Little ones cry for oh-so-many reasons, but we’ve picked out half a dozen issues that are likely to crop up in the early months of your child’s life. While there’s no substitute for a doctor’s care, we’ve got a few words of advice to help you get through the unpleasantries that often come with baby-raising.
High levels of bilirubin in the blood cause a condition called jaundice, portrayed as a yellow cast to baby’s skin and eyes. Jaundice is extremely common and usually nothing to worry about. It will typically appear in the first days of baby’s life and last up to a few weeks, until baby’s liver kicks into gear and rids the body of excess bilirubin. To help the liver out, make sure baby is getting plenty of fluid, either through breast milk or formula. (You’ll know she’s eating enough when she’s going through diapers and gaining weight appropriately.)
Because jaundice is so common, doctors will always look for it in the hospital. They may prescribe “light therapy,” where baby is placed in a bassinet under light bulbs designed to combat jaundice. In rare cases, the jaundice either does not improve or gets worse, and further treatment is required in order to sidestep permanent damage to the nervous system. It’s important to attend baby’s first checkup during the week after your hospital discharge, so your pediatrician can keep tabs on the situation. If jaundice develops at home (you’ll know by the yellow tint to skin and eyes), again, visit the doc so he can gauge its severity.
2. Gas pain
As you get to know your newborn, you’ll notice she communicates with distinct cries for separate occasions—for example, a “feed me” cry will sound a little different from a “hold me” cry. Then there’s the shrill cry, often accompanied by squirming and arching of the back, that means, “My tummy hurts!” Gas pain affects every baby—but some more than others. To lessen these pains, burp your newbie during and after every meal, lightly massage her tummy as needed, and gently cycle her legs up and down to work out the bubbles. Over-the-counter gas drops can help, too.
If baby has recurring gas pain after every feeding (and often during the meal as well), she could have a food sensitivity. Dairy is the most common culprit, although other foods can be problematic too. If you’re breastfeeding, try cutting dairy from your diet to see if it calms baby; if you’re using formula, considering switching to a hypoallergenic variety that does not contain cow’s milk proteins. Your pediatrician can give you pointers and perhaps supply samples if he has some handy.
3. Diaper rash
Because your infant’s sensitive skin is constantly coming into contact with stool and urine in the enclosed environment of the diaper, she is liable to develop a rash now and again. Diaper rashes range from slightly pink to beet red and painful, even bleeding if it’s severe. Baby may squirm and cry or suck in her breath during diaper changes to let you know how she feels.
To prevent rashes, change diapers frequently throughout the day. When your nose alerts you to a dirty diaper, change it immediately! The longer baby’s skin is in contact with the yucky stuff, the more severe her reaction is likely to be. If your baby is particularly prone to rear-end flare-ups, select unscented diapers and wipes made especially for sensitive skin. When cloth diapering, wash diapers with unscented detergent, and skip fabric softeners, too.
If the rash is already upon you, treat it with air time—let baby go diaperless for a bit if possible—and diligent use of over- the-counter creams (which are also great for prevention, by the way). The situation should clear up after a couple days, but if it continues to look gnarly, ask your pediatrician about it—baby might have a yeast infection requiring prescription treatment.
4. Cradle cap
The familiar pest known as cradle cap looks like the dickens, but it’s harmless. The condition, characterized by a thick, yellowish, flaky substance on baby’s scalp, commonly shows up during the first few months of life. It’s caused by oil overproduction, and it tends to dissipate once baby’s hormones regulate and oil production drops.
To get rid of cradle cap, wash baby’s hair daily with a gentle infant shampoo, and brush her scalp with a soft brush. (The kinds made specifically for cradle cap work best.) Some parents also treat the scalp with baby-safe oil before washing, to loosen the flakes, but others say this worsens the condition. Cradle cap shampoos are available and may prove more effective than run- of-the-mill baby shampoo.
It might be tempting to keep baby’s scaly scalp hidden under cute hats, but blocking the airflow can cause the oily buildup to increase and last longer. Air it out, and put it behind you.
Newborns normally exhibit reflux, or spitting up, after feedings throughout the first several months and sometimes up to the 1-year mark. Baby’s immature digestive system tends to push food back up from the stomach when it is overfull or as air bubbles come up. As long as your tot seems to feel full after meals and is gaining weight, spitting up is normal infant behavior. You can help ease the amount of spit-up by keeping her
somewhat upright during and after feedings to aid digestion. Burp her during and after the meal, and if necessary, transition to smaller, more frequent feedings.
If your babe seems to expel the entire contents of her belly at every feeding, she could have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is something she’ll eventually grow out of—but in the meantime, consult your doctor about ways to help her keep food down, so she can get the nutrition she needs. Your doctor may propose diet changes (such as switching to non-dairy formula or adding infant cereal to baby’s bottle) and perhaps medication.
Ugh, the dreaded colic: high-pitched, long-lasting crying, day after day in the early months of a baby’s life. If your kiddo has colic, you know it. Unfortunately, the definition of colic is kind of fuzzy, and there’s no cure-all treatment.
First, make sure baby’s “colic” isn’t actually something else. Talk to your pediatrician to rule out more threatening health conditions or food intolerances.
If indeed your household is dealing with colic, remember that it will pass, though it can be a beast of a thing to live through. Try all the calming techniques: swaddling, swinging, white noise, car rides, pacifiers, bathing, bouncing and holding in various positions. When nothing is working and you find yourself at your wits’ end, it’s OK to put baby down in her crib (always on her back) and let her cry it out for a bit while you regain your sanity. Dealing with a screaming baby can be utterly exhausting, so please, reach out to friends and family for help.