The birth of a baby is the best reason for a hospital visit, especially considering all the other reasons a mom may end up there. And while the first few hours and days following a baby’s birth are a whirlwind of excitement and visitors and tiny newborn outfits, they’re also full of difficult moments. From newborn testing that involves pricking the perfect infant, to learning to breastfeed without pain, not to mention mom’s recovery from the delivery, there’s a lot going on that can be hard on mom and her baby.
Whether it’s mom’s first baby or she’s already a pro, it’s not always easy to adapt to life with a newborn. Most baby books neglect to mention it, but unfortunately, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Ideally, mom and baby are under monitoring from their nurses and other healthcare professionals, but sometimes symptoms slip through the cracks. Even veteran moms may not catch troublesome signs of illness or complications in their babies or themselves, meaning the road ahead is rougher for it.
Most new moms are familiar with the breastfeeding struggle, multiple sessions with lactation consultants, follow-up newborn testing, and being woken throughout the night for not only baby’s needs, but also hospital staff making their rounds. But amidst the chaos, keeping an eye out for these fifteen warning signs may save mom and baby trouble in the long run.
15 Pinprick Shows Problems
Most hospitals and birth centers perform testing on all newborns. This includes a newborn heel stick, where doctors take a small amount of blood from your baby’s heel to check for common diseases. Most of the time, babies cry or fuss during the process, although nursing or feeding can help. Afterward, baby will probably have a little residual blood and need a bandage.
But if the bleeding continues, seeping through the bandage, or continues for more than a few minutes or an hour, that’s a problem.
It could indicate that the baby has hemophilia, a bleeding disorder that can be life-threatening.
According to NCBI, hemophilia A and B are the most common internal bleeding disorders. Usually, a family history of hemophilia exists, but not always. Major bleeding is relatively uncommon, they note, but the “incidence of intracranial hemorrhage is higher during the first few days of life than at any other stage in childhood.” This is because of the “trauma” of delivery, they explain.
Unfortunately, unless families know to test for hemophilia, even a slight heel stick can cause babies prolonged pain and unnecessary bleeding. Also, some parents have chosen circumcision without realizing their baby has a bleeding disorder. While circumcision is a painful cosmetic procedure that’s not medically necessary, for hemophiliac and other infants, it can prove deadly.
14 Looking A Little Yellow
Many babies are born with jaundice, a slight yellowing of the skin. Jaundice happens when babies have high levels of bilirubin in their blood. Bilirubin is a pigment that results when the liver breaks down hemoglobin. With too much bilirubin, your baby’s brain is at risk of damage. Fortunately, most cases of jaundice are minor, but even a baby with mild jaundice can become very sick in a short period of time.
Most hospitals have methods for checking bilirubin levels, whether through a blood test, forehead scanner, or other non-invasive means. WebMD notes that high bilirubin levels are common in newborns. If you stay in the hospital after delivery, a nurse or pediatrician may check your baby’s bilirubin levels multiple times during your stay. As long as the number is going down, that’s a good sign.
However, babies who are breastfed often take longer to get all the bilirubin out of their systems. Formula fed infants, on the other hand, receive roughly the same amount of food at every feeding and aren’t waiting for mom’s milk to come in to eat. That means the bilirubin flushes out faster.
The key is catching symptoms of jaundice- which can also include lethargy, dark colored urine, and dehydration- and making sure babies eat enough to get rid of the excess bilirubin. Left unchecked, jaundice can make babies really sick and lead to brain damage.
13 Suspicious Skin Conditions
Admittedly, most newborn babies aren’t that nice to look at. And I’m not trying to be mean- it’s just a fact. Most newborns have oddly-shaped heads from squeezing through the birth canal, but that’s not the only odd thing about them. Most babies come out with at least a little vernix on them, that cheesy-looking white stuff that protects their skin while they float in their own personal pools.
Depending on your due date and baby’s actual arrival date, you might see more or less vernix than average. Then there’s lanugo, the fine hair that many babies arrive with, especially if they’re early.
Most newborns also develop baby acne in their early days, so your tiny toy may not be the picture of clear skin for a while yet.
But these things are all normal- and you’ll still think your baby is the most adorable one on the planet. What’s not normal is certain skin conditions that crop up at or right after birth. For example, one newborn baby was born with “blue lesions” at birth. The Mirror reported that baby Mia arrived covered with blue spots- and it was so bad, doctors didn’t think she’d make it.
