Testing Your Newborn’s Health

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You’ve already learned that newborn babies don’t look like the rounded, picture-perfect ‘newborns’ we see in advertisements or on television programs (these always show much older babies).
With the first cry or breath, a newborns colour warms up (fingers and toes may still look ‘dusky’).
You may have also wondered why your baby was dried off and then placed on your abdomen or chest until the placenta was delivered (usually within 15 to 20 minutes). One reason is that skin-to-skin contact helps keep the baby’s temperature stable. The other reason is that this is the first step in an ongoing bonding process.
The first few days after the birth, your breasts produce colostrum, a yellowish-white fluid full of nutrition and antibodies that helps protect your baby from infection. Colostrum gives your baby an important head start. It is replaced by mature breast milk.

First Tests
After your baby was born, a number of tests were performed to check her (or his) health. First, she had a quick overall check at one minute after birth, and again at five minutes. She was suctioned through the mouth and nose to clear the tiny passages of mucous-like secretions.
If you weren’t told what your baby’s Apgar score was (see the chart), just ask. It is scored out of ten.
A few hours after birth, your baby had a more thorough physical examination by the doctor.

Baby’s eyes – Your baby’s eyes had eye care within the first hour or so to prevent blindness, which can be caused by gonorrhea bacteria or chlamydia in the birth canal. There are usually no tears when your baby cries until three to four weeks. Vitamin K was probably given by injection soon after birth to help in the process of blood clotting and to help prevent bleeding problems.
Newborn screening – Done on day two of a short hospital stay. If a mother and baby are released before these tests can be done, they are done within one week of going home. The tests check for PKU (phenylketonuria), and other conditions (usually rare in newborns).
Blood test – A heel prick test is done on babies of African descent to test for sickle cell anemia a disease which also occurs, although less frequently, in babies of East Indian, Arabic, Middle Eastern and Southern European descent.
Circumcision – This procedure is a family decision. Circumcision is not covered by most health insurance plans because it is not considered medically necessary. It usually costs about $200.

Your Baby’s Automatic Reflexes
Moro reflex – Known as the startle reflex. Arms and legs flail out in response to loud noise or sudden movement.
Rooting reflex – The baby turns her head toward a touch when her cheek is stroked and opens her mouth, searching for the breast.
Sucking/swallowing reflex – This is well-developed in the normal newborn; it allows the baby to survive.
Grasp reflex – The newborn grasps your finger if it is placed in her hand.
Dancing reflex – The baby takes ‘walking’ steps when she is held upright on a flat, firm surface.
Other reflexes – Coughing, sneezing, blinking, moving the head away from an object placed over it, moving or pulling away from pain (such as from a pin prick). BW

Published in March 2007

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