Babies - common questions and answers
baby; babies; teeth; fontanelle; hiccups; cradle; cap; crying; penis; foreskin; glans; smegma; hernia; umbilicus; umbilical; belly; button; vaginal; bleeding; milia; pink; orange; red; wee; urine; nappy; yellow; crystals; disposable; teeth; reflexes; sucking; grasp; startle; soft; scalp; skull; head; skin; eyes; blocked; tear; duct; breast; breasts; genitals; hernia; acne; smell; nails; finger; paronychia; fingernails ;
Having a baby changes your life. There is a new little person to get to know, love and care for. New mums and dads may not have had a lot to do with babies until their first comes along and can have strong feelings they were not expecting. Here we have lots about some of the questions you may have.
This topic is a companion topic to About babies, which has a lot of information about babies, their development and their feelings and how to support them in their early months. The topic About babies was written for Parenting SA. PEG 49 About babies.
Parenting SA is a partnership between the Department for Education and Child Development (South Australia) and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network.
Contents of this topic
These days many parents have not had a lot of experience with babies until their first baby comes along. If you are one of these parents you will probably find you have many questions about this new person who has come into your life and who is so small and helpless.
- Cradle cap is a yellowish, patchy, greasy, scaly and crusty skin rash that occurs on the scalp of recently born babies.
- Cradle cap is not contagious and it is not caused by poor hygiene or bad parenting. It is not a health problem.
- You can put on olive oil or or other vegetable oil, or baby oil to soften the scales one evening and wash the oil off the next day.
- Gently lift off the softened scales with a soft brush (such as a soft toothbrush), fine-toothed comb or fingernail.
- If some of the scales are still sticking to the surface of the scalp, use the oil again the next night. Do not use much pressure to scrape off the scales as this could damage the underlying skin.
- If it does not improve see your doctor.
- Have a look at the topic 'Cradle cap' for more information.
Your baby can see quite well at birth, especially things that are close.
- She will be able to see your face and will soon learn to recognise you.
- She will be able see to objects that are further away, but they will be blurry. Her distance vision will develop over the next few months.
- Babies can see the different colours, but as they do not understand colours they may like simple shapes, each in one colour.
- In the first few weeks, a baby's eyes often cross, or wander in different directions some of the time.
- By the age of 6 weeks the eyes are often lined up so that they both look at the same object.
- If a young baby's eyes are turned in or out most of the time, or if a baby over 3 months old has turned eyes, the baby needs to have his eyes checked.
- Some babies and young children have turned eyes some of the time (more often when they are tired or unwell). These babies should also have their eyes checked.
- Babies' eyes may change colour and you may not know what colour their eyes will be for several months.
See the topics Your baby's eyes and Turned eyes (squint) for more information.
Feeling - touch and pain
- Babies are sensitive to touch from the time they are born and they can feel pain.
- Gentle, caring touch is very important so babies feel loved and cared for. For some ideas, have a look at the topic Baby massage.
- Nappy rash is very painful for babies, and they will be quite unsettled.
Babies' fingernails can be very sharp and babies can scratch themselves if they are not kept trimmed. Learning about how to cut your baby's little nails might take a while and you may feel uneasy at first. Here are some tips to help:
- Trim the nails when your baby is sleepy and relaxed. After a bath is a good time when the nails are soft.
- Having a second pair of hands can help.
- Try to keep your baby relaxed and calm - you could talk calmly or sing with your baby as you cut the nails.
- Use small baby nail scissors (with rounded end) or an emery board.
- Cut your baby's nail straight across and avoid cutting down the sides of the nails, as this can cause ingrown nails and infections.
- Don't use your teeth to bite off nails, as the bacteria in your mouth can cause infections.
- Avoid tearing the nails as they can easily tear back too far.
- If you want to use clippers, use ones made for babies.
- If your baby is older you might be able to use a toy or activity to distract your baby.
Many young babies get a small infection next to a finger nail or toe nail (called paronychia).
- Usually this clears away without treatment (or with using a little waterbased antiseptic cream or lotion, or saline solution) but sometimes an infection can spread into the skin of the finger or toe around the nail and there can be swelling and redness of the skin. If this happens you need to have it checked by your doctor as your baby may need an antibiotic.
