5 tips for mums to spot illness in your newborn

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Category: Parenting Tips

Those first few weeks with a newborn baby are simply magical. You are cocooned in a bubble with this brand new little person that you are trying to learn all about. Whether it is your first baby  or your third you will always worry about whether you will be able to tell when they are feeling poorly. Our babies cannot talk to you and tell you what is hurting them or how they are feeling. Their only form of communication is through crying and babies, well they cry a lot, especially if those first few weeks. So how can you tell if your little one is crying just because they are hungry or tired or if they are genuinely feeling unwell. Here are some tips to help.  

Unfortunately some babies do suffer injuries during the birthing process, especially if the labour was very long or the baby was slightly larger.  A common injury in these circumstances is where the collarbone is broken. A baby who has suffered this injury will be fussy and cry, especially when being picked up and held. They may not move the arm of the affected side. If you feel that this may be the case with your baby then alert your attending midwife as soon as possible. 

Does your baby have a temperature? A baby under three months old shouldn’t have a temperature over 37.5 degrees. A high fever is classed from 38 degrees upwards. If you do not have a thermometer at home then always feel their chest or back and not their forehead. Do they feel exceptionally warm? You baby may have a temperature but his hands and feet may be cold to touch. A low fever can also indicate illness. Anything below 36 degrees should be checked by your doctor. Babies are at a higher risk for a febrile seizure, these are seizures brought on by a high temperature. It is the body’s way of cooling the body down quickly. Do not be tempted to put your baby with a high temperature into a cool bath to try and cool him down quickly. Instead undress him and seek medical advice. 

Undress your baby and have a look at his skin tone. Is his colour nice and pink. A baby that is struggling to get enough oxygen around his body will have a pale or even blue tinge. He could also be blotchy or ashen (grey)

Sometimes in the first few days babies will develop a yellow tinge to their skin. This normally starts on their face and then spreads to the chest and abdomen and then to the arms and legs. This is caused by a buildup of the chemical called bilirubin building up in the bloodstream. Mild cases are not a cause for concern and will resolve themselves within a few days to a week, however sometimes a newborn’s liver may not be mature enough to remove the bilirubin and in these cases medical attention would be needed to prevent lasting damage. 

Newborns naturally breathe quicker than adults. However they should never have rapid breathing, panting or make a throaty noise whilst breathing. Whilst you have your baby undressed check that he isn’t sucking his stomach in under his ribs as he is breathing. If you do notice this then immediate medical attention is needed. Place your hand over their chest and count their breaths. There should be no more than 60 beats in a minute. 

Does their cry sound normal to you? Once you get to know your baby you will be able to distinguish between a hungry cry or a tired cry very quickly but a poorly baby will usually have a weak cry and it will sound completely different to any other cry. Remember, if they are not crying at all and are exhibiting other symptoms then this would be a cause for concern. A very unwell baby will not have the energy to cry. If your baby isn’t crying is he hard to wake? Most newborn babies will sleep up to eighteen hours in a twenty four hour period but they can be woken easily and are alert and interested in their surroundings. A poorly baby may be difficult to wake or very drowsy. They can also be floppy and have low muscle tone.  

A baby that is well would normally have between eight to twelve wet or dirty nappies in twenty four hours and eat every two to three hours, even through the night and often times more than this, especially if you are breastfeeding. Is your baby eating normally and are their outputs normal? If their nappies have decreased or they are not feeding as much then dehydration could be at play. It is handy to keep a log during those first few weeks where lack of sleep can cloud your brain and you end up forgetting when they last ate! There are lots of apps you can download where you can track their eating, sleeping and nappy output or even just keep a log in a notepad. Between feedings a baby’s stomach should always feel soft. A swollen or hard abdomen could be something as simple as constipation, especially if they haven’t had a bowel movement for a few days, which isn’t uncommon in newborns. However if your baby is having regular bowel movements and their stomach is hard or swollen then this could be a sign of an intestinal illness especially if accompanied by vomiting.

It is completely normal for your baby to bring a little bit of their milk back up after they have eaten, especially if they suffer from reflux. However green vomit should always be a cause for concern as this could indicate that they have an obstruction in their intestines. Any one of the many birth injury solicitors will tell you that if you are not completely satisfied that your baby is well and thriving before you first leave the hospital after giving birth then do speak up and voice your concerns! Any doctor, midwife or nurse would rather you be over cautious and speak up, even if it turns out to be nothing, rather than leave it and then you end up with a very poorly baby. Always remember that Mummy knows her baby better than anyone else!