Keeping Your Newborn Safe and Healthy

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your child who is younger than 3 months develops a fever.

  • Your child who is older than 3 months has a fever or persistent symptoms for more than 72 hours.

  • Your child who is older than 3 months has a fever and symptoms suddenly get worse. 

If you cannot contact your doctor, bring your infant to the emergency department. Do not give any medicine to your newborn unless told by your doctor.

Take a rectal temperature if your newborn:

  • Skips more than 1 feeding.

  • Feels hot.

  • Is cranky or too sleepy.

To take a rectal temperature:

  • Use a digital thermometer (when possible).

  • Lubricate the tip with petroleum jelly.

  • Lay infant on his or her stomach and spread the buttocks so anus is seen.

  • Slowly and gently insert the thermometer only until the tip is no longer visible.

  • Make sure to hold the thermometer in place until it beeps.

  • Remove the thermometer.

  • Write down the temperature.

  • Wash the thermometer with cool soapy water or alcohol.

Always wash your hands. Do not allow people with cold symptoms around your infant. Sick caregivers should wear a mask.

CAR SEAT

Keep children in the rear seat of a vehicle in a rear-facing safety seat until the age of 2 years or until they reach the upper weight and height limit of their safety seat.

SLEEP

The safest way for your infant to sleep is on their back in a crib. Only a mattress, mattress cover, and infant blanket should be used. Other objects could block the infant's airway.

Do not put other items in the crib such as:

  • A pillow.

  • Stuffed animals.

  • Egg shell mattress pads.   

Newborns can sleep between 16 and 20 hours per day after birth. In the first weeks of life, wake your newborn at least every 3 to 4 hours to feed, unless told differently by your doctor.

During the first few months of life your infant's sleep pattern will change. Learn to nap while your infant sleeps to get the most rest. Once your infant has a regular sleeping pattern, and is doing well and gaining weight, you may allow for longer intervals between feeding.

After the first month, you should wake them if needed to eat in the day, but let them sleep longer at night. Infants may not start sleeping through the night until 4 to 6 months of age.

JAUNDICE

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. You may see it on the belly, arms, or legs. Call your doctor if you notice your infant has these symptoms. 

SMOKE AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS

Every floor of your house should have a working:

  • Smoke detector.

  • Carbon monoxide detector.

Check the batteries twice a month. Replace the batteries twice a year.

SECOND HAND SMOKE EXPOSURE

Second hand smoke increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Smokers should:

  • Change their clothes before handling your child.

  • Wash their hands and face before handling your child.

No one should ever smoke in your home or car, whether your child is present or not. Exposure will make your infant more likely to develop:

  • Colds.

  • Ear infections.

  • Asthma.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux.

If you smoke and want to quit, talk with your doctor.

BURNS AND WATER TEMPERATURE SETTINGS

Your water heater should not be set higher than 120° F (48.8° C).  Do not hold your infant if you are carrying a cup of hot liquid (coffee, tea). Do not hold your infant while cooking.

NEVER SHAKE YOUR INFANT

Shaking an infant can cause brain damage or death. If you find yourself angry when caring for your infant, call family members or your doctor for help.

FALLS

You should never leave your infant alone on any high surface. For example, do not leave them on a:

  • Changing table.

  • Bed.

  • Sofa.

  • Chair.

  • Infant carrier.

CHOKING

Infants put objects in their mouth. Any object that is smaller than their fist should be kept away from them.

If you have older children in the home, talk to them about keeping objects away from the infant. If your infant is choking, do not blindly sweep their mouth with a finger. This may push the object back further. If you can see the object clearly you can remove it. Otherwise, call your local emergency services.

Everyone that takes care of the infant should be trained in pediatric CPR. You can call your local Red Cross office to learn more about CPR classes.

IMMUNIZATIONS

Your doctor will give your infant shots starting at 6 to 8 weeks of life. Your infant may receive their first Hepatitis B vaccine prior to that time.

