Your Baby's Health

A healthy baby is a happy baby. Preventing sickness and injury while promoting good health for your baby can be challenging. Here, we discuss topics on avoiding germs, diagnosing and treating common newborn illnesses, nutrition, and other issues related to infant health. Keep in mind that we are not medical professionals, but we *are* germophobes.

Baby Needs A Clean Floor

baby needs a clean floor

Image: treehouse1977 on Flickr

It’s a simple fact of life that when you bring a baby into your home, the floors of that home are going to suffer. Big time. There will be spills. If you think formula smells bad now, sniff the carpet where you spilled it in a few days. Yech! The abuse gets worse when they start on baby cereal and solid food. Anything that can be spilled, leaked, flung, thrown, or spit up, will be. Ironically:

  • Your floors get dirtier than you ever thought possible
  • You want them cleaner than ever, for when your baby crawls and plays
  • Because of the baby, you have even less time to clean them than ever.

Our floors are mostly carpet, and the things they’ve absorbed over the past few years are, in a word, horrifying. Keeping the floors clean for our three little ones is a constant battle. Like most battles, we started out losing and only turned the tide after building up some firepower.

The Problems with Vacuuming

A good vacuuming does wonders for baby-abused floors. There are few things as satisfying as sucking up all of the infant formula and smashed Cheerios and ending up with a nice, clean floor. But there are a few reasons we can’t always get the main vacuum out.

1. Babies Afraid of the Vacuum

Many babies and small children are terrified of the vacuum. Ours were no exception. There was one time, when our daughter was young, that I playfully used the crevice tool on her shoes, and she’s been scarred ever since. Her little brothers seem to have picked up on this, because they’re scared too. When we turn on the big vacuum, they all scoot/crawl/run screaming to the far side of the house. Sometimes we just can’t console them.

We solved this problem in a rather simple way: by getting a carpet sweeper. You know, the kind that you push along the floor to pick up crumbs and such. They work surprisingly well, and they’re absolutely quiet. Great for sweeping the carpet after the babies eat, and they’re not afraid of it.

2. The Floor is Covered in Toys

In order to vacuum a floor, it generally has to be clear of objects. If you have young children, good luck with that! They scatter things everywhere, not just their toys but also the mail, couch cushions, napkins, papers, anything they can get a hand on. Trying to do this in the middle of the day is a battle of attrition, because when you pick something up, a child inevitably throws something else down.

Because of this, and point #1, we usually do pickup after the babies have gone to bed. By the time the floor is clear,  it’s usually 11 p.m. and we’re exhausted. Why not nap time? See my next point.

3. Loud Vacuums Wake Sleeping Babies

Most vacuums are loud. It takes a big motor to provide the suction to get all of that powdered formula out of the cracks and crevices. There’s always a risk that the noise will wake a baby up. At night we can usually soothe a baby right back to sleep. But the wake-up happens during nap time, and they’ve been sleeping for a while, guess what? The nap is over.

It got better when we invested in a lightweight stick vacuum. This offered a few key advantages:

  • Quiet. The noise level is about half that of our regular vacuum.
  • Lightweight and portable. It’s easy to grab the stick vacuum for a quick clean-up and then stash it when we’re done.
  • Good suction. It works surprisingly well on carpet and hard floors, and even picks up things that the carpet sweeper won’t (like macaroni noodles).

Protecting the Dining Room Floor

The dining room floor is often ground zero for spills and messes, especially if that’s where your baby’s high chair will be located. When our daughter started eating solid food from her high chair, we took steps to protect the carpet (yes, our dining room is carpeted, against all logic and reason) as best we could.

There’s already an area rug under the dining room table, but we went so far as to bolster this with a protective floor mat under the high chair. It caught most of the dropped food, crumbs, and spilled drinks that were inevitable as our daughter learned to feed herself.

Deep Cleaning the Carpets

As great as our sweeper and stick vacuum were, what really made us feel better about our floors was when we got our own steam cleaner. It seems like a big investment, but we do have a substantial amount of carpet. Mostly, we got this because of spilled milk. You can dry it up with a towel, but that’s not enough sometimes.

The Hoover SteamVac Carpet Cleaner is bigger than most vacuums but it’s pretty amazing. With just tap water and carpet solution, it steams the carpets, scrubs them, and sucks up the dirty water, leaving a super-clean floor behind. We try to do it once a month because the difference it makes is striking. It’s like having new carpet again!

