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Babysitter with a fed baby

How to Babysit a Baby: The Beginner’s Guide

Babies are terrifying.

Ok, maybe not all the time. Often you’ll see them cooing, laughing, and playing. They look adorable and squishy. They give the impression that life itself is purely fascinating and joyful.

Until it isn’t.

When you can’t just hand the baby back to its parents, you’re on your own. Babysitting a baby is no joke.

It doesn’t have to be so stressful, though. Usually, the hardest part of caring for a baby is not knowing what to do. In this guide, I’ll help you recognize what you need to do to pull this off like a pro.

So, how do you babysit a baby? To babysit a baby you’ll need to attend to their every need. Typically, you will be responsible for entertaining the baby, feeding them, burping them, changing them, and keeping them safe at all times, basically everything.

Even if you don’t have a lot of experience, you’ll be able to use the following tricks to look like you’ve been doing this for ages. This will also give you an opportunity to think about whether you’re up for the task. The point of this article is to make sure you’re 100%, fully, completely, and entirely preparedish to babysit a baby!

Why is Babysitting a Baby Hard?

Babies are needy, and they can’t talk. A skilled mother will learn her child’s behavior and be able to interpret and predict what the baby needs. Even still, a new mother needs to learn how to take care of her child; it doesn’t all come naturally. This is way harder for a babysitter.

Taking care of a baby is completely different from babysitting a toddler or small child. Their bodies function differently, and babies need waaay more attention. It’s not just a matter of kisses and cuddles. They are 100% dependent on you as their caregiver, and they’ll let you know when you’re not doing a good job.

These things can’t actually be raised by wolves.

What are a Baby’s Needs?

With babies, some things happen automatically. Some things need coaxing. There is no dignity with baby care, either. You’re there to serve them, regardless of how hard it is.

Essentially, there are five things that a baby will need you for: Food, burping, changing, sleep, and attention.

Sometimes the baby can manage one or two of these things on their own. For example, the baby might fall asleep without intervention, and burps might work their own way up. Often, though, they need help. A lot of help.

Let’s go over these needs so you can understand why babies are so... needy.

Food

This seems pretty straightforward, right? Babies need food. Therefore, you must feed them.

There are a few important things to know about this, though. For example, there are a few foods that you should under no circumstances give to a baby.

Most doctors recommend that solid foods should not be given to a baby until the baby is four to six months old [1]. This includes soft foods, like mashed bananas and other fruit. Keep in mind, though, that when you’re watching someone else’s kid, you need to play by their rules. If they don’t give the baby solids, neither should you. If they’re 6 years old and still on breastmilk, deal with it.

Just do whatever the parents say.

Even when the baby is over 6 months old, there are still some foods that you should watch out for. For example, honey should never be given to babies under one year old due to the risk of poisoning caused by Clostridium Botulinum spores (Infant Botulism) [2], [3]. However, this bacteria is harmless to anyone over 1-year-old, and they’re not even all that common, to begin with.

Here’s a quick list of examples of foods you shouldn’t give to babies:

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and some of these things are more of a problem than others. The thing to remember here is that you need to be conscious of what you give the baby.

Remember, though, you need to consult with the parents on this. They’re the final authority, not you.

Burping

Some babies need to burp a lot, others hardly do. It’s kind of the same thing with grownups.

A general rule of thumb is that bottle-fed babies need to burp more than breastfed babies. This is because bottle-fed babies tend to swallow more air when feeding. Ultimately, though, every baby is different. Some can work out their burps mostly on their own, others need help.

Changing

Babies don’t like poop in their diapers any more than you do. Obviously, this isn’t something that they can handle on their own. As a babysitter, you’ll have to be up for the task.

Sometimes this is straightforward and tidy, other times it’s a downright eruption. You need to be able to handle yourself in the face of imminent danger.

Sleep

Some babies fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Some babies fight it till the last minute, screaming vicious war cries until they collapse.

Never underestimate the need for a nap schedule. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that the baby “looks fine”, but you’ll never know until it’s too late. Just stick to the schedule and don’t question it. This is for everyone’s sake.

Attention

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that babies love interaction. Their brains are spongy blobs of grey fat that soak up everything in their environment.

The cool thing about playing with babies is that they’ll be wiped in no time. Play hard, nap hard.

How to Tell What a Baby Needs

This is where it gets tricky. The baby starts fussing, and you need to figure out what’s wrong. Put on your Sherlock gear, super sleuth, ‘cuz here are the clues you’re looking for:

Listen to the baby before it starts to cry. Most babies will make a similar sound based on their needs. There’s actually a whole theory about this called the Dunstan Baby Language, and it’s especially effective for babies 0-3 months [4]. Here are some examples of what to listen for before the baby actually starts crying:

This isn’t scientifically proven, but a lot of parents swear by it. The key is to listen closely to what sounds the baby makes before crying. Once the baby’s screaming at the top of your lungs, you’re on your own.

If this doesn’t work, just run through the checks.

  1. Check diaper
  2. Play with the baby
  3. Try feeding the baby (might take a few tries)
  4. Burp the baby (patience also required)
  5. Do the bicycle pumps
  6. Try to put the baby to sleep

If nothing seems to be working, check the baby’s temperature with a thermometer. The baby might be feeling sick. One tip to watch out for to tell if a baby is tired:

When a baby is tired, it will likely flail around a bit. The same is true for toddlers. It’s very different from grownups, who will usually just get sleepy and feel lazy. With babies and toddlers, you’ll see them flapping their arms and legs. It kinda looks like they’re hyperactive.