BEING DEPRESSED AFTER THE BIRTH OF A CHILD

Mothers sometimes feel depressed following the birth of a child. Contact your doctor for help, or call a postpartum depression hotline.

FEEDING

Your infant needs only breast milk or formula until 4 to 6 months of age. Breast milk is better than formula. Your infant should not get:

  • Water.

  • Juice.

  • Cereal.

  • Any other food source until your doctor tells you.

You should breastfeed as long as possible during your infant's first year. If you are breastfeeding your infant, you should speak to your doctor about iron and vitamin D around 4 months of life. In the first year of life your infant should not get:

  • Honey.

  • Karo syrup.

SPITTING UP

It is common for infants to spit up after a feeding. But call your doctor if they:

  • Throw up with a lot of force.

  • Have dark green bile in their throw up.

  • Have blood in their throw up.

  • Always spit up their entire meal.

BOWEL HABITS

A newborn's poop will change from black and tar-like to yellow and seedy. How often they poop can change. They may poop after every feeding. Or, they may poop just once every 5 days. As long as the poop is not pure liquid or rock hard pellets, it is normal. Infants often seem to strain when pooping, but if the consistency is soft, they are not constipated. Any color other than putty white or blood is normal. Infants can be very gassy in the first month.

CRYING

You will start to sense what your infant's cries mean. They may cry because they are:

  • Wet.

  • Hungry.

  • Uncomfortable.

Infants often stop crying when they are held and rocked. If your infant cries often after eating or will not stop crying for a long time, you may want to call your doctor.

BATHING AND SKIN CARE

Never leave your infant alone in the tub. Only give sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off and heals. Infants only need 2 to 3 baths per week. You may choose to bath them as often as once per day. Use plain water, baby wash, or a perfume-free moisturizing bar.

Do not use diaper wipes anywhere but the diaper area. They can be irritating to the skin. You may use any perfume-free lotion. Do not use powder, the infant could inhale it into their lungs. You may use petroleum jelly on the diaper area to prevent diaper rashes.

Your newborn may have:

  • Dry flaking skin in the first few weeks of life. 

  • Neonatal acne in the first 2 months of life. It usually gets better by itself.

UMBILICAL CARE

Babies do not need any care of the umbilical cord. Only give sponge baths until the umbilical cord has fallen off and healed. Call your doctor if you see any redness or puffiness (swelling) around the umbilical area. You may notice a bad smell before it falls off. The umbilical cord should fall off and heal by about 2 to 3 weeks of life.

CIRCUMCISION

Your infant's penis may have a device called a "plastibell" after circumcision. If no device is attached, your infant boy was circumcised using a "gomco" device. The "plastibell" ring will detach and fall off usually in the first week after the procedure. Occasionally, you may see a drop or 2 of blood in the first days.

Follow the aftercare instructions as told by your doctor. Use petroleum jelly on the penis for the first 2 days.  Do not wipe the head of the penis the first 2 days unless soiled by poop (pee is sterile). It may look puffy initially. It will heal quickly. Call your infant's doctor if you have any questions or if you observe more than a few drops of blood on the diaper.

VAGINAL DISCHARGE AND BREAST ENLARGEMENT

Newborn females will often have white or bloody discharge from the vagina. This is a normal. You may also see breast enlargement on babies of both sexes. This may get better after the first few weeks of life. If you see any redness or warmth around your infant's nipples, call your doctor.

NASAL CONGESTION, SNEEZING, AND HICCUPS

Newborns often appear to be stuffy and congested. They may be stuffy after feeding. This nasal congestion does occur without fever or illness. Use a bulb syringe to clear the nose. Saline nasal drops can be purchased at the drug store. These are safe to use to help suction out the nose. These are common in the first weeks of life:

  • Sneezing.

  • Hiccups (If hiccups are bothersome, an additional feeding session may be helpful.)

  • Yawning.

  • Passing gas.

If your infant becomes ill, fussy, or has a fever, call your doctor right away.