Many new parents are filled with worry when a baby enters their life. After all, infants look fragile and are helpless. And aside from those shrieking cries, newborns can't communicate their specific needs in obvious ways. So it's natural to have concerns when caring for them. Here are the questions parents commonly ask -- with reassuring advice from physicians.
My newborn's eyes sometimes cross, and they have red spots. Should I be worried?
"It's normal for babies to intermittently cross their eyes, even at 6 months," says Christopher Bolling, MD, research director at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. But if your baby's eyes are always crossed, tell your pediatrician.
Red spots are also very common. They're apparent at birth and are due to the increased pressure the baby experiences as he passes through the birth canal. They'll go away within a few weeks, but if your baby is born without these spots and they develop later, alert your pediatrician. They could indicate an infection.
Is it normal for a baby's breasts and genitals to appear swollen?
Both girls and boys can have swollen breasts that might express some milk -- possibly due to in utero exposure to hormones. For this reason, a baby girl's labia may also swell, and she might have a little bloody discharge. This is normal as long as it's just a tiny spot and doesn't persist.
On the other hand, swelling around a boy's genital area may be due to a hydrocele. "This is a fluid-filled sac around the testes, so it makes the scrotum look enlarged," Dr. Bolling says. Hydroceles are more likely in premature babies and can be inherited, but any baby boy can be born with one. "A hydrocele will usually resolve on its own within a year," he explains, "but surgery is sometimes necessary." Contact your pediatrician "if you notice a swelling, particularly a difference in the size of the two sides of the scrotum," Dr. Bolling adds.
How should I diaper my baby? Are there special considerations for girls versus boys?
When changing girls, wipe front to back. And don't worry if you see clear or whitish discharge in the genital area. Again, this is from baby's exposure to Mom's hormones while in the womb. If your son is circumcised, you'll replace the gauze bandage at every diaper change, and your pediatrician will probably tell you to also apply some antibiotic ointment (e.g., Bacitracin) or petroleum jelly. In addition, if you notice that your son has only one testicle, it's probably because the other one didn't yet move into place in the scrotum. Point it out to your doctor, though it should descend within the first year. If it doesn't, an operation may be necessary.
Are a baby's bowel movements similar to what an adult experiences?
Not at all. In fact, your baby's first poop will be meconium, a tar-like, blackish-green substance that you'll see for a couple of days. "My husband almost called 911 the first time he changed a diaper," says Tricia Ballad, a mother in Bloomington, Illinois. "He would've amused the paramedic crew!" After the meconium runs its course, greenish-brown transitional stools follow; by the fourth or fifth day, breastfed babies pass yellowish, seedy poop, while formula-fed infants' stool is denser and ranges in color from yellow to brown-green.
Expect variation in how often your infant has bowel movements. A formula-fed infant may poop three or four times a day, while a breastfed infant may go after every feeding or as infrequently as once a week, says Jennifer Shu, MD, a pediatrician and coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality (American Academy of Pediatrics).