To ignore or not to ignore - that is the question. And in terms of first time parents, it may be hard for them to gauge what newborn symptoms need to be dealt with urgently and which others can be left to resolve in their own sweet time
When it comes to brand new babies, going to extremes on either end of the spectrum isn’t always the best idea. Because things can turn serious in an instant, parents need to be clued in on what requires medical attention and act accordingly. But at the same time, fretting and stressing about every little symptom can easily nudge parents into full-blown helicopter mode.
To help with matters, we’ve laid it out below. In one concise list, parents will receive an overview of common newborn symptoms that deserve priority consideration. There are those that require medical attention in a somewhat timely manner (as in no need to make an appointment - just hold off until a pre-scheduled check-up) and the more critical indicators - symptoms deemed 911 urgent.
Above all else, parents are strongly advised to trust their spidey sense as the best barometer when it comes to their baby’s health and well-being. Even if given the all-clear from a medical professional, if something still isn’t sitting right, don’t hesitate to get a second or third opinion. But until new parents’ have had time to adapt to their roles, and learn to trust their guts - here are 15 newborn symptoms never to ignore.
15 Chalky Whiteness
When it comes to the world of baby poop, there is really only one color that is worrisome - and that is white. All other colors of the rainbow - lime green, mustard yellow, tangerine orange, midnight black - receive an enthusiastic thumbs up. But chalky white or gray poop should stop a parent cold. Consider it an alert that all is not as it should be concerning an infant’s digestive tract.
White poop suggests that there is no bile from the liver present in order to help with digestion. In turn, it may indicate a possible problem regarding a newborn’s bile ducts including a cyst, tumor or inflammation. It can also be symptomatic of a liver infection or even gallstones.
For caregivers concerned about white spots within a newborn’s poop, this may be the handiwork of certain medications and antibiotics. Prescribed antacids (for babies suffering from reflux) can particularly have a whitening effect on poop.
14 Keeping Cool
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a normal temperature for a healthy baby is between 97 and 100.3 degrees F. Anything from 100.4 degrees F and above is considered a fever which most likely means that baby is fighting off an infection.
When a baby is less than three months old, a fever can be serious business. If they clock in above normal, then it’s best to play it safe and set up a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. Although even if feverish, as long as baby is behaving normally in terms of feeding and temperament, then there is less cause for concern. It’s also important to remember that it is natural for all humans to experience a slight spike in temperature later in the afternoon and early evening.
One important note: a feverish baby with additional symptoms such as earache, cough, appetite loss, sleeplessness and/or extreme fussiness should be taken for a medical checkup as soon as possible.
13 Traumatic Events
Children will inevitably bonk their noggins a hundred times over during their baby and toddler years. While it may be painful in the moment, possibly even result in a bruise or scratch - most often babies will be perfectly fine. However, if one of these bumps results in a loss or change of consciousness, this can prove much more serious.
In the case of newborns, if any known trauma has occurred (whether accidental or intentional), they should be checked out by a medical professional just in case. So if a baby has suffered a fall, was dropped or shaken, or been involved in a seemingly minor car accident - they need to be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.
While infants do have fragile heads, they are often more hardy than people give them credit for. Despite this fact, it is still of the utmost importance that caregivers do not shrug off any suspected injuries or take a “wait and see” approach.
Signs of potential head trauma in an infant include:
- Breathing trouble
- Poor sucking and/or swallowing reflex
- No appetite
- Irregular pupil size in one or both eyes
- Inability to focus eyes
12 Soft And Strange
A baby is born with six soft spots around their head. These fontanelles are located between a baby’s skull bones in order to allow for rapid brain growth. If the soft spots appear to be sinking, bulging, enlarged or taking too long to close, this can prove problematic.
Below is an overview of fontanelle issues and the possible causes:
- Bulging fontanelle - When a baby is crying, lying down or vomiting, the fontanelle appears to bulge. However if a baby is upright and relaxed, and bulging persists this could indicate a fluid and pressure build-up around the brain.
- Sunken fontanelle - While a normal soft spot will appear slightly sunken, too much so can mean a baby is dehydrated or under nourished.
- Fontanelle is too large - An abnormally large fontanelle is usually diagnosed at birth and may be a result of Down syndrome, premature birth or brain issues. However, if a parent notices it later on, it’s best to get a medical opinion and have further testing conducted.
- Delayed closure - A baby’s fontanelle is usually 96% closed by the age of two. During regular check-ups, doctors will most likely monitor the soft spot progress in order to keep on top of any possible underlying conditions.
11 A Blue Hue
Blue lips, especially in a newborn who isn’t likely to be eating blueberries or sucking back on an electric blue popsicle any time soon, can be a worrisome symptom of cyanosis. It generally occurs when there is either a lack of oxygen in the blood or circulation problems. Cyanosis can also indicate a much larger underlying issue such as pneumonia, heart disease or asthma.
