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Your baby has just made a huge transition – from womb to world – and relies on you completely for care, attention, and love.
It's an enormous transition for you, too, as you learn how to comfort and care for an infant. Understanding what your tiny son or daughter needs – and why – can help you nurture and bond with your baby during the so-called fourth trimester: the first three months of life.
Baby basics: Crying, sleeping, feeding, growing
What to expect: You'll hear lots of crying from your baby during the fourth trimester. Knowing that it's completely normal can help you cope with the worry and anxiety that may bubble up in you, the new parent, when your baby is wailing.
How you can help: The best way to deal with crying in these early months is to respond quickly. You can't spoil your new baby by attending to her needs – in fact it'll help her feel more secure. And if you're there to help when she needs it, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), she'll probably cry less overall.
What to expect: Newborns sleep a lot, especially in the early weeks, when they have little sense of day versus night. Fortunately, by 6 to 8 weeks of age, your baby is likely to be sleeping less during the day and more at night – but you'll still be getting up for middle-of-the-night feedings.
Sleep deprivation goes with the territory, but there are ways to get the shut-eye you desperately need. Discover eight ways for new parents to get more sleep and find out how to cope when you're nodding off and you need to be awake.
How you can help: Be patient. After the first couple of weeks, you can start teaching your baby the difference between day and night and gradually establish a reasonable sleep schedule. (Watch our video crash course in baby sleep basics, from birth to 3 months.)
In the daytime, keep your home bright, active, and full of household noises. As evening falls, aim for calm activity, subdued light overall, and a dark room to sleep in.
Believe it or not, you can begin to establish a bedtime routine when your baby's as young as a month old. For example, a simple routine might include a song, a bedtime book, and a kiss goodnight. Get more ideas for baby bedtime routines.
Feel silly reading to your teeny-tiny baby? Just do it. Your baby loves hearing your voice, and hearing words spoken is the beginning of language learning. Here are some baby-friendly board books to get you started.
See parents' favorite baby sleep tips and what they wish they'd known about getting their baby to sleep.
What to expect: Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby, he'll fill up fast (his stomach is tiny) and eat frequently in the first few weeks. Gradually he'll be able to eat more at a time, so feeding sessions will become fewer and longer, and won't feel so random.
How you can help: Feeding your baby on demand reassures her that she's well looked after. If you're a nursing mom, it also helps your milk supply adjust to be in sync with your baby's needs.
Breastfeeding? Find out how often you'll need to nurse your baby and how to tell if she's getting enough.
Formula feeding? Find out how much formula your baby needs.
Mealtime isn't just about feeding, of course. It's also a great opportunity for cuddling, eye contact, and just being together.
Moving and growing stronger
What to expect: At birth, your baby is almost completely helpless and has little control over his own movements. Over time, he'll stop flailing and actually be able to grab something (a rattle, for instance), his neck will get stronger and he'll have more head control, and he'll start developing other physical skills.
How you can help: Daily tummy time from the very beginning is hugely important for helping new babies develop their muscles so they can move in various ways, such as pushing up with their arms, raising their head, rolling in both directions, sitting up, crawling, and so on.
Tummy time should happen only when your baby is awake. (On their back is the safest sleeping position for babies younger than 12 months because it reduces the risk of SIDS.)
Watch our video: Tummy time – why and how to do it
More tips for nurturing your new baby
Every child is different. Some babies adapt more easily to the outside world than others, so experiment with these ideas to see what your little one seems to need and want.
Harvey Karp's "Happiest Baby" method: Get help comforting and soothing your baby during the fourth trimester.
Swaddling: Safe swaddling gives babies the feeling of being snugly contained, the way they were in the womb. Make sure you know how to swaddle safely. Watch our video to see a demo of three simple swaddling techniques.
Massage (video): Most babies love gentle massage and other kinds of skin-to-skin contact. Massaging a baby is easy and relaxing for both of you. We'll show you exactly how to get started.
Baby wearing: Using a baby carrier (such as a sling, wrap, or front pack) creates physical closeness between you and your baby, strengthening your bond even as you go about your daily chores and errands. Moving around wrapped securely "on" you mimics the gentle movement and snug comfort your baby experienced in the womb.
Plus: Discover how your own hormones help you become a loving mom or dad.