All of the things listed are things I’ve recently encountered with my newborn. It would have greatly helped me if I had a list like this to reassure me, so I figured I’d take the liberty of creating it for other new or soon-to-be parents.
Fetuses have a waterproof layer of skin in the womb that prevents them from absorbing too much amniotic fluid. Once a baby is born, they no longer need it, and begin to shed this layer like snakeskin within the first weeks of life. The skin will usually flake or peel in little bits and should be completely gone by the time they are a month old. The skin will slough off naturally; do not try to remove it by scrubbing or washing the baby too many times. (It’s recommended that you wash an infant no more than three times per week. More than that can dry out the baby’s skin and make any skin problems worse).
Blocked Tear Ducts
Blocked tear ducts are a result of underdeveloped duct passageways and causes a buildup of tears behind the duct, which makes the eyes drain continuously. This constant drainage can dry and get crusty or pool and make a thick yellow discharge that collects along the rim of the eyelids. To treat this, simply take a warm, wet cloth and gently wipe the eyes a few times a day to remove the drainage and prevent bacterial infection. If the baby’s eyes are bloodshot or red, however, this is probably pinkeye and needs to be seen by a pediatrician right away.
Lanugo (Body Fuzz)
Lanugo is essentially a coating of very fine hair that covers an infant’s body, and they are more likely to have it if they are born early. It’s purpose is to help regulate the fetus’s body temperature. If they are born with it, they will generally shed it with the outer layer of skin. If they are born without it, they’ve already shed it. And eaten it.
Cradle cap causes crusty, oily, or scaly patches on a baby’s scalp. The condition isn’t painful or itchy. But it can cause thick white or yellow scales that aren’t easy to remove. Cradle cap usually clears up on its own in a few months. Home-care measures include washing your baby’s scalp daily with a mild shampoo and massaging the scalp with a soft brush. This can help loosen and remove the scales. Don’t scratch or pick cradle cap. If cradle cap persists or seems severe, your doctor may suggest a medicated shampoo.
Baby Acne/ Milia
Baby acne are little red pimples that are usually contained to a baby’s cheeks and forehead, but can also extend to the neck, chest, and shoulders. It can show up around the second or third week and can last between a few days to several months. Milia is similar, except the heads are white instead of red. A cause of either condition has not yet been determined (though if it’s concentrated to the mouth, it may be caused by milk residue). It usually will go away on its own with no treatment and does not bother the baby, so do not scrub or over-wash. If it has not cleared up by the third month, ask your pediatrician about a prescription cream. Do not use oils or lotions, and don’t scratch, pick, or squeeze the pimples. This will only exacerbate the condition and potentially hurt the baby.
Because of the dizzying array of hormones fetuses are exposed to in utero, it can have strange effects on the tiny body of newborns. A female baby may experience a short menstrual period two or three days after birth, which will manifest in either a bloody or white vaginal discharge. Males may have enlarged breast tissue that could secrete milk. Breast tissue of both genders may inflame and swell. All of these conditions are a result of an imbalance of either testosterone or estrogen, or both, and will go away over time.
60 percent of babies will have to deal with jaundice in the first few weeks of existence, and it’s usually harmless. Newborn jaundice occurs when a baby has a high level of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance that gives the skin and eyes the distinctive yellow hue of the condition. The body creates bilirubin as a byproduct of breaking down the excess red blood cells babies have when they are born.
Jaundice can also occur if the mother and fetus have incompatible blood types, as the mother will create antibodies against the baby. These cases are typically more severe and can affect the brain. This condition is referred to as Kernicterus and causes organ failure and blindness in extremely rare cases. The treatment for this may included intravenous immunoglobulin or a blood transfusion.
Most of the time, jaundice will clear up on its own in a few days, but if it doesn’t, there are three treatments or “light therapies,” all of which involve ultraviolet radiation. The first is to strip the infant down to its diaper and place it in a window in indirect sunlight. The second is a bili-blanket, or a blanket that produces ultraviolet rays. The third is to put the baby in something called a light box, which immerses the infant UV light. All of this is designed to kickstart the production of Vitamin D, which is what breaks down bilirubin and deposits it into the infant’s waste.
GERD (Acid Reflux)
Spitting up, or regurgitating small amounts of stomach contents, is completely normal for all babies, but vomiting is something else entirely and can have several different causes, the most common of which is gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Children with this condition will exhibit the following symptoms:
- Frequent vomiting (significant quantities)
- Frequent coughing
- Refusing to eat or difficulty feeding (choking or gagging)
- Crying during or after feeding
- Heartburn, Gas, or Abdominal Pain
This condition is generally thought to be a result of an immature digestive system, and most children outgrow it in a year and the only treatment is to wait it out. If it persist after a year, it may be a nerve, brain, or muscle dysfunction. To prevent symptoms, specialists recommend either feeding the baby upright, or having them sit upright for a short period of time after feeding and will recommend a pillow or wedge, like the one pictured above. Medication may be prescribed if symptoms are severe or persistent.
Laryngomalacia (Soft Epiglottis), Tracheomalacia (Soft Trachea)
Laryngomalacia and/or Tracheomalacia are congenital respiratory conditions, resulting in partial airway obstruction. In infantile laryngomalacia, the larynx (the part above the vocal cords) is tightly curled, with a short band holding the cartilage shield in the front (the epiglottis) tightly to the mobile cartilage in the back of the larynx (the arytenoids). It is most commonly characterized by a high-pitched squeaking noise or a repeated catching of air (inspiratory stridor) when inhaling. Tracheomalacia is a condition characterized by flaccidity of the tracheal support cartilage (which is typically rigid) and leads to tracheal collapse when the child exhales, creating a rasp or vibrating “growl”.
Although you should always consult a doctor, an easy way to distinguish these conditions from more serious diseases is to put the baby on their stomach and listen for the noise to stop. This happens because the epiglottis and/or trachea reposition themselves and allows more air to pass through. If the noises continue when the baby is on its tummy, or if the baby’s chest pulls down or “caves in” when breathing, it could be a more serious issue. If the baby stops breathing for longer than 10 seconds or turns blue, go immediately to the nearest hospital.
In both cases, the vast majority of infants afflicted with these conditions will only have stridor without other more serious symptoms such as dyspnea (difficulty breathing). It is rare that the child will have significant life threatening airway obstruction, though some infants have feeding difficulties related to these problems. Like most of the things on this list, Laryngomalcia/tracheomalacia are typically harmless and will resolve themselves with time, though it could take up to two years. Less than 15 percent of cases require surgical intervention.