10 Common Questions New Parents AskElaine Fantle Shimberg
Do you feel uncomfortable trusting your own parental instincts? And does reading that pile of parenting and child development books on your bedroom nightstand add to your feeling of confusion—especially when the information is conflicting? You are not alone. Most people, whether they are first-timers or old hands at parenting, have some concerns or fears that they’re not doing the best for their children.
As a result of these worries, many parents consider their pediatrician the ultimate authority. But overcrowded pediatric offices and shortened office visit times can prevent parents — who sometimes feel rushed, forget their questions, or are just too embarrassed to ask — from getting the answers they need. (The National Center for Health Statistics stated the average office visit in 1998 as only 18.3 minutes.)
But, now’s your chance to get all the baby facts and answers to your top ten common questions.
How should I care for my newborn’s umbilical cord? How should I clean it? And when will it fall off?
“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping the umbilical cord clean and dry,” responds Dr. Eve R. Colson, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine and director of the Well Newborn Nursery at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “As it starts to crust and/or fall off, and you want to clean it, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol a couple of times a day. If you notice a lot of redness or foul odor, have your baby seen by the pediatrician. The cord should fall off in one to two weeks.” (Read more about caring for your baby’s umbilical cord, here.)
When is a baby’s fever high enough for me to call the doctor?
Dr. Colson recommends that for infants less than three months of age, you should contact your pediatrician any time your child’s temperature is greater than 100. She adds, “In general, if your baby is not acting well, call your pediatrician whether there’s a fever or not.” For more fever facts, read on.
When can my baby take a pain reliever without a call to the doctor first?
“Irritability and fever before three months of age should be evaluated by a physician,” responds Dr. Robert M. Jacobson, MD, chair and professor of pediatrics at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “Between three and six months, for mild illness with or without fever, a parent may administer acetaminophen for a few days. But parents should seek medical attention for fever if it is high (104 or more), unexplained, or lasts more than three days.”
Dr. Jacobson also suggests seeking medical attention when a baby is experiencing irritability which prevents sleeping or eating, and/or lasts more than three days, and adds, “After six months of age, with the same guidelines, parents may use ibuprofen.”
How long is it OK for a baby to cry?
“Generally speaking, you don’t need to let your newborn infant cry,” says Dr. Colson. But it’s OK to put a crying baby in a safe place if you need to go do something, like answer the telephone or help an older child. “It also depends on the age of the baby and the exact issue you’re dealing with, says Dr. Colson. “If you’re having trouble getting your baby to sleep, for example, contact your pediatrician for advice.” (And learn more about soothing your wailing baby in our Crying & Comfort Guide.)
Should I wake a sleeping baby to feed him?
“In newborns who are small (especially less than six pounds at birth), you really need to consider waking the baby every three hours,” Dr. Colson points out. “It is not true that every baby will let you know when he or she is hungry, especially during the first weeks of life. Larger babies, who have many feedings during the day, may be able to sleep longer stretches at night without waking for feedings and still have plenty to eat. It really should be evaluated on an individual basis depending on your baby.”
The best way to tell if an exclusively breastfed baby is getting enough food is to closely monitor her diapers. “By four days of age, the newborn should have at least four stools and they should be changing from dark meconium to light brown, and then yellow,” says Dr. Colson. If your exclusively breastfed baby is not stooling much during his or her first month, you should bring him or her to the pediatrician to be weighed.
Feeling brave? Check out our slideshow of Baby’s first stool patterns.
Does my breastfed baby need vitamin supplements?
The answer is yes, says Dr. Colson. “The AAP recommends Vitamin D for all breastfed babies from birth and some source of iron when the baby reaches six months of age.”
I know babies are supposed to sleep on their backs, but mine keeps turning over on his tummy. What should I do?
“I feel particularly passionate about this topic,” says Dr. Colson. “We recommend that all healthy newborns be placed on the back to sleep.”
She also suggests only putting babies to sleep in a safe environment and on a firm mattress, with no stuffed animal, heavy blankets, or pillows. “At about five months of age, the baby may learn to roll over,” Dr. Colson adds. At this point, parents no longer have to flip their baby onto his or her back in the middle of the night. However, SIDS precautions should still be taken.
When should my baby sleep through the night without a feeding?
“No baby really sleeps through the night,” explains Dr. Jacobson. “Even the ones that quietly proceed through the night without waking their parents are waking about every hour and a half. I think that babies can get through the night without a feeding as soon as [they’ve] regained [their] birth weight, are feeding frequently during the day and evening, and are continuing to gain weight normally.”
When can my baby sleep without a hat or without being swaddled?
“I don’t recommend that babies sleep with hats at home unless they are small for gestational age, premature, or are struggling with weight gain,” Dr. Jacobson says in response to the first part of this common question. Regarding the second part, he adds, “Swaddling means different things to different people. In general, babies should wear one more layer of clothing than their parents. If, by swaddling, you mean wrapping tight, then think of swaddling as a comfort measure for the newborn and young infant. Parents should abandon it when it no longer comforts the infant.”
Dr. Jacobson also suggests, “In the first few weeks of life with a full-term child, the parents might swaddle the baby below the arms leaving the arms and hands free. Some babies like that as they get older.”
When can I take my new baby out in public? I’m afraid she’ll catch a cold—but I need to run errands. What should I do?
Dr. Colson recommends avoiding crowds until your infant is at least three months of age. “If an infant under three months of age gets a fever (greater than 100), it’s hard for clinicians to tell if the infection is serious because babies don’t localize infections like adults, so they often have to admit the infant to the hospital for tests,” she explains. Also, you should request that people wishing to hold your baby first wash their hands, and anyone with an active illness should not be around your little one.
Are you a new parent experiencing cabin fever? Another expert has first-outing advice for you!
Your pediatrician isn’t a mind reader and can’t possibly know every question you have, so be sure to write them down before you visiting her office so you don’t forget. And after asking your questions, if you don’t understand your pediatrician’s answer—speak up! Ask your doctor to explain her response again, maybe in a different way. If she isn’t willing to answer your questions, don’t be afraid to consider seeking out a more communicative doctor. The answers are indeed out there; all you have to do is ask.