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diaper rash

Bummed about diaper rash? Despite what your grandmother says, teething is not the underlying cause of diaper rash. The underlying cause of all diaper rash is, well…the diaper! Whether your baby wears cloth or plastic diapers, the first treatment for diaper rash is to take the diaper off.

Yuck, you say? We agree. This first treatment isn’t practical. Fortunately there are other ways to combat these common diaper rashes:

Contact rash– This diaper rash appears as patches of red, dry, irritated skin. Poop smooshed against a baby’s sensitive skin is the main source of irritation for this type of rash. Contact rash is often accentuated where the elastic part of a plastic diaper rubs against the skin. Experiment to see if one brand of disposable diapers causes more irritation than others or if the detergent used for a cloth diaper is the culprit. Even the soap on a wipe or the friction from scrubbing off poop can exacerbate a contact rash.
Treatment: If you see a rash, use a soft, wet cloth with a gentle moisturizing soap to clean off poop or splash water gently on your baby’s bottom. Try to avoid rubbing an already irritated bottom—splash and dab, don’t scrub. Grab a water bottle with a sports top and fill it with warm water to squirt on raw skin. Even better, grab mom’s squirty-bottle that she used right after delivery for cleaning, and use that to avoid rubbing baby’s bottom.

Just urine in the diaper? Just pat or fan dry the bottom and change the diaper. Don’t bother to wipe all of the urine off. After all, urea, a component of urine, is used in hand creams. In addition, after every diaper change apply a barrier cream (one containing zinc oxide or petroleum jelly) to prevent your baby’s skin from coming into contact with the next round of irritants.

yeast diaper rashYeast rash- This rash is caused by a type of yeast called Candida. The rash typically looks beefy red on the labia or the scrotum. “Satellite lesions” or tiny red bumps surround the beefy red central rash. Babies on antibiotics are particularly susceptible to candidal rashes. Yeast love warm, wet, dark environments so remove the diaper as much as possible to create a cool, dry, light environment.
Treatment: Since yeasts are a type of fungus, yeast rashes respond to antifungal creams such as clotrimazole (sold over the counter as Lotrimin in the anti-foot fungus aisle of your pharmacy) or nystatin (prescription). Anytime you use a medicated cream, remember to still put a barrier protection on top to prevent contact irritation. Treatment can take as long as 2-3 weeks. Even if the yeast rash disappears within less than two weeks, to insure the yeast stays away, treat for a couple days afterwards.

Pimples- Sometimes you will see a pimple, or a several pimples, in the diaper area . Pimples that look like they have pus inside of them are usually caused by overgrowth of bacteria that live on the skin or around poop. Sometimes a tiny pimple transforms into a boil, or abscess. Suspect an abscess when a pimple grows, reddens, and becomes tender.
Treatment: In addition to usual washing poop off with soap and water, apply an over-the-counter topical antibiotic cream or ointment to the pimples with diaper changes. Soak your baby’s bottom in a bath a couple of times a day in warm water. If you suspect a boil or abscess, take your baby to her doctor who may drain the infection and/or prescribe a prescription topical or oral antibiotic.

Eczema– If your baby has red, dry, itchy patches on her body she may have eczema. This eczema may appear anywhere… including in the diaper area.
Treatment: In addition to applying barrier creams, treat eczema in the diaper area with hydrocortisone 1% ointment four times daily for up to one week.

Viral- Viruses such as molluscum contagiosum may cause flesh colored bumps in the diaper area. Other viruses, like the ones which cause hand-foot-mouth disease, may cause red bumps in the diaper area. Be suspicious of hand-foot-mouth disease if your see red bumps on your child’s hands and feet as well as sores in her mouth.

Reasons to bring your child to her doctor: If you are unsure of the cause or treatment for your baby’s diaper rash, then it’s time to call your pediatrician. Don’t worry… no one will think you are acting rashly.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2017, updated from 2014 Two Peds in a Pod®

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As we said to Robin Young on NPR’s Here and Now, “A lot of life’s issues all boil down to the essentials of life…eat, sleep, drink, pee, poop and love.” So today we give you… the scoop on poop.

