Your Baby (An owner’s manual)

Like many new parents, my husband and I were on cloud nine when we arrived home from the hospital with our newborn son, Whit. Even though it took us more than an hour to get him dressed and in his car seat, and my body ached from childbirth, we were overjoyed and awestruck by our (okay, I’ll say it!) beautiful baby boy. Sadly, by the next morning, our mood had changed. After a long night with next-to-no sleep, we were both in tears, shocked that the hospital had allowed us to leave. We knew nothing about caring for a newborn. We’d never even changed a diaper!

But don’t worry: We got up to speed quickly, and so will you. In the first few weeks, there’s a lot to learn, and like us, you’re bound to encounter some bumps in the road. But with this step-by-step baby care manual, you can eliminate much of the guesswork (and hopefully some tears!). From changing diapers to caring for the umbilical cord to clipping nails, we’ve got expert advice for keeping your little one clean, clothed and happy as a clam. Sure, you may feel intimidated at first, but before long, you’ll be a bona fide expert yourself.


  • Stick to sponge baths until your baby’s umbilical cord falls off (typically between 1 and 4 weeks) and, if relevant, his circumcision is completely healed (usually within a week).
  • Before starting, gather your supplies: a mild unscented cleanser, two baby washcloths, cotton balls, two thick towels (or one towel and a waterproof pad), a diaper, diaper rash ointment or cream, and clothing.
  • Place your baby on his back on a thick towel or waterproof pad next to your kitchen or bathroom sink.
  • To prevent him from getting cold, make sure the room is warm, and only expose one area of his body at a time.
  • Spot-clean from top to bottom, starting with his head and ending with the diaper area. Dry each part with a towel before moving on.
  • Pay special attention to skin folds, especially on the neck, armpits, thighs and diaper area. Don’t forget to wash behind his ears!
  • Wipe your baby’s outer ear with a warm washcloth or cotton ball. Do not attempt to clean inside the ear canal with a cotton swab.
  • Use warm water and a sterile cotton ball to clean each eye, gently wiping from the nose outward.
  • Until he really starts to get dirty (probably around the time he starts to crawl), bathe him no more than two to three times a week. Otherwise, you could irritate or dry out his skin.
  • Once his umbilical cord has fallen off and his circumcision, if any, has healed, you can use an infant bathtub.