If you don’t get them to bed ASAP, you’ll be in for it. The next stage is a complete meltdown, along with possible psychotic breaks and delirium.

How to Take Care of a Baby

This can be totally overwhelming, so it might be a good idea to watch a baby for a short amount of time first. Maybe keep your first couple of babysitting gigs to around an hour until you get some experience and feel comfortable. Maybe even try visiting when the parents are home so you can have a backup in case of an emergency.

Here are some tips to help you care for the baby’s needs:

How to Feed a Baby

Babysitter feeding a baby

If you’re feeding a baby with a bottle, you need to be patient. If the baby is only a few months old, you’re going to need a bit of skill.

Step 1

Warm up the milk. You don’t want it to be hot. It should be around body temperature. That’s the temperature it comes in naturally, after all.

That’s why you’ll see parents checking it on the inside of their wrist; it’s a sensitive area so you can tell if it’s the right temperature. You want it to not feel cold or hot - it should feel about the same temperature as your skin. This usually takes only a few minutes.

Safety tip: don’t heat the milk up in a microwave. Many microwaves will heat it up unevenly, which can lead to hot spots that can burn the baby’s mouth. The best way to warm up milk is to run the bottle under warm tap water. Shake before serving.

Step 2

Sometimes the baby already knows what to do with the bottle. Often, though, you need to coax it a bit. Brush the nipple of the bottle gently back and forth across the baby’s lips. When the baby opens its mouth super wide, slip it in there. Sometimes you just gotta be sneaky.

Step 3

Don’t force the baby to eat if it doesn’t want too. If the baby isn’t really drinking and it keeps spitting out the bottle, then it probably isn’t hungry. Or if after several minutes of trying to get it to latch on unsuccessfully, admit defeat and move on to trying something else.

It might also be that the baby is hungry, but there’s another pressing issue. The baby might refuse milk until the bigger issue is resolved, so revisit feeding once the baby’s calm.

How to Burp a Baby

Babysitter burping a baby

This is more than just patting a baby’s back. Sometimes you really need to work these things out.

Put the baby over your shoulder really high, so that the baby’s tummy is being firmly pressed against you. This extra pressure will help work these burps out. If after a few minutes there’s no action, try a different position. Maybe something like bicycle pumps with the baby on your lap. Or try putting the baby on its side and pat its back.

Keep moving the baby around every few minutes. Getting burps out is a team effort. With some babies, the burps are really stubborn! Be patient and keep working, eventually, they’ll come out and the baby will feel relieved.

How to Change a Baby

Babysitter changing a baby

Ok, this is one that needs a bit of practice. The easiest way is just to get someone to show you. But here are some tips to help you out:

How to Put a Baby to Sleep

This is truly an art to master. Don’t expect this to go smoothly the first few times, unless you have a very easygoing baby. The best thing you can do is ask the parents how they put the bundle of screaming joy to sleep. But here are some tips to help you out:

Go into a dark room. Light keeps the mind active; darkness helps the brain release melatonin, which makes us sleepy.

Crank up the white noise. White noise is anything that drowns out other sounds. One trick that works great is to turn on a hair dryer to the max (on cool setting) and put the baby to sleep nearby.

Hold the baby on its side or stomach. This is often a really comfortable position for babies. Hold the baby’s head in your open hand and rock the baby side to side. If you get it just right, the baby’s head will gently sway back and forth in your hand and it’ll be snoring gently in no time!

Important Safety Information

This is super important section, read it carefully!

Back Sleeping Only!

The only safe position for a young baby to sleep is on its back [5]. It’s fine if the baby falls asleep in your arms tummy-down, but if the baby is in a crib, it needs to be on its back. Otherwise, there’s a risk of suffocation.

To be totally honest, the jury’s still out on why exactly this is so dangerous. Some say that the babies will sleep so deeply that they won’t wake up if they stop breathing (sleep apnea). Some say the problem is that they could choke when they spit up if they’re on their tummies. Regardless of the reason, it’s not considered safe for a baby to sleep on its tummy.

When you’re putting the baby in the crib, make sure there are no blankets or anything else there that could suffocate it. If the baby is cold, add another onesie, not a blanket.

Watch Out for Choking Hazards

Choking is a real hazard for babies because their airways are still very small. They likely won’t be able to cough hard enough to dislodge anything that gets stuck. It’s up to you to make sure that any choking hazards are well out of reach.

Here are a few common hazards to watch out for:

According to the CDC, anything that’s small enough to fit through a 1-1/4-inch (3.1cm) circle and is under 2-1/4 inches (6cm) long is a choking hazard for children under 4 years old.

You’ll also want to be very careful with solid foods if the baby is old enough for them. Either mash or cut the food into very small pieces. Never give a baby whole grapes; cut them in half first.

Here are some other foods to keep away from the baby if it’s 0-12 months old:

Yep, that’s a pretty long list alright. The main thing to remember is to not feed the baby anything that’s not specifically baby food, and keep small objects far away from them.

Miscellaneous Safety Information

Here are a few other good-to-know tidbits:

Read our guide on how to be a safe babysitter for essential safety tips and advice.

Other Tips for Babysitting a Baby

It’s considerably more challenging to watch a baby for a long period of time than a toddler. The signals can be hard to read. Sometimes a baby is a dream to take care of, other times your hair will fall out from sheer stress.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t worry. If you start off small and babysit for short periods of time, you’ll be able to ease yourself into it. When you feel up for it, give it a shot! It can be the easiest (or hardest) babysitting you’ve ever done.

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