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Baby Basics : Topping and Tailing, Changing your Baby, Your Changing Bag & Creating a Routine

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Topping and Tailing

Spongebathing, or “topping and tailing,” is the ideal way to keep your baby clean before her umbilical cord stump falls off, and can be less traumatizing for bath-shy babies. Small babies don’t get dirty on most of their bodies, but they do tend to get messy from feeding and in their diaper areas, so washing those areas is essential.

  • Prepare the essentials: a washcloth, cotton balls, a bowl of warm water, a clean diaper, and clean clothes

  • Fill a sink or basin with warm water

  • Remove the baby’s clothes and wrap him tightly in a clean, dry towel so that his arms are firmly by his sides

  • Lay him on a flat surface near the bowl of water and use the washcloth to wash one body part at a time. First dampen the washcloth and gently clean his face, using a fresh corner for each eye, behind his ears, and in the creases of his neck. Unwrap only one body part from the towel at a time to keep your baby warm. Gently bring the washcloth under his arms, across his tummy, down his legs, and between his toes

  • Gently clean around his umbilical cord stump

  • Gently sit him up, supporting his head as you do so, and wash his back and the backs of his legs

  • Clean his genital area and his bottom last

  • On days when you’ll be washing his hair, save this step for last—wet his hair, lather, and rinse

  • Once again, thoroughly dry his genital area first and get that diaper on

  • Dress him and wrap him tightly, ready for a clean-smelling cuddle


Changing your Baby

Many parents set up a changing table in the baby’s nursery, with diapers, wipes, a bowl for warm water, cotton balls, diaper cream, and a diaper pail. You may also choose to set up a mini-station in another part of the house where you spend time feeding and playing with your baby. Keep a spare set of clothes there, too.

  • Make sure you always change your baby on a firm surface, and do not let him go, even for a second

  • In the early days, it makes sense to dress your baby in easy-to-open clothing, which can be removed with the minimum of fuss

  • Remember that many babies dislike having their diaper changed, so coo, smile, and sing in a reassuring voice throughout to help ease any fears

  • You may wish to hang a distracting mobile or toy over the changing area

  • Many babies prefer being washed with warm water rather than a cold wipe; make sure you get the water ready before you set him down for changing

  • Alternatively, keep a sealed packet of wipes on a warm (but not too hot) radiator so they aren’t too cold

  • Remove your baby’s diaper and lay it to one side

  • With warm water and a thin washcloth or a cotton ball, gently clean around the genital area

  • Apply any diaper or barrier cream, and fasten the clean diaper in place

  • Check that his undershirt and clothing are clean and dry before putting them back on

  • Place the wet or soiled diaper in the diaper pail; or, if you are using reusables, remove the liner and place it in some water with a drop of detergent to soak

  • Pour out the water you’ve used, and drop any dirty or wet clothing into your baby’s laundry basket


Your Changing Bag

It’s a sensible idea to keep your changing bag fully stocked and ready to go. It takes long enough to get a baby ready for an outing, without having to search for changing bag essentials. Try to make a habit of restocking when you return home. Every changing bag will be different, but to help you be prepared for any eventuality, include:

  • 3–5 clean diapers—if you are using reusables, make sure you have plastic pants and liners, too

  • 2 plastic bags for wet clothes, and dirty or wet diapers

  • Wipes

  • A washcloth, for emergency all-over washes

  • Diaper or barrier cream

  • 1–2 changes of clothes

  • 1–2 small boxes or cans of ready-made formula (if you use it)

  • 1–2 clean bottles with lids (if you use them)

  • 1–2 burp cloths

  • 1–2 bibs

  • A spare pacifier or two; keep these in a clean plastic bag

  • A spare sweater or coat and hat for your baby

  • A small packet of facial tissues

  • A blanket for warmth or for when nursing

  • Small toys for distraction

  • A clean shirt for you—in the event of a diaper or breast leak

  • Breastpads

  • A bottle of water and snacks for you


Creating a Routine

Whether to care for a baby on a set schedule or on demand is the subject of considerable debate. The decisions you make should be based on your own lifestyle and views, as well as your individual baby’s needs. There is also no reason why you can’t combine the two approaches. Here are some points to consider:

  • Forget about routines for the first few weeks—you need time to bond and get to know each other, and your baby’s own routine will slowly assert itself

  • There is no doubt that babies respond well to routines in time, as they grow to learn exactly what to expect and when

  • Setting up a routine can bring a gentle rhythm to your baby’s days

  • Use a schedule as a guideline, and don’t force it; all babies have fussy days, and there will also be days when you may have appointments or activities that mean you aren’t where you should be come nap- or bathtime

  • You can start by taking a walk at roughly the same time each day—do the same with playtime, reading, singing, and her daily bath

  • Feeding on a schedule helps you keep track of how much your baby takes in and ensures that she is hungrier at feeds; however, it’s crucial to breastfeed on demand to secure a good milk supply, especially in the early days

  • There is no reason why you can’t feed on demand while also figuring out a routine—for example, you can offer your baby a feed when you take a break in the mornings to have a cup of juice or just before she usually has her nap

  • This doesn’t mean you can’t feed her at other times; simply offer feeds at the times that work best for you, and she will eventually feed more during these times and fall into a habitual pattern of behavior

  • Scheduling your baby’s nap- and bedtimes, preceded by a bedtime routine that she learns to associate with sleep, can be useful for poor sleepers

  • Try bathing, reading a story, and then feeding before bed; put her down in her bed when you are finished, say goodnight, and leave her—attempt this routine every night, and she will soon begin to see it as a natural event

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