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Your Baby's Body

Weight loss

Newborns often lose 10 percent of their birth weight during the first few days of life. With frequent feedings, they usually regain the weight by the time they are two weeks old.

The newborn's head

Your baby's head may be oval or odd-shaped because of the birth process. The head will regain its oval, smooth look within a few weeks. Babies are born with two soft spots on their heads, one on top and one at the back. These soft spots are areas where the bones of the skull have not yet grown together. They will close by the time your infant is 12 to 18 months old. It is not dangerous to gently touch the soft spots or to gently shampoo and brush your baby's hair.

Genitals

Babies of both sexes are sometimes born with swollen nipples, which may ooze small amounts of a white liquid. Their genitalia are often swollen as well. These conditions, caused by the mother's hormones, are normal and go away without treatment.

Baby girls might have a white coating on their genitals. This is normal and does not need to be washed off. They may also have a clear, mucous-like discharge, again a result of the mother's hormones. When you bathe your baby and change her diapers, gently clean the vaginal area by spreading the labia and wiping from front to back.

If your baby is a boy, he may have a swollen scrotum. It will return to normal in a few days. If he has been circumcised, watch for signs of infection. (For tips on circumcision care, see page 9.)

Spitting up and vomiting

Spitting up is very common for infants and is not a cause for concern unless your baby spits up more than an ounce at a time. Projectile vomiting or green or yellow vomit is not normal. Call your physician if you are concerned.

Gas and colic

When babies cry and pull up their legs, they usually have gas. If this happens, try burping your baby more often during feedings. Other remedies include rubbing the baby's tummy or back, applying a warm compress to the lower abdomen or slowly bringing the knees to the chest.

Colic is the most common reason for frequent, unexplained crying and fussiness in newborns. It is caused by an immature gastro-intestinal tract and nervous system, which create abdominal discomfort. Colic is a normal developmental stage for many infants. It usually ends by the time the baby is five months of age.

To relieve colic, try holding and rocking your baby or taking him or her for a ride in the car. Some babies respond well to baby swings, but if you use one, don't leave your baby unattended.

Body hair (lanugo)

Your baby may be born with fine, downy hair covering his or her back, shoulders, forehead, ears and face. This condition is more common in premature babies. It does not harm the infant and disappears within a few weeks.

Crossed or puffy eyes

The birth process and the medication used in your newborn's eyes to fight infection may cause them to look puffy. This should improve within a few days. Your baby may look cross-eyed because of undeveloped muscles. As the muscles strengthen, the eyes will begin to look normal.

Flaky scalp (cradle cap)

Scaly flakes, called cradle cap, may develop on your baby's scalp. Remove the flakes by gently scrubbing the scalp with a mild shampoo. Repeat each day until the flaking disappears. Brushing your baby's scalp with a bit of baby oil and a soft brush may help, too.

Jaundice

Jaundice, a yellowish appearance in the skin and eyes, is caused by too much bilirubin. Many infants' livers are immature and cannot clean the bilirubin from the blood.

A small amount of jaundice is common in newborns, especially those who are premature. It usually appears on the second or third day of life and disappears within a week or two without treatment. Natural sunlight alleviates jaundice, and the baby may benefit from sleeping near a sunny window. If jaundice is severe, treatment may be necessary. Contact the physician if your baby becomes jaundiced after you leave the hospital

Blue feet and hands

Newborns commonly have blue feet and hands because of immature circulation. As long as the rest of your baby is warm and pink, do not be concerned.

Skin problems

Skin abnormalities commonly occur in newborns. Most should cause no concern, require no special treatment, and disappear by themselves. They include:

Small white spots on the face due to blocked sweat and oil glands.

Slightly transparent skin with purplish blotches (most common in infants with fair skin).

Mongolian spots: a greenish-blue coloring on the lower back (most common in infants with dark skin).

Baby acne: a red, pimply rash.

Stork bites: visible blood vessels close to the skin on the back of the neck, eyelids or forehead.

Vernix: a white, creamy substance that protects the skin before birth and remains in the creases of the skin even after bathing.

Skin problems that may require more attention include:

Heat rash (tiny red bumps around the shoulders and neck) occurs during hot weather or when babies get too warm. Keep your baby cool and dry; don't overdress.

Dry, scaly skin could be eczema. It should be treated by your physician.

Infected mouth (thrush)

If your baby has white, cottage cheese-like patches in his or her mouth, it is probably a yeast infection called thrush. This can be painful, so call the physician as soon as possible.

Bowel movements

Your newborn will pass a dark, sticky substance called meconium for the first few days. Gradually the stools will become yellow with a green or brown tinge. Breast-fed babies usually have loose, seedy stools (up to 10 per day); bottle-fed babies usually have fewer stools with a more pasty appearance.

As your baby gets older, bowel movements will become less frequent (as seldom as every few days). This is normal as long as the stool is soft and the baby is not straining too hard. It's common for infants to grunt and turn red when they are having a bowel movement.

Constipation is uncommon with breast-fed babies but more common with bottle-fed babies. Signs of constipation include hard, pebbly stools and abdominal pain.

Diarrhea consists of frequent, mucousy, thin and watery stools, often accompanied by a foul odor. If your baby has diarrhea or constipation, let the physician know.

Colds and coughs

Mild cold symptoms include runny nose, sneezing and congestion. Stuffy noses make it hard for infants to breathe and eat. To help your baby breathe, put a few saline drops in his or her nose, wait a minute, then use a suction bulb to remove the mucous. You can also use a cool water vaporizer in the baby's room. Elevate your infant's head by putting a pillow under his or her mattress. Be sure to keep your baby warm. Call the physician if fever, coughing or breathing difficulties develop.

Coughs can also be treated with a vaporizer. If breathing becomes labored or if the baby turns blue or drools, keep the baby upright and call the physician immediately.

Ear infections

Infants' ears are highly susceptible to infections caused by bacteria or viruses. Symptoms include slight fever, irritability, crying, loss of appetite, and pulling on or rubbing the ears. Call the physician immediately if you think your child has an ear infection.

Fever

Infants' temperatures should be taken under the arm unless your physician instructs otherwise. In a newborn, a temperature less than 97 degrees or greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit is cause for concern - call the physician immediately. With lower fevers, watch for signs of ear infection or other serious illnesses. Call the physician if the fever lasts for more than 24 hours.