read more about the difference between reflux, which is normal and improves with your baby’s head control, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which requires treatment. Whatever’s causing it, if your baby’s a spitter-upper, you’ll want to keep a burp cloth handy.
A breastfed newborn will have at least five wet diapers a day. A formula-fed baby may have even more than that – up to ten per day.
There’s a large range for what’s a “normal” number of bowel movements, too. Breastfed babies tend to poop more than formula-fed ones, since formula takes a bit longer to digest. But breastfed babies vary widely, going as seldom as once every four or more days to as often as once per feeding. Formula-fed babies typically poop a few times a day, but it can range from one poop every other day to several poops per day.
You’ll want to keep track of your baby’s pee and poop schedule, as the doctor may ask about her urine and bowel movements at the first checkup.
The very first bowel movements – usually occurring during the first day or two, often when you’re still at the hospital – are called meconium. These first poops have a black, almost tar-like consistency. The ones that follow won’t look much like grown-up poop, either. Be prepared for greenish, light brown, or seedy, mustard-yellow poops from a breastfed baby. A formula-fed baby’s poop tends to be pastier and vary in color. Call the doc if your baby’s stool contains whitish mucus or streaks or flecks of red, which can indicate a problem. (Red is a sign of blood in the stool.)
Normal poop consistency also ranges from very soft to watery, with breastfed babies having looser poop. This can easily be confused with diarrhea. Basically you want to keep an eye out for a change from your baby’s usual pattern or consistency – which is admittedly hard when your baby is first creating a pattern. When in doubt, check with your doctor.
“If you’re confused, just remember this,” says Jennifer Shu. “Whether we’re talking about pooping, eating, sleeping, or crying, every baby is different. Normal is actually a big range. What matters most are sudden changes – and that’s when you should contact your doctor.”
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