Are you a new parent? Congratulations! You are now responsible for the health and well-being of a new baby.

Your baby relies on you for everything. Food, diapers and clothing — and these are just the start. With a new baby in your life, the changes can be overwhelming.

But now is the time to set up your newborn for consistent and comprehensive health care with a pediatrician or family doctor. Making preventive care a habit is one of the best things you can do for your child.

There are tests needed to gauge the health of your baby from the minute he or she is born. First comes the APGAR test to check the baby’s physical condition and see if urgent or emergency care is needed.

Babies most often get the APGAR test at one minute after they’re born, and again at five minutes after birth. The APGAR measures five factors with a score of 0, 1 or 2, adding up to 10 for the highest score. APGAR stands for:
    Appearance (skin color)
    Pulse (heart rate)
    Grimace response (reflexes)
    Activity (muscle tone)
    Respiration (breathing rate and effort)

New parents should remember that the test is to help health workers gauge a newborn's immediate needs. It doesn’t determine a baby's long-term health, behavior, intellect or personality.

Many new babies and their mothers come home from the hospital 24 hours after the baby is born. And new moms and dads are often unsure about when to call the doctor.

Dr. Jerald Zarin, a pediatrician and Blue Cross and Blue Shield medical director, says it’s time to call the doctor if the baby: 

  • Has trouble breathing.
  • Is crying a lot.
  • Is not urinating.
  • Has trouble with bowel movements.
  • Has a fever (measured by rectal thermometer). For babies under 3 months old, call the doctor for rectal temperatures over 100.4. For babies over 3 months old, check with your doctor when the rectal temperature is over 102.
  • Does anything that makes a first time parent feel uneasy.

Another change to be on the lookout for: many babies show signs of jaundice about two to five days after birth. Jaundice is a condition caused by the liver not processing bilirubin, a pigment in the bloodstream of newborns that needs to be flushed by the body after it is born.

Jaundice shows up as a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This usually lasts about two weeks — or up to six weeks or so in breastfed babies — and then clears up on its own.

But jaundice doesn’t always go away by itself. High levels of bilirubin can lead to brain damage, hearing loss and other problems.

To check your baby, press your fingertip gently against your baby’s forehead or nose under natural or fluorescent light. Normal skin will turn white when pressed. But if skin looks yellowish, call your baby’s doctor. This skin test may not work as well for babies with darker skin.

Getting your baby’s health care plan in place is important. Be sure to find a doctor who you feel comfortable with.

By sticking to regularly scheduled doctor visits and vaccines, you’re helping your baby get the right start for a healthy life.

For more information about staying healthy through preventive care, get our Wellness Guidelines. The guidelines are available for adults in English and Spanish and for children in English and Spanish.