Recognizing Signs of Illness in Your Newborn

Young mother holding and calming her crying baby.

Your newborn depends on you for everything, from providing the right nutrition to offering the comfort and love they need to thrive. However, babies also need their parents to shield them from illnesses.

Newborns are more likely to develop infections and other health issues because their immune systems are not fully developed. This means that any virus or bacteria they encounter could overpower that system. Neonatal infections are the cause of 40% of fatalities in children under five years of age.

While preventing exposure to all harmful pathogens is impossible, parents can learn to recognize their newborns’ early signs of illness. Learn more from a newborn doctor about your child’s immune system and what signs to watch for.

Your Newborn’s Immune System

Your baby’s immune system can take as long as three months to fully mature. The mother’s immune system, which she shares with the baby through the placenta, continues offering protection over the first few weeks of the baby’s life, as does breast milk.

Good gut bacteria are also essential, and the mother passes them to her child through the vagina at the time of birth. They start building in the baby’s gut. Because of the way the immune system forms, preterm babies are the ones who are most at risk. Therefore, it’s crucial that anyone who comes into contact with them is currently healthy and has not recently been exposed to illnesses.

A newborn can be affected by all kinds of bacteria and viruses, but stomach viruses are particularly troublesome. During the first month of the child’s life, they can quickly spread to the bloodstream if not caught early. Respiratory infections like the flu are also problematic, and in newborns, they can quickly lead to pneumonia.

But how do you know if your child is ill?

What Signs to Watch for in a Newborn

One of the most important signs of health in newborns is how they eat. Newborn doctors always encourage parents to pay attention to how often and how much a newborn drinks since any significant variation can point to illness. You need to watch for a variety of signs, including:

  • Weak sucking
  • Decreased urination
  • Sweating while they eat
  • Sleeping more than normal
  • Crying more often
  • Floppy limbs or decreased muscle tone
  • Grunting or moaning sounds when they breathe

Something else to watch for is abdominal distension. Your baby’s stomach should feel soft between feedings. If you notice it’s hard or swollen, the baby could have gas or constipation. If vomiting accompanies a distended stomach, it points to an intestinal problem. Reach out to a newborn doctor as soon as possible.

Newborns can sputter and cough a bit as they breastfeed. However, if they gag or cough each time they drink, it could indicate lung or digestive issues. Respiratory issues usually mean your child has blocked nasal passages. That’s easily resolved with saline drops and a bulb syringe, but newborn doctors recommend paying close attention to ensure there aren’t other serious problems. You should watch for flaring of the nose and very fast breathing. Reach out to a pulmonary doctor for help.

Keep in mind that babies breathe faster than adults, but if you notice your baby is breathing more than 60 times a minute, there’s a problem. You also want to keep a close eye on their coloring. If you notice tinges of blue on their fingertips or lips, they’re not getting enough oxygen.

Pay attention to your newborn’s crying. Babies cry for various reasons and, sometimes, without an apparent one, but if you notice their crying changes and takes on a shrieking nature or if it goes on for a long time, it could be a sign of distress. Call a newborn doctor immediately.

Signs of an Emergency

Spotting certain signs can mean you need to contact your newborn doctor immediately. These can include if the baby’s soft head spot looks swollen and if they have a fever. Low body temperature is something else that requires medical assistance. Call the doctor if the temperature (taken rectally) is below 96.8 degrees F.

If your child doesn’t wake up or seems very weak, call emergency services. If their tongue or lips become blue or gray, call 911 as soon as possible.

Reducing Your Newborn’s Risk of Sickness

Though you can’t prevent all illnesses in your newborn, taking some steps to minimize their risk is important, especially during their first weeks of life. Here are some tips to help keep your baby healthy:

Limit Outside Exposure

As difficult as it may be because everyone you know will want to see the baby, don’t expose them to many people until they’re a bit older.

Visitors should wash their hands before holding the baby, and you should ask anyone sick not to come over until they’re better.

Don’t hesitate to say no when someone asks to hold the baby.

Maintain a Clean Environment

Clean toys and worktops regularly, and make sure the antibacterial products you use are safe for newborns.

When you wipe your baby’s face, do so with disposable wipes so that you don’t inadvertently introduce bacteria near their nose and mouth. Throw the wipes away immediately after use.

Keep Up with Vaccinations

Certain vaccines aren’t available for infants, but if the mother receives them before giving birth, she can pass the protection down to the child.

Regular Doctor Visits

Visit the newborn doctor regularly. They will be more easily able to notice any signs of illness, especially during the early stages of a disease.

A doctor can also give you pointers that address your specific concerns.

Following these steps can help create a healthier environment for your newborn and reduce their risk of illness.

Choose Newport Children’s Medical Group

Having a newborn is a life-changing experience, which means it can be highly stressful. By knowing the signs of illness and keeping in close contact with the baby’s doctor, you can get the guidance you need.

At Newport Children’s Medical Group, we are here to help you through these crucial first weeks of your child’s life. Reach out to us today for an appointment.