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6 Serious Symptoms in Babies Never to Ignore

Find out what to do if your baby shows these symptoms.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD

Becoming a parent for the first time is amazing, but it can also be scary -- especially the first time your baby gets sick. 

It can be tempting to hit the panic button for every little cough or rash. How can you tell what's serious, what's just new parent jitters, and what can wait until your baby’s next checkup?

Here are six serious symptoms in babies that you should never ignore.

1. Blue lips (cyanosis)

“If your baby’s lips are turning blue, or the mucus membranes in their mouth or tongue turn blue, this is a sign that they are not getting enough oxygen,” says Carrie Drazba, MD, a pediatrician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. This condition is known as cyanosis.

What should you do?

“If your baby is turning blue, calling 911 is very appropriate,” Drazba says.

2. Strained breathing

All babies grunt and groan from time to time. But if their breathing is consistently hard and fast, and you can see that they are using their chest muscles more than they should be and that their nostrils flare out, it may be a sign of respiratory distress, says Jadene Wong, MD, a clinical instructor in pediatrics at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

What should you do?

“Call your pediatrician right away, and if it is after-hours, consider a trip to the emergency room,” Wong says.  

3. Fever over 100.4 F or 38 C (in newborns)

“If your infant is less than three months and has a rectal temperature greater than 100.4 F, call your pediatrician,” Drazba says. “Fever in a newborn is very non-specific. It can be anything from a cold to meningitis, and we treat a fever more seriously in newborns,” she says. 

What should you do?

“Always take a newborn’s temperature rectally because other ways are not as accurate in newborns,” Drazba says.

Call your doctor if your newborn has a fever.

“A newborn may be admitted to the hospital to undergo a battery of tests, including a spinal tap for evaluation of what is causing the fever, and he or she may need antibiotics,” Drazba says. A fever is not always serious in older children with more developed immune systems.

4. Worsening jaundice (yellowing of the skin)

If your newborn is getting yellower and yellower after birth, he or she may have worsening jaundice.

“Not all jaundice is dangerous,” Wong says. “Some is normal and will go away on its own, but if it is increasing as opposed to going away, it may need an evaluation.”  

Bilirubin is produced by the liver. “The liver in the baby is like a furnace: it takes a while to get it going,  but once we get it going, it’s OK,” Wong says. “When they are born, if their liver is not up to speed, bilirubin can build up in the body and cause the skin to turn a yellowish color."

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