Frequently Asked Questions: Newborn

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Frequently Asked Questions: Newborn

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Frequently Asked Questions: Newborn

What are hiccups?

Hiccups are named for the characteristic "hic" sound that occurs when the diaphragm muscle under the lungs tightens (contracts) suddenly and repeatedly, causing a person to take quick, short breaths. Hiccups are common in babies, especially in those who hiccupped before they were born, while in the womb (uterus). The exact cause is not known, but they are thought to be a normal reflex, probably due to immaturity of the nervous system. Hiccups in fetuses (babies still in the womb) may help to strengthen the diaphragm muscle and prepare the fetus for breathing.

During the first few months, hiccups often occur after meals. Babies tend to also swallow air during feeds, which expands the stomach and may cause the diaphragm to contract. These hiccups usually go away within a few minutes and cause no discomfort to the baby. If your baby's hiccups bother you, try burping your baby more frequently during feedings.

Are sneezes normal?

Most babies sneeze frequently, but not because they have a cold. Sneezing is a normal reflex that helps to remove mucus from the nose and lungs. Sneezing is especially common during the first few days after birth, when newborns still have some amniotic fluid in their lungs, leftover from their months in the uterus. Some babies sneeze after eating, to clear their noses of dried milk that may collect there.

If your baby sneezes and has a runny nose, it may be due to something else, perhaps an illness. Call your doctor for advice.

How should I dress my baby?

You should dress your baby as you dress yourself, varying the types and amount of clothing according to the weather or room temperature. Babies are small and tend to lose body heat more easily than adults, but they also can get overheated if dressed too warmly. Check your baby's skin temperature by feeling the back of his neck or his arms or chest. Don't judge his temperature by his hands and feet, because they are usually cooler than the rest of the body. If your baby is too warm, he will feel hot all over and may look flushed, feel sweaty, or develop a bumpy heat rash. If your baby is too cold, he will feel cold and may be fussy or curled up tightly to keep warm.

As a general rule of thumb, dress your baby in one more layer of clothing than you are wearing. On very hot days, your baby will probably be comfortable wearing just a diaper and a cotton undershirt. On cooler days, add layers of clothing until your baby feels warm enough. Several light layers of clothing retain heat better than one thick layer, and outer layers can be easily added or removed as the surrounding air temperature changes. Hats help to retain body heat in cool weather and protect against the summer sun.

When can I take my baby out in public?

You can take your baby outside, and probably already have, starting with the day you both were discharged from the hospital. Time spent outdoors can be enjoyable for you and your baby. If dressed appropriately, most full-term newborns can handle average summer and winter temperatures. Limit the amount of time outdoors if the weather is extremely cold or hot.

Keep in mind that time spent around other people increases your baby's exposure to germs and illnesses. Newborns are more susceptible to infection because their immune (infection-fighting) system has not yet matured. For this reason, many pediatricians recommend that you avoid large indoor crowds until your baby is at least 2 months old.

My baby's skin is dry. Should I use baby lotion?

Many newborns have dry, peeling skin because they are no longer surrounded by water, as they had been while in the uterus for eight or nine months. But in most cases no special lotions or creams are necessary to treat this type of dry skin. You will notice that the skin usually becomes smooth and the dryness disappears after a few sponge baths.

Although it is not necessary, some parents enjoy using baby lotion and babies may like it, too. While applying the lotion, the baby receives an informal massage, which can be pleasurable and may even have health benefits. Old-fashioned lotions have that familiar "baby" scent, but some newer products contain no perfumes or dyes to avoid possible irritation of baby's skin.

You can apply lotion after a bath or at any time of the day. Avoid oils and greasy creams that sometimes block skin pores and may cause mild rashes. Baby powder should not be used, because small powder particles can be breathed into the lungs and possibly cause damage.

How do I take my baby's temperature?

There are four types of thermometers for measuring body temperature: those placed on the skin (for example, under the arm), in the mouth (oral), in the ear (otic or aural), and in the rectum (rectal). For newborns and young infants, use only the rectal thermometer, as other methods are not accurate enough.

To take a child's temperature rectally:

  • Wash the thermometer in warm, soapy water or rubbing alcohol.
  • Shake down the glass thermometer until it reads below 95 degrees.
  • Hold the child bottom-up on your lap with the legs hanging down or put them on a bed.
  • Insert the lubricated thermometer no more than one-half inch into the child's rectum.

If it is a glass thermometer, hold it in place for three minutes, then read the number where the line ends. If it is a digital thermometer, hold in place until it signals that it has finished measuring the temperature and then look for the digital number display.

Once a thermometer has been used to take an infant's temperature rectally, do not use it later to take oral temperatures of an older child.

Note: If purchasing a glass thermometer, look for one that does not contain mercury. Newer models have alcohol inside to measure temperature.

 

Last updated July 31, 2014


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