Admit it.

Before you became a parent, you never really gave much thought to other people’s poop.

Now you are captivated and can even discuss it over meal time: your child’s poop with its changing colors and consistency. Your vocabulary for poop has likely also changed. Before your baby’s birth, you probably used some grown-up word like “bowel movement” or “stool” or perhaps some “R” rated term not appropriate to this pediatric site.

We pediatricians have many conversations with new parents, and some not-so-new parents, about poop. Mostly this topic is of great interest to parents with newborns, but poop issues come out at other milestones in a child’s life, namely when starting solid foods and during potty training.

Poop comes in three basic colors that are all equal signs of normal health: brown, yellow, and green. Newborn poop, while typically yellow and mustard like, can occasionally come out in the two other colors, even if what goes in, namely breast milk or formula, stays the same. The color change is more a reflection of how long the milk takes to pass through the intestines and how much bile acid gets mixed in with the developing poop.

Bad colors of poop are: red (blood), white (complete absence of color), and tarry black. Only the first poop that babies pass on the first day of life, called meconium, is always tarry black and is normal. At any other time of life, black tarry stools are abnormal and are a sign of potential internal bleeding and should always be discussed with your child’s health care provider, as should blood in poop (also not normal) and white poop (which could indicate a liver problem).

Normal pooping behavior for a newborn can be grunting, turning red, crying, and generally appearing as if an explosion is about to occur. As long as what comes out after all this effort is a soft poop (and normal poop should always be soft), then this behavior is normal. Other babies poop effortlessly and this, too, is normal.

Besides its color, another topic of intense fascination to many parents is the frequency and consistency of poop. This aspect is often tied in with questions about diarrhea and constipation. Here is the scoop:

It is normal for newborns to poop during or after every feeding, although not all babies poop this often. This means that if your baby feeds 8-12 times a day, then she can have 8-12 poops a day. One reason that newborns are seen every few weeks in the pediatric office is to check that they are gaining weight normally: that calories taken in are enough for growth and are not just being pooped out. While normal poop can be very soft and mushy, diarrhea is watery and prevents normal weight gain.

After the first few weeks of life, a change in pooping frequency can occur. Some formula fed babies will continue their frequent pooping while others decrease to once a day or even once every 2-3 days. Some breastfed babies actually decrease their poop frequency to once a week! These babies’ guts digest breast milk so efficiently that they are left with little waste product. As long as these less-frequently-pooping babies are feeding well, not vomiting, acting well, have soft bellies rather than hard, distended bellies, and are growing normally, then parents and other caregivers can enjoy the less frequent diaper changes. Urine frequency should remain the same (at least 6 wet diapers every 24 hours, on average) and is a sign that your baby is adequately hydrated. Again, as long as what comes out in the end is soft, then your baby is not “constipated” but rather has “decreased poop frequency.”

True constipation is poop that is hard and comes out as either small hard pellets or a large hard poop mass. These poops are often painful to pass and can cause small tears in the anus. You should discuss true constipation with your child’s health care provider. A typical remedy, assuming that everything else about your baby is okay, is adding a bit of prune or apple juice, generally ½ to 1 ounce, to the formula bottle once or twice daily. True constipation in general is more common in formula-fed babies than breastfed babies.

Adding solid foods generally causes poop to become more firm or formed, but not always. It DOES always cause more odor and can also add color to poop. Dr. Kardos still remembers her surprise over her eldest’s first “sweet potato poop” as she and her husband asked each other, “Will you look at that? Isn’t this exactly how it looked when he ATE it?” If constipation, meaning hard poop that is painful to pass, occurs during solid food introductions, you can usually help soften up the poop by giving more prunes and oatmeal and less rice and bananas.

