Baby Basics : When to See your Doctor, Baby-proofing your Home, Coping with Common Ailments

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When to See your Doctor

No matter what your baby’s age or your level of experience, you should learn which symptoms demand a call to your baby’s doctor—or, in some cases, emergency services.

Always call your doctor if your baby:

  • Has a stiff neck

  • Persistently vomits

  • Is vomiting or has diarrhea longer than six hours in a small baby, or 24 hours in a baby over three months of age

  • Has a rash on his skin, particularly if it appears suddenly

  • Is under three months old and has a fever over 100.4°F (38°C); in babies three months or older use your judgment

  • Has a temperature that is higher than 102°F (39°C) at any age

  • Has a tender or unusually sensitive or sore-looking belly button or penis

  • Is suffering from dehydration

  • Fails to have bowel movements

  • Has a cold that interferes with feeding, or with yellow or green discharge

  • Has a persistent or painful cough, and always if there is mucus coughed up

  • Pulls or tugs on his ears, and cries when feeding

  • Has discharge from his eyes

Call an ambulance if your baby:

  • Is floppy, lethargic, and unresponsive

  • Will not wake up

  • Has trouble breathing

  • Has seizures

Baby-proofing your Home

Before you know it, your baby will be rolling over and crawling, and even young babies can be hurt if there are hazards in your home. Prevent accidents from happening by making your home as safe as possible as soon as possible—even before he is born, if you can.

  • Make sure your baby’s crib has a new mattress that fits snugly

  • Make sure all screws and bolts are secure, so there is no danger of the crib collapsing, and your baby won’t be scratched if he rolls near them

  • Ensure that there are no strings or electrical cords hanging anywhere near your baby’s bed, changing table, play area, or chair

  • Avoid using pillows, thick bedding, or electrical items in your baby’s crib

  • Keep all lamps and everything else electrical at least 3 feet (1 meter) from your baby’s bed

  • Remove a mobile from the crib once he can reach up and touch it

  • Consider using a safety belt on your baby’s changing table

  • Put a carpet or rug at the base of the changing table to cushion any falls

  • Keep small coins, anything sharp, and anything that poses a risk to your baby (such as choking, strangulation, or injury) out of reach

  • Place all medication, cleaning supplies, alcohol, laundry supplies, and toiletries in a child-locked cupboard that is out of his reach

  • Place houseplants out of reach

  • Cover electrical outlets with plastic covers

  • Install safety gates securely at the top and bottom of stairways

  • Consider getting a fire guard if your fireplace is regularly in use

  • Place plastic guards on the corners of coffee tables and other furniture of baby height

  • Secure bookshelves and chests of drawers to the wall—many babies become avid climbers very early on

Coping with Common Ailments

Almost every baby suffers from one or more common ailment when young, and it’s all part of the process of making the immune system stronger and more efficient. Nonetheless, it can be alarming to see your baby ill, and having the tools to ease her discomfort and put her on the road to recovery can make things much easier.

Reducing a fever

Remember that a fever is a positive sign that your baby’s immune system is working effectively, raising the body temperature to make it inhospitable to germs and viruses.

  • Offer plenty of fluids: babies can quickly become dehydrated by intense fevers

  • Offer acetaminophen if your baby is over two months old or, if she’s younger, ask the doctor if it is appropriate—a medicine syringe makes it easier to measure and administer

  • Keep her warm, but make sure she doesn’t overheat—layers of cotton clothing and blankets are best

  • Check your baby’s temperature regularly with a thermometer; seasoned parents may be able to detect a fever by feeling their baby’s skin, but this is not always accurate enough

  • It can take a few days for your baby to fight off the infection causing her fever, so keep her comfortable and well hydrated as you both sit it out

Cooling measures

Sponging your baby with tepid water will help to bring down her fever. Allow the water to evaporate from her skin, rather than drying her, and then dress her in light clothing. If she still feels hot, apply tepid compresses to her forehead, removing them when they absorb some of her body heat.


The characteristic cough of croup is a definite loud bark or whistle, caused by inflammation of the vocal cords—because the larynx swells and blocks the passage of air, breathing can be difficult, which can panic your baby and you. Croup can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection, or even just a cold.

  • Raise the head end of your baby’s crib by placing a towel or pillow under the mattress; this should ensure easier breathing

  • Try steam inhalations (filling the bathroom with steam is useful) as these will help to open the airways and encourage breathing

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in the baby’s room to help keep the nasal mucus more liquid—place it near her so she can take advantage of the additional moisture; clean daily to prevent mold buildup in the vaporizer

  • Use saline nose drops (non-medicated) to help loosen the thick mucus in your baby’s nose

  • Your doctor may prescribe a course of steroids for your baby, which can reduce swelling

Vomiting and diarrhea

These can occur in tandem or on their own. There are a multitude of causes, including gastric reflux, ear infections, coughs and colds (which produce excess mucus), fever, gastroenteritis, and even overfeeding.

  • Continue offering regular feeds: bottle-fed babies should be offered plenty of fresh, cool, previously boiled water in a sterilized bottle; you may also want to try a lactose-free formula, which can be more easily digested

  • Massage your baby with a little warm olive or grapeseed oil—this will help to soothe her and reduce any cramping or discomfort

  • Scrupulously clean everything with which your baby comes into contact

  • Your doctor may recommend a fluid replacement (oral rehydration solution) if your baby is suffering from dehydration


Colic is characterized by apparently unending frantic crying, usually at around the same time of day or night—your baby will draw his legs up to his abdomen and he will appear to be in severe pain.

  • Remember, if you are breastfeeding, your baby may be irritated by something you ate and become temporarily fussy; for example, onions, cauliflower, and broccoli can cause your baby to experience gas

  • Note symptoms that appear after feeding and discuss them with your doctor—babies can occasionally be allergic to foods passing through their mother’s breast milk, such as cow’s milk or eggs, resulting in an upset tummy

  • Your doctor or pharmacist may suggest antispasmodic solutions, which will reduce discomfort

  • Add a drop of lavender to a warm bath to help to ease symptoms and calm a distressed baby

  • Use the same oils in a gentle massage of the abdominal area—do this before the evening feed so that your baby is relaxed and calm

  • Some parents suggest avoiding particular foods, including very spicy foods, citrus foods, gassy foods (beans, cabbage, onions, etc), and sugar

Colds and coughs

  • A streaming or congested nose and a cough can make feeding difficult, so keep your baby slightly upright when offering a bottle or nursing

  • Use a vaporizer in your baby’s room, with a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil to help ease the congestion; alternatively, a few drops in a bowl of water on a radiator will help

  • Feed little and often, ensuring he gets enough without becoming distressed

  • Offer acetaminophen to help ease discomfort and bring down a temperature

Cradle cap

Cradle cap is characterized by a thick, encrusted layer of skin on your baby’s scalp; there will be yellow scales, which form in patches—in severe cases cradle cap can last for up to three years.

  • Massage the scalp with your fingers to improve scalp circulation and loosen scales

  • Mineral oil can be massaged into the scalp each evening, and then gently shampooed away after a few minutes to nourish and soothe

  • Alternatively, massage olive oil into the scalp each evening, and then gently shampoo away in the morning to nourish and soothe; over-washing will make the condition much worse

  • Try not to loosen crusts that have not pulled away on their own as bleeding and infection may result; gently brush away loosened crusts

  • Your doctor will prescribe a mild ointment containing an antibiotic and corticosteroid if the skin becomes inflamed or seems infected

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