Babies sometimes get sick. After all, they’re still just fragile little beings still dependent on mom and dad for survival. They’re not, for instance, like giraffes who come out of their mom’s womb ready to walk and do regular giraffe things. So little humans are prone to all sorts of illnesses and injuries brought by exposure to the outside world. Also, however, they may have conditions that can only be blamed on their genes.
Most of the time, these conditions are nothing to worry about. Perhaps they’ll take the little one to the doctor in the first few months, when they’re still jumpy and borderline paranoid about their baby’s health. However, when couples have spent a certain number of years being parents, they end up ignoring some of their baby’s symptoms. After all, they’ve pretty much seen it all before. They figure that if these same symptoms hasn’t killed any baby they know of just yet, nothing bad is going to happen now, right?
Well, not exactly. Some symptoms that are fairly familiar in harmless diseases can sometimes also be found in more dangerous, even deadly conditions. Which is why there are some things that, no matter how often the baby gets them, it’s still important to consult a doctor.
Here are fifteen symptoms that a parent should never ignore no matter how familiar they become. After all, it can be difficult to tell where to draw the line between the common cold and a dangerous bout of pneumonia. It’s best for mom and dad not to let these warning signs slip past them.
15Sudden Developmental Delay
Babies develop at different rates. Which is why, most of the time, moms and dads don’t need to worry if their little one is a bit behind compared to their peers. However, just as important as monitoring the progress of development is determining the rate at which it occurs. In particular, look out for a baby who is developmentally normal until at a certain point, development stops or even regresses.
This usually occurs at around six months of age and is a symptom of a fatal genetic disorder called Tay-Sachs Disease. A baby must inherit the faulty gene from both parents to get this condition, so it’s often under the radar as far as family history is concerned. Babies with Tay-Sachs accumulate a toxic substance in their body which slowly destroys brain and nerve cells, this results in said developmental regression and then seizures. The child often becomes blind and paralyzed by the age of three or four.
14Fever above 38
Let’s be clear: for babies above 3 months old, a fever about 38 degrees Celsius should be fine, for as long as it doesn’t last more than 24 hours. But for infants less than 3 months old, it’s important to see the doctor for fevers that go 38 degrees or above. In fact, it’s probably best to head on to the emergency room if it’s the middle of the night. This is because the immune system is not yet developed in young babies and so they may not develop the signs of serious illness until it’s too late. As such, they will require close monitoring and immediate treatment just to make sure that their condition does not escalate quickly.
For parents who are tempted to just give a medication for fever and wait until morning, it’s important to note that fever is a symptom and not the cause. The fever might go down but whatever is causing the fever could still be wreaking havoc in the baby.
Anyone who has taken care of an infant will recognize fontanelles. These are little soft spots in the skull where the bones have not yet fused. All of these spots fully close at about eighteen months. Before then, however, they can tell the parent quite a bit about the baby’s health. But because they’re such an obscure feature, many parents take them for granted.
Fontanelles that bulge out, for instance, often means that there is increased pressure in the head. This could mean anything from meningitis to hydrocephalus, all of which are deadly without immediate treatment. On the flip side, fontanelles that are sunken down could mean malnutrition or dehydration. These are also serious conditions that need medical intervention right away. When assessing a little one for illness, therefore, it’s best to check the fontanelles. An abnormality in them could mean the difference between an illness that can wait and one that will require rushing to the emergency room!
Babies are known to be demanding, crying a lot when their whims are not met and frolicking around when they’re feeling particularly curious. While this may seem a daily inconvenience, it’s actually also a blessing that the little one is often a bit of a bother. This is because a baby who becomes lethargic – that is, one that is drowsy and has little energy – may be seriously ill. Sometimes it can be the sign of just a cold. However, it’s important to be alert. Lethargy can also be a symptom of serious conditions such as meningitis or heart disease.
If it’s difficult to tell the difference between lethargy and the baby’s low-energy periods, just observe him for a while. If he regains energy after rest, he’s probably fine. If, however, he seems to be asleep all the time and is extremely sluggish when awake, often with flaccid limbs, the little one may be in trouble.
