Baby Basics: What You Need to Know

By Jenna McCarthy

Like many women, I spent a large chunk of my pregnancy gearing up for my baby’s homecoming. I lovingly washed her adorable future wardrobe in baby-safe detergent and decorated her nursery in a palette of gender-appropriate hues. I collected an army of impossibly small, soft things—blankets, hats, stuffed animals— which soon littered every available inch of horizontal space in her room. I assembled pump parts, boiled dozens of bottles and sanitized remote areas of my home that my baby would surely never encounter.

I was as ready as I thought I could get—until I got my pint-size daughter home and realized the tremendous scope of my new responsibilities. The list of daunting tasks I faced included, but was not limited to, clipping her microscopic fingernails, bathing her slippery body and tending to that unsightly umbilical stump. Yet, the baby-care basics soon became routine, and they will for you, too. In the meantime, here are some crib notes (so to speak) to help you navigate a handful of those worrisome “firsts.”

Tending to the umbilical cord

There’s no argument that the umbilical cord stump is not a pretty sight. As much as you want it to be gone, resist the urge to facilitate its departure. “For a long time, pediatricians recommended cleaning the umbilical stump with alcohol,” says Alan Greene, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and author of Raising Baby Green (Jossey- Bass, September 2007). “But recent studies have shown there’s no benefit to this—in fact, the stump comes off faster and cleaner without it.”

What’s more, Greene explains, alcohol can destroy some of the healthy surrounding cells. A little oozing or bleeding is normal and not cause for alarm. “It’s not common for this area to get infected,” reassures Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Baby Books (Wiley; 2002). “It’s a self-healing sort of thing; it always had to be.” A trip to the pediatrician is in order only if the skin around the stump begins to look hard or red, or if any contact with the area appears to cause pain.

Until the stump falls off naturally (usually within two to three weeks), hold off on giving baby a “real” bath, and use only warm water (no soap) for wipe-downs. Folding diapers down and away from the stump can help minimize irritation.

Greene suggests using the cord falling off as an occasion to get serious about all-important tummy time. “A half an hour a day is wonderful for development and for establishing a lifelong habit of exercise,” he adds.

NEXT: The First Bath