Before going into full-blown panic mode, as long as baby is still eating and behaving normally - blue lips or not, the situation is most likely not a matter of life and death. Although it is still recommended that a doctor’s appointment be set up in the near future.
However, parents need to be aware that if their baby’s lips have taken on a bluish hue and they are also suffering from further symptoms such as: breathing trouble, acute lethargy, seizures or even unresponsiveness - drop everything and call 911 immediately.
10 Lightweight Weewee
A simple way for parents to monitor their newborn’s hydration level is to keep track of their daily wet diapers. An infant should have at least six urine-soaked diapers per day.
When diarrhea or vomiting comes into play, newborns in particular can become dehydrated quickly. Their small bodies have a high metabolic turnover and they just don’t have the ability to retain much fluid. If they aren’t well-hydrated, a newborn’s situation can turn critical in a matter of days.
No matter whether a baby is afflicted by diarrhea or vomiting - the rule of thumb is for caregivers to ensure that fluid intake exceeds the output. While keeping them flush with fluids may not cure the sickness, it will keep them hydrated in order for the malady to run its course.
Besides a lack of heavy, wet diapers, other symptoms of dehydration include:
- Extreme thirst
- A loss of skin elasticity
- Sunken eyes and fontanelle
- Dry mouth
- No tears when crying
9 Breathless Baby
Respiratory illnesses are not all that uncommon in babies. In fact, approximately one third of all babies hospitalized are because of respiratory issues. It’s important for parents to trust their gut - if something seems off about a baby’s breathing, don’t roll the dice on it. Instead, err on the side of caution and call to make a doctor’s appointment or even consider visiting a clinic or the local ER.
Symptoms of respiratory distress sometimes caused by infection, cold, flu, bronchitis or asthma include:
- Consistently hard and fast breathing
- Breathing appears labored
- Baby seems to be exerting their chest muscles more than normal
- Baby's nostrils are flared
Breathing troubles, especially in a newborn, should not be taken lightly. Prolonged oxygen deprivation can have devastating effects on an infant. Signs that a baby may not be getting enough oxygen include:
- Their skin is pale or grayish in color
- Their lips, mouth and/or fingernails have a bluish tinge
- A baby's skin appears to suck in above, below or in between their ribcage
- Their nostrils are consistently flared
8 Seeing Green
A vomiting newborn is not a laughing matter. And when it comes to infants, bright green vomit can signify a much more serious condition than any other color. It may indicate that the baby is puking up a liver secretion known as bile which sometimes signifies a gastrointestinal obstruction due to a birth defect, meconium blockage or a twisted bowel.
According to Mike Farrell M.D., chief of staff at a Cincinnati-area hospital “bile-stained vomiting is an emergency” and a baby’s doctor should be phoned immediately or the child should be taken directly to an ER. Generally, surgery is required in order to correct the issue.
Remember, there is a clear-cut difference between spitting up and vomiting in terms of quantity. And a baby vomiting can be a frightening experience for both parent and infant so don’t be alarmed if a baby cries while throwing up. Another item worthy of note is that when bringing a baby in for medical treatment, staff may want to analyze a vomit sample. While definitely not a pleasant task, keep this in mind when still at home comforting and cleaning up after a barfy baby.
7 Infant Upchuck
While vomiting in newborns is not exactly uncommon - it definitely requires careful attention. Not only are babies in danger of dehydrating quickly, but it can sometimes also be indicative of a much more serious issue. Although typically a newborn vomits due to mild feeding issues (they are too full) and it is quickly resolved, it can sometimes be symptomatic of an infection, allergy or cold.
Signs that a baby vomiting is serious and a parent should seek medical attention include:
- The vomiting has lasted longer than 12 hours
- It is occurring with great force
- The vomit contains blood and/or bile
Also, a doctor should be consulted if vomiting in a newborn is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Breathing trouble
- Swollen abdomen
Pyloric stenosis is a rare condition that sometimes affects babies under the age of four months. It is characterized by relentless and forceful vomiting within 30 minutes of eating. In this case, the valve connecting the stomach to the intestines condenses to the point that food is unable to get through. While the issue can generally be easily rectified with minor surgery, it does require immediate attention.
6 Baffling Bruises
While it is definitely not unusual for unexplained bruises to appear on active toddlers as they bump their way through world exploration, it’s another story completely where newborn infants are concerned. Mysterious bruises can be a sign of abuse or symptomatic of an illness or disease.
The following conditions are often characterized by bruising:
- Von Willebrand Disease - This is the most common hereditary bleeding disorder. Affecting both boys and girls alike, its effects are thankfully mild.
- Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia (ITP) - This occurs when blood platelet levels are lower than normal. Besides bruising, another sign of ITP includes small pinpoints of red dots visible beneath the skin. While it usually resolves on its own, it can sometimes turn life-threatening in terms of possible brain bleeds or excessive bleeding elsewhere on the body.
