A newborn baby blood test, also known as a 'heel prick test' or 'blood spot test', is available to…
Newborn baby care and safety
What is newborn baby care and safety?
Taking your newborn baby home from hospital can be both daunting and exciting, especially if you are a first-time parent. It is perfectly normal to feel somewhat overwhelmed and wonder how you are going to care for this tiny person; many new parents are terrified they will drop their child or do something silly. So, while you are in hospital, take full advantage of your care team; your midwife will be happy to offer advice on sleep, feeding, bathing and safety issues and can answer any questions you may have.
Your new baby needs a safe, caring environment in order to thrive and it is your duty as a parent to make sure they are kept safe from harm in your home and outside of it. Looking after a newborn baby is a combination of common sense, love and patience - it is important that you, your partner and any other caregivers all agree on safety.
Safety around the home
Newborn babies are incredibly vulnerable and are totally dependent on you for all aspects of their care. Luckily, they are not very mobile for the first few months of life, so child-proofing your home is relatively easy. Injuries in the home or backyard are the most common reasons for hospitalisation or death in children under four years of age - and most injuries are avoidable. 
A few simple steps can be taken to ensure feeding is a positive and safe experience for you and your baby, including the following:
- If bottle-feeding, do not use a microwave to heat your baby's milk, as this can cause scalding. Use a pan of hot water to gently heat up your bottles and always test the milk temperature on your wrist after shaking the bottle vigorously. If it is hot on your wrist, it is too hot for your baby;
- Always feed your newborn baby yourself, holding the bottle and allowing them time to burp. Gently pat or rub their back to help them to burp if they need it. Keep their head higher than their stomach to avoid reflux, and;
- Never leave a small baby to feed on his/her own - propping up the bottle with cushions can cause choking and inhalation of milk.
Around the house
They may be tiny and not very mobile, but there are still plenty of potential hazards to be aware of around a newborn baby, including the following:
- Babies like to put things in their mouths. Keep all small items out of reach of your child, as babies can choke easily. Likewise, do not leave string, ribbons or any item that could strangle your baby within their arms' reach;
- Keep plastic bags, blankets, scarves and any product that could smother your baby well away. Newborn babies can smother silently - always be vigilant about what is within their reach;
- Never leave your baby unattended on a changing table, bed or any surface they can roll off or fall from. Always keep your hand on your baby while changing them, or else change them on a mat on the floor;
- Never cook or hold hot when you are holding your baby. Keep all hot items out of your child's reach. A scalding hot beverage can cause life-threatening damage or even death to a small baby;
- Install flyscreens on all windows to prevent wasps or mosquitoes from entering your nursery or living areas;
- Ensure that all toys and baby equipment have an 'Australian safety standards' sticker, and;
- Do not leave your baby lying too close to an open or gas fire, or any source of heat. Install fireguards and make sure your fire alarm is working. Keep fire exits clear and plan your escape route, should you experience a fire.
- Never leave your baby alone with pets, as even the most placid dog or cat can act unexpectedly around a new baby;
- Do not leave your baby alone with other small children - they always need supervision, and;
- Your baby's immune system is not properly developed and they need protection from people with colds, flu and infections. Always insist that people who handle your baby wash their hands first. Do not let people with cold sores or an obvious illness come near your baby.
Safe sleep environment
All new parents worry about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the chances of SIDS occurring, but there are plenty of other ways to protect your baby while they sleep:
- Always put your baby to sleep on their back;
- Do not have fluffy toys, duvets, cot 'bumpers' or loose sheets and blankets in your baby's cot - these can all lead to suffocation;
- Make up the bottom of your baby's cot the same way you would a bed, with your baby's feet touching the bottom of the cot. Only have bedding come up to your baby's chest - keep their heads uncovered;
- Do not let your baby sleep on soft surfaces - a firm mattress is best;
- Do not smoke in the house or anywhere near your baby and do not let anyone else smoke near your baby;
- Do not have your baby share a bed with another child;
- Always remove any bibs or clothing with ribbons, which could cause strangulation, prior to bedtime, and;
- Be wary of overheating - make sure your baby is comfortable but not overdressed, keep a thermometer in the nursery and allow fresh air to circulate.
Safe handling of your newborn baby
Your newborn baby has a fragile spine and is easily injured. How you pick them up and hold them, or let others hold them, is vital for their wellbeing. Good measures to always observe include:
- Always supporting your newborn baby's head and neck when moving, lifting or carrying the baby around. Babies cannot support their own heads for a few months, so extra care must be taken before this time;
- Being gentle when handing your newborn baby, as sudden jerking movements may frighten them;
- Not allowing other very young children to pick up your newborn baby - always supervise this sort of activity, ensuring your newborn baby's head and neck is supported. Teach young children to be gentle with your newborn baby, and;
- Never shaking your baby or throwing them up in the air, as this can cause spinal damage in a newborn baby. Shaking a young baby, even for a few seconds, can result in brain damage or even death.