Potty training can trigger constipation resulting from poop withholding. This poop withholding can result in backup of poop in the intestines which leads to pain and poor eating. Children withhold poop for one of three main reasons:

  1. They are afraid of the toilet or potty seat.
  2. They had one painful poop and they resolve never to repeat the experience by trying to never poop again.
  3. They are locked into a control issue with their parents. Recall the truism “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” This applies to potty training as well.

Treatment for stool withholding is to QUIT potty training for at least a few weeks and to ADD as much stool softening foods and drinks as possible. Good-for-poop drinks and foods include prune juice, apple juice, pear juice, water, fiber-rich breads and cereals, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, under the guidance of your child’s health care provider, medical stool softeners or laxatives are needed until your child overcomes his fear of pooping and resolves his control issue. For more information about potty training we refer you to our post with podcast on this subject.

Our goal with this blog post was to highlight some frequently-asked-about poop topics and to reassure that most things come out okay in the end. And that’s the real scoop.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®
modified from 2009 and 2014  posts

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baby fartsGas is another topic most people don’t think much about until they have a newborn. Then suddenly gas becomes a huge source of parental distress, even though parents are not the ones with the gas. It’s the poor newborn baby who suffers, and as all parents know, our children’s suffering becomes OUR suffering.

So what to do?

First, please be reassured that ALL young babies are gassy. Yes, all. But some newborns are not merely fussy because of their gas. Some babies ball up, grunt, turn red, wake up from a sound sleep, and scream because of their gas. In other words, some babies really CARE about their gas.

Remember, newborns spend nine months as fetuses developing in fluid, and have no experience with air until taking their first breath. Then they cry and swallow some air. Then they feed and swallow some air. Then they cry and swallow some more air. Eventually, some of the air comes up as a burp. To summarize: Living in Air=Gas Production.

Gas expelled from below comes from a different source. As babies drink formula or breast milk, some liquid in the intestines remains undigested, and the normal gut bacteria “eat” the food. The bacteria produce gas as a byproduct of their eating. Thus: a fart is produced.

The gas wants to escape, but young babies are not very good at getting out the gas. Newborns produce thunderous burps and farts. I still remember my bleary-eyed husband and I sitting on the couch with our firstborn. On hearing a loud eruption, we looked at each other and asked simultaneously, “Was that YOU?” Then we looked at our son and asked “Was that HIM?”

Gas is a part of life. If your infant is feeding well, gaining weight adequately, passing soft mushy stools that are green, yellow, or brown but NOT bloody, white, or black (for more about poop, see our post The Scoop on Poop), then the grunting, straining, turning red, and crying with gas is harmless and does not imply that your baby has a belly problem or a milk or formula intolerance. However, it’s hard to see your infant uncomfortable.

Here’s what to do if your young baby is bothered by gas:

