Newborn health: the first week

From acne to green poop, babies are full of surprises! We have the answers to all your newborn health questions…

newborn health

When you’re lovingly cradling your baby bump and cooing over cute onesies, nobody tells you about all the strange and smelly surprises that newborns have in store. While most newborn health conditions aren’t cause for concern, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared so that you’re not too shocked when they happen.

Here are eight of the most common newborn health issues, what to do about them, and when to contact your pediatrician.

  1. Jaundice

A common condition in newborns, jaundice occurs when a baby’s blood contains too much bilirubin – a waste product from the breakdown of red blood cells. Jaundice can turn your baby’s skin and eye whites yellow.

Your doctor or nurse will check your baby for jaundice after they’re born.

Treatment: 

  • Mild cases may only require monitoring and won’t require you to stay in the hospital. But your baby needs to be checked for jaundice again when they’re three to five days old because that’s when bilirubin levels are highest, so schedule a visit with a doctor or nurse if you’ve already been discharged by then.
  • If your baby’s bilirubin levels are high, phototherapy (UV light treatment) might be needed to help break down the bilirubin.
  • After you’ve taken your baby home, see your doctor if their skin or eyes look yellow, if they’re not feeding well or gaining enough weight, or if their poo becomes pale and their urine becomes dark.
  1. Weight loss

Most babies lose about 10 percent of their birth weight in the first five days as they lose excess fluid, but they generally return to their birth weight within one to two weeks.

Treatment: 

  • If your baby loses too much weight, they may need to stay in the hospital until your doctor is satisfied that they’ve reached a healthy weight and they’re feeding well. 
  1. Rashes and skin conditions

Newborns can develop a range of skin rashes, including:

CRADLE CAP

A form of seborrheic dermatitis that occurs on a baby’s scalp, cradle cap is characterized by small red bumps accompanied by a yellow, flaky crust. It usually clears up on its own after a few months, but talk to your doctor if it gets worse or irritates your baby.

Treatment: 

  • Cradle cap doesn’t need to be treated. It usually clears by itself within a few months of birth, once the mother’s hormones leave baby’s bloodstream.
  • If you want to get rid of the scales, you can massage a non-toxic cradle cap oil into the crusts before bathing your baby. Use a soft wash cloth and lukewarm water to gently wash it out. Over time, the crusts will soften and should lift off easily if you brush over them with soft baby brush.

DIAPER RASH

Dampness and friction in the diaper area can cause skin to become red and irritated. Change your baby’s diapers often, apply a simple, fragrance-free barrier cream after each change, and try to give them some diaper-free time to air their skin every day.

Treatment: 

  • Harsh soaps and detergents can also irritate your baby’s skin so it’s important to avoid using them. Babies needn’t be washed for at least a week after being born, and when you do finally bathe them, using only water on their delicate skin is preferable.
  • Avoid using disposable wipes because they may contain harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances that will irritate your baby’s skin. Some babies may also be allergic to the preservatives in them.
  • See your doctor if the diaper rash hasn’t improved in a week or if your child develops a fever.

BABY HEAT RASH

Small red bumps or blisters can appear on your baby’s skin if they get too hot because their sweat glands aren’t fully developed and can get blocked.

Treatment:

  • You can usually treat heat rash or prickly heat by making sure your child stays cool and avoids getting sweaty.
  • Avoid dressing them in too many layers. If you wrap your baby, make sure he/she doesn’t get too warm.
  • Opt for dressing them in 100% certified organic cotton clothing and swaddling them using organic cotton muslin swaddles – both of which are safe for sensitive skin.
  • To help your child feel more comfortable, you can give them a bath in lukewarm water. It’s best to avoid using soap, because this can irritate the skin.
  • Talk to your doctor if the blisters fill with pus or the rash lasts more than three days.

INFANT ECZEMA

Characterized by red, flaky patches on the cheeks, scalp, wrists, elbow creases and backs of the knees, eczema runs in families and can be triggered by a range of irritants or stress.

Treatment:

  • There are different schools of thought as to the causes of infant eczema so talk to your pediatrician about the best treatment plan based on your family’s medical history.

BABY ACNE

If your little one has raised, red bumps on their face, back or shoulders that look just like regular acne, it’s probably baby acne (also known as neonatal acne). While it might look like it’s a cause for concern, it’s an extremely common condition that appears in the first few weeks of a newborn’s life. It is thought that baby acne develops, most likely due to hormones passed from mother to infant during the last stage of pregnancy.

Treatment:

  • Unless your baby’s acne is being caused by an underlying condition, there is no need to treat it.
  • All your baby’s skin needs is a gentle wipe down with a clean, soft wash cloth with water once or twice a day.
  • Don’t use any soap on your baby’s face and don’t rub it as this friction will irritate your baby’s delicate skin.
  • Baby acne should clear up on its own, but see your doctor if it looks infected or if you’re worried that it might be a different condition.

MILIA

These are tiny white lumps that appear on your baby’s skin shortly after birth. They usually show up on babies’ noses and cheeks, but they can appear anywhere on their faces. Milia are caused by a collection of dead cells (keratin) from the top layer of skin getting trapped just below the skin’s surface.

Treatment: 

  • Milia usually go away naturally without any treatment. They don’t leave scars so trying to squeeze them is not recommended. They’ll usually go away  after a few weeks or months but check with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about them, particularly if you see any redness or swelling.
  1. Blocked tear ducts

Tear ducts are the tubes that allow tears to drain from the eyes. Approximately 5 percent of babies are born with a blocked tear duct, causing the eye to water constantly and produce discharge known as “sticky eye”.

Treatment: 

Sticky eyes usually clear up without medication but in the meantime you should:

  • Always wash your hands before and after treatment.
  • Use a separate cotton pad each time you wipe the eye, wiping from the corner by the nose outwards. Discard pad after each use.
  • It may help if you massage the tear duct every few hours using gentle pressure on the outside of the nose, near the corner of the eye.
  • The condition usually resolves on its own by the age of one however speak to your doctor if your child’s eye is red, irritated or producing green discharge, or if you have any other concerns.
  1. Vaginal bleeding

When your daughter is two or three days old, you may notice a bit of blood in her diaper. Don’t panic. This is caused by a sudden drop in the levels of estrogen that she received in the womb and it’s generally nothing to be concerned about.

Treatment: 

  • No treatment is required however do talk to your doctor if the bleeding is heavy, lasts longer than 10 days or is accompanied by a foul odor.
  1. Green poop

We saved the best for last! Your baby’s first poop is called meconium – it’s dark green and looks like tar because it’s composed of all sorts of substances ingested in the womb. The dark green poops might last a few days before turning yellow-orange if you’re breastfeeding, or grey-yellow or brown if you’re formula feeding. But if you see the odd green poop after the first week, don’t panic – it may just mean that your baby’s digestion has slowed and it should return to normal soon. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.