Infancy describes the period from birth until age 2 years. It is a time of rapid growth and change for children and families.
Preparing for Baby's Arrival
Infants depend on their caregivers to meet all of their needs. Learning about your infant's care and health is an important first step in making sure that he or she has the best health outcomes. Because you and other members of the family are the main caregivers for your child, it is important for all of you to know about what's involved in caring for your infant and ensuring that the child receives regular health care.
Infants need frequent checkups and vaccinations, and they sometimes get sick.
Before the infant is born, it is a good idea to choose a health care provider-a pediatrician, family physician, or pediatric nurse practitioner-who specializes in the care of infants and children.
Newborn Screening Tests at Birth
Newborn screening is the practice of testing newborns for certain disorders and conditions in the first 24 to 48 hours after they are born. In some cases, infants seem healthy at birth, but if they have these disorders or conditions they can develop serious medical problems later in infancy or childhood.
Newborn screening helps reduce and sometimes prevent negative outcomes by identifying conditions early. This may allow treatment to begin early enough to prevent damage. Newborn screening helps infants who, not very long ago, might have died in infancy or early childhood to grow to healthy adulthood.
Newborn Health Conditions
Some physical conditions and issues are very common during the first couple of weeks after birth. Many are normal, and the infant's caregivers can deal with them if they occur. Mostly, it is a matter of the caregivers learning about what is normal for their infant and getting comfortable with the new routine in the household.
New parents and caregivers often have questions about several aspects of their infant's health and well-being.
Care of the Umbilicus (Belly Button)
The umbilical cord delivers oxygen and nutrients to the fetus while it is in the womb. After delivery, the umbilical cord is cut. The remaining part of the cord dries and falls off in about 10 days, forming the belly button (navel).
Follow your health care provider's recommendations about how to care for the umbilicus. This care might include:
- Keeping the area clean and dry.
- Folding down the top of the diaper to expose the umbilicus to the air.
- Cleaning the umbilicus gently with a baby wipe or with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Contact your health care provider if there is pus or redness.
Infants urinate as often as every 1 to 3 hours or as infrequently as every 4 to 6 hours. In case of sickness or if the weather is very hot, urine output might drop by half and still be normal.
Urination should never be painful. If you notice any signs of distress while your infant is urinating, notify your child's health care provider because this could be a sign of infection or some other problem in the urinary tract. In a healthy child, urine is light to dark yellow in color. (The darker the color, the more concentrated the urine; the urine is more concentrated when the child is not drinking much liquid.) The presence of blood in the urine or a bloody spot on the diaper is not normal and should prompt a call to the health care provider. If this bleeding occurs with other symptoms, such as abdominal pain or bleeding in other areas, immediate medical attention is needed.
Infant Car Seats
Be sure that everyone who transports your infant uses an approved safety seat that is properly installed—every time.
Helping a child learn to fall asleep and stay asleep is one of the more challenging parts of infant care. Newborns tend to sleep or drowse for 16 to 20 hours a day. Because their internal clocks are not yet set, they sleep a lot both during the day and at night. Newborns also have small stomachs, and so they need to be awake for regular feedings.
After a few months, infants usually begin to sleep in longer stretches at night and are awake for longer periods during the day. Practicing bedtime routines and putting your baby into the crib before the child falls asleep can help build better sleep patterns.
The single most effective action that parents and caregivers can take to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is to place babies to sleep on their backs for all sleep times.
Hyperthermia and Heat-Related Illness
Infants' immature body systems are not able to cope with high temperatures, and infants are not able to communicate if they are too warm. That's why they are at especially high risk of hyperthermia.
According to the AAP, deaths from hyperthermia have increased in the last decade, especially among children and pets, mainly as a result of their being left alone in a car for even short periods of time. Even when the air outside is at "room temperature" (about 72 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature inside a car can increase to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in just 30 minutes. Even when the weather is comfortable outside, children are at high risk for heat stroke and death from being left alone in a car.
Parents and caregivers should never leave a child alone in a car, not even with the windows down, and not even for a minute. In addition, parents and caregivers should develop plans for getting everyone out of the car to ensure that they all exit the car safely and no one is left in the car accidentally.
If you see a child left alone in a parked car, you should call 911 to request emergency help. It could mean the difference between life and death for that child.
Reference: National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development