  • Start feedings before your infant cries a long time from hunger. When infants cry from hunger, they swallow air. When a frantically hungry baby starts to feed, they will gulp quickly and swallow more air than usual. If your infant is wide awake crying and it’s been at least one or two hours from the last feeding, try to quickly start another feeding.
  •  Burp frequently. If you are breastfeeding, watch the clock, breastfeed for five minutes, change to the other breast. As you change positions, hold her upright in attempt to elicit a burp, then feed for five more minutes on the second breast. Then hold your baby upright and try for a slightly longer burping session, and go return her to the first breast for at least five minutes, then back to the second breast if she still appears hungry. Now if she falls asleep nursing, she has had more milk from both breasts and some opportunities to burp before falling asleep.
  •  If you are bottle feeding, experiment with different nipples and bottle shapes (different ones work better for different babies) to see which one allows your infant to feed without gulping too quickly and without sputtering. Try to feed your baby as upright as possible.
  • Hold your infant upright for a few minutes after feedings to allow for extra burps. If a burp seems stuck, lay her back down on her back for a minute and then bring her upright and try again.
  •  To help expel gas from below, lay her on her back and pedal her legs with your hands. When awake, give her plenty of tummy time. Unlike you, a baby can not change position easily and may need a little help moving the gas out of their system.
  • If your infant is AWAKE after a feeding, place her prone (on her belly) after a feeding. Babies can burp AND pass gas easier in this position. PUT HER ONTO HER BACK if she starts to fall asleep or if you are walking away from her because she might fall asleep before you return to her. Remember, all infants should SLEEP ON THEIR BACKS unless your infant has a specific medical condition that causes your pediatrician to advise a different sleep position.
  • Parents often ask if changing the breast feeding mother’s diet or trying formula changes will help decrease the baby’s discomfort from gas. There is not absolute correlation between a certain food in the maternal diet and the production of gas in a baby. However, a nursing mom may find a particular food “gas inducing.”  Remember that a nursing mom needs nutrients from a variety of foods to make healthy breast milk so be careful how much you restrict. Try any formula change for a week at a time and if there is no effect on gas, just go back to the original formula.
  • Do gas drops help? For flatulence, if  you find that the standard, FDA approved simethecone drops (e.g. Mylicon Drops) help, then you can use them as the label specifies. If they do not help, then stop using them.
  • Do probiotics help? Unfortunately there is not a lot of data about probiotics to treat gas in infants. Probiotics can help other pediatric conditions such as the duration of acute diarrhea, and while deemed mostly harmless in otherwise healthy infants, they have not been shown to affect gas. A 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics summary of the use of probiotics in kids can be found here. A  2016 review of use of probiotics used for colic (but not specifically gas) in breast fed infants showed that probiotics MIGHT decrease crying, but concluded that more research is needed before probiotics can be recommended. Now, if you actually do have a REAL little piggy (not just a nickname for your baby),  animal studies show that probiotics may cut down on gas.
The good news? The discomfort from gas will pass. Gas discomfort typically peaks at six weeks and improves immensely by three months. At that point, even the fussiest babies tend to mellow. The next time your child’s gas will cause you distress won’t be until he becomes a preschooler and tells “fart jokes” at the dinner table in front of Grandma. Now THAT is a gas.

 

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®, updated from 2011, 2015

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This photo above is a horrific yet terrific reminder of why we strap our kids into car seats. This child was buckled into a car seat when the unthinkable happened— a potentially lethal car accident. As you can see, the child’s bruises directly line up with properly-applied car seat restraints. Thankfully, the injuries to this child are only skin-deep. On the other hand, the photo below shows what happened to the car.

Please remember always to travel with your children properly restrained.

For maximum safety in cars:

  • Keep children in rear facing car seats until age two years. Usually they will outgrow the baby car seat that you brought them home in and you will need to install a new rear facing car seat before they reach two years.  Check the weight/height limits for the seat.
  • Keep them in the car seat until age five years, or until they outgrow the weight or height limits set forth by the car seat manufacturer.
  • Use a booster until your children are 4 feet 9 inches or until the car’s shoulder seatbelt falls naturally across the chest (not the neck) and the lap belt lies low across their hip bones (some kids are in boosters to age 10 years and beyond).
  • Keep infants and children in the back seat until at least age 13 years.
  • Don’t drive while distracted or sleep deprived. Children learn from watching their parents. Emulate now the way you want your 16-year- old to drive.

Your can read more details on car seats and seat belts on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website here.

Read about guidelines for child safety restraints on airplanes here.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

© 2017 Two Peds in a Pod®, photos used with permission

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father's day cartoonA few years ago, we asked our dad readers to help us write our Father’s Day post.  We thought you would enjoy hearing from them again. The dads completed this thought: “Before I became a dad, I never thought I’d…”

…Learn to curl hair for cheerleading competitions

 

…BE RESPONSIBLE

 

…Become a stay at home dad AND love it so much after everything I’ve been through!!

 

…Learn all of the names of Thomas The Tank Engine’s friends and the many songs associated with them.

 

…Have a toys r us in my house.

 

…Go food shopping at midnight.

