How To Help Your Baby With Their Infant Ailments

By Savanna Kearney
Newborn baby

There are countless words we use to describe newborn babies: cute, precious, angelic, beautiful … I could go on forever. Yet there are other adjectives we’ve all thought of but never said aloud: gross, yucky, smelly. When your baby has a first aid need, it’s our job to take care of the problem, no matter how nauseating it may seem. We asked Dr. Jaclyn Otero, a pediatrician with UF Health Pediatrics, how to deal with some of the infant ailments that comes along with those precious bundles of joy.

Umbilical Cord Care

The umbilical cord and area around the stump should be kept dry and clean. You can clean it by patting it with plain water (do not submerge it), and dry it by placing a cloth around the stump. Folding down the front part of the diaper can help dry out the base of the cord by keeping urine away from it. It is OK if the umbilical stump emits a foul odor before falling off. The entire process of falling off and healing should take two to three weeks. The umbilical area may be infected if it is red, swollen, painful or emitting discharge. Once the skin has healed over the navel, you may wash your baby in a bathtub or sink, but before then he should only receive sponge baths.

Bowel Habits

An infant’s bowel movement frequency can be highly variable, ranging from once after every feeding to every three to five days. Any stool that is not rock hard or pure liquid is normal. Although newborns seem to strain when pooping, they are not constipated as long as their stool is soft. An infant’s stool will change from black and tar-like to yellow and seedy; it should not be white, black or red in color. Babies also tend to be very gassy during their first month.

Circumcision Care

There are multiple methods of care after circumcision surgery. If a clamp method was used, you can put large dollops of petroleum jelly on the tip of the penis for three to five days after surgery. Wrapping gauze around the jelly keeps the penis from sticking to the diaper. If the gauze sticks, lightly pour warm (not hot) water over it until the gauze comes loose. After two or three days, clean the penis by gently blotting it with a wet, soft cloth or cotton ball, and drying it. If a plastic ring circumcision was performed, you can use the same cleaning method as above, without the petroleum jelly. It is normal if the penis looks red or puffy, has spots of blood or yellow crust at the tip, or has bruises where numbing medicine was used.

Cradle Cap

Cradle cap (also called seborrheic dermatitis) occurs on parts of a baby’s skin where there are more oil or sebaceous glands. Sometimes it only affects a newborn’s scalp, although it can happen in neck creases, armpits, groin or behind the ears. Cradle cap turns skin pink or red and causes greasy, flaky scales. Otero recommends mixing a small dollop of olive oil with a large amount of baking soda and gently massaging it onto the affected area. Avoid forcibly removing the flakes, as this may lead to hair loss.

Blocked Tear Ducts

If you notice yellow fluid in the corner of your newborn’s eye, extra tearing even when he’s not crying, or mild crust of the eyelids or eyelashes, he may have nasolacrimal duct obstruction (blocked tear ducts). If your baby is diagnosed with this, you may need to massage his eye daily. Gently press the tip of your (clean!) finger onto the inner corner of the eye, and gently stroke towards the nose. It may take a few months for the eye to heal.

Diaper Rash

This common infant ailment is caused by urine, stool, bacteria, yeast, or just a diaper allergy irritating the skin. Diaper rash can also happen when your newborn sleeps for hours without waking. Take extra care to keep your infant as dry as possible with frequent diaper changes. Barrier creams, such as zinc paste, also help to keep the affected skin healthy, and need to be applied thickly so that you cannot see the skin underneath. Seek pediatric care if the rash does not fade after two or three days of care.

*Please consult your physician for medical advice regarding your specific needs.