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Infant and Child Health

Facts About Infants and Young Children

Umbilical Cords and Bellybuttons - Breast-Feeding - Circumcision - Toilet Training - Sleep Habits

The following brief notes are of particular concern to parents. This information may help dispel some unnecessary fears and give you some guidance.

Umbilical Cords and Bellybuttons

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Clean the bellybutton (navel) 3 to 4 times a day with a bit of cotton moistened with a little rubbing alcohol. Pull the cord up gently but firmly to clean the base (try not to get alcohol on the skin around the navel).

Keep the cord dry and do not give your baby a tub or pan bath until the cord has fallen off and the navel is healed. Fold diapers below and shirts above the cord to promote drying.

The cord will drop off and the navel will heal in 1 to 3 weeks. After the cord comes off, there may be a moist or bloody oozing for a few days. This does not need special treatment.

Call your doctor if there is redness or swelling around the navel or a large amount of foul-smelling discharge from the navel.

The appearance of the bellybutton is not affected by the way the cord is tied off. A small lump of tissue sometimes remains after the cord falls off.

If it is small, treatment is usually not needed. If it is larger and does not fall off after 2 weeks, call your doctor.

Childhood Rashes

Rashes that come with childhood illnesses are hard to tell apart. Review all symptoms before deciding what to do.


Possible Illness

Red, pimple-like spots that turn to blisters; fever

Chickenpox, See Chickenpox.

Rash in diaper area only

Diaper Rash, See Diaper Rash.

Red rash on face that looks like slapped cheeks; pink rash that comes and goes on torso; possible fever

Fifth Disease, See Fifth Disease.

Red or pink dots on head, neck, shoulders; more common in infants

Prickly Heat, See Prickly Heat (Sweat Rash).

Sudden high fever for 2 to 3 days followed by rose-pink rash on torso, arms, and neck after fever goes down

Roseola, See Roseola.

Fine pink rash; starts on face and covers whole body; swollen glands behind ears

Rubella (rare), See Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR).

Fever, runny nose, hacking cough; red eyes 2 to 3 days before spotty red rash covers whole body

Rubeola (measles) (rare), See Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR).

High fever, sore throat, sandpapery rash, and raspberry-textured tongue

Scarlet fever, See When to Call a Health Professional.

Blisters on mouth and tongue appearing 1 to 2 days after onset of fever and sore mouth or throat. Painless, blistering rash on fingers, hands, feet.

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease, See Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease.


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Breast milk is the ideal food for babies younger than 4 to 6 months. The World Health Organization recommends that babies be breast-fed for the first year of life. However, the length of time that breast-feeding should continue differs for each mother and her child. Although breast-feeding is best, babies can also get good nutrition from formula.

Breast milk contains substances that help your baby resist infections and other diseases. Breast-fed babies have fewer colds and ear infections, less diarrhea, and less vomiting. Breast milk is easier to digest than formula.

Getting some instruction helps ensure that you can breast-feed successfully. If possible, take a breast-feeding class. The La Leche League and Health Canada are other good sources of breast-feeding information, advice, and support.


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Circumcision is surgery to remove the foreskin of a newborn boy's penis. There are both benefits and risks associated with circumcision. Discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. The decision is entirely up to you.

The major benefit is that circumcision makes it easier to keep the penis clean, which may reduce your baby's risk for urinary tract infections.

The risks of circumcision are slight. Complications of local infection or bleeding occur in about 1 in every 250 cases. Local anaesthetic reduces the pain of circumcision and is now recommended. Generally, circumcision is not recommended for sick infants.

If you do have your son circumcised, after the procedure apply petroleum jelly liberally to the head of the penis at each diaper change to prevent the scab from sticking to the diaper. Wash the penis by dripping warm water over it (do not use alcohol or baby wipes). Pat dry with a soft towel. Some redness at the circumcision site is normal. Call your doctor if the redness extends down the shaft of the penis.

If you choose not to have your son circumcised, clean the exposed foreskin gently during the first 4 years. Starting around age 4, gently begin to pull back (retract) the foreskin. Do not forcibly retract the foreskin; it may not be fully retractable until puberty. Teach your son to wash his penis well at every bath and to gently retract the foreskin when possible and clean beneath it.

Toilet Training

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Every child has a unique timetable for becoming toilet-trained. Most children are ready to begin toilet training between 24 and 30 months of age. Look for these signs of readiness in your child:

If you think your child is ready to begin toilet training, the following tips may make it go more smoothly:

Bladder control may take longer than bowel control. If the child is aware of when his or her bladder is full, try putting the child on the potty chair every 30 to 60 minutes. Praise the child for success and give gentle encouragement when the child wets his or her pants.

Sleep Habits

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Babies have both deep and light sleep cycles. In each sleep cycle, there are 60 minutes of light sleep, 60 to 90 minutes of deep sleep, and another 30 minutes of light sleep. At the end of this cycle, the baby is semi-alert and can be wakened easily.

Parents can help their baby sleep through the night by helping the baby learn to soothe him- or herself back to sleep during the light sleep cycles.

For babies age 4 to 6 months:

It is safer for a baby to sleep on his or her back or side to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Do not force a baby into a sleeping position. Babies are capable of moving themselves.

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