…Make so many pancakes on Sunday mornings.

…Volunteer in a dunk tank and have pie thrown at me.

 

One of our readers summed up his thoughts on becoming a dad:

Since I’ve become a father, nearly seven years and two beautiful daughters later, my life has become a series of jobs that I never thought I would have to tackle. These include:

Beautician: I never thought in a million years that I would be learning how to do pony tails, side pony’s, braids (not that I can braid yet), and painting little finger and toe nails.

Disney Princess Aficionado: At one point in my life I thought I was cool because I knew a lot about beer, how it was made, where it was from, where the best IPA’s were being poured. Now I am “cool” because I know where Mulan lived, and because I know the story about Ariel falling in love with Prince Eric.

Doctor: I am well versed here and can cover almost everything from the simple band-aid application and boo-boo kissing, to the complex answering of why daddy is different and why he gets to go to the bathroom standing up.

Cheerleader: Both of my daughters enjoy participating in sports. It’s been such a great experience to cheer them both on from the side line. I enjoy watching them grow with the sport and gain confidence game after game.

Becoming a father was one of the best choices I have made with my life. I love being a dad, and I look forward to the future dad challenges, good and bad, and being the best mentor I can be.

Thank you to our readers for contributing to this post.

Happy Father’s Day!

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2014, 2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

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Mother and Child

Today we bring you a fierce depiction of maternal love, written by poet Catherine Pierce PhD- who is Dr. Kardos’s sister-in-law.
We hope your Mother’s Day is full of flowers and free of tornados.
–Drs. Lai and Kardos

The Mother Warns the Tornado
I know I’ve had more than I deserve.
These lungs that rise and fall without effort,
the husband who sets free house lizards,
this red-doored ranch, my mother on the phone,
the fact that I can eat anything—gouda, popcorn,
massaman curry—without worry. Sometimes
I feel like I’ve been overlooked. Checks
and balances, and I wait for the tally to be evened.
But I am a greedy son of a bitch, and there
I know we are kin. Tornado, this is my child.
Tornado, I won’t say I built him, but I am
his shelter. For months I buoyed him
in the ocean, on the highway; on crowded streets
I learned to walk with my elbows out.
And now he is here, and he is new, and he
is a small moon, an open face, a heart.
Tornado, I want more. Nothing is enough.
Nothing ever is. I will heed the warning
protocol, I will cover him with my body, I will
wait with mattress and flashlight,
but know this: If you come down here—
if you splinter your way through our pines,
if you suck the roof off this red-doored ranch,
if you reach out a smoky arm for my child—
I will turn hacksaw. I will turn grenade.
I will invent for you a throat and choke you.
I will find your stupid wicked whirling
head and cut it off. Do not test me.
If you come down here, I will teach you about
greed and hunger. I will slice you into palm-

sized gusts. Then I will feed you to yourself.

Catherine Pierce
From The Tornado is the World (Saturnalia Books, 2016)

An associate professor and co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State, Dr. Pierce has authored three books of poems and won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Prize. She is a mom of two young boys.
 
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juggling children

The octopus parent never had a problem splitting attention among the kids until the 9th came along.

You sit down to breast feed your newborn, when your three-year-old announces, “I have to go potty! And I need HELP!”

You are giving your newborn a bottle and your two year old starts eating the dog’s food out of the dog’s bowl.

Firstborns, in their “forever quest” to hoard all of your attention for all their waking moments, learn very quickly how to interrupt the feeding of a baby sibling if they feel ignored.  Ways to entertain the first born:

Turn Feeding Your Newborn into a special treat for your older child. Say, “Oh YES! It is time to feed the baby, now we can…” Complete with whatever special treat your older child would enjoy:

               …look at the Elmo flap book and open EVERY SINGLE FLAP as often as you want.

               …listen to you sing every song from Frozen.

               …listen to you tell every joke that you’ve ever learned.

               …watch Peppa Pig together! And I will not fall asleep this time.