11Jaundice that Gets Worse
Jaundice is skin yellowing that is common in babies. This is because of too much of a substance called bilirubin in the blood, which is formed when red blood cells are broken down. In the first few days of life, babies still are unable to get rid of it and so it may build up in their bodies. A little bit of jaundice is often nothing to worry about. It often appears about a day after childbirth and disappears in about a week.
However, if the jaundice doesn’t start to get better after the third day, it might be vital to get the little one checked. This may be due to a serious infection or hemolytic disease of the newborn. This is especially if the baby is also lethargic or cranky and is arching his back. A newborn with serious jaundice might need phototherapy – that is, treatment with lights – or a blood transfusion.
That babies cry is a fact of life. However, not all cries are made equal. A cry that is particularly high-pitched often means that the little one is experiencing extreme pain. This is especially if he is also arching his back as he does so. This could be a sign of a serious infection, especially if he also has a fever and other symptoms.
In babies with jaundice, a high-pitched cry could mean kernicterus. Kernicterus is a condition in which there is so much bilirubin in the blood that the nervous system is affected. Speaking of the nervous system, a high-pitched cry, especially in response to something trivial, could signal brain damage. This is because when certain parts of the brain are injured, the little one becomes extremely sensitive to things like light and sound. It may therefore be worth getting the baby checked, just in case it is anything serious.
When a baby has a cold or allergies, he may have some trouble breathing. Often, this is the result of nasal congestion, which can be managed with suctioning or simply elevating the baby’s head and chest to allow the fluid to drain. However, it’s important to continue to monitor the baby’s breathing patterns even if mom thinks it’s just an allergy.
A baby who grunts or whose nostrils flare while breathing, or one who inhales so hard that indents appear below his ribs, might have a problem that requires immediate treatment. If he begins to turn blue, definitely call 911 immediately. Keep in mind that oxygen is essential to life. Not getting enough of it, even for a few minutes can lead to permanent brain damage. There are many possible causes for a difficulty of breathing but, regardless, it is a medical emergency that needs to be addressed right away.
A cough can mean any number of things. Sometimes it’s nothing to worry about, but other times it’s extremely serious. Generally, however, it’s one of the body’s natural mechanisms to clear out the airway of anything that’s blocking it, be it phlegm, mucus or a bit of food that got stuck in there. The most obvious way to relieve it is to help clear out whatever’s stuck in the baby’s airway.
Anything that completely blocks the little one’s windpipe is an immediate threat to his life. When this happens, it’s pretty obvious. The baby will be in obvious distress and will be coughing without any sound. In this case, infant first aid and, possibly, a call to 911 will be necessary. If the cough doesn’t seem to be an immediate danger to the baby, make sure to assess the baby for other symptoms. If the little one is breathing too fast or if the cough lasts for more than four days, it might be best to get treatment.
7Refusing To Feed
Babies practically live to feed. Which is why it should be alarming if, all of a sudden, his appetite disappears. In some cases, this may be nothing more than a simple “nursing strike”, brought about by certain stressors. This happens, for instance, in babies who are teething or who have recently been ill. It may also occur if the little one has associated the feeding with pain or discomfort. In some cases, this will go away in a few hours while, in others, a health care professional may need to help the baby get back to feeding.
However, refusal to feed is also a key symptom in some disease conditions. Babies experiencing severe respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, for instance, will have a markedly decreased appetite. This is because they have trouble breathing while feeding or experience severe abdominal pain afterwards. In this case, it’s best to get the baby checked, especially if he’s also experiencing other symptoms.
Vomiting can be a particularly serious symptom. We’re not talking about when the little one spits out milk after a feeding, either. This is because too much vomiting can result in dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance both of which can be fatal when severe. Any vomiting in excess, therefore, will require a trip to the ER.