They nicknamed her the “blueberry muffin baby,” and according to a case report in the Indian Journal of Paediatric Dermatology, the condition can be caused by serious conditions like rubella, cytomegalovirus, Coxsackie B2 infection, parvovirus B19, congenital syphilis, toxoplasmosis, and rhesus incompatibility.
12 Unenthusiastic Latch
While most babies use their instincts to figure out how to breastfeed shortly after birth, some moms need a bit of help to get the milk flowing. There are a ton of tactics to help new moms with breastfeeding, but what if the problem seems to be the baby? A baby whose latch is “lazy” won’t get enough milk, and that can be dangerous in the early days when mom’s milk isn’t in yet. Babies usually have to work at getting the milk flowing- but what if they don’t?
According to Ask Lenore, babies are not “lazy.” If a baby falls asleep at the breast or isn’t latching effectively, it’s more likely that the flow of milk is slow, the site explains. Still, mom can try different tricks to help baby latch better, and there’s often help available in the form of lactation consultants and nurses.
The key, however, to spotting this early warning sign and fixing it before the baby becomes dehydrated or malnourished is to make sure baby’s actually getting milk. Ask Lenore tells moms to watch for baby’s swallowing- a pause in between suckling- but you can also ask your nurse to weigh the baby before and after each feeding if you’re not sure.
11 Clicking While Snacking
Another common challenge is babies that “click” when they’re nursing. Sure, your little one is new to the world and to breastfeeding, but is that clicking noise just a normal part of the process? Kelly Mom says no- clicking is a sign of a latch problem. It actually means that the baby is breaking the seal that their mouth needs to maintain on the breast.
Clicking can be normal, but in the first few feeds, you’ll want to check with a professional to make sure your baby’s clicking isn’t a more serious sign.
While clicking can indicate a poor latch or poor positioning, that’s only one of the potential problems. Depending on how the baby moves his tongue and lips, clicking might happen. But engorgement can also make it hard for baby to “hang on” at the breast and maintain suction.
Clicking can also happen if mom has an oversupply or an overactive letdown. That means baby is getting a whole lot of milk- fast- and can’t handle it fast enough. The “clicking” is baby trying to pause the flow so he doesn’t choke. Kelly Mom also notes that while it’s less common, clicking can also be a sign of “anatomical variations” in baby’s mouth. That includes issues like a tongue tie, tight frenulum, high-arched palate, or soft palate cleft.
10 Lethargic Little One
You already know that jaundice can cause a baby to feel sleepy, but a lethargic infant isn’t something to take lightly. Babies sleep a lot, sure, but if your newborn is constantly snoozing after birth, it could be a sign of something more serious.
For example, when my second son was born, I was GBS positive. That means my body was carrying a type of bacteria- group B Streptococcus- that isn’t typically harmful to mom but can make babies sick. According to American Pregnancy, GBS is common in about 25 percent of all healthy adult women. So finding it in a pregnant woman isn’t that huge of a deal. Also, only one out of every 200 babies who are born to a mom with GBS (who doesn’t have antibiotics during labor) will develop symptoms.
Personally, my doctor wanted me to have IV antibiotics during labor, but I only had time for one dose since labor went fast (two doses is the guideline). Therefore, the pediatrician worried that my son was at risk. He had slight jaundice, which could explain the lethargy, but our pediatrician didn’t want to take any chances. Fortunately, my son was GBS negative, but it was still a scary time!
Luckily, if you have attentive care while in the hospital, your baby likely has low odds of contracting GBS if you’re positive for it- especially if you have antibiotics. There are also other methods of ridding your body of GBS- but talk to your doctor or midwife if you have it!
9 Telltale Dimples
Dimples are adorable- when they’re on a baby’s cheeks. But if your babe has a dimple on his bottom, that may be a bad sign. Most often, your baby’s pediatrician, or the hospital or facility’s attending ped, will examine your little one within his first day or so of life. The exam covers everything from head to toe, and you’ll also get your baby’s weight, height, and other measurements.
A dimple on your baby’s bum- or, more accurately, above his bum- is called a sacral dimple. It’s a “small cleft” at the base of the spine.
According to Medical News Today, sacral dimples don’t always indicate a problem. However, some babies with this telltale sign can have issues.
