As we age, our health needs change. Getting older brings with it new health concerns and medication needs. The definition of “healthy” looks a lot different for a newborn baby than it does for a middle-aged adult. In our new series, “Health as We Age,” we’ll take a look at how health costs and concerns change as we transition into each new stage of life.
To kick things off, we’ll take a look at the health needs of newborns and infants under the age of one. Babies require a lot of care and may have health complications as they grow and develop. However, with the right information, new parents can better navigate their child’s first year of life.
Finding a Doctor for Your Baby
Before your baby arrives, the most important thing you can do as a parent is find a doctor. Either a pediatrician, family physician, or pediatric nurse practitioner should be able to meet the needs of your baby for checkups, vaccines, and illnesses. It’s best to secure a doctor prior to your baby’s arrival so that you don’t have to worry about finding one should an emergency arise.
To find a doctor, check with your health insurance provider to see who is considered “in network” for your plan or ask for recommendations from trusted friends or family members. Then, do your research and find out where they went to school, how long they’ve been in practice, how they handle concerns and emergencies, who else in their office can see you if the doctor is out, and what their office hours are. You can set up interviews with the doctors you like best and narrow it down to the physician that makes the most sense for you and your baby.
Newborn and Infant Health Concerns
In the best-case scenario, your baby will be happy, healthy, and pass all of their regular checkups with flying colors. However, health issues can pop up. For this reason, it’s important to know what to look for when it comes to your newborn’s or infant’s health. If you notice any of the following health concerns in your baby, contact your pediatrician.
As a newborn, your baby may have a yellowish tinge to their skin, known as jaundice. Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, a chemical in the blood, and occurs when a baby’s immature liver has not yet begun to remove bilirubin from the bloodstream as it should. Jaundice is common and usually not cause for concern, but high levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream can cause brain or nervous system injury. If you believe your baby has jaundice, contact your physician as soon as possible so that it can be treated before it progresses. Not all infants require special treatment for jaundice (the condition may resolve on its own), but your physician may also recommend phototherapy—a treatment using a special lamp that breaks down bilirubin—if they deem it necessary.
It’s a good idea to keep track of your infant’s bowel movements as they can be an indication of potential issues. The color, consistency, and frequency of your baby’s bowel movements will be dependent on their age, diet (whether their breastfed, formula-fed, or are eating solid foods), and if they’re breastfed, the mother’s diet. Issues to look out for are constipation and diarrhea. Infants eating solid food can easily become constipated if they eat certain foods before their system is equipped to handle them. These foods include cereal and cow’s milk. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend cow’s milk for babies under 12 months.
Because infant stool is normally soft and runny, it may be hard to tell when your baby has diarrhea. The main signs are a sudden increase in the number of bowel movements and watery stools. Diarrhea can be a sign of an intestinal infection or may be caused by a change in diet. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration in infants. If a fever is also present, contact your physician as soon as possible.
After your baby’s umbilical cord is removed it’s important to take care of the area around their belly button to prevent infection. Make sure you keep the area clean and dry, fold down the top of your baby’s diaper to keep it exposed to the air, and clean the area gently with a baby wipe or cotton swapped soaked in rubbing alcohol. If you notice signs of infection, such as pus or redness, contact your pediatrician.
Babies cry when they’re uncomfortable, hungry, tired, and sometimes it feels like for no reason at all. However, intense crying fits and screaming may be a sign of colic. Babies with colic are often inconsolable, extend their legs in the air, pass gas, and may have an enlarged stomach. Colic crying spells may occur anytime, but usually get worse in the evenings. Possible causes of colic are a sensitivity to food in a mother’s diet passed on through breastfeeding and a sensitivity to milk protein in formula (although this is rare). Colic may also be a sign of a hernia or illness. If your baby shows sign of colic, contact your pediatrician to have them evaluated for possible causes.
Your baby’s first four teeth begin to appear generally around the time they are six months old. As the teeth break through their gums, some infants become fussy, sleepless, or irritable. They also lose their appetite or drool more than usual. Be on the lookout for a fever or diarrhea while your baby is teething, as this could be a sign of a more serious issue. Your child’s pediatrician should be able to recommend options to provide relief for your infant, including chilled teething rings or gently rubbing their gums with a clean finger.
Urinating should never be painful for your baby. However, if you notice signs of distress while they are urinating, it may be a sign of a urinary tract infection or another urinary tract problem. You should also keep an eye out for blood in your baby’s urine. If bloody urine is accompanied by abdominal pain or bleeding in other areas, contact your pediatrician or an emergency health care professional immediately.
A fever could mean that your newborn or infant is fighting an infection. For babies, a normal body temperature is between 97 degrees and 100.4 degrees. Any temperature above this range would be considered a fever. If your baby is less than three months and has a fever, call your pediatrician immediately as it could be a sign of a serious infection. If your baby is between three and six months and has a fever of 101 degrees or higher, or is older than six months and has a temperature of 103 degrees or higher, consult a doctor. Symptoms to look for include loss of appetite, cough, signs of earache, unusual fussiness or sleepiness, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your baby is younger than six months old, a rectal thermometer should be used to check their temperature, as their ear canals are too small for ear thermometers.
A baby’s cough can have many different causes. A dry cough can occur when your baby has a cold or allergies and can help clear postnasal drip or throat irritants. A wet cough—a cough accompanied by phlegm or mucus—may be a sign of a respiratory illness or bacterial infection. Infants younger than four months don’t cough often, so if your baby does cough, it could mean something serious, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). If you’re concerned about your baby’s cough, contact your pediatrician.
