This story is the first in a six-part series featuring Novant Health pediatricians helping parents navigate their child’s development and telling them what to look for at each stage, from birth to adulthood.

Dr. Kasey Scannell wears a black shirt and is smiling
Dr. Kasey Scannell

For new parents, raising an infant often begins in “survival mode,” said Dr. Kasey Scannell of Novant Health Symphony Park in Matthews, North Carolina. But once you adjust, she added, the rewards are immense.

New parents will get to know their baby’s doctor quite well during the first year. Healthy newborns generally visit a pediatrician in the first few days after the baby goes home, and then the frequency can vary. Often, there’s a follow-up well-appointment about a week after the first visit followed by one-month, two-month, four-month, six-month, nine-month and 12-month well-appointments.

Plenty of questions will come up. Following are three common ones that Scannell encourages parents to ask their pediatrician during their child’s first year.

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When it comes to sleep, what are best practices?

“To me, sleep is the most difficult problem I discuss at a well-child visit because it affects the entire family so much,” Scannell said. “If your kid is not naturally a good sleeper, it can be very stressful and difficult, especially for new parents.

“The first thing I talk about is sleep safety. We recommend infants sleep on their backs, rather than their sides or stomachs, as this decreases the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). They should also not have loose blankets, pillows or toys in their sleep space to avoid suffocation. Co-sleeping is not recommended due to risk of falling and suffocation.

“Sleep can be a sensitive issue for many families, and my main concern is always that the sleep environment is safe. How long or how well a baby sleeps can vary and is often based on factors, such as temperament.

“Pediatricians get a lot of questions regarding sleep training. Molding your child’s sleep schedule can be attempted as early as 4 months of age. Multiple techniques exist on how to sleep train — the most important recommendation is to do what makes you feel comfortable. For example, the classic “crying it out” method can definitely be successful. However, it is often difficult for many families to endure. I suggest you discuss the training options with your pediatrician and find one that best fits your family.”

Scannell encourages expecting parents to start looking for a pediatrician during the last trimester of pregnancy, and, if available, suggests meeting with pediatricians in a low-key, meet-and-greet setting.

The biggest surprises for most parents, she said, tend to revolve around the baby’s bowel movements and eating. For instance, many parents are surprised that a baby can go 10 days without pooping.

How well is my baby feeding?

“Every baby and mom combination is different,” Scannell said. “I prefer not to designate a certain volume for feeding since parents can become nervous if they are feeding more or less than the recommendation. The most important thing is to tie feeding to growth. As long as the baby is growing at an expected rate, you can feel confident that you’re on the right track and that the feeding plan is working.”

When should I start solid foods?

“The recommendation for starting solid foods is between 4 and 6 months of age. If you’re exclusively nursing, it may be a good idea to wait later to introduce solid foods.” Scannell said. “The reason for this is because if your baby loves solid food and fills up after a feeding, the next nursing session may not be as successful. This can result in an overall decreased milk supply.

“Another development is what’s coming out now about food allergies. Years ago, pediatricians would recommend deferring potentially allergy-causing foods until after 1 year of age. New studies have proven that early introduction of those foods — as early as 4 months of age — actually can help prevent the development of deadly food allergies in those infants that are high risk. So now, we recommend offering these foods — for example eggs and peanut butter – at around 6 to 9 months. The only age restriction on food introduction relates to honey. Honey presents a risk for an infectious disease called botulism and should not be introduced until 1 year of age."

Go-to books for more advice

Scannell also shared some book recommendations for new and expecting parents:

· "What to Expect the First Year" by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel

· "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Dr. Marc Weissbluth

· "On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep" by Dr. Robert Bucknam and Gary Ezzo

· "On Becoming Baby Wise, Book Two: Parenting Your Five to Twelve-Month Old Through the Babyhood Transition" by Gary Ezzo and Dr. Robert Bucknam

· "Caring for Your Baby and Young Child" from the American Academy of Pediatrics, edited by Dr. Steven Shelov