What Pediatricians Wish Every New Mom Knew

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Weird poop is perfectly normal.

Nothing gets parents more worked up than their children's bowel movements. What's normal depends on your baby and her diet. Breast-fed babies often poop loose, yellowy, mustardlike stools with every feeding. Bottle-fed babies, whose stools have more of a mayonnaisey texture, may go only two or three times a day. "Newborns often have an active gastro-colic reflex," says Dr. Bar-on. "Eating relaxes the reflex, which makes them poop." But even if your baby isn't prolific, don't worry. "Breast-fed babies can have a stool with every feeding, every other day, or even every four days and then have a big blowout," says Dr. Corrigan. "All are normal. And bottle-fed babies can poop three to four times a day, then twice a day, and then just once a day. As their digestive systems mature, they tend to have fewer stools." How can you tell if your baby is constipated? Don't rely on the grunting sounds she typically makes when she passes a stool -- she's just creating pressure to help herself evacuate. "It's not the number of stools that makes you see the doctor, it's the consistency," says Chitra Reddy, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in Newark. If her stools are hard several times in a row, she's probably constipated. Also call your doctor if your baby's poop is more watery than usual or is tinged with blood. "These could be signs of an infection or a formula intolerance," notes Dr. Reddy.

Baby belly buttons don't feel pain.

It's blackish-purple. Shriveled. And all-out gross. But your baby's umbilical-cord stump has no nerve endings, so don't be afraid to handle it. To help it fall off in the recommended two to four weeks, doctors suggest that you wipe it with alcohol after each diaper change. Let your doctor know if the cord hasn't fallen off after four weeks. Some rare immune problems are associated with slow-to-fall-off cords.

Doctors don't mind phone calls.

No woman wants to seem like a hysterical mother, but sometimes calls to the doctor are warranted -- and no one knows this better than pediatricians themselves. "Most of us are parents too," says Dr. Corrigan. "We know what it's like to be up with a sick child in the middle of the night. We know you can't schedule emergencies." And don't fret about bothering the doctor. If something's wrong, they want to hear from you. And if you call with a basic question (how to bathe your baby, how to tell if she's eaten enough) during office hours, chances are you'll speak with a nurse or other knowledgeable person who can give you the information you need. "Use your common sense and do what feels right," says Dr. Bar-on. "If you have questions, call."

Babies cry. And cry. And cry.

Most pediatricians say you can count on about three hours of crying a day -- from whimpering to full-blown wailing. "And that's a minimum," says Suzanne Corrigan, M.D. "Crying is the only way a baby has to communicate -- that he's hungry or annoyed or afraid or tired, among other things. Each of those cries will probably have a different tone, and it will take you a while to sort them all out." So if crying is normal, how can you tell when it really indicates a problem? "The crying will seem different in some way," says Gwen Wurm, M.D. It may sound more shrill than usual, or persistent or uncontrollable. If it's easy to calm your baby down, however, the crying probably doesn't signal anything serious.

Moms need sleep too.

What new mother doesn't check her sleeping baby's breathing -- not once, not twice, but several times a night? But a cradle watch will only make you more exhausted. "There's no proof that being hypervigilant will prevent something like sudden infant death syndrome," notes Dr. Wurm. "In fact, there's little evidence that even apnea monitors, electronic devices that observe breathing, prevent SIDS unless there's a medical reason to use one." A more sensible strategy: Put your baby to sleep on her back, use a firm mattress, remove blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals from the crib, and don't overbundle her. "There are concrete things you can do to decrease the risk of SIDS," says Dr. Wurm. But watching your baby's every breath isn't one of them.

12-01-1999

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