Taking Care of Your Newborn

Common Problems

In this Article

Diaper Rash

Most babies, at some time or another, will probably get a rash on their bottoms (diaper rash). To prevent diaper rash, keep the diaper area clean and dry by changing the diaper every time it is wet or soiled. If your baby has diarrhea or is on antibiotics, the possibility of developing a diaper rash is increased. Use protective cream such as petroleum jelly, A&D ointment, Desitin, or zinc oxide to help prevent or treat the diaper rash.

To treat diaper rash, expose your baby’s skin rash to air as often and for as long as possible.

If you are using cloth diapers:

  • Remove plastic pants during the day as often and for as long as possible.
  • If a strong ammonia smell is present, treat the diapers with a solution of bleach. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.
  • Try washing diapers with a different soap and rinse carefully.

If you are using disposable diapers:

  • Try changing to a different brand.


Your baby might become constipated, especially if he’s being fed formula. If your baby is constipated, his stool will appear hard and formed or pellet-like. If constipation persists, notify your baby’s doctor.


If your baby’s stool is watery, green, foul-smelling, or contains mucus, notify your baby’s doctor. Babies can dehydrate very rapidly.


Call your baby’s doctor if your baby’s temperature is higher or lower than the normal range given below. You only need to take your baby’s temperature when you think he is ill. For children less than three months (90 days) old, take an axillary (armpit) temperature. It’s a safe method that works well for screening.

A normal armpit temperature range ranges from 97.7° F (36.5° C) to 99.5° F (37.5° C).

How to take an armpit (axillary) tempature

  • Make sure your baby’s armpit is dry.
  • Put the tip of the thermometer in your baby’s armpit, directly against her skin (skin should completely surround the tip of the thermometer).
  • Close your baby’s armpit by holding her elbow against her chest.
  • Follow the directions on your thermometer to determine how long you should hold it in place before reading it.

Note: As your baby gets older and less fragile, your baby’s doctor may suggest taking your baby’s temperature rectally (in the anus). The doctor can show you how to take a rectal temperature.

Choking on Mucus or Milk

If your baby begins to choke on mucus or milk, turn him on his side with his head slightly lower than his body. If necessary, use a cloth to gently clear any visible fluid from his mouth or nose. If this doesn’t work, you may need to use a suction bulb. See the instructions for using a bulb syringe.

Colds and Other Illnesses

Babies can get colds just like the rest of us. A cold is caused by a virus and usually results in mild symptoms in your baby (stuffy or runny nose, mild fever, mild cough). For mild colds, there is usually no special treatment. However, if the nose becomes too runny or stuffy, it may make it hard for a young baby to nurse or drink from a bottle. Since a baby can’t blow her nose, you may have to clear out mucus by suctioning with a bulb syringe. Don’t give your baby any medicines without checking first with your doctor.

The best thing you can do for colds and other illnesses is prevent them. Follow the guidelines listed below — especially if you have a small or near-term baby:

  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before touching your baby, and ask others to do the same.
  • Stay home. Keep your baby at home as much as possible. Especially avoid taking your baby to crowded locations, such as shopping malls, restaurants, and church.
  • Surround your baby with people who are vaccinated. Everyone in the family should be up to date on their vaccines. The same goes for all of your baby’s caregivers.
  • Keep sick people away. Keep people who have colds away from your baby including brothers and sisters. Parents or other caregivers who feel ill should wear a mask and refrain from kissing the baby.
  • Don’t smoke. Don’t smoke — or allow others to smoke — near your baby. Exposure to smoke increases the risk and severity of short-term illness and long-term lung problems for your baby. Recent studies point to danger from e-cigarette vapor as well.

Crying and Colic

All babies cry a lot during the first few months of life. Your baby’s crying may mean he needs feeding, a diaper change, sleep, a temperature change, or comforting. Some infants cry every day in the late afternoon or evening. Feeding and changing may help, but sometimes even that doesn’t work.

If your baby cries more often than normal and can’t be comforted — or if you notice signs of illness such as a fever — contact your baby’s doctor.

Ways to cope with crying

Sometimes babies cry for hours at a time, and nothing seems to soothe them. Try the following techniques to help both of you cope:

  • Check your baby’s basic comfort needs. Feed and diaper her — babies like to be dry, warm (but not hot), and full.
  • Decrease your baby’s stimulation. Create a more quiet, calm, environment. Avoid sudden noises, keep the lights dimmed, and limit visitors.
  • Hold your baby so he feels secure. Try swaddling him in a soft, warm blanket. Or, cuddle him skin to skin.
  • Try anything that provides a slow, gentle motion like riding in a stroller or in the car. Also, try cuddling her in a rocking chair or letting her sit in an infant swing.
  • Try singing, talking quietly to your baby, or playing the radio. Sometimes, running a vacuum, a humidifier, or a tape of a heartbeat may help.
  • Try nursing longer on one breast to allow your baby to receive richer milk.
  • Call a relative or friend. They may offer advice or watch the baby for a while. Crying can be frustrating — and you need support.
  • Set aside time for yourself. Schedule time every day to have a nap or hot shower, go for a run, or walk around the block.

Is all this crying normal?