Using a baby sling or stroller
Many new parents enjoy the freedom of carrying their baby around in a baby sling, but very tiny babies can easily suffocate if incorrectly positioned, as they are too small to move themselves. Guidelines have been designed to protect your baby in the first few months, but if your baby is premature, unwell or of low birth weight, always check with your doctor before using a sling. If you do use a sling, make sure it has Australian safety standards certification.
The most dangerous positions for tiny babies are when they have their face pressed against your body, or the fabric of the sling, or their chin is pressed against their chest. Keep their back supported and their nose and mouth free. Very small babies can get into distress without making a sound or movement.
The T.I.C.K. rule has been designed to help parents remember how to use a baby sling safely.
Tight - the sling is kept tight with your baby supported upright and the head also supported. Keeping the sling tight will support the baby's weight - loose cloth allows the baby to slouch and can restrict their breathing;
In view - you should be able to see your baby's face by looking down. Ensure your baby's face, especially the nose and mouth, are free of material and unobstructed;
Close (enough to kiss) - your baby's head should be close enough for you to tip your head forward to kiss them. This means the baby is held high and not slouching downwards, and;
Keep - the baby's chin off their chest. Always keep your baby's chin up and do not allow them to curl up with their chin drooping against the chest, as this can restrict their ability to breathe.
When using a stroller, ensure it has Australian safety standards certification. Also:
- Make sure your baby is secured using a 5-point harness. This type incorporates straps around the waist, shoulders and crotch;
- Do not pile shopping bags on the handles of your stroller or pram as this can cause it to tip over, and;
- Always engage the brakes when stopping the pram or stroller for any length of time.
Safety in the car
The first and most important point to remember is to never leave your baby unattended in your car - it is illegal in Australia. Also:
- Cars become hot very quickly. Ensure your baby is protected from direct sunlight with a sun visor on the window, do not overdress them for journeys and if you need to stop for a moment, park in the shade;
- Babies under six months of age need to be placed in rear-facing baby capsules, with a 5-point harness in place (these may be hired through your local council). By law, babies must travel in the back seat of your car, if it has two rows of seats;
- If you are unsure how to install your child seat, ask at the store where you bought it, as an incorrectly-fitted child seat can endanger your child's life. There are also qualified fitters of child restraints and anchor points throughout Australia;
- It is essential your car seat has modern fixtures and fittings, complying with current Australian safety standards;
- Always get into the habit of putting your baby into your car on the kerb side, avoiding the chance of injury from other vehicles, and;
- Remember, a car is a potentially dangerous environment - do not try to entertain your child while driving or you may have an accident.
Safety at bath time
Newborn babies are very vulnerable at bath time, as they cannot lift their heads out of water and can also get cold very quickly. About 10 minutes is usually enough time for a newborn baby. Bath time should be fun and relaxing for you both - and a great bonding time - so following some simple rules will ensure you both enjoy the experience:
- Have everything ready, including their change of clothes, warmed bath towel, nappy and any creams or ointments. Keeping baby warm is very important as they can get a chill after a bath if exposed to cold air when wet;
- Always support your baby's head and neck gently and carefully get them into the water feet-first;
- Use a gentle, calm voice when talking to your baby in the bath, especially if they appear tense or scared;
- Never leave your baby alone in the bath - do not answer the phone or doorbell, take your baby with you always;
- It is not necessary to bathe your baby every night - in fact, this can dry their skin out;
- Always run the cold tap first, then top up with hot water to reach a comfortable 36ºC, then test the water with your elbow before putting your baby in. Just put in enough to cover your baby's shoulders in a reclining position.
- You may want to wash your baby's hair before or after the bath, as shampoo can cause tears. Wrap them tightly in a towel, keeping arms at their side and, carefully supporting their head and neck, hold them over the bath and wash with a sponge or flannel, keeping the water out of their eyes. Dry hair gently in patting movements;
- Never leave your baby lying on his/her back in water - gently hold their head above the water while you wash them with a soft sponge or flannel. When they are very small, a folded-up towel on the bottom of their bath will help to stop them slipping around.
Interacting with your newborn baby
Caring for your newborn baby is not just about health and safety; they need as much love as you can give them in order to develop emotionally. Your baby hears everything you say and they love to be sung and spoken to, kissed and cuddled. The first few months are a very special time for bonding. Spend as much time as possible interacting with your baby, and get them used to the other members of your family too.
Newborn babies do not do very much for the first three months, but they are soaking up everything around them. Get them used to your routine and the normal sounds and activities in your household; if you usually play music, keep playing it.
Babies love rhythms, which is why they take such delight in nursery rhymes as they get older. Get into a good routine of reading or singing to your baby from an early age and they will enjoy this for the rest of their lives.