A guide to grooming your newborn

Cleaning the umbilical cord stump and cutting tiny fingernails, while learning how to care for your newborn’s eyes, nose and ears may be overwhelming at first. Think of it as another wonderful opportunity to bond with your baby, and remember to communicate while you are grooming.

This guide will help you on this intimate journey of grooming your infant:

The umbilical cord stump

The umbilical cord is your baby’s life source throughout pregnancy. This is clamped and cut after birth, leaving the umbilical stump. The clamp is left on for the first day or so of your newborn’s life; thereafter, your doctor or midwife will remove it. The cord stump needs to remain as dry as possible for the following 10 to 14 days, after which it will fall off. Do not be tempted to pull at it. The cord has no nerve endings, so cleaning your baby’s cord is not painful for them. If your baby cries and fusses, it is because the surgical spirits is cold and they may not like the cool sensation on their skin.

Small newborn baby having umbilical cord cleaned

Keeping the cord stump clean:

  • Pat the cord, including the clamp if still attached, and the entire area of the navel with a piece of cotton wool or gauze that has been moistened with surgical spirits. Don’t be afraid to lift or move the cord stump – it is important to get the spirits into the base of the cord in order for it to dry out.
  • Gently pat the area dry with clean cotton wool.
  • As the cord stump begins to dry and shrivel, you can begin to clean it with a cotton bud.
  • An aloe-based medicated powder may be used as an alternative to, or in addition to, surgical spirits. Sprinkle medicated powder over the umbilical area.
  • It is essential that the stump be kept clean and dry. Even after the stump has fallen off, the wound must be allowed to get as much air as possible to prevent infection.
  • When putting a nappy on your baby, fold over the top to keep the stump exposed to air. Some disposable newborn nappies now even have a cutout for the stump.

A spotting of blood for the first six weeks or so is normal, but a swollen and red cord stump and surrounding area may be signs of an infection, as is pus coming from the navel. Consult your doctor at the first sign of infection.

Ears

Ear wax is secreted by the body to protect the ear canal. It seals out the moisture, dust, pollution and bacteria. Ear infections are common among small babies, so maintaining a routine of keeping your newborn’s ears clean is essential.

Earbud gently cleaning baby's ear

After your baby’s topping and tailing routine or when you’ve bathed your infant:

  • Take a piece of damp cotton wool and gently wipe the outer part of your baby’s ear. Never insert anything into your baby’s eyes, nose or ears. Cotton swabs, buds or fingers could rupture the eardrums or make the walls of your baby’s ears bleed.
  • Do not wipe the inner part. Only wipe away ear wax that has been naturally expelled from the ear canal.
  • Be sure to wipe well behind the ear.

“With a little patience, help and choosing those moments when your baby is calmest, grooming them doesn’t have to be as scary as you might at first think.”

Eyes

The delicate eyes of your newborn need proper attention to keep them healthy. Clean them regularly for the first few months of your baby’s life.

Mom gently cleaning newborn baby's eyes

  • Your newborn’s skin is very sensitive. Dampen a piece of cotton wool with water that has been boiled and cooled. Only use a facecloth after about three months.
  • Newborns often have crusty eyes after a sleep. With your baby’s eyes closed, wipe the eyelids from the inside to the outside corners to prevent the spread of any infection.
  • If there is a mild infection (a sticky discharge; red and swollen eyes) try a drop of breast milk in each eye. If the antibacterial properties in the breast milk do not relieve the infection, consult your paediatrician.
  • Use a new piece of cotton wool for each eye.
  • Blocked tear ducts form tears in the eyes which roll down the cheeks. Your paediatrician will assess this and suggest a course of action, if necessary. However, most blocked tear ducts open on their own during a baby’s first year of life.

Nails

Your baby’s fingernails will be very thin and sharp, and will grow very quickly. It is important to keep them short to prevent your baby from scratching their own skin.

Clipping newborn baby's fingernails with small scissors

  • Use blunt-nosed baby scissors.
  • Trim your infant’s nails while they are sleeping, if possible. Otherwise, it may be advisable to have your partner present to help you hold your baby in a safe and comfortable position.
  • Trim fingernails weekly. The toenails do not need to be trimmed until your baby is older.
  • Smooth down sharp nails with a used emery board – this is easier than cutting the nails and will help to reduce the number of times your baby accidentally scratches themselves.
  • Trimming their fingernails after bath time may be easier as they will be even softer. You can even tear them with your own fingernails at this time.

Nose

A baby with a congested nose may have difficulty feeding, and the stuffiness may also interrupt their sleep. The dry mucous membranes in the nose can be moistened with a couple drops of saline solution in each nostril. This will help to loosen the mucus.

Newborn baby having his nose cleaned

  • Use the corner of a folded tissue to gently coax mucus out of your infant’s nose.
  • For daily, problem-free cleaning, gently wipe your baby’s nose and around each nostril with a piece of damp cotton wool.
  • Let your baby sleep in a slightly elevated position – about a 30-degree angle. Gravity helps to drain the nasal passages and helps your little one to breathe easier.

With a little patience, help and choosing, those moments when your baby is calmest, grooming them doesn’t have to be as scary as you might at first think.