Please help give my fictional character child care advice.
April 12, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Please help give my fictional character child care advice.

A character in a novel I am writing has been left, with little preparation, to care for someone else's newborn child overnight. Being childless myself, I have less of a clue than the character as to exactly what this would entail. What would need to be purchased? What tasks would have to be performed? Is the character likely going to need to stay up all night? Please help me out!
posted by kyrademon to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The baby is likely to wake up every two hours or so and will need to eat (or be fed a bottle, since this is a non-parent taking care of the baby). Eating may take about 45 minutes. (So yes, the character will basically need to stay up all night. New parents often have the baby in bed with them, or right next to their bed, so they don't have to be up and down so much.) The baby will need to be burped after eating. There may be a lot of spitup involved, so your character would have to have lots of burp cloths on hand. The baby will probably need a diaper change at some point, and may pee/poop everywhere as soon as the diaper comes off.

Newborns basically just eat, sleep, poop, and cry, and maybe look around for a few minutes.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:18 AM on April 12, 2012

They need bottles, formula, diapers, clothing, a safe place for the baby to sleep.

Each baby is different but they're up every two hours. Mine was wildly easy and would eat in about 10 minutes and put himself back to sleep. Unless it was play time! They don't have any good concept of "night" and "day" and sorta decide to hang out and be up randomly. They figure that out better after a month or two.

But yeah a parent of a newborn, solo, is going to be extremely sleep-deprived and likely napping all day.

If you go to babycenter they have little "what to expect" blurbs for each age.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:25 AM on April 12, 2012

OH and they poop a lot when they're that age. Random little poops. It sounds adorable now that I'm not cleaning it up at 4am. 4am is the worst time of the night, by the way.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:26 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had this happen to me three months ago when we got a month-old foster kid! We were more prepared than your character, but here are some basics:
In the immediate future, your character would need to procure bottles, formula, diapers, wipes, seasonally appropriate clothes (and way more onesies than you'll ever think you'll need), burp rags to clean up inevitable spit up, and somewhere for the baby to sleep (crib/bassinet). A car seat, if your character has a car. Pacifiers aren't always necessary but sure do help if the kid likes them.

If the infant is days-old instead of weeks-old, bathing could be done in the kitchen sink, and your character could use some sort of gentle wash he or she has on hand if actual baby stuff isn't available. (We use Cetaphil bar soap and Dr. Bronner's on our foster kid.) If the baby is a little older and the kitchen sink's too small, the character might want some sort of bathing dealie (a big sponge or mesh thing to put in the bathtub, or an actual baby tub of some sort), because wet babies are slippery as hell and it can be scary to hold a squirming baby in a big tub of water.

Newborns need to be fed approximately every two hours; diapers should be changed at least that often, at least at the beginning. Your character won't necessarily be up all night, but should be prepared to be up and down a lot. Often babies start out in the caretaker's bedroom to simplify that routine. The same thing applies during the day: the baby needs to eat every few hours, and usually sleeps some in between feedings, but with a newborn there aren't usually long periods of sleep where the character could get a lot done.

In the beginning there would probably be a lot of recognition of how overwhelming the situation is: "Holy shit, I am now responsible for an actual human being! It's still crying, what did I do wrong? How can I put the baby down without it waking up so I can freaking go pee? I have not slept more than four consecutive hours in three days. Holy shit, it's a baby and it depends totally on me for everything forever." I also experienced a lot of hyper-alertness, so for a few months I couldn't relax enough to nap when the baby was sleeping, no matter how tired I felt.

Well, this certainly got long.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:28 AM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

If set in the present, they would find and try to do what it says.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:30 AM on April 12, 2012

If your character has basically just been handed a baby away from its home, it's going to need - a lot. Most of what it needs would be at a grocery store, but it'd be more useful to go to a walmart/target type store where they can get everything at once. Formula, bottles, possibly water (so it's sure to be safe, and there's "nursery water" that I think is fortified with fluoride.) Diapers, of course, and wipes, and possibly a few changes of clothes, several onesies, several sleepers (those all in one, zip from ankle to under the chin kind of outfits, my kid wore them for a lot more than just sleeping.) Possibly a couple of spare pacifiers, bibs (for drool and catching juicy burps.) You want somewhere to place the baby safely during the day, whether it's a car seat, a bouncy seat, or a swing, but that's getting out of necessity territory.
posted by lemniskate at 8:30 AM on April 12, 2012

Your character might not know how to hold a newborn, which is different from holding a baby. They have little control over their heavy heads, so always need bracing behind the neck. When you pick up a newborn, you are not picking up under the arms. You are scooping the whole body up gently, one hand under the neck/lower head, one hand under the bottom. Then you are resting that child in the crook of your arm so that the head is supported, or over your shoulder so the head is kind of lolling against you (which feels absolutely delicious).
posted by thinkpiece at 8:34 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The baby will spit up and need its clothes changed just as the character is about to go out. This will teach your character to keep a bib on the baby at all times.

