Kittens are like eggs: fragile, cold and difficult to juggle. Don't go putting your newborns in the fridge to preserve them, though. Kittens require a very specific type of environment so they can stay healthy and grow during their crucial first few weeks of life.
Heat Things Up
Newborn kittens are used to living inside another living creature, so your apartment is probably a little less cozy by comparison. Your kittens need you to keep them warm, then, and you can do it by adding just a touch of heat to the box they live in with their mother. While mama gives them some heat, she isn't exactly a space heater. Tuck a heating pad or a hot-water bottle into the box so they have something warm to snuggle on when they want to. If you use a hot bottle, wrap it in a towel to prevent accidental burns, and make sure that the kittens have room to get away from the heat source if they want to.
The first few weeks of a kitten's life are important for learning how to socialize, so it's vital that they be kept together. Don't separate your kittens -- they should live with their mother, and they should all be in a self-contained area, like a box. This way, the babies can learn how to be around other cats early. Waiting until they grow up to socialize them can stunt their emotional growth, and turn your little babies into antisocial weirdos.
Kittens and their moms need privacy. After all, the world is a big, scary place -- especially compared to the inside of another cat. In the wild, mother cats seek out solitude for raising their newborns, so they grow up safe and secure. While your living room is probably home to significantly fewer natural predators, your cat still wants some privacy for herself and her babies. If you don't give them some type of box to live in for a few weeks, get used to them taking up residence in your closet.
Keep It Clean
Kittens can't control when they go to the bathroom. Literally -- their moms have to stimulate it with their tongues. Fun, right? And since kittens go to the bathroom like there's no tomorrow, that box can get smelly and gross pretty quickly. Their environment should have some kind of removable, disposable lining on the ground, so you can clean up after them easily and often.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.