               …bring out the special colored pencils for you to use that we only take out while we feed the baby.

               … continue this long chapter book that we save for the times we feed the baby.

               … take out this special puzzle that we only take out when the baby eats.

               …(and if you are outside) get the spray bottle of water for you to water all of our trees and plants and grass! (most toddlers cannot resist a spray water bottle- hoard it for baby feeding times) or …get out the sidewalk chalk so you make art all over the driveway!

You get the idea. Now, instead of your saying, “Sorry Honey, we have to stop playing now because Baby has to eat,” you can make the experience a special privilege for your older child.

If your older child is napping during a feeding, then of course you can reward yourself with reading Two Peds in a Pod’s back posts during the feed!

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

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flu cartoon

“Now what kind of soup did the doctor recommend? Was that tomato soup? Mushroom barley?”

Happy New Year and welcome to Flu Season 2017! Parents ask us every day how they can tell if their child has the flu or just a common cold. Here’s how:

Colds, even really yucky ones, start out gradually. Think back to your last cold: first your throat felt scratchy or sore, then the next day your nose got stuffy or then started running profusely, then you developed a cough. Sometimes during a cold you get a fever for a few days. Sometimes you get hoarse and lose your voice. Kids are the same way. In addition, they often feel tired because of interrupted sleep from cough or nasal congestion. This tiredness leads to extra crankiness.

Usually kids still feel well enough to play and attend school with colds, as long as they well enough to participate. The average length of a cold is 7-10 days although sometimes it takes two weeks or more for all coughing and nasal congestion to resolve.

Important news flash about mucus: the mucus from a cold can be thick, thin, clear, yellow, green, or white, and can change from one to the other, all in the same cold. The color of mucus does NOT tell you if your child needs an antibiotic and will not help you differentiate between a cold and the flu.

The flu, caused by influenza virus, comes on suddenly and makes you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck. Flu always causes fever of 101°F or higher and some respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, cough, or sore throat (many times, all three). Children, more often than adults, sometimes will vomit and have diarrhea along with their respiratory symptoms, but contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as “stomach flu.” In addition to the usual respiratory symptoms, the flu causes body aches, headaches, and often the sensation of your eyes burning. The fever usually lasts 5-7 days. All symptoms come on at once; there is nothing gradual about coming down with the flu.

So, if your child has a runny nose and cough, but is drinking well, playing well, sleeping well and does not have a fever and the symptoms have been around for a few days, the illness is unlikely to “turn into the flu.”

Remember: colds = gradual and annoying. Flu = sudden and miserable.

Fortunately, a vaccine against the flu is available for all kids over 6 months old (unfortunately, the vaccine isn’t effective in younger babies) that can prevent the misery of the flu. In addition, vaccines against influenza save lives by preventing flu-related complications that can be fatal such as pneumonia, encephalitis (brain infection), and severe dehydration.  Even though we are starting to see a lot of flu, it is not too late to get the flu vaccine for your child, so please schedule a flu vaccine ASAP if your child has not yet received one for this season. Parents and caregivers should also immunize themselves- we all know how well a household functions when Mom or Dad have the flu… not very well!

Be sure to read our guest article on ways to prevent colds and flu and our thoughts on over the counter cold medicines.  Now excuse us while we go out to buy yummy-smelling hand soap to entice our kids to wash germs off their hands. After that you’ll find us cooking up a pot of good old-fashioned chicken soup, just in case…

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
revised from our 2009 and 2015 posts

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

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Nearly seven years ago, on the swimming pool bleachers at the local Y, I happened to sit next to Lexi Logan. Above the echoing din of kids splashing, I discovered that although she was trained as a painter, Lexi was interested in branching out into photography. Coincidentally, Dr Kardos and I were interested in branching medicine out into a new media called the internet and were dismayed at the lack of publicly available photos to accompany our blog posts. Lexi and I intersected in the right place at the right time. Since that chance meeting, Lexi has generosity shared dozens of photos with Two Peds in a Pod.