Anywhere from two to four percent of babies have a sacral dimple, and some of those babies can have significant spinal problems. If your tot has a dimple plus any of these other symptoms, it can be a serious health concern: swelling, skin tags, a birthmark in the area, a patch of hair near the dimple, a fatty lump, a dimple larger or deeper than five millimeters, discoloration, or tenderness.
Conditions related to sacral dimples are: chronic rashes, cysts, infection, and spina bifida occulta.
8 Dried Out Diapers
If you’re lucky, your baby’s tiny little bum made it into a diaper before the dreaded first poop happened. Parents always talk about how gross meconium poops are, but it’s just another glorious part of having a newborn baby! It’s also the start of a serious diaper-tracking business. Most hospitals or birth centers will provide parents with a sheet to track wet and dirty diapers on. It’s one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to make sure baby is having enough to eat. On the flip side, dry diapers mean baby might be dehydrated- and that can cause life-threatening problems for a tiny baby.
According to Kelly Mom, breastfed babies should have one wet diaper for each day of life. Formula fed babies will likely have more, because they’re not waiting on mom’s full milk supply to come in. After day four, breastfed babies should be making more pleasant poo than the first one, and it will happen much more often.
Kelly Mom also offers the tip of pouring three tablespoons of water into a dry diaper to show yourself what a “sufficiently wet diaper is like.” It might be less than you expect, but as long as baby is making diapers that are sufficiently wet, odds are, your baby is not dehydrated.
7 Sweet Baby Low Sugar
If you’ve never had gestational diabetes or any other form of diabetes, you may not be aware that blood sugar is a concern with newborns. Preemies often have trouble maintaining their body temperature and regulating their blood sugar, but parents don’t usually worry about term babies’ systems running poorly.
For moms with gestational diabetes, poorly controlled diabetes can affect baby’s health. For example, babies whose moms have unchecked high and low blood sugars, the baby’s body might produce more insulin to regulate his own blood sugar. Once he’s born, the baby continues producing too much insulin, which makes his blood sugar dip dangerously low.
Fortunately, it’s rare for babies to have low blood sugar if they’re full-term and otherwise healthy, Baby Centre UK explains.
But babies with hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar, need treatment and fast. Often, babies won’t show visible signs of having low blood sugar.
But if mom has diabetes, gestational or otherwise, the doctor or nurses will probably want to check baby’s sugars just to be safe.
Some signs of low blood sugar are baby acting jittery or irritable, sleepy, floppy, or even seizure activity if the blood sugar is extremely low. Thankfully, the answer to low blood sugar is often just regular feedings, but some babies go on to develop diabetes that requires lifelong treatment.
6 Baby’s Burning Up
Maybe it’s just the hospitals where I delivered, but I don’t remember anyone taking either of my sons’ temperatures when they were newborns. Usually, hospitals try to keep babies close to their moms, since skin-to-skin contact can help baby regulate her own temperature- with mom’s help. But sometimes, baby’s temperature can go haywire- and there’s usually a serious reason why.
Fevers are often the first sign of infection and other serious issues. According to WebMD, a newborn’s normal temperature ranges between 97 degrees Fahrenheit and 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit. They note that most doctors consider a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to be a fever. In severe cases, babies can have even higher temperatures.
Fevers usually indicate that the body is fighting an illness, but it’s also a good indicator that baby’s immune system is working. It could just be a cold or other virus causing the spike in temperature, but WebMD lists things like pneumonia, urinary tract infection, ear infection, blood bacterial infection, or meningitis as other potential causes. They go on to explain that overdressing your baby can cause a high temperature, as can a reaction to a vaccine- entirely possible if your baby receives a vaccine in the hospital within hours of birth.
5 Weird Wheezing
Don’t panic just yet- according to Healthline, some types of wheezing are common with newborns. Others can be dangerous, however. When babies are sleeping, they usually take slower and deeper breaths, Healthline explains. Wheezing isn’t the same as heavy breathing, though. Grunting and sighing also isn’t the same as wheezing.
Their overall explanation is that wheezing usually happens when babies exhale. Something blocks or narrows the lower airway passages in their lungs. Even “tiny bits of dried mucus” can create a whistling noise when the baby breathes.
The thing is, it often takes a nurse or doctor with a stethoscope to tell whether what you hear is dangerous or just run of the mill.
Causes of wheezing can range from allergies- unlikely in a newborn- to bronchiolitis, asthma, pneumonia, pertussis, or even a congenital disease like cystic fibrosis. The thing is, newborns have also just exited a really wet environment. Some babies aspirate amniotic fluid, so they may be coughing that up directly after birth.
