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Common Baby Health Questions

Few things in life inspire such anticipation and preparation as having a baby. Nesting in the nursery. Stocking up on sleepers. Picking the perfect name (sorry, Uncle Ignatius). But many a new parent has found themselves standing over the bassinet with their fresh-from-the-womb babe, thinking, "Now what?" That confusion is compounded when your precious little one isn't feeling all that great, so here's a helpful primer on some of the most common concerns new parents may face those first few months, and how to deal.

Help! Why is my baby turning yellow?

That mild yellowish cast to baby's skin is most likely jaundice, and don't worry, more than half of all babies develop it. Newborns often have more red blood cells than they need, yet their livers aren't ramped up to break down and eliminate these extra cells. This creates a buildup of bilirubin, a by-product of those red blood cells (you may notice it in your own skin when a bruise turns yellow), causing baby's skin, and sometimes her eyes, to appear a little sunny.

Spot the Signs

The condition peaks three to five days after birth, but since newborns are usually discharged from the hospital after a day or two, it may not show up until you and baby are home. Here's a simple test: Jaundice progresses from head to toe, so press your finger on your baby's nose or forehead. When you release it, the skin should look like a paler shade of her usual skin color. If there's an underlying yellow tint or you can't be certain whether there is jaundice, call your doctor . Your pediatrician will also look for signs of jaundice during her first well-baby checkup, which is why it's so important to make this visit within a few days after your baby's discharge from the hospital.

 

Find a Fix

In many cases bilirubin can be eliminated through urine and stools, so it's important to make sure baby feeds well and frequently. If her system still needs a little boost, phototherapy uses special light that helps move the bilirubin out of the skin and tissues and into the urine and stools, hence the spotlight aimed at newborns. Since breastfed infants may have trouble feeding initially, which means less urine and fewer stools, they're more prone to jaundice; if you're having difficulty nursing, contact your pediatrician or a lactation consultant.

Dial the Doc

In extremely severe cases, a very high bilirubin level can cause brain damage, so be on the lookout for:
• Any sign of jaundice in the first 24 hours of life
• A yellow skin color that's spreading to the stomach, arms and legs
• A fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit taken rectally
• Jaundice along with signs of poor feeding or dehydration, including fussiness and unusual sleepiness
• Fewer than four to six wet diapers a day, which could allow further build-up of bilirubin

Ick! What happened to my baby's belly button?

The umbilical cord tethers your baby to you while he's in the womb, essentially providing his lifeline. But once he's born, the cord is cut, leaving about a half-inch- or inch-long yellowish piece of tissue that dries up and darkens in color. Every newborn has one, and typically, the stump of the cord shrinks and falls off within three weeks without incident. Still, they require a little TLC to ensure they don't become infected.

Spot the Signs

A bit of blood around the cord is normal, especially when it's about to drop off. Red skin or pus around the cord's base, however, are indicators of infection.

Find a Fix

Take care not to irritate the area, and don't try to speed the process along by pulling on it. Either use newborn diapers, which have a special cutout to accommodate the belly button area, or fold the diaper down below the cord to prevent fabric from rubbing against it and to keep urine away. As long as the cord shows no sign of infection, leave well enough alone. Applications of rubbing alcohol to the cord used to be recommended, but as this hasn't been proved to reduce the incidence of cord infections, and some experts believe the cord may heal faster if simply left alone, dry-cord care has become the preferred method.

Dial the Doc

If you notice pus or redness, or if your tot cries when you touch the cord or skin near it, check in with the pediatrician.

She's so little! What do I do if she gets a fever?

Scary as it may be, fever isn't an illness on its own; it's the body's way of fighting an infection. A rectal temperature of less than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is considered normal for a newborn or young infant.

Spot the Signs

Fever often accompanies cold or flu symptoms, such as a cough or earache, so be vigilant when she's under the weather. If she feels warm to the touch, break out the thermometer. Fever can crop up at any age, and it's of special concern in babies less than 3 months old since newborns are more vulnerable to serious infections and disease.

Find a Fix

Treatment depends upon your baby's age and behavior. Your doctor may suggest acetaminophen to bring the fever down (ibuprofen can be used after 6 months of age). Infant medications are dosed based on a baby's weight, so be sure to ask your doctor about the appropriate amount to give. It's also very important to maintain her regular feedings to avoid dehydration. Babies over 6 months who are playing, eating, sleeping, and seem generally cheerful may not need a fever reducer; describe your baby's mood and see what your doctor suggests.

Dial the Doc

Fever can be extremely serious in newborns, so call your pediatrician immediately if you see a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher in an infant under 3 months; 101 degrees or greater in a 3- to 6-month-old; or 103 degrees or more in an older baby. Other symptoms your doc should know about are incessant, emphatic crying, lethargy, or a febrile seizure. During the latter, she may twitch, roll her eyes or become unresponsive. If this happens to your baby, keep her on a flat, stable surface where she can't fall and remove any nearby hard or sharp objects until it ends, to prevent her from hurting herself. And though febrile seizures are usually harmless, you should call your pediatrician right away to be safe.

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