Bissell Dual Brush Carpet Sweeper
• Easily picks up crumbs, cereal, dirt, and more.
• Light weight, compact, and most of all quiet.
• Cleans hard floor surfaces, area rugs and carpet.

 

Eureka Quick Up Cordless Stick Vacuum
Cordless stick vacuum
• Light-weight and cordless stick vacuum.
• Faster with the 10-inch cleaning path.
• Wall-mountable charging stand for easy storage.

 

Jeep Protective Floor Mat
Jeep Protective Floor Mat
Jeep Protective Floor Mat
• 50″ circle protective mat
• Protects floors during mealtime and playtime.

 

Hoover SteamVac Carpet Cleaner
Cordless stick vacuum
• Deep cleans with hot water and carpet solution
• Five spinning/scrubbing brushes.
• Two tanks separate clean/dirty water.

 

When Your Baby Gets Sick

when your baby gets sick

Credit: Flickr user eurich

For the first three months of my daughter’s life, we kept her sequestered from the world. No baby showers, no family gatherings, no baby play dates. The wonderful result of this self-enforced hermitage was that she never got sick… No colds, no coughs, no anything.

Unfortunately, we did have to take her out eventually, and the world quickly got even. Virtually every time we went to a bounce house or birthday party or other gatherings, our daughter caught something and brought it home. Not that we didn’t try to prevent this. We became germophobes! Spend a few months passing nasty colds round and round your house, and you would be too.

Still, it didn’t matter. No amount of Germ-X or hand washing seemed to stave off the infections. So, against my best efforts, I’ve become something of an expert on what to do when your baby gets sick.

How to tell if your baby is sick

One of the challenges of handling a sick baby is that there’s no early warning system. They can’t tell you about the dry throat or throbbing headache or most of a cold’s precursors. Unfortunately you will probably notice one or more of these symptoms when it’s already too late:

  • Runny nose. Often the first symptom, this one always carries a sense of dread. Is it just from that recent tantrum or a chance event (allergies)? Sadly, it usually isn’t.
  • Congestion. The opposite problem, in a way. We often notice it because a baby breathes audibly or snores, or has trouble drinking bottles because he can’t breathe through his nose. The same holds true with a pacifier.
  • Fever. You may notice this when you touch or hold your baby, but you may not. Some babies always feel warm to me. The most reliable way to tell is with an infrared thermometer. Above 100.3 is a fever. Below is not.

How to help a sick baby

help a sick baby

Credit: Flickr user bengarrison

The moment you realize that your baby is sick, prevention probably isn’t an option. Instead, you can only take steps to make your baby comfortable and help him recover quickly.

  1. Handle the runny nose. You will need many, many tissues and the onus is on you to use as necessary. Expect your little one to turn and/or run away, because they learn to hate this almost as much as you do. Keep tissues everywhere, so that there’s always one within reach. The softer, the better.
  2. Help with congestion. Your options are limited here, because babies don’t learn to blow their nose until 2 or 3 years old. Saline drops up each nostril (especially before bedtime) seem to help. If you have the stomach for it, there is a more direct approach. It’s called a baby aspirator: a tube that lets you suck the snot directly out of your little one’s nose.
  3. Sooth coughs and sore throats. Since you can’t give babies cough drops or syrup, a humidifier might be the best alternative. The moist air soothes an itchy or sore throat, and some machines offer a comforting hum as well. Cool-air humidifiers are finally reasonably priced these days; I don’t know if they offer any medical benefit, but they’re safer to have in the nursery.
  4. Treat the fever and aches. If you’re the kind of parent who believes in modern medicine (which I certainly am), a little bit of baby Tylenol or Advil goes a long way. Either medicine (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) both reduces fever and helps relieve your little one’s achy body. If you do this, use the dropper that comes with the medicine and take your time. Having someone hold the little one helps. Put the dropper inside your baby’s cheek and give a bit at a time — you want your baby to drink it willingly, and this stuff tends to taste good so they usually will.

Intervention is good, but at the end of the day all you can do is make your little one comfortable. The infection will run its course; one day your little one will wake up from a nap with a dry nose, clear throat, and very happy mood. The cough can sometimes linger for a couple of weeks.

