n. Everyday care

Crying and fussiness
All babies cry, but some cry more than others. They cry when they’re hungry, bored, uncomfortable or scared. They cry when they need a diaper changed, hear a loud noise, meet a new person or for no clear reason. It does not make you a bad parent because your baby cries. It’s the main way your baby can communicate with you. But it can be very upsetting and frustrating when you can’t figure out why your baby is crying.

If your baby keeps crying, first try:

  • Feeding her
  • Burping her
  • Changing her diaper
  • Checking for signs of illness like fever or swollen gums
  • Check that she is not too hot or too cold

If none of these work, and she is not sick, then try:

  • Rocking her
  • Wrapping her, also called swaddling, in a cozy blanket. Be sure not to wrap the blanket too tightly. Visit marchofdimes.org to learn more about swaddling.
  • Putting her in a stroller and going for a walk
  • Dimming the lights in the room
  • Turning on some quiet music
  • Singing or talking to her
  • Holding her close to your body and breathing slowly
  • Calling a friend, family member or neighbor to help so you can take a break

As you get to know your baby, you’ll learn how much crying is normal for her and what you can do to soothe her. If your baby cries longer than usual, and nothing seems to be working, call your health care provider for help.

Never let anyone shake your baby
Taking care of a fussy, crying baby can be very, very stressful. Sometimes, a parent or caregiver gets so frustrated and angry that they shake the baby to try and make him stop crying.

A baby should never be shaken because his tiny, fragile brain may be damaged. It only takes a few seconds of shaking to cause brain damage that will never go away. Call 911 if you feel like you are losing control and are worried that you or someone else might hurt your baby.

Safe sleep
Even if your baby slept on his tummy in the NICU, at home he needs to sleep on his back. Just remember “back to sleep.” Sleeping on his back lowers your baby’s chances of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS, the unexplained death of a baby while sleeping), also known as “crib death.” You should let your baby spend time on his stomach when he is awake and you can watch him closely. This “tummy time” is important for the baby’s muscle development.

Always use a firm, tight-fitting mattress and a fitted sheet in your baby’s crib or bassinet. Pillows, blankets, stuffed animals and crib bumpers should not be used in the crib since they can cause suffocation (when a baby cannot breathe). If it’s cool, dress your baby in a sleeper to keep warm; do not use a blanket. Keep the temperature of your baby’s room at about 67F.

Share your bedroom with your baby but not your bed. Babies should not co-sleep with their parents. Co-sleeping means that babies and parents sleep together in the same bed. Instead, put your baby to bed in his own crib or bassinet. Keep it close to your bed so your baby is nearby during the night.

Everyone, including you and your family members, should wash their hands vigorously and thoroughly before touching your baby. Hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice from beginning to end. It’s really important to wash your hands after changing the baby’s diaper, using the bathroom, wiping another child’s nose or blowing your nose. When you wash your hands, it reduces the chances of passing germs to the baby. If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water and you can’t see any dirt on your hands, it’s OK to use hand sanitizer.

People coming to visit
Since babies who have stayed in the NICU have a greater chance of getting infections than other babies, you may want to take extra steps to keep them healthy. Here are some things you can do:

  • Limit the number of people who come to your home.
  • Ask visitors to wash their hands before touching your baby.
  • Do not let visitors smoke in your home or near your baby.
  • Do not let adults or children who are sick, have a fever or who may have been exposed to an illness near your baby. Any adult who may have contact with your baby should get a Tdap vaccine to help prevent pertussis (also called whooping cough).
  • Avoid taking your newborn to crowded places like the shopping mall and grocery stores.

This does not mean that you can’t invite people to your home. Or that you have to stay in your house for the first months after your baby comes home. It’s fine to take your baby for walks outside in nice weather and go visit friends or family members. Just make sure your baby is going to a smoke-free and illness-free environment. Talk to your health care provider about ways to keep your baby safe.