It may take awhile for you to learn how to comfort your baby when he cries, and that is OK — keep trying. Many young infants go through a “crying phase” when nothing seems to comfort them. Eventually, they grow to become more settled and are easier to comfort. Babies going through “the crying phase” tend to cry in the same ways.

Crying won’t hurt your baby, but it can be frustrating for you. It may help you to remember that most parents cope with this kind of crying at some point. Remember, your baby is not trying to manipulate you by crying. Picking him up will not spoil him. You can learn ways to keep yourself calm so you can take the best care of your baby. If you start to feel angry or upset:

  • STOP. Put your baby down in a safe place like a crib or a playpen. If possible, call a friend or family member to take over.
  • TAKE A BREAK. Do something to relax and calm down for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • TRY AGAIN. Go back to comforting your baby when you feel calmer.

Is it colic?

If you’ve ruled out other causes of crying, your baby may have colic [KOL-ik] (irritable infant syndrome). Symptoms of colic include:

  • Baby cries or is fussy for more than three hours per day.
  • It is difficult to soothe your baby.
  • Baby is happy much of the day, but becomes progressively fussier as the day goes on.
  • Baby draws his knees up to his chest and passes gas, flails his arms, and frequently arches his back and struggles when held.
  • Baby’s belly muscles may feel hard during crying.

Occasionally, colic is caused by sensitivity to food in the nursing mother’s diet. Cow’s milk products, such as cheese, ice cream, and butter, are common sensitivities. Other food items that may cause problems include stimulants (caffeine) and gas-producing foods.

Talk to your doctor if you think your baby may have colic. The cause of colic is unknown, but your parenting style is generally not a factor. Nor is feeding style. Breastfed babies are as likely to have colic as bottle-fed babies.

Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaking a baby can be fatal. When people shake a baby, it’s usually because tension and frustration build up when a baby is crying or irritable. However, shaking a baby can cause shaken baby syndrome, which is a serious — and sometimes fatal — form of child abuse.

Babies have very weak neck muscles. If they’re shaken, their heads wobble back and forth, which may cause the brain to shift inside their skull. This shifting may cause bleeding in and on the surface of the brain, leading to blindness, brain damage, or death. Never shake a baby or child for any reason.

  • Always support your baby’s head when holding him, playing with him, or transporting him.
  • Make sure that everyone who cares for your baby knows the dangers of shaking him. This includes babysitters, child/day care personnel, and siblings.
  • Learn what you can do if your baby won’t stop crying. Remember, all babies cry a lot during the first few months of their lives.

For more information on shaken baby syndrome, call 1-888-273-0071 or go to dontshake.org.


Jaundice is the yellowish coloring of the skin and eyes that is sometimes seen in newborns. Jaundice is caused by hyperbilirubinemia [hahy-perbil- uh-roo-buh-NEE-mee-uh] — a condition in which a substance called bilirubin [bil-uh-ROO-bin] builds up in the bloodstream and is deposited in the skin. Your baby is tested for high bilirubin before leaving the hospital.

A little jaundice is common in newborns for the first three to five days. The yellow color of jaundice starts at the head and gradually moves downward on the baby. As the baby’s liver breaks down bilirubin, the jaundice gradually disappears. However, in up to 5% to 6% of babies, bilirubin levels are high enough to require treatment. Treatment includes phototherapy (fluorescent light treatment) and frequent feedings of mother’s milk or formula. Treatment can usually be done at home, but sometimes hospitalization is required.

If your baby’s bilirubin level is above normal in the hospital — but not high enough to require treatment — your doctor may schedule you for a follow-up bilirubin test. It’s very important to have this testing done. If high bilirubin levels are not treated, some babies may suffer neurological (brain) damage.

That’s why it’s also important to notify your baby’s doctor if you notice your baby becoming more yellow or if the jaundice covers more of the body than when you were in the hospital. You should also notify your baby’s doctor if your baby becomes lethargic, is eating poorly, has an unstable temperature, or has behavior changes — these can all be signs of a high bilirubin level.

Prompt treatment is important to prevent permanent injury in a newborn. Frequent feedings of mother's milk or fomula will also help decrease jaundice.

Thrush and Other Yeast Infections

Thrush may appear as white or grayish-white, slightly raised patches resembling milk curds on the tongue, throat, inside of the cheeks, or the lips. These patches cling and will not wipe or rinse off easily. If they are wiped off, they leave the underlying tissue raw and may make it bleed. Other symptoms of thrush may include irritability, poor eating, and a persistent diaper rash.

Diaper rash caused by a yeast infection may have red spots along the edges. If you think your baby has thrush or a yeast infection, contact his doctor. If you are breastfeeding and your baby develops thrush, you may also have a yeast infection on your breasts, which can cause your nipples to crack, itch, or burn. Nipples may also become red, swollen, and painful.

For information on treating yeast infections — for your baby or yourself — refer to our Breastfeeding page. If you have a vaginal yeast infection, you need to be sure to thoroughly wash your hands so you don’t pass it on to your baby.

Thrush and other yeast infections are treated with medicine and/or ointment. Many times, both you and your baby must be treated at the same time.

Rapid or Slow Breathing

A newborn’s breathing pattern tends to be more rapid and irregular than an adult’s breathing. However, if your baby takes more than 60 breaths per minute, call your baby’s doctor. If your baby’s chest sinks in during breathing or if your baby appears to have trouble breathing, seek emergency care.

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