The woman in the photo below, between your Two Peds (Dr. Kardos with the curly hair, Dr. Lai with the straight hair), is our photographer extraordinaire, Lexi Logan. Her work, which you can check out at www.lexilogan.com,  speaks for itself.  Local peeps may want to contact her to take their own family photos.

This Thanksgiving we say thanks to all those parents we’ve ever sat next to on bleachers. All the kid-related information we have learned, from navigating chorus uniforms, bus stop times, best teachers, fun summer camps, and even starting up blogs, has been invaluable.

In particular- thank you, Lexi!

We wish all of our readers a very healthy and happy Thanksgiving,

Dr. Naline  Lai with Dr. Julie Kardos

©2016 Two Peds in a Pod®

two-peds-and-lexi

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bilirubin jaundice

Can you pick out the jaundiced one?

Pediatricians often cringe when they find newborns swathed in a yellow blanket. The color always seems to accentuate a baby’s jaundice and we’re not fond of jaundice.

Jaundice, an orange-yellow coloration of the eyes and skin, is caused by a blood breakdown by-product called bilirubin. We all break down blood, but it’s more difficult for the newborn’s liver to process it into a form that his or her body can get rid of.  Eventually, we get rid of bilirubin  by peeing and pooping it out. Bilirubin is what gives the yellowish color to urine  and stool.

Why do we care about jaundice? In the 1950s and ’60s, infants who had died from a neurological issue called kernicterus were found to have extremely high levels of bilirubin (jaundice) – up into the 100s of mg/dl. High levels of bilirubin can cause hearing and vision issues. Even at lower levels, jaundiced babies tend to be more sleepy and eat sluggishly.

Nowadays, for a full term baby,  we generally let the bilirubin level rise to 20 mg/dl at most before starting treatment, and often we treat even earlier. More than 60% of newborns appear jaundiced in the first few days of life,  but most never need any special treatment because the jaundice self-resolves. Conveniently, the first line of treatment is simply feeding more: the more milk that goes in, the more pee and poop that comes out, bringing the bilirubin with it. If improving intake does not lower the bilirubin enough, the next step is shining special lights  (phototherapy) on a baby’s skin.

Jaundice first starts noticeably in the eyes and face. As bilirubin levels rise, the yellow (jaundice) appears more and more down the body. Yellow in the face of a newborn is expected. If you see yellow in the belly, call your pediatrician. Levels naturally rise and peak in the first few days and we have graphs and apps to predict if the bilirubin may reach treatable levels.

Some babies are more likely to have higher bilirubin numbers and thus appear more yellow:

  • Premature babies, because they have immature livers.
  • Babies who have different blood types than their moms. Certain blood type differences can cause some breakdown of blood even before a baby is born, therefore increasin chances of an elevated bilirubin after  birth.
  • Babies who acquire bruising during delivery; they have more blood to break down.
  • Be aware, there are a few other less common risk factors,  and if needed,  your pediatrician may address them with you.

Hydrating your baby will help jaundice. You should watch the number of wet diapers your newborn has in a day. Wet diapers are a sign of good hydration. In the first week, she should have about one wet diaper for every day of life (so on day of life one= one wet diaper, day of life two=two wet diapers, etc). Also  watch for bilirubin to start coming through the stool. At first, your baby will poop out the black stool called meconium, but as milk starts going through her system, expect the stool to turn yellowish. (click here for more information about the colors of newborn poop) . As with the urine, look for one bowel movement for every day of life (so day of life one=one bowel movement diaper, day of life two= two etc). Eventually some newborns poop every time they are fed, although some max out at 3 or 4 bowel movements per day.

So, if you hold up your newborn baby in a yellow blanket to show your pediatrician and call the baby “our little pumpkin” you’ll know why she raises an eyebrow.

Click here for other fun medical color facts.

Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

© 2016 Two Peds in a Pod®

Revised from July 24, 2016 at 10:58pm

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