Bringing your baby home after birth is joyous and exciting, but it can also be a tad overwhelming given that the first six months are a critical stage of your baby's development. Learn how to care for your newborn and adjust to your new role as parents with this beginner's guide.
This article was written in collaboration with Professor Daisy Chan, Chairperson, Chapter of Neonatologists. It summarises the key points you need to note in the first six months of your baby’s development.
All babies born in Singapore undergo a standard newborn screening by a doctor, regardless of the hospital they are born at. Before heading home, your baby would have been screened for G6PD deficiency (lack of an enzyme), hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), oximetry (critical congenital heart defects),
jaundice, hearing loss and metabolic disease.
For first-time parents, it takes time to get comfortable and confident in
carrying your baby. Always
support the head and neck as babies have yet to develop the muscles to support their head, which is the heaviest part of their body.
When travelling in the car, buckle your baby in an approved recommended
car seat for his/her age. A rear-facing car seat should be used from birth until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of their car seat. This offers the best possible protection.1
Read more about handling a baby
The World Health Organisation recommends continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years or longer. Breast milk is nutritionally complete and easily digested by your baby. It provides extremely beneficial antibodies and probiotics to support your baby’s growth and immune function.
Latching on demand – breastfeeding when your baby requests – is the most recommended method. In the first six months, your baby does not require any additional water intake as long as he/she is feeding well at the breast or by bottle. As for mummies, remember to have enough fluid intake if you are breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is an acquired skill for mothers and everyone’s experience is different. When in doubt, you may wish to consult a lactation support professional for guidance.
Learn more about breastfeeding
Newborn babies sleep for about 14 to 17 hours a day in the first three months, reducing to about 12 to 15 hours after that (including naps). Babies can take 6 or more months to figure out the difference between night and day, so unpredictable sleeping patterns are to be expected.
Good quality sleep improves the family's well-being. Developing a regular sleep routine for your baby and providing a conducive sleep location can improve sleep duration and help your baby fall asleep faster. Some babies fall asleep more easily while others require more comforting before settling down. There are many ways to help babies sleep well, including swaddling (wrapped up in a blanket or towel), rocking or patting the baby gently in a slightly dim, quiet environment. Avoid startling your baby with sudden loud noises, very bright lights and abrupt unwrapping of the swaddle.
Did you know baby’s stool can be an indicator of health? Meconium, which is the first stool output after birth, is sticky, thick and dark green. It should not last more than a few days. After which, your baby’s stools could change in consistency and colour. Breastfed babies usually pass stools which are bright mustard-yellow, loose and seed-like. Formula-fed babies may have less watery stool, usually pasty in consistency and yellow or tan in colour.
While an occasional bout of diarrhoea is nothing to worry about, persistent diarrhoea deserves timely medical attention.
What to do if you suspect your baby is having a bout of diarrhoea?
Diapers should be changed whenever they are soiled to prevent skin irritation. Always wipe from the front towards your baby’s bottom to lower the risks of infection.2 Avoid hoisting your baby’s legs up too high, which could injure his back or cause him to vomit. If your baby gets diaper rash, rinse his/her bottom with warm water and let it air dry for longer periods of time. You can also use an “approved” diaper rash cream.
You will need to start cutting your baby’s nails about one month after birth. You may let your baby wear mittens over the hands to prevent accidental scratching of the face. However, mittens are discouraged from about six weeks old onwards as your baby should be learning to put hands together, touch cheeks, exploring different textures as well as learn about sensory play.
Learn more about care for umbilical cord and eye discharge.
It may not always be easy to figure out why your baby is crying, especially if you are a first-time parent.
Babies cry for many reasons, which could range from feeling hungry, having a bloated tummy, feeling uncomfortable in the same position, or being sick from an infection. Observe and listen to the way your baby cries – whimpering, intermittently crying or continuously screaming – so that you can decide if your baby simply wants you to cuddle or is very sick. From about
4 to 6 weeks old onwards, your baby should start to make sounds such as “ooh!” or “uhh!” as a way of communicating with you.
Investigate and resolve the common causes of discomfort and explore different ways to calm your baby. For example, try a warm bath or play some gentle noise in the background to distract your baby. Watch out if your baby refuses multiple feedings in a row or has continuous bouts of diarrhoea. If unusual behaviour lasts for longer than normal, it is important to seek medical advice.
