When your doctor puts her stethoscope to your baby's chest, she should hear a steady series of "thump-thumps." An extra noise, like a squishing or blowing sound, indicates a heart murmur. It's something that may need to be investigated -- typically with a chest x ray or an electrocardiogram. But, says Dr. McCoy, "Heart murmurs are common in babies, and almost all of them are innocent." Plus, the vast majority of serious pediatric heart problems show up within weeks of birth.
Fear-calming facts: During a baby's first 12 months, a heart murmur may be caused by a small abnormality that will resolve without treatment, explains Dr. McCoy. The most common, a ventricular septal defect (VSD), means there's a small hole in the heart wall separating the large chambers, or ventricles. Typically, VSDs close on their own by the time a child's first birthday rolls around, so a baby with one just needs to be monitored closely.
That's how it worked for Micheal Fullhart of Terre Haute, IN. After his 6-week checkup, his parents were told that one of his heart valves hadn't closed properly. He went through a ton of tests, but eventually his heart healed by itself. "All it needed was time," says his mom, Donna. "Micheal's in kindergarten now, and his teachers say he's one of the brightest kids in the class."
Early on, crossed eyes are nothing to worry about, says Ari Brown, M.D., author of Baby 411. New babies' eye muscles aren't fully developed, so the eyes don't track together. By 3 months, both peepers should be moving in sync.
If by 6 to 9 months your child's eyes are still out of whack, however, she may have strabismus, a condition that affects roughly one baby in 100. Strabismus must be treated; if it's not, it can lead to amblyopia, or lazy eye, in which one eye becomes permanently weakened.
Fear-calming facts: Strabismus is easy to correct. Although some kids need surgery, most require little more than patching the stronger eye so that the weaker one gets a good workout. Often a child will need glasses as well.
When a baby boy's scrotum looks disproportionately large, it typically means one of two things: He's got either a hydrocele, a condition caused by extra fluid in the scrotum, or an inguinal hernia, in which a small section of his intestine is protruding into his scrotum. To a parent, the conditions look similar; the pediatrician can suss out which a baby has simply by shining a light on his nether regions. Fluid will show up as light in color, while a hernia will look dark.
Fear-calming facts: A hydrocele will usually disappear by 6 months to a year -- case closed. And even though an inguinal hernia is a bit more problematic, it's rarely painful and is easily fixed with a minor operation, explains Margaret Collins, M.D., a pediatrician in Mt. Kisco, NY. Premature infants are at an increased risk for an inguinal hernia.
Pigeon toes and bowed legs
Your baby's feet turn inward, or your brand-new walker saunters like a cowgirl. This can be worrisome, since we're accustomed to the notion that feet and legs should be straight.
Fear-calming facts: Although it was trendy 30 years ago to have tots wear corrective shoes or braces, now we know better: Pigeon toes, or "intoeing," and bowed legs are both physiologically normal for babies, says Dr. Roye. "Both conditions will improve as the child starts to walk, and by the time she's two and a half, they'll most likely disappear completely." If it persists beyond this age, see your doctor.
Rosemary Black is an editor at the New York Daily News and a mom of seven.