- Hemophilia - This hereditary blood clotting disorder most often affects boys.
- Leukemia - The most common type of childhood cancer, leukemia is often characterized by fatigue, fever, shortness of breath as well as bruising. Affecting the production of blood cells in bone marrow, leukemia most often affects boys between the ages of two and six but can occur at any age.
5 A Yellow Glow
Normally, when red blood cells are broken down, they produce something called bilirubin which is then passed though the liver. Eventually, bilirubin is released into the intestines as bile which helps the digestive process along. However, when bilirubin begins stockpiling faster than an individual’s liver can break it down and dispose of it, jaundice will set in.
Jaundice is a common condition where skin as well as the whites of the eyes become yellow due to too much bilirubin in the blood. Particularly in newborns, this can occur for several reasons - infants have a higher turnover of red blood cells compared to an adult which means they produce more bilirubin. As well, their liver is still developing which may mean it just can’t keep up. Also, a baby’s intestines may end up absorbing bilirubin in lieu of having it pass through and out of their body.
While somewhat rare, jaundice can also be indicative of an infection or malfunctioning thyroid. If left untreated, severe jaundice can result in deafness, cerebral palsy, even brain damage.
4 Oversized Swelling
When a baby suffers from a distended abdomen, it is typically due to nothing more serious than colic, gas build-up or swallowing air (during feeding or crying jags). However, there is sometimes a chance that distention can be caused by a more serious medical problem such as an intestinal issue or a problem involving the heart, liver, kidneys and/or spleen.
If gas is the suspected culprit, a baby should be burped several times during and following feeding. Another effective method for gas relief in an infant involves laying them on their back while gently pumping their legs in a bicycle motion. If all else fails, soothing baby in a warm bath may allow their bowels to expel any excess gas.
It’s always best to rule out more serious issues so if baby is suffering from distention and: the condition is relatively new; the baby is inconsolable; and/or all manner of relieving gas build-up isn’t proving effective - set up a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
3 Shock Of Blood
Any sign of blood on an infant can be a startling discovery, to say the least. Once a parent’s initial shock subsides, it’s time to get down to business in solving the mystery. When the circumstances surrounding the bleeding are determined, a parent will have a better idea whether they need to worry or not.
Most likely there’s no need to panic if blood makes an appearance in the cases of:
- A severe diaper rash
- Recovery from a circumcision
- Contained in a baby's poop (if they are breastfeeding from a raw and cracked nipple)
- A healing bellybutton
A parent needs to use their common sense - if the amount of blood seems striking and/or the baby appears to be in pain, do not hesitate having them looked over by a medical professional. Any other signs of bleeding may be the result of trauma, a blood disorder, even a vitamin K deficiency. In any of these cases, a medical examination is warranted.
2 Seizing Spasms
Newborn seizures are defined as occurring in an infant under 28 days old. Typically, they aren’t caused by epilepsy although any baby experiencing one does have an increased risk in developing epilepsy later in life.
Seizures in babies this young are often difficult to notice as they are generally short and subtle. They may entail any of the following movements:
- Limb jerkiness
- Repetitive facial movements
- Bicycling motion of the legs
That said, many of these movements are made by perfectly healthy newborns as well. Sometimes, it requires undergoing an EEG for doctors to make a definitive diagnosis in infants this young.
The reasons for newborn seizures vary and include:
- A lack of oxygen prior to or during labor and delivery
- Bleeding, blood clot or other brain abnormality
- Metabolic issues
- Drug withdrawal (in infants born to addicts)
The risk of suffering newborn seizures is higher if a baby is a preemie or born underweight.
1 A Touch Of Blue/Gray
For parents noticing an area of baby’s skin that seems tinged blue/gray, they should immediately check them from head to toe. This particular symptom can signify several different things. It may mean that blood in the affected area is not as replete with oxygen as it should be. Either a baby’s lungs are not receiving the necessary amount of oxygen required or else their blood circulation is sluggish for some reason.
If a baby appears to be bluish everywhere - but especially in the lips, tongue, vagina and/or scrotum, this can sometimes signify a potential heart or lung defect. However if only places like the hands, feet and around the mouth appear blue and only some of the time - this is most likely nothing beyond an immature circulatory system that a baby will outgrow.
There is also a chance that any blue/gray areas are affected by a particular pigmentation birth mark. These marks typically appear on an infant’s buttocks and lower back and are often confused for bruising. Fortunately, they often fade over time.
That said, if baby has a bluish tinge to their skin and is also exhibiting signs of breathing trouble, do not hesitate getting them straight to the ER.
Sources: HopkinsMedicine.org, SheKnows.com, Parents.com, KidsHealth.org, WebMD.com, AboutKidsHealth.ca, LiveStrong.com