Learn the symptoms and the best ways to remedy these common conditions.
1. SPITTING UP:
Experts say spitting up, also known as acid reflux, is perfectly normal after your baby feeds or when he burps, coughs or cries. "Spitting up occurs in more than half of all infants up to 1 year of age," says Richard So, M.D., a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital in Ohio. "Babies mainly spit up due to immaturity of the valve between the esophagus and stomach."
What can parents do? Take preventive measures: Burp your baby every five minutes during bottle feedings or after each turn on a breast; feed smaller amounts, but more often; keep your baby upright for up to 45 minutes after feedings; avoid too-tight diapers; use the right bottle-nipple size for your child's age (fast flows may provide too much liquid; slower flows can lead to more vigorous sucking and too much air intake). Call your pediatrician immediately if there's blood in the spit-up; your baby chokes with every feeding or has difficulty breathing when spitting up; is not gaining weight; or arches his back or stiffens his body when spitting up.
When your infant has colic—defined as crying for more than three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks— most likely you and your partner are the ones who are suffering most. The condition is normal in many babies and, thankfully, usually goes away on its own by the time your baby is 3 to 4 months old.
What can parents do? There's no magic solution, unfortunately. Experts say different tricks work for different babies. Pediatrician and child development specialist Harvey Karp, M.D., author of The Happiest Baby on the Block (Bantam), believes that some babies cry a lot because they are not yet accustomed to all the new stimuli in their first few months of life. He suggests trying five distinct actions in tandem, a technique he dubs the 5 S's: swaddling; side/stomach position (holding your swaddled baby while he's on his stomach or left side); shushing sounds (aka white noise, such as a fan, vacuum cleaner, clothes dryer or CD); swinging; and sucking (a bottle, breast, pacifier or even a clean finger will do).
A few more suggestions: Take your baby for a car ride; walk or rock him; burp him more often during feedings; lay him on your lap and rub his back; don't let your baby get overtired. Additionally, a recent study published in Pediatrics found that probiotic drops significantly reduced crying in colicky babies. Ask your pediatrician whether you should try probiotics.
3. COMMON COLD:
Upper respiratory infections with runny nose, congestion, cough and perhaps fever are very commonplace. "Sometimes, babies get eight to 10 colds in one season, even more if the baby is in day care," says Alison S. Tothy, M.D., medical director of the pediatric emergency department at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital in Illinois.
What can parents do? Antibiotics do not work against cold viruses, so you'll need to treat symptoms. Some simple remedies: Try a cool mist vaporizer for cough and congestion, saline drops for a stuffy nose and lots of TLC for crankiness. If your baby has a fever, call your pediatrician, who may suggest acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Also call if your baby is wheezing or breathing quickly (potential symptoms of pneumonia or another respiratory infection), not having four to six wet diapers daily (he may be dehydrated) or very sluggish (a sign of infection or dehydration).
Every baby has different bowel habits. While some infants poop three to five times daily, others only go once every three days. Formula-fed babies typically poop less than breastfed babies. "The time to worry is when you notice a change in your baby's normal pattern," says Tothy. Other signs: If your child is straining and nothing is coming out or there's blood on the diaper from an anal fissure, which is caused by pushing too hard.
What can parents do? First, remember that bowel habits can change when your baby switches from breast milk or formula to whole milk and when she starts eating solids. If your baby remains constipated during these transitional feeding phases, try puréed pears, apricots or prunes or a few ounces of prune juice in a bottle. You can also switch to whole-grain cereals like barley and oatmeal, which have more fiber than rice cereal. If the constipation won't go away—or has nothing to do with feeding transitions—call your pediatrician.
Watery stools are more worrisome than constipation. Diarrhea can be caused by something you ate if you're nursing or if your baby has an infection. You'll need to watch for dehydration if your baby has more than five to eight watery stools in eight hours. "Signs include crying without tears, not peeing as much or eyes that look sunken," says Tothy.
What can parents do? If your baby is younger than 1, always call your pediatrician. You may need to rehydrate your baby with an electrolyte solution like Pedialyte. Water does not contain electrolytes, minerals such as sodium and potassium that are needed for cell function, and juice may exacerbate the diarrhea.