It’s hard to tell whether your baby’s truly wheezing and struggling to breathe or if they’re just sighing and settling into the outside world. But in general, if you have a concern, be sure to tell your healthcare team- it’s better to be safe than sorry, after all.
4 Concerning Clotting
So far, we’ve talked about warning signs for baby that can be caught the first day in the hospital. But moms are important too! And some of the most common issues for new moms go unchecked because there’s such a big focus on the health of the baby.
Although most hospitals and birth centers will give you a speech on what to look for postpartum, it’s hard to know what’s normal and what’s not concerning bleeding. Your nurse may tell you to change your pad every few hours and let someone know if you pass large clots. But what constitutes a “large clot?”
According to What to Expect, postpartum bleeding, or lochia, can last for anywhere from three to ten days postpartum. And it’s not just blood, either. Your body is expelling mucus and tissue from your uterus- gross, but necessary. Lochia should stop sometime between four and six weeks postpartum, they note, fading from bright red to pink to brown and then yellowish white.
In general, if you’re soaking a pad within the hour- for several hours in a row- that’s a sign that something’s not right. You may have retained tissue or be hemorrhaging, and you’ll need immediate care to prevent any further problems.
3 Unattached To Baby
It’s entirely normal for moms to not feel immediately attached to their newborn babies. According to Fit Pregnancy, anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of new moms experience Baby Blues. Baby Blues involves a “short-lived period of feeling sad, weepy, or otherwise moody,” and it’s caused by normal hormonal changes after birth.
So while dad or a healthcare professional may notice mom acting weepy and weird, they might not think there’s any problem. Plenty of new moms are emotional, and that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them.
But some moms experience more severe symptoms than Baby Blues. Postpartum depression is a serious challenge for many moms- anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of new moms.
Postpartum depression lasts much longer than few weeks, especially if mom is left to struggle with it alone. Some moms are reluctant to seek help, but an attentive partner or healthcare provider can often guide her in the right direction.
The thing is, new moms often feel guilty or ashamed for not immediately bonding with their babies or feeling overwhelmed. But if someone close to them- or even a trusted nurse, lactation consultant, midwife, or doctor- reaches out, they may help mom avoid months of inner turmoil and potentially scary outcomes for her and baby.
2 All Dried Up
Though baby’s latch is an important consideration for moms who choose to breastfeed, there are times when warning signs pop up early on. As Breastfeeding Support explains, after your baby is born, the separation of the placenta triggers a hormone drop. The hormone drop starts milk production- within about 32 to 40 hours after birth. A combination of hormones help milk production, and by day two or three after birth, moms usually make regular milk instead of colostrum.
However, if your baby’s latch isn’t effective, or if they’re taking a while to get to the breast, your body might shut down milk production. Like Breastfeeding Support notes, anything that affects any of the lactation hormones or the milk removal process can cause supply issues. Milk might take longer to come in, and there may be less of it when it does.
While most moms will wind up making enough milk for their babies, some won’t. While it’s a small percentage of moms that never make any milk at all, odds are, you’ll be fine. However, if your baby shows no signs of getting nourishment while in the hospital, and you aren’t able to pump or manually express any colostrum, that could be a sign of underlying milk-making issues.
1 Mom’s Burning Up
Another serious side effect for mom involves fever after birth. The same as in her newborn, a fever for mom indicates her immune system is fighting something off. Postpartum fever can have many causes, but the primary cause is an infection. One common infection in postpartum moms is endometritis- inflammation of the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus. Moms often experience fever, along with abdominal pain and potentially abnormal bleeding or discharge.
Unfortunately, according to American Family Physician,
moms who have a C-section delivery have a higher risk of endometritis. Other causes of fever in postpartum moms include urinary tract infections, wound infections, or phlebitis (inflammation of a vein).
It’s also possible for moms to be sick prior to delivery, and then once the baby is out, she’s hit hard with the illness. In some cases, moms have urinary tract infections without knowing it- especially when they’re uncomfortable already from pregnancy symptoms. Plus, UTIs present differently for every woman and in different stages of life.
Most healthcare professionals are taught to take fevers very seriously. However, that doesn’t mean they always catch every sign and symptom. So, if you feel out of sorts in the first day in the hospital following delivery, you should tell someone right away.