Being a new parent is full of exciting milestones, experiences and memories. Any new parent would readily agree that there’s all sorts of things they don’t prepare you for when it comes to caring for a newborn – the funny, the scary, and sometimes, the downright hilarious.
Visits to the pediatrician, at least at first, are always taken up with important things like shots and screens/testing for various issues, and you might not always remember to ask the baby’s pediatrician about those little things – the things that aren’t life-threatening or even causing your baby any real pain or discomfort, but that are nonetheless confusing. Here, we’ll talk about a few of those things and whether or not you have cause to worry (short answer: probably not).
In the movies and on TV, newborns emerge from their mother’s womb as unblemished and dewy as a runway model, but in real life, that’s far from the truth. Babies come out splotchy, squishy, jaundiced, and often covered in some really strange skin stuff that might leave you feeling baffled.
One of these skin issues that most babies experience in some form or another is cradle cap. Many people assume this is just the baby version of dandruff, but it’s actually somewhat different. Cradle cap is caused by excessive oil production and can cause oily, flaky and sometimes yellow patches of skin that flake off or form a scaly patch on the baby’s head. If you have a newborn without much hair, you may worry that cradle cap is uncomfortable for the baby. But the truth is, cradle cap causes no pain, discomfort or even itching in your baby. Cradle cap can be alleviated by washing baby’s hair with a gentle baby shampoo and then coating overnight in baby oil, Vaseline or even olive oil to loosen flakes and then brush out with a gentle baby brush the next day. However, there is no “cure” for cradle cap and no guarantee that these methods will get rid of it entirely (or if you do, it can come back). There’s no reason to worry, though. While some babies can have cradle cap up until their toddler years, it causes no pain, discomfort or other health problems and eventually, it will completely go away on its own as your child’s body acclimates and stops producing so much oil.
A trickier skin issue that doesn’t go away is baby eczema, or it’s scientific name, atopic dermatitis. Eczema is usually passed down to your baby from a parent, and can flare up in babies the same way it does in adults: from exposure to heat, dietary triggers, stress, poor gut health, or irritants.
Symptoms of atopic dermatitis in babies can range from a simple patch of dry skin with some itching, to scaly, flaky skin that is causing extreme discomfort. Obviously you don’t want your baby to suffer from itchy, painful skin, so it’s important to speak to your pediatrician as soon as you can to discuss treatments to alleviate your baby’s discomfort as well as pinpoint what is triggering their flares. Eczema cannot be cured, but it can be managed and symptoms can sometimes be alleviated with the right course of treatment and avoidance of triggers. Does baby eczema disappear? The answer is no, not entirely – but the good news is, it can be managed quite easily.
Another skin issue that leaves parents befuddled is newborn acne. You may have looked down at your sleeping baby’s cheeks and thought, “Is that a zit?”. It’s actually quite common for babies to experience acne! Newborn acne usually appears at ages two to four weeks and can last for a month or two at most. It’s perfectly normal and will clear up on its own, so there’s no need for expensive medications or creams (most of these are far too harsh for a newborn baby’s skin anyway). Just washing your baby’s face with a gentle cleanser and warm water is enough to keep their skin fresh and healthy.
Colic and Digestive Issues
Almost every new parent has at least one complaint about colic or digestive issues such as acid reflux or food sensitivities.
Colic is a condition in which a newborn baby cries for extended periods of time with no apparent cause. You’ve changed their diaper, given them a feeding, they’ve had plenty of sleep, and yet, they are still crying. They may turn red in the face, cry until they seem exhausted, or curl up their legs and clench their fists.
While colic is frustrating, exhausting and stressful for new parents, it is a normal thing that happens to many, many babies. And the good news is that if you can hang in there, most babies grow out of colic by the time they are four months old. If your baby is experiencing major colic or you’re worried about an underlying health condition, contact your pediatrician.
Many babies also suffer from digestive issues such as acid reflux, lactose intolerance and sensitivity to certain ingredients in their formula or even breastmilk. If you’re noticing your baby spitting up a lot, vomiting, or experiencing lots of discomfort/pain after a feeding, contact your pediatrician to get a diagnosis and talk about treatment options. It may be as simple as temporarily eliminating something from their diet, switching formula or giving them drops before feeding. Most dietary issues clear up in the baby’s system on their own.
We all know that one new parent who brags about how their baby “slept like a dream from the first night we brought him/her home”. Ignore that parent. Their baby is a unicorn and most of us don’t have that experience.
The truth is that most babies have sleeping issues, whether it’s in the beginning, or later in their development (and for a few of us, sometimes it’s both). Sleep issues in babies can be down to a number of factors. It’s hard to know because your baby can’t talk to you about it, but common triggers can include separation anxiety, overstimulation, becoming overtired, digestive issues/colic, and many others. As always, speaking to your pediatrician to pinpoint the cause and discuss treatment is a good idea, but for many parents, it’s just a matter of figuring out that perfect routine to make your baby comfortable and sleepy.
You’ll see lots of arguing in baby forums and in articles and literature on the best method for baby sleeping. Some people swear by co-sleeping, and others swear that the “cry it out” method is tops. The fact of the matter is, every baby is different, as is every parent. Whatever method works for your family is the correct one. As long as your baby is sleeping comfortably and safely, that’s all that matters.
Most babies grow out of major sleep issues by the time they are in their toddler years, but if you’re concerned, as always, talk to your doctor. In very rare cases, certain medical conditions or factors may be contributing, and you can find treatments for these.
These are just three things your baby may be experiencing that have you befuddled, but they’ll be far from the last. Being a new parent is an exhilarating time full of joy and wonder, but there will definitely be times where you furrow your brow and accept that you simply have no idea. When in doubt, call your pediatrician. If your baby is healthy and happy, that’s all that matters. And remember: this too shall pass!