Newborn Behavior: Is this Normal?
Timothy H. Kenefick, MD, Pediatrics
If you’re a new parent, congratulations! You probably can’t stop staring at your newborn and noticing that he or she is developing a personality. You may be asking yourself: Is this normal? The short answer? Your newborn’s behavior is most likely normal. Here are answers to some of the most common questions we hear from new parents.
Why Does My Baby Sneeze, Cough & Sound Congested?
Sneezing is how your baby cleans his or her nose of mucus, dust or milk. Coughing is often your baby’s way of clearing his or her throat. Your newborn may also sound congested, especially after feedings. You hear all this as infants breathe primarily through their noses until they turn about 4 months old.
Why Does My Baby Hiccup?
Hiccups are little spasms of the diaphragm muscle. They often happen after a baby’s stomach fills with milk and stimulates the diaphragm. Hiccups generally do not seem to bother infants. The best “treatment” for hiccups is to let them run their course. Your baby’s hiccups should go within a few minutes.
How Can I Stop My Baby from Crying?
Try holding your baby if he or she cries a lot. Babies need someone with a soothing and familiar touch and voice: You! It’s normal for a newborn to cry for no reason. Some babies cry to fall asleep. When your baby cries, make sure he or she is not hungry and is dry and comfortable. If holding your baby doesn’t stop the crying, you can let him or her “cry it out” for 10 to 15 minutes to see if he or she will fall asleep.
Can I Bathe My Baby?
Give your newborn a clear-water sponge bath until the umbilical cord has fallen off and the navel (belly button) is completely dry. Once the umbilical cord falls off, you can bathe your baby in a tub with water and mild soap. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how often to bathe your newborn. You can bathe to refresh his or her skin after a busy day or just because it becomes a nice ritual before bed.
When Will My Baby’s Umbilical Cord Fall Off?
It may take one to three weeks for the cord to fall off. Try to keep the cord dry in the meantime. After the cord falls off, there may be some harmless oozing of fluid or blood. Use clear water to clean the base once the cord has fallen off. Call your pediatrician if you smell a foul odor, see redness around the cord, or if oozing continues.
How Often Should I Groom My Baby’s Nails?
Groom your baby’s nails when they bother you or appear to bother the baby. A nail file works well and will prevent the snipping of those little digits. Round off the corners of the fingernails so that baby won’t scratch himself or herself.
How Do I Clean My Son’s Penis?
If your baby is uncircumcised, you don’t need to push back the foreskin of the penis any further than it goes naturally. Typically, most boys cannot retract the foreskin until later in childhood. Gently clean the area with warm water when you change his diaper or bathe him.
If your baby is circumcised, use Vaseline® or A and D ointment on the tip of the penis for the first couple of days. This helps keep his penis from sticking to his diaper. After circumcision, it’s normal to see yellowish patches over the head of the penis and tiny spots of blood on the diaper as part of the healing process. Once healed, typically after one week, you can wash the penis with warm water and a simple unscented baby soap used for the bath.
How Do I Clean My Daughter’s Genital Area?
When changing your baby girl’s diaper or bathing her, clean the entire area similar to how you would clean yourself: by wiping from front to back. Baby girls sometimes have a bloody or mucous discharge from the vagina for the first week or two of life. This is normal. It is also normal to have a thick, white substance in the inner labia. This is normal and you don’t need to remove it.
What Should My Baby’s Stools Look Like?
Your baby’s stool will change as they get older. You can expect to see:
- Sticky and dark green or black stool (meconium) just after birth
- Yellow-green and seedy (transitional) stool after a few days
- Yellowish curdy to semi-solid stools within a few days if your baby drinks formula
- Mustardy, more liquid stools if your baby drinks only breastmilk
The number of stools varies from baby to baby, from one every feeding to one large, soft stool every five to six days. Many babies strain, cry and become red-faced when passing a stool. This is normal.
How Do I Know If My Baby is Constipated?
Constipation is hard, dried-out pellets of stool. Passing bowel movements infrequently doesn’t mean your baby is constipated. If your baby has gone for longer than four to five days with no bowel movement, try taking the baby’s temperature rectally. This often stimulates a stool. If that stool is hard and dry, or if the thermometer trick didn’t work, call your pediatrician. Breastfed babies may go seven to 10 days without having a stool. Chances are, if your baby is happily waiting for the next stool, then all is well.
How Do I Know if My Baby Has Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a marked increase in both the amount of liquid in the stool and/or the frequency of the stool. A diarrhea stool is mostly fluid that soaks into the diaper. Call your pediatrician if true diarrhea persists over several hours or if you see blood in the stool.
How Much Do Newborns Sleep?
Newborn babies usually sleep 16 to 18 hours per day—sometimes more, sometimes less. Moral of the story: Sleep when the baby sleeps. (Really. Try.)
Can My Newborn Sleep with a Blanket?
No, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend your baby sleep with a blanket over his or her body, nor do they recommend you sleep in bed with your baby ("co-sleeping"). Your baby should sleep in a dedicated area (bassinet or crib) free of surrounding objects. Loose-fitting or thick blankets pose a risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). One of the most important things you can do to decrease the chance of SIDS is to put your baby on his or her back to sleep in a wearable sleep sack. Read more about safe sleep tips and preventing SIDS.
Can I Take My Newborn Baby Outside?
Yes, you can take your newborn outside. Use your judgment and decide if the weather is reasonable and dress him or her accordingly. Remember, babies don’t regulate their body temperature as well as they will when they get older. Newborns lose a lot of heat through their heads, so listen to Grandma and:
- Use a hat when it’s colder than room temperature.
- Dress the baby in clothes that you think would keep you comfortable, then add a layer.
- Always avoid exposing your baby to direct sun. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician if it’s safe to use sunscreen on your baby’s skin.
Can I Bring My Newborn Out in Public?
Whether you decide to bring your baby to crowded areas like the mall or to the DMV is entirely your choice. We suggest:
- Avoiding crowded places for the first two months. Play it safe and keep your baby away from a lot of direct “people” contact, especially because he or she won’t have gotten many vaccines yet and they experience many more difficulties handling the basic common cold.
- Handwashing, handwashing, handwashing! Most respiratory infections, commonly called "colds," are spread by direct contact which is why handwashing is so important. Remind everyone, especially other children, that handwashing helps prevent the spread of germs and illnesses.
- Keeping your baby out of public areas when possible during flu season. Influenza is very contagious and spread through the air via coughs and sneezes.
Who Else Should Get Vaccinated to Protect My Baby?
Although asking others to get vaccinated may feel uncomfortable, it's to your baby's benefit. We recommend:
- Household members, frequent visitors, family and caregivers should get the Tdap vaccine for pertussis (whooping cough) before the baby is born.
- Pregnant women should get the flu shot, according to the Center for Disease Control and other authorities. The influenza vaccine significantly reduces the mom’s risk of hospitalization for flu and protects the newborn when he or she is too young to receive the flu vaccine.
As pediatricians and parents, we want you to enjoy your baby. They will stop crying, you will sleep again, and you will want to relive this time again (and, again).