Also, your character needs to know the newborn can be carried in a sling but not a Baby Bjorn. Learning to wear the sling will take some effort, it will hang too low and the baby will be lost inside it, then the character will figure out that the sling should be tightened and the baby's head at about chest level.

Your character's lower back will begin to hurt constantly from holding this weight so frequently and for such long periods.
posted by Dragonness at 8:38 AM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

How newborn? Like, brand new newborn? If so you can throw in some authentic -- and gross -- details like how to clean up meconium, and how unpleasant their umbilical cord stumps are to look at.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:39 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

People unaccustomed to boy baby's almost always get peed on during diaper changing time. Newbies also tend to become obsessed with the idea that the baby will stop breathing in their care. They tend to watch the baby closely and even wake the baby up to make sure baby is still alive and breathing.

Basic items needed- Bottles, formula or pumped breast milk, loads of diapers, wipes (wet paper towels work in a bind, and some newbies will shower the baby off after poops, which is very messy), small blanket, somewhere for baby to sleep, possibly a pacifier, extra clothes for baby and care giver.
posted by myselfasme at 8:39 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the first night or 2 you could get away with formula, bottles with nipples and diapers. Everything else you could muddle through with with things at home. Face clothes for baby wipes, old towels for chuck up cloths.

Babies don't "need" clothes if they are swaddled up warmly or the weather is warm. Having the character trying to muddle through with things around the house could be fun to write too.

You could have the character put together a place to sleep. I actually slept in a drawer (taken out and put on the floor) for my first few weeks home as mother was in hospital for the last 3 months of my gestation and my father hadn't bought any baby furniture.
posted by wwax at 8:41 AM on April 12, 2012

Baby poops are not solid like regular people's poops. And they're bright yellow, like French's mustard (at least when they're breastfed, I don't know about formula poop). I did a lot of reading beforehand, and I had NO IDEA what normal baby poop was like until I encountered it.

Also, the umbilical stump (if you're talking about a NEW newborn) will start to smell very bad before it falls off.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:42 AM on April 12, 2012

Newborns are kind of skinny compared to a baby that's a few months old, so even their tiny newborn diapers aren't really tight on their bodies, and their tiny poops leak out a lot. My experience is that a newborn needs a complete wardrobe change several times a day. Laundry becomes a much more prominent concern.

A newborn isn't very heavy (you know, like ten pounds or less) and it kind of cuddles up and melts into your body when you hold it, and it sleeps most of the time, so you can get a lot done with the baby in one arm, if you're not falling over from sleep deprivation.

Your character will probably get a version of the Happiest Baby on the Block advice from someone, and it's excellent. It goes like this: to soothe a small baby, swaddle it, give it something to suck on (pacifier, pinky finger turned up so the nail is against the tongue), bounce it or rock it vigorously (more vigorously than you would think, but not violently of course), and make a loud shhhhh-ing noise. Most babies are out like lights after this routine, because it replicates the conditions of the womb.
posted by milk white peacock at 8:46 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great feedback so far! Consider that with newborns, they need to be sleeping close to their caregivers, typically in a bassinet close to the adult's bed. There is a new sense of awareness...never quite falling into a deep sleep (especially if the character is caregiving on their own), and being aware on some level, at all times, what the baby needs and is doing.

There is also, in my experience, a calmness that is very sweet and fulfilling. Yes the nights are long, and three solid hours of sleep feels like you've won the lottery, but those times in the middle of the night...there is an awe about this little creature that you are responsible for. Staring at (and cuddling with) that wee sleeping baby in your arms at 3 am is one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had. And the sweet, sweet coos and grunts and noises...

And sometimes it is maddening, cause you just want some damn rest!
posted by retrofitted at 9:03 AM on April 12, 2012

Is this character taking over as the new caretaker, or just doing one overnight, or doing a bunch of overnights but not being the prime-time caretaker? Everyone's answering as if it's a long-term guardianship but your question just asks about overnight?