When to call the pediatrician

Let me take this moment to remind you that I’m a parent, not a medical expert. Please don’t take my parenting tips for medical advice! However, if your baby takes more than a few days to recover from the cold, or the symptoms seem severe, or you take a temperature of 103 degrees (F) or higher, it’s probably time to go to the pediatrician. They may be able to help, they may not, but you almost certainly won’t regret the trip.

Genetic Testing for Newborns

newborn genetic testing

Original image courtesy of nickmealey (Flickr)

If you live in the U.S. and most other western nations, your newborn will undergo a series of genetic tests at birth. Depending on where you live, the extent of genetic testing for newborns can vary. These tests are designed to keep your baby healthy by finding potential disorders very early. None of this is nearly as frightening as it sounds. The disorders that newborn screening programs test for are very rare, and they’re virtually all actionable — meaning that if your child has one, some form of treatment is available.

In this article, we’ll cover the essentials you need to know about genetic testing for newborns and provide links to reliable sources for additional information.

How Are Newborns Tested?

Generally, it happens like this: a nurse takes a tiny blood sample by heel stick when your baby is about 24 hours old. The blood sample will be sent to a newborn testing lab for genetic screening. The results will be returned to the hospital and your baby’s pediatrician in about 10-14 days. There may be additional follow-up tests required, which can take several more days.

The results of your newborn’s tests will be sent to your pediatrician. You may never hear anything, but you should ask the doctor if they’ve come back yet, just to be sure.

Genetic Conditions Tested For

The conditions that newborns are screened for vary from state to state, and in many states, the list is growing. Right now, there are around 30 “core” conditions recommended for testing by the National Newborn Screening & Global Resource Center, and they generally fall into these categories:

  • Amino acid disorders. These are deficiencies in enzymes that normally process amino acids, which are the “building blocks” of proteins. Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a well-known amino acid disorder in which the body can’t break down phenylalanine. 
  • Fatty acid oxidation disorders. In general, these are disorders in breaking down fat into energy for use by the body, and they occur because one of the required enzymes is missing or not working properly.
  • Organic acid disorders. Deficiencies of certain enzymes that the body makes, such as methylmalonic acid, can lead to problems processing the protein in foods that we eat.
  • Other inherited disorders. These include well-known genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and alpha thalassemia.

Importantly, most of these disorders are rare, and nearly all are recessive (meaning that two defective copies of a gene must be inherited to cause them).

Why We Screen Newborns for Disorders

Some parents have concerns about tests of these nature being performed on their baby. In many states this is irrelevant, as newborn screening tests are mandated by law. Even if you live in a state that allows you to opt-out, I sincerely hope that you won’t. Newborn screening is a good thing: it identifies very rare, very serious inherited conditions so that doctors can intervene.

Let’s take phenylketonuria (PKU) as an example. This is a rare, autosomal recessive disorder caused by mutations in the gene for phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH). If you have one non-functional copy of the gene, you’re fine. If you have two, your body is unable to break down the amino acid phenylalanine into another (crucial) amino acid, tyrosine.

Without treatment, PKU can cause mental retardation, seizures, and a host of other serious issues. However, management of the condition (with diet and possibly medication) allows your baby’s brain to develop normally. Even though it’s a rare disorder (1 in 10,000 among Caucasians in the U.S.) it’s certainly something parents should know about.

If Your Newborn Is Affected

If any of the tests come back positive, the hospital and/or your pediatrician may order a follow-up, confirmatory test. They will also begin discussing the results with you. Most states only screen for “actionable” disorders, meaning that there’s something to be done for a newborn that has one. You can and should find out everything about this disorder, first from your doctor, then from trusted resources such as the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Don’t rely blindly on Google! There’s way too much information out there, and most of it goes unvetted.

Genetic Testing and Genetic Counseling

Genetic information is rapidly becoming available to anyone who wants it. Advances in DNA sequencing technology, and direct-to-consumer services like 23andMe have raised concerns that genetic information could be mis-used if it fell into the wrong hands. In 2008, U.S. legislators passed the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) which made it illegal for insurance companies and employers to discriminate based on genetic information. Similar laws have been passed in many countries. This should be a comfort to parents whose child has a rare genetic condition.

Also, before I forget: There are trained professionals out there called genetic counselors. These can be wonderful resources for learning about the relative risks of genetic disorders. If you have concerns (even before starting a family), ask your pediatrician to refer you to one.