When should you see the pediatrician? What are the symptoms to watch for? When (if ever) will she stop spitting up? Elaine Cudnik, an advanced practitioner with Renown Pediatrics, explains some common first-time parenting scares, as well as what you need to know to take care of your little one — and yourself.
Should her little head really flop that far forward in the carseat? Does her breathing seem too fast? What’s that goop coming from her eyes? Along with the joys of first-time parenting comes a wide array of concerns — some legit, some just new realities with which you’ll soon become all-too comfortable. But only some of them are likely worthy of a trip to the pediatrician.
We asked Elaine Cudnik, APRN, what parents should look out for and when to call a doctor.
First-Time Parenting: When Should I Be Concerned?
What are the most important things to watch for? What conditions need to be seen by a doctor?
Resisting the urge to come to the pediatrician for every little thing can be difficult as a first-time parent. That said, there are certain conditions you should watch for. If you see them, head to your care provider just in case.
Most babies’ bellies stick out, but they should still feel soft. If your little one’s abdomen feels swollen or hard and they haven’t had a bowel movement for more than one or two days or they’re vomiting, call your pediatrician. It’s likely gas or constipation but it could be a sign of a more serious intestinal problem.
If your child’s skin is persistently blue and doesn’t return to its normal color, it could be a sign their heart or lungs aren’t functioning properly. Also watch for any signs of respiratory distress such as breathing fast, seeing their ribs stick out when breathing, flaring of the nose or grunting while breathing. Any of these issues should be seen immediately.
When it comes to watching for constipation or dehydration, counting diapers is a helpful trick. Typically you want at least six wet and six dirty diapers each day, but keep in mind as your baby gets older they will have fewer soiled diapers. If your little one is constipated, they may cry or scream when trying to poop or the bowel movements will be hard, round balls.
What about common issues like blocked tear ducts and spitting up? How can parents treat this at home?
Blocked tear ducts and frequent spit up are seen in many newborns and these issues can be scary for new parents.
If you notice discharge or crust along your baby’s eyes, don’t be alarmed. You can use clean water and a soft, gentle cloth to wipe it away as often as you need each day. If the tear ducts are very blocked, you may feel a bump at the corner of their eyelid. Provided that you’re comfortable doing so, take your pinkies inside the bridge of your baby’s nose and massage to help open the clogged passages. If these remedies don’t help, reach out to your care provider to see if ointment or drops may be needed.
Spitting up frequently is another problem seen in almost half of young babies. Often, it’s because they’re getting use to feeding and may swallow air while drinking or overfill their small stomachs.
To help prevent this: Hold your baby more upright when feeding and minimize noise and distractions; make sure the bottle nipple is the right size so they aren’t eating too fast; burp your baby after each feeding; and keep pressure off the baby’s tummy.
The main thing to watch for is vomiting versus spitting up. Vomiting is usually more forceful and will likely cause your baby distress. And if your baby isn’t gaining weight or you think they may be experiencing reflux, talk with your provider.
Navigating the First-Time Parenting Firsts
Bathing your baby, cleaning their belly button and cutting nails are some other tricky firsts. What do you recommend to make those easier?
Getting comfortable with these new tasks takes time and practice. Many first-time parents worry about properly cleaning what’s left of the umbilical cord. The good news is the rules are pretty simple. Until the remaining umbilical cord falls off, fold diapers down so they don’t touch it and exposure to air will help dry it. Also avoid giving a full bath and give sponge baths for the time being. If that area does get wet, just dry it gently. You don’t need to worry about cleaning it with soap.
Bathing can be scary, especially as our little ones tend to be extra slippery in the water. Start with smaller baths in the kitchen sink or a small wash basin until your baby can sit up. And to make yourself more comfortable, keep everything in close reach and dry the baby before trying to move them to get dressed.
Wait until your baby is a few weeks old to cut their nails. Have your partner keep the baby entertained with a toy, or clip them while you’re feeding and the baby is focused on that. When cutting the nail, leave a little bit white portion untouched. And if you accidentally nick them, don’t worry, it will heal quickly — just put pressure on their finger to stop any bleeding.
When do you need to take your child in for a fever?
While scary for parents, fevers are common in children. Just like adults, fevers are your baby’s way of fighting infection and babies actually tolerate fevers better than adults.
That said, babies 3 months and younger should have any fever above 100.4 degrees checked out right away, because it’s much harder to figure out which infections they may be facing.
For ages 3 months and older, the duration of your child’s fever is usually a better indicator of illness than the temperature itself. Call the pediatrician’s office if the fever lasts more than a day, symptoms are interfering with their ability to rest or eat well, or their fever rises above 104 degrees.