If it's just overnight(s), this actually happened to me when a neighbor with a little baby had a heart attack. I went to their house, but a lot of this applies either way. First, even in an emergency -- like a serious, ambulances, heart attack emergency -- parents don't leave their babies without food. We breastfeed, and we have emergency formula and an appropriate bottle in the diaper bag for exactly this kind of emergency. My neighbors had emergency formula in the back of some cabinet that mom threw on the counter as she left, leaving the cabinet contents all over the kitchen floor. (I cleaned it up.) The hospital sends you home with samples and a lot of parents just keep the sample stashed in a cabinet in case of sudden need, so you don't have to run out to the store. If you do have a baby presented to you with no food, you are going to need to go to a 24-hour grocery store, pharmacy, or big-box Target-type store, and you're going to need to do that ASAP. You may need to call a friend to go run that errand for you, since even if the baby is presented to you in a car seat, you probably have no idea how to install it in a car, and unless you live right above a store, walking with the surprise baby to a 24-hour store seems like an UNDERTAKING. You can also get diapers and wipes all of these places, but, again, most newborns travel with diaper bags with at least a couple of diapers in them, and ideally a change of clothes. A newborn can go through 10 diapers a day, so you will probably have to buy those even with a diaper bag. (I typically carry two diapers in my diaper bag.)

I didn't know the baby's schedule and I wasn't sure when the emergency was going to end. He wasn't a great sleeper, so we ended up sitting up most of the night on the couch, where he could rest and doze against my shoulder and I could read my book and get up easily to prepare him bottles when he cried. (Instructions are on the formula container.) If he didn't want the bottle I'd check his diaper. An experienced caregiver knows to do it the other way around -- check the diaper first, THEN offer food. As I didn't have burp cloths or know where they were stored, I just ended up with a pretty spit-up-upon shirt and used some kitchen towels.

Because I wanted to be on the couch near the phone (and not in a stranger's bedroom!) I actually just let the baby sleep on the floor when he fell asleep enough I could put him down. A newbie with someone else's baby and no instructions is not going to want to put them on a bed or couch where they might fall! (And a quick google of will tell them babies sleep on their backs, on hard surfaces.) If I had been at home I probably would have done the same thing, maybe put a bath towel under him on the floor in case he spit up and to put a lawyer between him and the cat hair.

I did, in fact, sit up all night, though I dozed a little bit sitting up on the couch; the baby needed quite frequent attention, and I didn't want to fall asleep and have something horrible happen! (What? No idea. But SOMETHING.)

The other thing I started worrying about was where the baby would go in the morning, because I was going to need to sleep and I wasn't in a position to suspend my entire life with a surprise baby! Luckily the mom came home around 6 a.m. and arranged for another neighbor to take him during the daytime (what with the ambulances, the entire neighborhood knew about the heart attack), and then I took him again the next night, where it was just easier to sit up all night again then to sleep/wake every two hours all night. Then I crashed for like two solid days.

Preparing formula for a frantically crying newborn when you a) are not used to frantically crying newborns and b) have never made formula before is actually super-stressful.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Newborns only drink about 2oz of milk / formula at a time, and that, every two hours or so. My kids were under 6lbs, and woke up every two hours like clockwork. For babies that are closer to 10lbs, or if they are a couple of months old, the time between feedings begins to slowly shift towards three hours at a time. But it takes time to prepare the bottles, and babies drink very slowly.

In addition, the holes in the nipples are specifically sized for how much a baby can drink in a single gulp. Newborns get nipples with little tiny holes so they don't try to drink too much and choke / spit up. So when your character is buying bottles / nipples, they need to buy ones that are okay for newborns. You can always enlarge the hole with a pin or paper clip if you need to.

Note also that there are different bottle designs -- each set up so that the baby doesn't develop gas. My kids used a very standard plastic bottle at first, with a blue top, that were supplied by the hospital. When I was a kid in the 70's, the only bottles available were glass. So the time frame of your story should take this into account. After a couple of weeks, they graduated to a store-bought plastic bottle with a bag inside.

The most popular formula brands in the US right now for powdered formula are Similac and Enfamil. They are very similar in formulation. Pediatricians generally advise that parents not switch back and forth between brands, but I know parents who did so to no ill effects.

You can buy formula in powder or liquid form, which is much more expensive and convenient. You cannot feed a newborn baby cow milk.

Liquid formula costs more, but it's pop the cap, heat and serve.