There are other kinds of vomiting to look out for, however. If the little one throws up greenish bile, this could mean that there is an obstruction somewhere in his gastrointestinal system. Or he could be vomiting black bits that resemble coffee grounds, something that indicates there is bleeding. These could both indicate serious problems that require medical intervention. Also of concern is if the little one somehow hits his head and begins projectile vomiting soon afterwards. This could mean that the baby has suffered a skull fracture or some sort of brain injury which has increased intracranial pressure.
5Sudden Stomach Pain
On the one hand, there’s colic. This unfortunately incurable, painful condition can cause a baby to cry for hours on end without relief. It’s not quite clear what causes colic, although some do speculate that it’s just gas pain. Doctors often reach this diagnosis only after all other medical reasons for the pain has been ruled out. Fortunately, however, it is harmless and often disappears completely by the time the little one is five months old.
On the other hand, there are a number of other potentially dangerous conditions that could cause stomach pain in the baby. Intestinal blockage, for instance, can cause a lot of misery. Suspect this if the pain is sudden in onset and increases sharply in intensity. It is also often accompanied by vomiting. Also check on what the baby was doing prior to the pain. In some cases, the little one may have ingested something poisonous. If this is a possibility, call the National Poison Center immediately.
4Decreased Urine Output
Many parents don’t really pay a lot of attention to their baby’s diapers. After all, once the little one has gone through enough of them, there’s pretty much only two ways to describe them: they either need changing or they don’t. However, when the baby is ill, it is sometimes extremely important to keep track of just how much the little one is peeing out and what it looks like.
A baby that is dehydrated will produce a lot less urine than he normally would. As a general rule, if the little one goes for six hours without wetting his diaper, something is definitely wrong. As well, his urine will be significantly darker than usual. This is something that any parent should be concerned about, especially if the little one is not feeding well or is vomiting or has diarrhea. If left untreated, this can lead to serious problems such as low blood pressure and seizures.
3Prolonged Bleeding Or Easy Bruising
A little cut or scrape or bruise here or there is often expected in babies who are particularly active, especially as they begin to learn to crawl. After all, in their efforts to explore the world, sometimes there might be minor accidents. However, parents had best watch out for certain things about that. Some babies bruise way too easily, their delicate skin turning purple at even the slightest touch. Sometimes, the symptoms may be a bit subtler. Any cuts and scrapes on the little one may take unusually long to heal.
If this is the case, the little one may have one of an array of bleeding disorders, some of which are more serious than others. If a parent suspects that the little one has a bleeding problem, it’s best to take him to the doctor. There, the doctor can run several blood tests to determine if there is, indeed, something to worry about.
Some diseases that have been almost wiped out by vaccines are slowly making a comeback as more and more parents opt not to vaccinate their children. One of the most terrifying of these is neonatal tetanus, a condition that used to be fairly common before the vaccine. This was especially in infants whose umbilical cords were not cut with sterile equipment. Tetanus is caused by bacteria which produces toxins that tighten the muscles. As such, a baby with tetanus will experience rigid muscles and difficulty swallowing, symptoms which can sometimes be mistaken for a regular old crying session.
This disease can be tragic, especially considering that the mortality rate for neonatal tetanus is about 70 percent, with death occurring in less than 2 weeks after birth. Because of this, vaccination is the best way to prevent it. Fortunately, however, if mom receives a tetanus vaccination, she can pass on immunity to the baby during pregnancy.
If the little one’s abdomen seems larger than usual, it’s important to get it checked. For one thing, it could be any of the common forms of intestinal obstruction in babies, some of which could be fatal if left untreated. However, one particular condition that parents should be concerned about is necrotizing enterocolitis. This is when portions of the baby’s bowel basically die off. For reasons unknown, this is common in babies that are born prematurely. In fact, it’s one of the second most common illness in premature infants, second only to respiratory distress syndrome.
Initially, it presents as abdominal distention and, perhaps, some blood in the poop. Later the stomach becomes tender and painful to touch. For suspected cases, immediate diagnosis is necessary so that the little one does not reach the point where the intestines become perforated. The earlier the little one receives treatment, the better his chances of survival.
Meningitis.org, Wedmd.com, NCBI.gov, AboutKidsHealth.ca, BabyCenter.com
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