Expectant parents can take classes to learn how to change a diaper, how to soothe your baby when they seem to be inconsolable, and how to give baby a bath. Their pediatrician’s office will help with breast- or bottle-feeding. But, as Dr. Hassan Alzein of Alzein Pediatrics in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn knows, “No matter how well-prepared new parents are, there is always something new to learn.” Dr. Alzein says, “We hear many questions about baby care in the first few weeks after your baby arrives, but there are five common topics we most frequently address.”
1. Baby Poop
A baby’s first few bowel movements will be a dark green, tar-like goo with hardly any smell. “This is called meconium and is the first stool expelled by your newborn,” Dr. Alzein says. “Don’t be alarmed if you see mucus in your newborn’s bowel movement; this is very common. When you breastfeed your baby, the stool may look yellow and runny, with a consistency like mustard. When you feed with formula, the stool may be tan and pasty, looking like peanut butter.” As your baby starts eating solid foods, bowel movements will be foul-smelling and an array of colors, depending upon what foods your child has eaten.
“Certain colors of bowel movements may indicate a possible health issue,” says Dr. Alzein. “Although this is rare, always check in with your pediatrician if your baby’s stool is any unusual or out of the ordinary colors.”
Red. “Red bowel movements can be caused by common and harmless reasons,” says Dr. Alzein. “A newborn baby may have been swallowed a little blood during delivery. When you’re breastfeeding, it might be that your nipples are bleeding, and blood has mingled with breast milk. If your baby is already eating solids, it could be a certain food. Things like beets can make poop red. But always – always – check with your pediatrician when you see bright red stools, as it’s important to determine what might be causing it.”
Black or dark green. Tarry black stool in older babies could be caused by blood. Blood may turn from red to black in the intestines over time, leading to tarry stools. “Very dark green stool can sometimes appear black,” says Dr. Alzein. Green baby poop—even a dark green is often not worthy of concern. Meconium can also look black, and this isn’t a problem. “If black stool suddenly appears, or doesn’t go away in a few bowel movements, call your pediatrician.”
White or gray. “Call your pediatrician immediately if you see very pale white or clay-colored stools in your baby’s diaper. White or gray stools can be linked to a liver or enzyme condition that needs prompt diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Alzein.
2. Cutting Baby’s Nails
Dr. Alzein says, “Baby nails are razor sharp and paper-thin… and you may have to trim them…once a week to avoid baby scratching their face – or yours. Your child’s toenails grow more slowly…and won’t need shortening as often.”
It is easier to cut your newborn’s nails with a team of two adults. One person should gently hold the baby while the other trims their nails. If your baby is very active, or you do not have another adult present, cutting nails while your baby is feeding or sleeping can also work.
Press the baby’s finger pad away from the nail. This will help you to avoid nicking the skin. Keep a firm hold on their hand as you cut or clip. Using tiny nail clippers or baby-safe nail scissors, you can cut the nail around the shape of the finger and trim the toenails straight across. “If you accidentally nick the skin, don’t feel badly,” says Dr. Alzein. “This is a difficult skill to master.” Using a piece of clean, damp cotton wool to press against the fingertip and apply pressure can help stop bleeding. Don’t put a bandage on the cut, as this is a choking hazard.
“By about a month old, their nails will have started to harden a little and will have a firmer free edge,” says Dr. Alzein. You will have an easier time trimming nails as your child gets older, but you will need to be careful for some time. There are baby nail files that can make this process much more manageable.
3. Cradle Cap
“Cradle cap commonly appears on the top of the head, behind the ears, or in skin folds near the neck,” says Dr. Alzein. “Cradle cap is usually yellowish with greasy patches, but it can also be scaly or flaky.”
Cradle cap often shows up on the nose, eyelids, eyebrows, and ears. However, it can also appear on the belly button region, the neck, the armpit, the legs, or the groin. Dr. Alzein says, “Cradle cap isn’t contagious, and it generally isn’t painful or itchy, and it doesn’t scar.”
“Cradle cap clears up within weeks or months without special medical treatment, and almost certainly by the time baby has their first birthday. Parents can usually treat it themselves at home and help remove the scaling skin.”
- Wash your baby’s hair daily with an unscented baby shampoo.
- You can comb the hair over the scales with a soft bristle brush to help remove loose skin. Make sure that you do not scratch or rub the skin, as this can cause irritation. You will want to rinse off loose flakes with cool water.
“If these treatments don’t improve cradle cap, ask your pediatrician to recommend a medicated shampoo.”
4. Baby Acne
Dr. Alzein says, “Your newborn baby may suddenly develop small pimples on their face, usually on their cheeks, nose, eyelids, chin, or forehead. This is baby acne or neonatal acne. It’s common in newborns; 3 out of 10 babies will develop it. Acne can appear on your child’s scalp, neck, or upper body. Unlike teen and adult acne, baby acne does not have blackheads or whiteheads,” says Dr. Alzein.
“There are no methods to treat baby acne as it resolves by itself within a few months. There are things you can do to lessen the severity or unpleasantness of baby acne.”
- Wash your child’s sheets or clothing in a detergent made specifically for infants.
- Gently wash your baby’s face every day with warm water and pat it dry. Avoid pinching or scrubbing the pimples, as this can cause an infection and scarring.
5. Cleaning Your Baby’s Genitals
“Many parents are concerned about properly cleaning the diaper area and about the differences in hygiene for boys and for girls. To clean your baby’s genitals, when bathing, use a soft, clean cloth, gentle soap, and lukewarm water,” says Dr. Alzein. When you have a girl, wash the genital area from front to back to avoid moving bacteria into the vaginal area, and gently wipe between skin folds. If you have a baby boy who’s been circumcised and his incision has healed, simply wipe his penis clean. If your baby boy is uncircumcised, do not pull back the foreskin as this can cause tears, infection, and bleeding. Carefully wipe the baby’s buttocks with a cloth and gentle soap. When changing diapers, be sure to use gentle and unscented wipes.
Dr. Alzein says, “When you have questions about your newborn’s health, don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician. We are always happy to address your concerns – be it oddly colored poop or a flaky scalp. Your pediatrician will give you evidence-based answers and techniques to help your growing child.”