Powdered formula requires measuring and the addition of distilled (not tap) water. Tap water contains fluoride, which can stain a baby's teeth as they come in. Baby bottles contain measurement markings, so you know how much liquid you're feeding your child. You fill the bottle to the miniscus at the measurement you want, then add the right amount of powder and you're good to go.

Then, the bottles themselves need to be heated to about body temperature (let's call it 90ºF) prior to feeding. Heating the bottle takes 3-5 minutes. Some parents use a microwave, many use bottle warmers. Some use a pot of boiling water on the stovetop, but it's less exact. Test liquid on the inside of your wrist or tongue to make sure it's not too hot and serve. Pop the bottle into its mouth.

Babies can't grip the bottle themselves. You have to do it for them. So you're going to be holding that baby and bottle for a good 35-45 minutes. Have your character sit in a comfy chair or on a couch with arms. She can balance the baby's head in the crook of her elbow so its head is a bit elevated. It's more comfortable than trying to cradle the baby for 45 minutes. Their heads must be supported by you. Their necks aren't strong enough to hold their heads up.

This assumes of course that the baby drinks. Some don't do well with nipples or bottles at first. For those, their tongues get in the way. You have to be patient and gentle.

Once the liquid is gone, remove the bottle from their mouth. Do not allow them to suck on air -- that causes gas, cramping and pain. Place a burp cloth on your shoulder (and wear old clothes!) Shift the baby gently with their heads looking over your shoulder (remember to support the head! At this age they can't lift it on their own!) and gently rub their backs in a circular motion until they burp or spit up. Failure to burp a baby can result in colicky symptoms: coughing, crying, cramps, pain.
posted by zarq at 9:26 AM on April 12, 2012

Newborns often want to be held all the time. Swaddling means wrapping them tightly in a blanket , even, perhaps, their arms, with just their head sticking out. It soothes some newborns because it is a bit like being in the womb. the temperature should be reasonably warm in the room., but not too hot. A rule of thumb is to feel the back o the baby's neck, if it's too hot take off some wraps, too cold, add some. All kinds of things can work as wraps, towels, adult sweaters, adult cotton knit shirts. Slings can be improvised from shawls or any other piece of cloth.

Some babies develop colic soon after birth, this means that they cry endlessly and are difficult to soothe. Sometimes taking them for a ride in the car works, however your fictional person might not have a carseat. My kids, all born in the 1970s, survived without car seats. I remember once putting a well-wrapped baby on the floor of the back seat because it seemed the safest place. Some babies like to be rocked in a rocking chair or endlessly walked. My niece could be calmed down by letting her stare at the light coming through venetian blinds!
posted by mareli at 9:27 AM on April 12, 2012

Random thoughts:

I like the idea of an inexperienced person buying one or two outfits thinking "an outfit per day", and having the kid poop through all of them by the end of the night. A baby between about a week and 7-8 months old can easily do this.

Meconium! That's what comes out of their butts for the first few days. It...*adheres* to things in ways that normal poop doesn't. Like molasses in color and stickiness, but not quite as thick.

Newborn disposable diapers have a little line on them that changes color when the baby pees.

Newborns often have a slightly stuffy nose for a few days after being born, apparently, and you can't fit anything up those tiny nostrils.

A dehydrated baby, once they rehydrate, sometimes have some uric acid crystals in their pee. They're pink, and make it look like there was blood in the urine. Oh, and little girls sometimes have what amounts to a tiny period after birth.

Very new newborns don't cry much; 6-12 weeks is the prime time for colic.

If this person had access to the internet, they might find something about swaddling. All attempts at swaddling would be broken out of by the little Houdini.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:29 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and their tiny heads need to stay warm, one solution is an adult sock.
posted by mareli at 9:30 AM on April 12, 2012

Eyebrows McGee: " Preparing formula for a frantically crying newborn when you a) are not used to frantically crying newborns and b) have never made formula before is actually super-stressful."

Seconding this. Their cries are panic-inducing. Especially when you're sleep deprived or over-caffeinated.

Worth noting that preemies don't usually cry that loudly. At least, mine didn't. When they finally grew a few pounds though... man.

