Frequently Asked Questions:Prenatal

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Frequently Asked Questions:Prenatal

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Frequently Asked Questions: Prenatal


Should I breastfeed my baby?

Pediatricians and nutritionists strongly recommend that you breastfeed your baby for the first 4 to 6 months of life, and continue until 12 months if possible. Breast milk provides all the nutrition that a baby needs for the first 6 months of life. In addition, breast milk has special proteins made by the mother's immune (infection-fighting) system that help protect babies from illnesses like ear infections, and vomiting and diarrhea. Breastfeeding may also help protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Babies who are breastfed tend to spit up less often, as breast milk is easier for babies to digest. Exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months may help to prevent some food allergies and other medical problems, like diabetes. Furthermore, some research suggests that breastfeeding may also help with brain development and learning.

Breastfeeding is convenient and costs less than formula. It does not need to be prepared and is always available at the right temperature. Breastfeeding also requires close physical contact, which helps create a special bond between a mother and her baby and is especially soothing for babies. There are other advantages for the mother. The production of breast milk burns extra calories, helping women return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. Breastfeeding also helps the uterus shrink down to its normal size more quickly after delivery. It may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and pre-menopausal breast cancer.

Even if only done for a few weeks, breastfeeding is good for mom and her baby. But it takes time, patience and support. If you can't breastfeed, for medical or personal reasons, iron-fortified infant formulas are nutritionally sufficient. Check with your doctor about the kind that's best for your baby.

How do I pick a doctor for my baby?

Choose a doctor for your baby while you are pregnant. The doctor (or an associate) will need to see your baby in the hospital shortly after birth and you will need to take the baby into the office for a checkup within the first week or two of life. You will probably feel more relaxed at these visits if you have already met the doctor (or an associate) before your child's birth.

Ask friends and relatives about the doctors in your area or ask your obstetrical care provider to recommend a physician for your child. Depending on the community where you live, you may choose to take your baby to see a pediatrician, a family physician , or an internal medicine/pediatric physician. Pediatricians train for an additional three years after medical school, learning to care for children from birth to age 21, giving them greater experience and expertise in treating children. Family physicians and internal medicine/pediatrics physician train for an additional three and four years, respectively, after medical school, but they learn to care for both children and adults, which makes them experts in treating the whole family. Choose the type of doctor that best meets your needs, but preferably one who is board-certified in his or her specialty.

When deciding where to take your child for health care, there are many practical considerations, including the office hours, the location of the office, the size of the practice, and the types of insurance that are accepted. You may find it most convenient if the office is open for well visits at least four days a week, in the evenings, or even on weekends. When your child is sick or you have questions, there should be coverage or access to some medical expert all the time.

Most importantly, visit the office and meet with the doctor to see whether you feel comfortable with him or her. During your meeting, ask many questions. Consider the individual's style, interests, and bedside manners. Like all of us, some doctors are more easygoing or less conventional, while others can be more formal or traditional. Some doctors are more recently trained and may be more up-to-date on the latest research in pediatrics; others have many years of practical experience. Some are well acquainted with alternative and complementary medicine. Some doctors even have additional training in special areas of pediatrics, for example in behavior and development, sports medicine, or adolescent medicine.

Which car seat should I choose for my baby?

Before you and your new baby can be discharged from the hospital, you must have a car seat that is the right size for your baby and is placed correctly in the car. Every state requires that infants and small children ride in car seats. Yet, car crashes are the most common cause of death and injury in children because although a car seat was used, it often is used incorrectly.

There are two types of car seats for newborns: infant-only and convertible.

Infant-only seats can be used for newborns and infants who weigh up to 20 to 22 pounds, depending on the model. These seats are always rear-facing and should be used only in the back seat. They typically come with three or five straps.

Convertible seats can be used in the rear-facing position for newborns and infants until they are 1 year old and weigh 20 pounds (or more with some models). The seats can then be used in the front-facing position for toddlers who are at least 1 year old and weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. These seats are bigger and heavier than infant-only seats and some don't fit newborns as well as infant-only seats do.

Convertible seats typically come with one of three strap types: five-point, T-shield, and overhead shield, but only the five-point strap is recommended for newborns. T-shields and overhead shields come up too high on the newborn and may make it difficult to properly adjust the strap.

Babies must remain rear-facing until they are 1 year old and weigh 20 pounds. A convertible seat must be used for a baby younger than one year old who weighs more than 20 pounds.

Should I have my baby boy circumcised?

It was long believed that the surgical removal of the flap of foreskin from the head of the penis (circumcision) helped prevent problems ranging from infection to cancer of the penis. But these problems are very rare, even among uncircumcised males, and today some doctors believe that there is no medical reason to circumcise.

Medically speaking, there are pros and cons to circumcision. The end of the penis is easier to keep clean in circumcised males. But even though circumcision is a relatively easy procedure, it can result in rare complications like bleeding or infection.

However, parents still choose to have their sons circumcised for non-medical reasons. Some want their sons to resemble their fathers; others follow religious traditions. Circumcision is done shortly after birth in hospitals and privately when Jewish males reach 8 days old.

Because the potential benefits of routine newborn circumcision may not outweigh the risks, many experts neither recommend nor discourage this procedure. Rather, parents are encouraged to make their own informed decision based on the best interest of their child, taking into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to the medical factors.

Discuss the pros and cons of circumcision with your doctor. Share your feelings and concerns about it and, most importantly, make your decision before your baby is born.

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Last updated February 11, 2011


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