Fontanelles ('soft spot' on the top of the head)
- The 'soft spots' (fontanelles) on top of a baby's head are there so the baby's bones can move a little, so that baby can more easily fit through the birth passage when he or she is being born.
- The fontanelle at the back (posterior) will usually close by the time your baby is 2 months old (sometimes earlier) and the fontanelle at the front (anterior) usually closes between 9 and 18 months.
- The skin over the soft spots is strong and you cannot hurt babies by gently washing or brushing their heads.
- Often a fontanelle swells when the baby is crying and goes flat when the crying stops.
- Your doctor or child health nurse will check the fontanelles and will be able to answer any questions you have.
- Babies are often born with large genitals and breasts and sometimes 'milk' even comes from the breasts.
- This swelling is due to the mother's hormones, it is normal, (even for boys) and it does not last long.
- Don't try to squeeze any milk out of the breasts, as too much pressure can sometimes cause an infection. Expressing the milk could also mean that the breasts go on making it for longer (similar to mothers expressing milk when breast feeding).
- If the breasts become larger, firm and tender, and your baby seems unwell, there could be an infection, and you would need to take your baby to your doctor. But this does not happen often.
Your doctor or child health nurse will check the growth of your baby's head by measuring around the head above the ears - the head circumference. There is a wide range of 'normal' head size and growth. If your baby's head circumference is increasing more slowly or quickly than expected your doctor or child health nurse will be able to arrange follow-up.
The head circumference will be recorded in your baby's health record.
- Babies' heads can sometimes be uneven in shape after the birth or because of the way they sleep.
- This is called plagiocephaly. See the topic 'Baby's head shape'.
- Your baby's umbilicus (belly button) may take several days to heal fully, and many babies have umbilical hernias.
- An umbilical hernia is a lump underneath their belly button (umbilicus).
- It may swell if the baby is crying.
- This is a small gap in the 'tummy' muscles and will nearly always go away in time.
- It does not need treatment and does not cause health problems.
- See the topic 'Umbilical care and umbilical hernia'.
- Sometimes small hernias develop in the groin (called inguinal hernias). A small lump can be felt, especially when the baby is crying. These are much more serious, and you need to have your baby checked by a doctor as soon as possible. There is information about inguinal hernias in a fact sheet from the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne 'Inguinal hernia'.
- Lots of babies have hiccups after feeds. This is normal. See 'Hiccups'.
- Many babies have jaundice (yellow skin and eyes) during the first week or so after birth.
- See the topic 'Jaundice in babies'.
Nappy rash happens when a baby's skin is covered by a wet or dirty nappy for too long. Nappy rash is very common and can happen no matter how careful you are. Some babies with the best care still get a lot of nappy rash, while others hardly get it at all - so a lot depends on how sensitive the child's skin is.
Have a look at Nappy rash for ideas about how to prevent and manage nappy rash.
Penis - looking after the penis
- For most male babies and many young boys the foreskin is attached to the glans (tip of the penis).
- Forcing it away from the glans may cause damage to the tip of the penis or the foreskin - so it is best not to force back an infant's foreskin. The foreskin will become looser as your baby gets older.
- Like every other part of the body the tip of the penis and underneath the foreskin should be cleaned regularly once foreskin moves easily.
- Boys should learn how to wash their penis and scrotum (balls), as they are taught to wash other parts of their body.
- Don't use soap when washing foreskins because it can irritate the skin.
- When the foreskin moves back more easily, and boys should be encouraged to wash under the foreskin every time they bath or shower,
The white stuff (smegma) under the foreskin is natural and does not cause health problems - it simply needs to be washed away regularly.
Some parents choose to have their baby boys circumcised. The Raising Children Network (an Australian parenting website) has a topic about the operation, and also why some people chose to circumcise their son, and others do not, and also why some doctors recommend that it is not done, while others recommend that it is done.
Poo (bowel actions)
- Very young breastfed babies usually do several 'poos' a day.
- Even if baby seems to be pushing hard, the poo is usually very soft. After a few weeks some breastfed babies only have a poo every few days (sometimes even longer than a week) and it will still be soft. All this is normal.
- Bottle fed babies might have firmer poos.