Common Medications for Newborns and Infants
Before the age of one, there are many medications you will not be able to give your baby. However, newborns and infants do sometimes need relief from pain, fever, congestion, rashes, coughs, and even gas. Below are some of the most common medications recommended for infants under the age of one. Always consult your pediatrician or physician before giving your baby any medications or using any ointments to treat whatever is ailing your child. They can recommend the best course of action to provide relief, whether it’s medication, ointments, or an alternative home remedy.
Acetaminophen – For minor pain and fever, your child’s doctor may recommend acetaminophen. Never give your child pain relievers or fever reducers without consulting a doctor, because they can be dangerous in the wrong doses or if consumed before your baby is three months old. Acetaminophen is available in both its generic and brand-name (Tylenol) forms as an oral liquid option that is safe for infants and easy to administer.
Ibuprofen – Once your baby gets a little older, around six months old, ibuprofen infant drops can help relieve pain or fever. Ibuprofen is a little stronger and lasts longer than acetaminophen, but is not safe for infants less than six months old as it can cause stomach problems. Consult your child’s doctor before giving them ibuprofen. Ibuprofen infant drops are available in both generic and brand-name options (Motrin and Advil).
Aspirin should never be given to infants or children unless recommended by a doctor. Aspirin can make your child susceptible to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness.
Cough & Congestion
Saline nasal drops – Over-the-counter decongestants are not recommended for children under the age of three. However, if your baby is congested, saline nasal drops can be used to help break up mucus and clear his/her nose. Rubber bulb syringes are a great option for administering saline drops to infants. If your baby has a stuffy nose, ask your doctor for non-decongestant remedies.
Simethicone drops – For a gassy baby, your pediatrician may recommend simethicone drops. This over-the-counter gas remedy stays in the gastrointestinal tract and is not absorbed into the body. Simethicone drops are available in both a generic and brand-name (Mylicon) version.
Antibiotics – Babies are particularly susceptible to bacterial infections. To treat ear infections, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, high fevers, urinary tract infections, and other types of infections, your pediatrician may recommend an antibiotic. Amoxicillin, ampicillin, penicillin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin are antibiotics that may be prescribed based on your baby’s condition.
Diaper rash cream – Diaper rash is pretty much inevitable for babies. Their skin is sensitive and wearing diapers all day can easily cause irritation and rashes. Diaper rash creams containing zinc oxide are your best bet for soothing your baby’s discomfort.
Hydrocortisone cream – If your baby develops eczema, dry/itchy patches of skin, or is bitten by an insect, your physician may recommend hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation. Most pharmacies offer hydrocortisone in half or one percent strengths, both of which are safe for infants. Don’t use hydrocortisone on your baby’s skin for more than seven days as it can cause the loss of skin pigment.
Triple antibiotic ointment – As your baby grows and begins to crawl, cuts and scratches become harder to avoid. Triple antibiotic ointment can be applied to scratches, cuts, and abrasions to prevent infection and help them heal.
Money Saving Tips for New Parents
Children are expensive. Especially newborns and infants. There are many costs that come with welcoming a new child into the world, including food, diapers, toys, clothes, gear, medications, and more. We’ve compiled some of our favorite money-saving tips for new parents looking to save a few bucks here and there on items for their new bundle of joy.
Powdered baby formula can cost anywhere from $70 to $150 per month. If your child has feeding issues, special formulas can increase your bill even more. To save money, breastfeed as long as you’re able. If you’re not breastfeeding, save money by opting for powered formulas over liquid concentrates, as the liquid forms are generally more expensive. You can also save money by choosing generic or store-brand formulas over brand names. Once you’re confident that your baby can tolerate a certain formula, buy it in bulk to cut costs. You can also ask your pediatrician for free samples when you see them. Doctors regularly receive samples from product representatives and are usually willing to give them away when asked.
Everyone knows that diapers are expensive and the costs quickly adds up over the time. Opt for washable cloth diapers to reduce the number your baby goes through every day or buy disposable diapers in bulk to cut down on the number of packs you have to buy. Many diaper manufacturers also offer regular coupons—all you have to do is sign up to receive them. Another good practice is to keep an eye out for sales. Diapers are bound to be on sale at a store near you at any given point in time. Avoid buying diapers for full price when possible.
When your baby is old enough to make the switch to solid foods, try making your own baby foods at home to save money. Baby foods are easy to make and you can save a lot of money by buying your own ingredients rather than individual servings of canned or jarred baby foods.
Formula isn’t the only type of sample that your pediatrician may have on hand. They often receive free samples of eczema cream or diaper rash ointment. When you’re leaving the hospital, you can ask a nurse if they have any free samples they can offer.
Call Your Pediatrician
Rather than taking your baby to the doctor’s office for every little issue, see if your doctor is willing to provide certain diagnoses over the phone. Experienced physicians can usually diagnosis common illnesses just from detailed descriptions of symptoms and can recommend a course of action. By skipping the doctor’s visit, you’re also skipping the bill that comes with it. Of course, for more serious issues, always visit your pediatrician in person so they can properly diagnose your child.
Some insurance companies provide free or discounted breast pumps for new mothers. Call your insurance company to see what equipment may or may not be covered by your plan.
Community Cares Rx Prescription Discount Card
Your Community Cares Rx Prescription Discount Card can be used for your entire family. If your newborn or infant requires medications, using your prescription discount card can save you up to 20 percent on brand-name medications and up to 70 percent on generics. All you have to do is download your free card, print it out, and present it to your pharmacist to start saving.