And if you have two babies at once as we did, where one's sleeping and the other is awake and crying? Not only do you have the stress of trying to feed them, but also a fear of whether they're going to wake their sibling.
posted by zarq at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seedstitch's summary sounds right to me. And if the character is solo, all that care time (45 min to feed, then change and settle, then clean up while they're sleeping, grab what nap you can, then it's almost time to feed again!) means you neglect *everything* else -- you get a triage system that's really survivalist.
-- You have to remember to eat, and you might not manage to go out to get food unless somebody occasionally stops by with groceries. When are you going to cook stuff? I imagine Ramen and crazy things like cereal dinners and raw things from the veggie drawers coming into play.
-- You might manage a shower, if the baby is in a basinnette in the bathroom where you can hop out if s/he wakes up.
That's most of it -- plants, pets, phone bills, and even the Internet are way too much for you with all the time-suck and sleep-deprivation. Police procedurals on TV are useful during all the upright (feeding, e.g.) time, up until the baby is old enough to notice (2-3 months).

After the immediate newborn crush, they eventually start being awake for short stretches -- don't know whether your character will have the baby this long -- but then you get into the zone of How To Keep It Happy, where "it" has few skills or even sensory aptitudes, but gets agitated when "bored" or left alone. Lots of long hours of wiggling a rattle or bouncing the bouncy seat with your foot while watching TV...

good luck!
posted by acm at 10:10 AM on April 12, 2012

also, bottles do *not* need to be heated -- everybody assumed that, and breastfed babies are sometimes surprised by cooler formula, but it's now standard to say 'whatever they will accept'. happily for us, straight from the fridge was ok with our kid!! :) anyway, that could be a source of character confusion, since it's sort of received wisdom but may not be mentioned on the formula tub, or whatever...
posted by acm at 10:14 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

"overnight" as in one night? fer crissakes. all you need is some formula (in this case, premixed formula in a can would be easiest, I don't know if your character is experienced enough or has enough advice to know that), a bottle or two, and diapers. Wipes would be a nice bonus. Staying up all night is not necessary (otherwise new parents would, like, die eventually of sleep deprivation) but if caring for someone else's baby were suddenly sprung on me, I probably wouldn't sleep a whole lot, if at all.

Just call me Minimalist Mom.
posted by drlith at 10:25 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

yeah, an awful lot depends here on how old the baby is and how long they're staying. A 1-day old baby is different than a 3-day old baby is different than a 1-week old baby is different than a 1-month old baby. Sometimes babies "cluster feed," which is to say they eat for 10-20 minutes on / 5 minutes off for two or three hours. This is the worst kind of torture, because you keep thinking that any minute now you can put the baby down, but you just can't. If the baby is less than a week old, I would certainly not expect that anyone who wasn't an experienced newborn caregiver would get any quality sleep at all the first night.
posted by KathrynT at 10:30 AM on April 12, 2012

acm: "also, bottles do *not* need to be heated -- everybody assumed that, and breastfed babies are sometimes surprised by cooler formula, but it's now standard to say 'whatever they will accept'. happily for us, straight from the fridge was ok with our kid!! :) anyway, that could be a source of character confusion, since it's sort of received wisdom but may not be mentioned on the formula tub, or whatever..."


My own kids reacted very poorly to non-heated formula -- they developed colicky symptoms. But not every kid does.
posted by zarq at 10:34 AM on April 12, 2012

Also, the umbilical stump (if you're talking about a NEW newborn) will start to smell very bad before it falls off.

A factoid about umbilical stumps. They fall off in 3-5 days on babies who've had delayed umbilical cord clamping (usually delivered in an alternative, non-traditional hospital setting), and it takes about 10 days for them to fall off in babies whose umbilical cord was clamped instantly upon birth (typical hospital birth).
posted by Dragonness at 10:52 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your character should not use the phrase "cluster feed" in front of the newborn! It will surely come back to haunt your character and may even turn your story into a tale of horror!
posted by thinkpiece at 11:16 AM on April 12, 2012

I also want to know how old the newborn baby is. A newborn is technically a baby from 0 days of age to 12 weeks of age.

And there are a lot of things that are different between a one hour old baby and a 12 week old baby.

And why does this fictional baby have to be fed formula? Couldn't the fictional mother leave pumped bottles of breastmilk? This is entirely possible if the mother is exclusively pumping (baby won't latch for nursing, other issue) or if the newborn baby is around, say, 6-8 weeks. I had at least one night's worth of feedings in the freezer by 7 weeks, so in an emergency, breastmilk would have been available even if I wasn't.