- See the topic 'Poos, wees and nappies'.
- If the poos seem very hard, try a teaspoon of brown sugar in a little boiled water between feeds (once or twice). Don't keep doing this after the poos are soft again. See the topic 'Constipation' for more information.
Reflexes - moving 'automatically'
- Babies do some things 'automatically' without knowing they are doing them. These are called reflexes.
- For example, if something is put in their mouths they suck on it (sucking reflex), and if something is put in their hands they hold on tight (grasp reflex). If they are startled or upset they fling their arms out and throw their heads back (startle reflex).
- Have a look at the topic About babies as it has a lot more about babies' movements.
Managing sleep is one of the common concerns for parents. It can help to know that:
each baby’s sleep is different even in the same family and their sleep needs change quickly
babies in the first weeks sleep much of the day and night. Most wake every two or three hours around the clock needing a feed and attention. Many sleep 14-20 hours a day
by three months many babies are awake longer during the day and may sleep longer at night. Most babies of this age still need one or two night feeds.
When a baby sleeps about five hours straight this is considered ‘sleeping through the night’.
Have a look at the topic Sleep in early childhood for lots more about sleep.
- Many babies spill some milk after feeds.
- If they are growing well and happy this is nothing to worry about.
- If your baby is bringing up milk in big spurts much of the time you need to see your doctor. (See the topic 'Reflux' for more information.)
- If your baby is not putting on weight or is miserable a lot of the time, talk to your doctor or child health nurse.
- Most babies have spots on their faces and often on parts of the body in the first few weeks.
- They are called milia, and can look like acne - red spots with white centres. They are not acne and they do not need any treatment.
- They seem to be a reaction to the skin being exposed to air rather than to fluid in the womb (uterus) before birth.
- Sometimes the spots come when the baby gets hot or has been lying on that side. If they go away within an hour or so they are probably this kind of spot.
- See the topic 'Birthmarks' for more information.
- Some babies have a sticky eye due to a blocked tear duct (usually only one side, but it may be on both sides).
- Ask your doctor how to manage this. It is not serious. See the topic 'Your baby's eyes'.
- Sometimes a baby may have conjunctivitis, an infection of the surface of the eyes and eyelids. Have a look at the topic 'Conjunctivitis'.
- Some babies have little white lumps like tiny pearls in their mouth, especially on the gums. These are normal and go away when the baby grows.
- Babies usually start to get their teeth at about 6 months and usually have all their baby teeth by the time they are three. These teeth need to be looked after and brushed. Have a look at Teeth - dental care for children.
- Do not give bottles of juice or milk at bedtime. The sugars in these drinks stay in the mouth and can cause decay.
- Some don't have any until they are a year old and occasionally a baby is born with a tooth. See the topic 'Teeth - development and teething'.
- A little light pink or orange stain from urine on the nappy is not uncommon and is nothing to worry about.
- It is caused by a reaction between chemicals in the baby's urine (urates) and chemicals in the fibres of the nappy.
- It is more likely in boys because their stream of wee (urine) is more likely to be all in the same place on the nappy (diaper).
- If it is red or leaves a brown stain, that is, if it looks at all like blood or your baby seems unwell and is not feeding normally you need to have it checked by a doctor.
- Sometimes there can be small "crystals" on the inner surface of a disposable nappy. These come from the inside of the nappy, not from the baby. See 'Poos, wees and nappies'.
Vaginal blood loss
- Some female babies have a small vaginal blood loss a few days after birth. This loss is due to the change in hormone levels after birth causing a brief menstrual 'period'. This bleeding stops after a day or two. There will not be any more vaginal blood loss until the girl reaches puberty and starts to have periods.
What babies can do, their feelings and how to help them develop
The companion topic to this topic About babies has lots of information about what babies can do, their feelings and how to support your baby's development.
Resources in South Australia
Parent Helpline 24 hours, 7 days a week 1300 364 100
Child and Family Health Centres 1300 733 606
Call 9am to 4.30pm to make an appointment
Raising Children Network Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.
Pregnancy, birth and baby Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a national Australian Government service providing support and information for expecting parents and parents of children, from birth to 5 years of age.
Your baby http://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/baby
Related Parent Easy Guide - About babies (Parenting SA)
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.