It is recommended that babies from 4-6 weeks old have at least 30 minutes of safe and supervised interactive floor-based activities spread throughout the day. This includes tummy time (an activity which involves laying the baby on his/her tummy) in a day.3 You can lie him/her down on a firm clean mat or mattress, clear of soft toys or cushions, with the tummy in contact with the mattress but the arms in front and forming a triangle. This helps your baby to develop strength in the neck/back muscles so that he/she can straighten the elbows to eventually flip over onto the back. Watch over him/her to ensure the face is turned to one side.
Regular physical activity in babies can improve their health and development. When your baby is ready, bring him/her along with you on your outdoor walks to get some sunlight (Vitamin D).
Recreational screen time for babies under 2 years old is not advisable even though it may be a comfortable tool for him/her. It is encouraged for children below 1-year-old to engage in a variety of activities such as imaginative play and storytelling activities. As for children between 18 and 36 months, they should have no more than 1 hour of passive screen time per day.3
Find out why it is better not to offer your toddler screen time.
A strong support system is essential for you to transition back to work. Discuss with your spouse ahead of time, do your research and go with what you both are most comfortable with and confident of.
Setting up routines for yourself, your baby and your household members – and sticking to them – will help greatly in managing daily activities. When everyone knows what to expect, there will be less stress and anxiety. Mentally preparing yourself one day in advance is beneficial so that mornings run more smoothly.
Don’t forget to
make time for yourself as well. You may like to resume your pre-delivery lifestyle, participate in physical activities, engage in a favourite hobby or pamper yourself by going for massages or taking long baths. Where possible, get external help for household chores and set manageable expectations at work.
It is expected that you will spend less time with your baby once you return to full-time work.
Focus on quality bonding instead. Be present with your baby and not be distracted by your phone or other matters.
Being well-nourished, especially in the first few months, better enables you to take on the challenges of motherhood. Additional calorie intake is also needed to support breastfeeding. You should be
eating a varied diet with a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals.
You may also be advised to
increase your intake of iron-rich foods (such as red meat, animal liver, green leafy vegetables and iron-fortified milk) to aid your postpartum recovery, especially if you have lost a lot of blood in the labour process. Your body needs more water when you are breastfeeding so
ensure sufficient fluid intake every two to three hours when breastfeeding to prevent increasing thirst.
Besides taking care of the diet, you may also want to resume
light intensity aerobic exercise upon your doctor’s clearance to help speed up recovery and improve your overall mental and physical wellness. Stretching is also a good exercise that can help to prevent muscle strain from bending, nursing, and carrying the baby.
Read about the facts and myths of the Asian confinement diet.
The first few days or even weeks after your baby’s arrival can often be overwhelming. Amidst the excitement and new responsibilities, do not forget to find out how your spouse is coping with the changes.
Work as a team to maximise rest time for each other.
It is normal to find parenthood emotional and exhausting, especially during the newborn phase when your baby seems so vulnerable. New mothers may experience "baby blues" after childbirth. If these feelings are severe and lasting, do not hesitate to
reach out for support from family, friends, fellow parents, support groups or professionals to overcome them.
At the end of the day, a positive outlook is a key to helping you adapt to your new role as a parent. Soon, you will begin to find joy on this unique journey as you and your baby get to know each other better.
Parent Hub for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.
The article has been endorsed by the following representatives, listed in alphabetical order by institutions: A/Prof Tan Lay Kok (Obstetrics & Gynaecology, KK Women's and Children's Hospital), Dr Moira Chia Suyin (Consultant, Department of Paediatrics, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital), Ms Adeline Kooh Seok Koon (Asst Director, Nursing (Maternity), Mount Alvernia Hospital), Dr Angelia Chua (Family Physician Consultant, National Healthcare Group Polyclinics), Prof Lee Yung Seng (Group Director, Paediatrics, National University Hospital), Ms Susan Kok (Senior Asst Director, Nursing, Gleneagles Hospital, Parkway Pantai Group), Ms Helen Cruz Espina (Senior Lactation Consultant, Raffles Hospital Pte Ltd), A/Prof Yong Tze Tein (Head & Senior Consultant, O&G, Singapore General Hospital), Ms Fonnie Lo (Asst Director, ParentCraft Centre (Clinical) and Lactation Consultant, Thomson Medical Pte. Ltd).
This article was last reviewed on
22 Nov 2023
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