Baby's First Year: Weeks 15-19
Babies and pets
Your baby becomes more able to interact with his surroundings every day. If you have dogs, cats or other pets at home, take steps now to keep your baby safe and your pet adjusted to having a baby in the house. Keep a close eye on your baby and pet when they interact; even pets that seemed to have accepted the baby may change their tune when the baby begins to crawl and grab.
Curious babies and toddlers can annoy the most patient pet to the point that the animal bites or scratches. Teach your baby how to be gentle right from the start, and never leave your pet and baby alone together.
Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date; unvaccinated pets can pose a health risk to the entire family. Do not keep reptiles, including turtles, as pets; many carry salmonella, which can be fatal for infants. Even those favorite pets of childhood, guinea pigs and hamsters, can carry harmful bacteria. If you have one in the house, be sure everyone washes their hands after playing with it and before holding the baby.
Pets, dust, and allergies
Recent research suggests daily exposure to cats in the first year of life may protect a child from developing allergies. In one study, babies whose families owned a cat that was allowed in the baby's bedroom were 67 percent less likely than others to develop asthma and 45 percent less likely to develop hay fever.
Another study looked at children whose parents had a history of asthma or allergies. Children exposed to higher levels of house dust had less eczema in the first year of life. Exposure to a dog in the home at 2 to 3 months of age was also linked to less eczema in the first year of life.
Other studies suggest some level of exposure to common germs and dust may protect children from developing allergies, eczema and asthma. So try not to worry too much about keeping a healthy baby's environment sterile and germ-free. A little exposure to the world - cats, dogs, dust, and all - seems to play a role in building a strong immune system.
Now that your baby is a little older, he is more likely to enjoy his bath and enjoy splashing in the tub or kitchen sink. A safe and fun bath requires that you prepare. Get everything you need - towel, washcloth, mild baby soap, baby shampoo and a baby bathtub or nonskid mat for the sink. (Skip the bubble bath; it will irritate your baby's skin and could cause a rash.) Put two to three inches of warm water in the sink or tub and use a kitchen thermometer to be sure it is no more than 98 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also test the water on the sensitive skin on the inside of your arm; it should feel no more than mildly warm.
Always keep one hand on your baby to keep him from slipping and squirming, and take care that he doesn't knock his head on the faucet or side of the sink. Never leave your baby alone in the bath, even for a second. Some babies adore bath time and feel comforted by the warm water and your voice and hands. Others would prefer to avoid baths altogether. If your baby doesn't enjoy bathing, you may not need to wash more than his face, hands and diaper area very often until he's crawling and walking.
Crying at 4 months
By 4 months of age, your baby's bouts of crying have probably lessened. Change is the only constant when it comes to babies, however, and most babies have another slight increase in daily crying time at 9 months.
Remember: Your baby is due for his second set of vaccines this month, as well as his 4-month checkup with your pediatrician or nurse practitioner.
Your baby's first teeth may begin pushing out sometime between 6-12 months. Your baby may also have an urge to bite things, which reduces the pain of teething and helps the tooth break through. Rubbery toys and teething rings are ideal, especially if you put them in the freezer briefly first so that the cold toy will numb your baby's sore gum. A wet washcloth twisted and left in the freezer for ten minutes also works well. (Don't give your baby a frozen washcloth, or other very cold objects, as they are too cold for his delicate skin.) Once your baby has a tooth, clean it twice a day with an infant-sized toothbrush run under the faucet, but skip the toothpaste until your baby is old enough to learn to spit it out.
Babies often begin to show an interest in solid food around the time their teeth come, sometime between 4 and 6 months of age. If your baby is gaining weight well, however, there's no need to rush to add solid food to his diet. You'll know he's ready to try a little baby cereal or strained fruit or vegetable when he opens his mouth while you are eating or watches you closely as you eat. Even so, his first taste of rice cereal may be promptly spit out. If the second and third tastes cause less of a reaction, he may be learning to like the taste and be ready for meals in addition to breast milk or formula. After you've added cereals to your baby's daily meals, try a teaspoon of strained vegetables; squash is often well received. Mashed fruits - applesauce and bananas with no added sugar can come next, followed by strained meats, if you plan to have meat in your baby's diet.
Colds and stuffy noses
As your baby comes into contact with more people and learns to pick up objects and put them in his mouth, he'll probably pick up a few germs and catch his first cold. When he does, he'll have the same symptoms adults do: sneezing, nasal congestion and coughing. His tiny stuffy nose will probably cause him the most trouble, as sucking at the breast or from a bottle is difficult when he can't breathe through his nose. Your pediatrician can show you how to clear it with a rubber suction bulb. A humidifier near his crib at night will also help. A humidifier is only necessary during times of the year when the air is excessively dry. Do not use over-the-counter cold medications. New studies have shown they are not effective and can be harmful.
Fevers and allergies
Call your pediatrician if your baby develops a fever above 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C). (Remember, though, that you are the best judge of when your baby is ill. If you are concerned about his health for any reason, do call your doctor, even if his temperature is normal. When you call, don't add degrees to the temperature you took.)
While you may wish to help your baby feel more comfortable by bringing his fever down according to your doctor's instructions, know that fevers can also help fight infection. Recent research also suggests that fevers in the first year of life offer some protection against allergies to dust mites, ragweed, cats and other common allergens. (Exposure to cats and other pets in the first year of life also seems to reduce the risk.) While you certainly don't want to expose your baby to germs in order to force a protection against allergies, try not to worry too much about keeping his area germ-free. A little exposure to the world, germs and all, seems to play a role in developing a healthy immune system.
As you've already found, 4 months old is a delightful age. Already skilled at smiling in response to favorite faces, 4-month-old babies love to laugh out loud, especially when tickled or when playing peek-a-boo or gentle bouncing games.
Why talk baby talk?
We just can't help it. When we're face-to-face with a baby, our voices go up, our words slow down and no matter how silly we sound, we talk baby talk. Sometimes called "motherese" or "parantese" the way adults speak to babies is universal.
Is baby talk somehow tailored to the learning abilities of infants? Possibly, although it may be that babies are tuned in to adult emotions, and baby talk usually comes with smiles, nods and other positive signs.
Other studies have left no doubt about the importance of talking to babies in this way meant just for them. Mothers with postpartum depression are less likely to talk baby talk, and their babies may be at risk for language and other delays.
According to one study of deaf mothers and their babies, even mothers who use sign language, rather than spoken language, talk baby talk. They draw out their hand signs - slowing, repeating and exaggerating each motion - and smile with every word they sign.
Whether babies are picking up the details of language or basking in the glow of a loving adult, baby talk is one of their favorite entertainments. So don't worry about sounding silly - go right ahead and enjoy a session of baby talk with your baby.