As for the sleeping, it will really depend on the baby. Babies are just as different as grown up people. You could, for example, totally have your character freak out for the worst and have two pots of coffee on standby but then, wham! This is a baby that sleeps five hours at a time! Entirely possible! Also entirely possible that if the baby is breastfed, the baby will refuse the bottle until Mom comes back, so you could have your character have to contend with that.

A lot really just depends on the circumstances as to why your character is being left this baby overnight, even unexpectedly.

Some babies have colic and will cry to no end for no rhyme or reason. Other babies will just contentedly look around as much as their head control allows.

And since I haven't seen this addressed yet --- when a young baby poops, there is no mistaking it, and not by smell necessarily, but by sound. Little babies poop really loudly. It sounds like extended farts in big people --- fwhooooop! Seriously. It is unmistakable!
posted by zizzle at 11:33 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like everything else with babies, the loud fart-noise pooping thing is sometimes, not always. I had a stealth pooper except for the occasional, extreme poop blowout.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:41 AM on April 12, 2012

Oh, formula-fed babies poop less frequently and less messily than breast-milk fed ones.
posted by Dragonness at 11:47 AM on April 12, 2012

Baby poop smells exactly like cheap microwaved popcorn. (Maybe only for breastfed babies.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:38 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Baby poop smells exactly like cheap microwaved popcorn.

Ditto this. I thought maybe it was only me, or only my baby, but apparently not! I found the olfactory resemblance truly uncanny.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:48 PM on April 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This has been hugely helpful.

(To answer questions that have been asked, in case anyone is curious, the baby is three days old and breast milk would be unavailable due to the circumstances.)
posted by kyrademon at 4:18 PM on April 12, 2012

Three-day-old babies do this terrifying breathing thing where they breath reallysuperfast and then appear to stop. breathing. entirely. It has to do with their nervous systems being underdeveloped, but it is HORRIFYING and then you have to sit and stare at them for an hour to make sure they aren't going to stop breathing and then just when you're ready to relax and get some lunch or go to sleep because they're clearly not going to do it again, they do it again.

Even though I'm pretty experienced with tiny babies at this point, I HATE THIS THING, it freaks me out every time. It's terrible. That would be a good detail to use. I am sure people have called 911 about this. I pushed the nurse call button frantically the first time my first baby did it, and the nurse told me people freak out about it ALL THE TIME.

In the U.S., women who give normal vaginal birth have the right to stay in the hospital for 2 nights (3 days), and women who have C-sections have a right to 3 nights (4 days). Not all women stay that long, but a fairly large majority do. So a 3-day-old baby would be juuuuuuust home from the hospital, if it were a hospital birth.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:28 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

the healing umblicus can be a bit off-putting for someone who has never seen it before, at day three it's starting to get quite dessicated and will look like a dry, grayish, worm half.

Also the sheer variety of sounds and movements they make can be quite scary, short of the outright piercing cry of "I need food" there is a huge world of grunts, snuffles, yips, screes, whees, snorts, gulps, yawns,.... and that's just from the top half.

as mentioned above, if there's even a chance of a little meconium still present the baby can gyrate like they're having a slow motion fit while trying to poop it out, or sick it up (the latter is almost unheard of by day 3 but I don't know how far you're willing to stretch the point and what kind of fictional needs your character might have) and it is terrifying for someone to observe, especially as our culture usually has the impression that this is an incredibly fragile package and every sound, move, colour change has untoward significance. Even at day 3 the skin may still be quite mottled and temporary blueing of lips, hands, feet even if they are kept warm can happen.

Since over heating is as bad as under, probably worse, the most important thing your character can do is check the nape of the neck to see that it is roughtly the same temp as his/her hand.
posted by Wilder at 1:39 AM on April 13, 2012

Just a note, since others have talked about baths in the kitchen sink: full-body baths wouldn't be advisable at day 3 because of the umbilical stump. Just sponge baths, avoiding the stump, in order to keep it completely dry. Also, we were told to clean it with alcohol wipes with every diaper change, though some pediatricians no longer advise this. You can follow this link for umbilical cord stump care generally.

New mothers who give birth in hospitals are given packets with discharge instructions for the newborn. These have information on umbilical cord stump care, feeding, burping, how to hold the baby, how the baby should safely sleep, etc. I really did read our little packet through and look back at it from time to time, and I'm not sure how I would have dealt with the "unknown unknowns" (you might not know the umbilical stump needed special care at all, and assume it should be scrubbed with Johnson's baby wash like the rest of the baby, for instance) otherwise.
posted by palliser at 8:49 PM on April 13, 2012

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