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Be Well, Be Well Informed

Caring for a Newborn

Posted on Mar 24, 2015 in Kids' Health

Mom-and-Baby-with-Open-Mout

The first year of life is an amazing time for a baby and for his parents. In 12 short months, a baby develops from a helpless newborn to an inquisitive toddler. Yet many new parents feel overwhelmed during this time, unsure of everything from how much sleep a baby needs to how often he should be fed. But it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience.

Karin Wertz, M.D., a Mills-Peninsula pediatrician based in San Mateo, fields dozens of questions from parents regularly. Here are her tips on how to raise a healthy, happy baby.

Schedule Regular Well-Child Visits

In the first year of life, babies need to see a pediatrician regularly for vaccinations and developmental check-ups, often called well-child visits.

“It’s critical to attend all of your well-child visits,” Dr. Wertz says, “and to get your baby vaccinated on schedule. These immunizations prevent illnesses that can not only harm health but can negatively impact development.”

Since doctors recommend visiting a pediatrician a few days after your baby is released from the hospital, it pays to plan in advance and find a pediatrician you like.

Dr. Wertz recommends selecting a pediatrician based on more than his or her expertise and background. “Convenience really is important,” she says. “You’ll be seeing your pediatrician frequently, so you want to make sure the office location works for your routine.”

Well-child visits should occur at least once a month in the first two months of life and then every few months after that. Follow this schedule to stay on track.

Provide a Healthy Diet

All major medical organizations, including the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), agree that breastfeeding is the preferred way to feed newborns.

“The milk that moms make is perfect for human babies,” Dr. Wertz says. “It’s easy to digest and nutritionally balanced. Babies thrive on it.” According to the AAP, breastfeeding also protects against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases and allergies. AAP recommends that mothers breastfeed babies exclusively for about the first six months of life.

But breastfeeding is not without challenges. It can take a few days for a new mom and baby to adjust to breastfeeding, which can be stressful for everyone involved.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Dr. Wertz says. “A partner can also make a big difference by helping position the baby and doing chores around the house.”

There are times when mothers can’t breastfeed or choose not to, and Dr. Wertz says that babies fed on formula will be fine, too. Formula, made from cow’s milk and specially processed for newborns, contains all the essentials babies need. However, it doesn’t provide the infection-fighting benefits of breast milk, and it can be harder for babies to digest.

Establish Healthy Sleep Patterns

The first step to ensure healthy sleep is to create a safe sleeping area for your baby. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of death for children under age 1, stops a baby’s breathing and hits suddenly during sleep. While there is no way to entirely prevent SIDS, parents can reduce the risk.

“The No. 1 thing you can do is place your baby on his back to sleep,” Dr. Wertz says. “There should also be nothing in the crib – no blankets, no stuffed animals, no pillows. Babies should wear their warmth through sleeper outfits.”

While creating a safe sleep environment is relatively simple, getting used to a newborn’s sleep schedule can take time.

“For the first four months of life, parents need to go with what a baby is doing, getting up and feeding as needed,” Dr. Wertz says. This can be exhausting because, while most newborns sleep an average of 16 hours a day, they do so in two- to three-hour segments.

“My best advice: Sleep when the baby sleeps,” she says. “It’s tempting to try and get chores done when the baby is sleeping, but it’s much more beneficial to get some rest instead.”

After four months, parents should establish a predictable bedtime routine (such as a bath, feeding and final cuddle) before the child falls asleep. Reading and toothbrushing should be a part of that routine by 6 months of age.

Talk, Sing, Read

Research shows that frequent communication with infants is directly related to the amount of words they learn. “Read, talk and sing to a baby as soon as possible,” Dr. Wertz says. “Hearing a parent’s voice promotes brain development and helps a baby develop a rich vocabulary.”

According to the AAP, children who are read to have better language skills when they start school. In addition, parents who spend time reading to their children create nurturing relationships, which is important for a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

The most important thing for parents to remember? “Try to relax and enjoy the ride,” Dr. Wertz says. “Trust your instincts and call your pediatrician when you have any questions.”

Expecting and New Parent Resources

Need additional parenting help? The Mills-Peninsula Family Birth Center team provides breastfeeding workshops, pediatric CPR courses and classes on caring for your newborn.