By Aviva Patz
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When my first daughter, Sadie, was a few days old, we hadn't mastered breastfeeding, and I was sure I was starving her. But after a few panicked calls to the doctor and a few weigh-ins, it became clear that she wasn't starving at all -- she was thriving.
Most new parents have some frantic -- but largely unfounded -- fears about their baby's health. "You realize that you hold the life of this tiny being in your hands, and you have no idea how to care for it, despite having read six child-rearing books," says pediatrician Ari Brown, M.D., author of "Baby 411."
But you can relax. Parenting.com tackles a few of the top baby worries, and why you can put them to rest right now. (Parenting.com: Why moms worry. )
Will my baby stop breathing?
For weeks, Marilyn Fajardo slept with her hand on her baby's stomach to make sure he was breathing. When her hand cramped up, the Miami, Florida, mom stuck her finger under his nose to feel the air come out.
Don't sweat it: "Babies breathe unevenly because their respiratory systems can't regulate themselves yet," says Charles Shubin, M.D., director of the Children's Health Center at Mercy FamilyCare in Baltimore, Maryland. "It's absolutely normal." By age 2 or so, kids breathe more regularly. Chances are slim that your child would stop breathing without an obvious reason, like bedding over his face, especially if you follow sudden infant death syndrome prevention guidelines, such as back sleeping for the first year. But if your baby's face or lips turn blue, call 911, and if you know how, administer infant CPR. (Parenting.com: Solving the SIDS mystery)
Am I letting my baby cry too much?
Chrissy Dye of Cedar Grove, New Jersey, was driven to try the cry-it-out method to end her 14-month-old son's nighttime insomnia. But on the first night, Will, now 5, bawled for an hour and a half straight. "I was worried that so much crying could hurt him," she says.
Don't sweat it: The amount of crying babies can tolerate varies by age. Newborns cry to communicate their needs, so it's best to respond to their signals promptly. Despite all your swaddling, singing, and swaying, however, they may still sob for about three hours over the course of a day, and that's OK. The time for concern is when a single crying jag lasts more than an hour. In that case, call the doctor because there could be a physical cause, such as an intestinal obstruction or a scratched cornea. By 6 months, most babies can soothe themselves, so it's fine to let them wail for a few minutes while you finish your shower or cooking dinner. The same holds true for babies over 5 months who are being sleep trained and may cry for up to two hours in one go. It's harmless, says Dr. Brown, and won't cause your baby any psychological damage (however awful it sounds).
My baby spits everything up
Burp cloths were a must-have for Amy Schrader of New York City after her son Max, now 3 1/2, was born. She was so worried about his spitup habit that she convinced her pediatrician to put him on Zantac, a medication for acid reflux, even though the doctor reassured her that her baby was fine.
Don't sweat it: Babies have an immature esophagus, meaning that what goes down is very likely to come back up, especially liquids. Breast milk and formula aren't acidic, so it's typically not uncomfortable. But if your baby often cries, arches her back, or just looks distressed, it may mean irritating stomach juices are coming up, and a prescription for an antacid medication such as Zantac can help. Spitup may also be just a "wet burp"? when milk comes up with a belch. Or it could be vomit, caused by kids taking in more than they can hold, in which case you should consult your doctor. Whatever the reason, it's probably not dangerous.
Am I stimulating my baby enough?
These days, with classes in movement, creative play, art, and music open even to 8-month-olds, it's easy to wonder whether you're doing enough to advance your child. Colorado Springs mother Debby Clarke, who opted out of extracurriculars with daughter India, now 6, used to think, "Oh God, will she be stupid because I don't even do sign language with her?"
Don't sweat it: There's no need to break the bank on infant programs when your baby's favorite source of entertainment is you. "Even a trip to the supermarket is a learning adventure," says Dr. Brown. In fact, your baby needs unstructured play more than a schedule jam-packed with classes and activities. "From four months, babies can manipulate objects to see their cause and effect ? how does it make that noise? What happens if I pull this?" Dr. Brown says. These seemingly simple moves are enough to stimulate intellectual curiosity and teach them to entertain themselves.
What if my baby chokes?
"I became known as the choke-hazard queen when my daughter Sophie, now 2, was born," says Marguerite Bellwoar of Glastonbury, Connecticut. Even though Bellwoar had been through that stage with her older son, Jake, now 6, Sophie's love of putting things in her mouth was alarming. "I had Jake trained to spot something dangerous from twenty feet away." (Parenting.com: Infant CPR basics.)
