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5 mistakes parents make with newborns -- and how to avoid them

  • Story Highlights
  • Most newborns should not sleep through the night for the first two weeks of life
  • Don't try to feed your newborn on a strict schedule; keep to their schedule
  • Most of all, parents should trust their instincts
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By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN
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Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Medical News correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

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Exposing your new baby to lots of germy people puts him at risk of life-threatening infection.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- When you take your bundle of joy home from the hospital, it's inevitable you won't do everything right. We asked pediatricians for the five most common mistakes parents make with their newborns.

Letting a newborn sleep through the night

"One of the things that makes me cringe is when parents say to me, 'The first night home from the hospital she slept all the way through the night!' " says Dr. Lance Goodman, a pediatrician in Boca Raton, Florida. "I tell them, 'Oh no! She's not supposed to be doing that!' "

Our pediatricians were unanimous: Parents need to wake up their babies to eat every four hours. With a few rare exceptions, newborns should not sleep through the night for the first two weeks of life.

Babies who go too long without eating could become dehydrated, Goodman says. Plus, sleeping eight hours at a stretch might be a sign of severe jaundice. "They might be so lethargic they can't arouse themselves to feed," Goodman says.

So when is it OK to let your baby sleep through the night? "At the two-week checkup, if your baby is gaining weight and sleeping through the night, hallelujah! Go enjoy it!" says Dr. Ari Brown, author of "Baby 411" and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Interactive: Three blogging parents share their mistakes, advice »

Not feeding on demand

Our pediatricians say new parents sometimes make the mistake of wanting baby to eat on a strict schedule. The doctors say as long as a newborn is eating at least every four hours, they should keep whatever schedule they want.

"A baby is smarter than any grown-up," says Dr. Robin Madden, a pediatrician in Silver Spring, Maryland. "Whether breast-fed or bottle-fed, they know when they're hungry and they know when they're full."

"Babies don't feed on a cookie-cutter pattern," adds Brown. "If you follow their demand, they're going to eat better."

Taking a newborn to crowded places

Another thing that bugs Goodman: When people take their newborns to a crowded place, like a busy store or a child's birthday party. "There's no reason to do that," he says. "It's a matter of using common sense."

Exposing your baby to lots of germy people is a problem for two reasons. One, he could get a life-threatening bacterial infection. Two, even if he gets a fever from a virus (which is less dangerous), doctors will still have to hospitalize him to make sure it's not something more serious.

"A fever in a baby less than six weeks old is an automatic ticket for a two-day hospital stay," says Brown. "Your kid's going to get a spinal tap, blood drawn, and catheterized for urine."

Keeping a newborn cooped up at home

While going out to crowded places is a bad idea, it's also a mistake to stay home 24-7 for six weeks with your newborn. "Look at postpartum depression -- what could be more depressing than being cooped up with a kid who's not talking to you and cries all the time?" says Brown.

Brown encourages her patients to take their newborns for walks outside. She also tells them if they need to take the baby to the grocery store, to pick a time when it will be less crowded.

Not trusting your instincts

Our pediatricians said too many new parents don't trust their inner voice. "It's all about listening to yourself and trusting yourself," says Dr. Lisa Thebner, a pediatrician in New York City. "But when you're getting a lot of feedback from nannies and friends, it can be hard to block out all that white noise."

If you don't trust yourself, you could be putting your baby in danger, says Madden, who's chair of pediatrics at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, and associate clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington Medical Center in Washington.

"I've had parents who have a feeling their baby is sick, but people around them say the baby is fine," she says. "So even though their instinct says something's wrong, they wait way too long to bring the baby in to the doctor because people reassured them."

And here are three more mistakes parents of newborns make, according to our experts :

•They put their babies to sleep on their sides or stomachs. (The American Academy of Pediatrics says the back is best to avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.)

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• They don't vaccinate their babies even though the pediatric academy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and virtually every scientific organization recommends it.

• They don't bring a baby with a fever to see the pediatrician. Any newborn with a fever needs to be evaluated by a doctor. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Elizabeth Cohen is a correspondent with CNN Medical News. Senior producer Jennifer Pifer and associate producer Sabriya Rice contributed to this report.

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