Your baby may have a lot of weird symptoms in the first few months. We'll tell you whether you need to worry about any of them.
When my twins were newborns, I couldn't help getting anxious about every little change in their health or behavior. Like the time my son's eye filled with yellow goop. "Does he have an eye infection?" I wondered. Even though the doctor said this was nothing to worry about, I was a bit freaked until it disappeared a week later.
Babies tend to have odd symptoms during their first six months. "In most cases they're perfectly normal," says Loraine Stern, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at UCLA School of Medicine. Check out these quirks that you don't need to worry about.
The Quirk: Eye Discharge
Why it's fine: A newborn's tear ducts are very narrow and susceptible to clogging, which causes white or yellowish gunk to collect. The discharge may look like pus, but it's not a sign of an infection unless the white of the eye starts to turn red, says Dr. Stern. Treatment is easy: Starting from the inner corner of the eye, gently wipe away the discharge with a wet cotton ball or a warm washcloth. You can also try to open the duct by using the tip of your clean pinky finger to lightly massage the space between your baby's eye and nose. Note: This is one of those times when short nails are a big plus.
The Quirk: Spitting Up
Why it's fine: All babies spit up after meals sometimes, and they usually don't require reflux medication. "An infant's involuntary muscles are still getting stronger, including the ones that hold milk in his stomach," says Katherine O'Connor, M.D., a pediatrician at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore, in New York City. Formula-fed babies may spit up more often because formula takes longer to leave the stomach than breast milk does. Bottle-fed babies can also overeat because they'll continue to suck (and drink more) even after they're full; breastfeeding helps a baby drink the proper amount at a feeding. Most infants stop spitting up once they're able to sit upright without assistance. As long as your child is happy and gaining weight, you needn't be concerned. But if he seems distressed when he spits up, talk to your pediatrician about the next step.
The Quirk: Hiccups
Why they're fine: These spasms of the diaphragm are a nuisance for adults, but hiccups are no big deal to newborns, who often have several bouts per day and barely seem to notice. You shouldn't try to stop them by feeding your child. They'll stop -- and start again -- on their own.
The Quirk: Crossed Eyes
Why they're fine: From time to time almost all babies have episodes when one eye looks in a different direction from the other. While this may appear a little goofy to you, it doesn't mean your child will have vision problems. "In the first few months, the eye muscles are still developing, and your baby is learning how to use them," says Dr. O'Connor. If her eyes aren't aligned by 6 months, ask your doctor about seeing a pediatric ophthalmologist.
The Quirk: Poop Strike
Why it's fine: Although your baby's diet (whether breast milk, formula, or a combination) may not change during the first four to six months, don't be surprised if the frequency of her BMs fluctuates. "Bowel habits adjust because stool begins to move through the intestines more slowly," says Dr. Stern. If your child changes from pooping after every meal to not going for several days, it doesn't necessarily mean she's backed up. As long as her poops are mushy, and she's eating well and has a soft belly (rather than a firm, distended one), you can relax. Don't be concerned if your baby grunts or makes strange facial expressions while she's filling up her diaper. That's how she works to push out a bowel movement. If she's truly constipated, she'll have small, hard stools that might be streaked with blood -- in which case you should call your pediatrician right away.
The Quirk: Lip Blister
Why it's fine: For adults, this is usually a painful and annoying cold sore. But when your nursing newborn develops a tiny blister on his upper lip, chances are he's not bothered by it at all. However, it is a sign that you need to correct his breastfeeding technique. "Your child isn't latching on as deeply as he should be, so his sucking is creating too much friction on his lips, and that causes the blister to form," says Sara Chana Silverstein, a certified lactation consultant in Brooklyn, New York. Solving this problem is relatively simple. Try to position your nipple at least an inch inside your baby's mouth. The blister should disappear within a few days.
The Quirk: Acne
Why it's fine: When your smooth, soft newborn seems to sprout pimples or whiteheads overnight, who can blame you for being alarmed? Fortunately, there's no reason to be concerned about infant acne. It's common around the 2- to 3-week mark, and your hormones -- which are still circulating in your baby's bloodstream and stimulating her sweat glands -- are to blame. Her skin should clear up within a few weeks, and unlike adolescent acne, this kind doesn't leave any scars. It's fine to wash her face gently with water (no soap), but there's probably no need for any other remedy. "Leave it alone, and it will probably go away," says Dr. O'Connor. In those rare cases when it doesn't clear up within about 21 days, ask your baby's doctor if he recommends trying a mild topical medication.
Baby Care Basics: Surprising Reasons to Call the Doctor
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Parents magazine.
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