Newborns: Baby Basics

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Tips on everything from crying, rashes, colic and the magic of a washing machine. And, how can you advise overly excited older siblings?

To help ease some of the anxiety of being a new parent, or if you need a brush-up, here are some important guidelines on caring for your newborn.

The umbilical cord usually drops off within 12 to 15 days after birth.

When it comes to bathing your baby, experts say you should only give sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off, this will prevent any kind of secondary infection.

Plain warm water is fine for most newborns. When needed, use mild moisturizing soap. Avoid bubble bath and scented soaps.

Martha Rivera, Pediatrician at White Memorial Hospital says, “Once the baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off, then you can bathe him in a bassinet. You should fill it with only enough water to wet the bottom because you’re basically cleaning the baby from head to toe. You’ll bathe the baby from the cleanest part of the body to the dirtiest part of the body. You don’t need any more water, just enough to get the baby moistened.”

Let the umbilical cord fall off on its’ own. Do not pull it off.

Umbilical cord care is very important because if it’s not taken care of properly, it may cause infection, and in some cases, death.

Try not to use an abdominal binder because it compresses the stomach. It doesn’t permit the umbilical cord to dry, increasing the chance for infection.

“What you want to do is, at the base of the umbilical cord, you want to apply alcohol and you want to get into the area right between the ridge of the umbilicus and the skin because that’s the side where bacteria can grow,” explains Rivera.

Signs of umbilical cord infection:

  • Baby has a fever
  • Umbilical cord appears red and swollen
  • Umbilical cord continues to bleed
  • Oozes yellowish puss
  • Foul-smelling discharge

Contact your doctor if you spot these signs of infection: Your baby develops a fever. The umbilical cord appears red and swollen around the cord. It continues to bleed, oozes yellowish puss, and produces a foul-smelling discharge.

With the baby’s immune system not fully developed, you also have to protect your baby from being exposed to germs.

“You have to be very careful about siblings. Some siblings think that the baby is a doll. It’s a new acquisition to the family and they want to hug and kiss them,” says Rivera.

Parents should instruct their children not to touch or kiss the baby’s face to avoid spreading germs. Instead, kiss their feet.

“I also tell families about not letting the other children give toys to the babies because the babies can choke and die. Also, they should not have them carrying the babies because the babies can be dropped,” adds Rivera.

If your baby cries, that does not mean you are a bad parent.

Colic is prolonged, intense, inconsolable crying.

When babies cry, they’re communicating to their parents that they need to be fed, changed, cuddled, or that they don’t feel well. When babies frequently cry for hours and hours, the cause maybe colic.

“Colic is a normal part of development, it happens to babies at about three to four weeks of life. They’d become irritable. Sometimes, they’d draw their legs up, they seem gassy, and they look like they’re having abdominal distress. They usually outgrow it by three months of age. It’s just that they are very sensitive to stimulus and the environment. Or perhaps, the mother’s breast milk,” says Rivera.

Colic’s Rule of Threes:

  • Crying at least 3 hours a day
  • 3 days a week
  • Beginning within the first 3 weeks of life
  • Seldom lasting longer than 3 months

There’s no one cause of colic, and a baby is colicky if he or she shows sudden and unexplained outbursts of crying in accordance with the “rule of threes” – crying at least three hours a day, for three days a week, beginning with the first three weeks of life, and seldom lasting longer than three months.

If your baby seems to be colicky, talk to your doctor to first rule out other causes.

Tips for a colicky baby:

  • Walk with your baby
  • Sit in a rocking chair with your baby
  • Lay your baby on their stomach and rub their back
  • Put them in a swing

To help ease your baby’s discomfort, experts advise walking with your baby or sitting in a rocking chair. Place your baby on their stomach across your lap and rub your baby’s back. Put them in a swing. The motion may have a soothing effect.

Colic usually diminishes by about 4 months. This occurs when the baby’s digestive system matures, food sensitivities subside, their vision gets clearer, and they can move their limbs better.

“Another thing for colic is that you can have the baby take a ride in a car because they like the sound of the motor during the ride. You can also turn the TV to low-volume to get the white noise in the background. If you have a washing machine, you can put the baby in the car carrier and hold him there as the motor goes on,” says Rivera.

Another stage that may cause your baby discomfort is teething.

Doctor’s caution: Do not rub liquor on your baby’s gums for teething – even if abuelita recommends it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that giving babies alcohol is very dangerous.

“Teething usually starts at about 4 months. This is when you start having the signs of teething. The baby becomes very irritable and starts munching on his wrists and has a lot of saliva. It’s an uncomfortable situation for the baby. There are teething tablets or Tylenol available if there is crankiness. You may also rub or massage the baby. You can put a little wash cloth in the refrigerator, so that they can bite on something. These things tend to help with the teething,” explains Rivera.

The “First Dental” Visit:

  • Checks for proper oral and facial development
  • If teeth are growing in properly
  • Detection of any early tooth decay

Experts recommend that a baby start seeing a dentist when the first tooth begins to appear. This allows the dentist to check for proper oral and facial development, if the teeth are growing in properly, and for early tooth decay.

To prevent diaper rash, keep your baby’s skin as dry and clean as possible, and change diapers frequently.

Parents should be aware that a newborn’s skin is susceptible to various rashes, but most of them are harmless and go away on their own.

A yeast infection is a persistent, bright red rash on a baby's bottom, or other areas where skin touches skin.

“It depends where the rash is on the baby. So if the rash is all over the body, it can indicate perhaps that there is sensitivity to the soaps. Baby skin is different from adult skin, very thin and more sensitive. So you want to use a sensitive soap, like Dove White Unscented, which is advocated by the American Academy of Pediatrics. If it’s in the diaper area, it could be secondary to the perfumes in the diaper, so you may want to change you diaper brand. If it’s in the folds of the skin, thighs, and axilla or underneath the neck, it could be a yeast rash. In that case, you need to go to the pediatrician or have your doctor give you a prescription,” says Rivera.

Babies don’t have regular sleep patterns until about 6 months of age.

Also, parents are often concerned about how much sleep a newborn should have.

Put your baby to bed when drowsy but still awake. This will help your baby learn to fall asleep on her own in her own bed.

“All that little babies do is eat, sleep, and poop. So, if they are not eating or pooping, they are sleeping. It’s not unheard of for babies to sleep even 16 hours a day- or even a little bit more. As you start aging in life, you start decreasing your sleep hours,” says Rivera.

Most importantly, this is a special time to bond with your baby, both physically and emotionally. Another way to think of bonding is “falling in love” with your baby.

“This is the time of your life when you can give the babies the most in their life. Talk to them and sing to them and it stimulates them. Massage babies, this also stimulates their well being. They have actually done studies where babies who had all this, I call it ‘mind nutrition’ for a baby, thrived more than other babies. For example, babies who were in orphanages and in cases where no one took care of them, showed failure to thrive. Truly, speaking and language stimulation and massaging and touching babies is actually very good for them,” says Rivera.

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