Don't sweat it: Normal, healthy babies have a strong gag reflex that protects their airway when they choke, so the offending particle is coughed up or swallowed and not inhaled into the lungs. Of course, things can get lodged in a baby's throat occasionally. Be sure to keep anything smaller than the diameter of a toilet paper roll out of your baby's reach. In the very unlikely event that your child chokes ? and you'll know it's happening when his face turns red or purple and/or he's not making any sounds ? here's what to do:
• Use "back blows." Put your baby facedown on your forearm and give him four swift blows between his shoulder blades with the palm of your hand.
• If you can see the object, you can go in after it. If you can't, don't do a "blind sweep" with your fingers to fish it out?you can end up shoving the object farther back into the throat.
I'm starving my baby!
"Nothing my friends, family, or pediatrician said could make me believe Olivia was getting enough to eat," says Jennifer Stevenson of Chicago, who had trouble breastfeeding her infant daughter.
Don't sweat it: "Most babies get enough milk from their mother's breasts," says pediatrician Philip Manley, M.D., of the Children's Hospital at Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center in South Carolina. Clues that a baby is getting her fill: She latches on well, feeds for 10 to 15 minutes on each breast about eight times a day, swallows audibly, and sleeps well afterward. She'll probably also wet at least six diapers daily by one week of age. While babies do often lose weight in the first week, they'll typically gain it back by the end of the second. And if yours is losing too much weight, or not gaining it fast enough, the pediatrician should catch it at your regular checkups.
Same goes once she starts on solids. Babies can be ravenous some days and peckish on others. They can also be picky about trying new foods. The process is gradual, but chances are your baby's getting enough to eat over the long haul. If she's not, your doctor will let you know.
That said, babies do occasionally get dehydrated, especially if your milk is delayed in coming in. Call the doctor if you see the signs, which include excessive sleepiness; poor sucking reflex; fewer than six wet diapers a day; dry, cracked lips; and a sunken soft spot. But don't panic. "If you recognize the symptoms quickly, dehydration is easily treated," says Dr. Manley.
My baby's poop is too hard/too watery/a weird color!
Sarah Wolman of Montclair, New Jersey, was distressed to find "electric-green poop" in 3-month-old Sam's diaper -- since she breastfed him, she thought it must be something she was eating, but she couldn't tell what.
Don't sweat it: There's a wide range of what's normal when it comes to poop, and it varies partly by age. Newborn poo (called meconium) is greenish black, then changes to yellow within a month and stays that way for a few months. If you're breastfeeding, your baby's poop can be green. Newborn breastfeeders may have a stool after every time they eat, while bottle-feeders may go only once a day. For babies older than a month, it's normal to go anywhere from four times a day to once a week. (Parenting.com: The ultimate guide to poop. ) What's important is that the stool is neither rock-hard, which would indicate constipation, nor very watery, which could be diarrhea. (Diarrhea is frequent watery stool -- up to ten liquid diapers in one morning.)
Give rock-hard poopers extra fluids. If you suspect diarrhea, call the pediatrician; your baby may need an electrolyte solution to replace lost fluids, especially if he's vomiting. Always call the doctor if you see blood in your baby's diaper. (It's probably just a minor tear of the anal tissue, but it's best to check it out.)
We can't leave the house-- she'll get sick!
Pam Hansell of Levittown, Pennsylvania, was so nervous about taking her newborn daughter out in public that for the first six weeks, their only outings were to the pediatrician's office. "I was afraid she'd catch a cold," says Hansell.
Don't sweat it: It's perfectly safe to take a healthy newborn out of the house as soon as you're ready. "Babies are born with protective antibodies that boost their immunity for the first few months of life," says Dr. Manley. Still, it's wise to avoid super-crowded areas -- like the mall on a Saturday afternoon- - and people who are sick. Also, wash hands frequently, since they're germ hot spots for babies (and adults).
My baby's not crawling/walking/talking yet!
When all his friends were toddling, Chrissy Dye's son, Will, was content to crawl -- even at 17 months.
Don't sweat it: "There are average ages for developmental milestones, but every kid is different," says Dr. Shubin. And in the long run, the timing is inconsequential. "How soon they walk or talk isn't a good marker for how well they'll do later in life." Some babies don't walk right away because crawling gets them around fine. Other kids skip crawling altogether and become champion walkers. There are landmarks to help you determine whether your child's verbal and motor skills are on track, and if you're still uncertain, talk to your doctor. But your own instinct is often your best guide. While Dye was concerned about Will, her gut told her he was just taking his time. Sure enough, at 18 months, Will finally started walking!
Aviva Patz was worry-free by the time she had her second child. She writes for Redbook, Shape, and Cooking Light.
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