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Infection is a scary word, especially in terms of newborns. Luckily there are several signs of infection in newborns that can alert us to something awry.
Newborns, whether premature or full term, are at a higher risk of infection (bacterial, viral, fungal, any type) than most other people. Why? They haven’t built up a good immune system yet.
Not only are they at higher risk of infection, they are at higher risk of sepsis secondary to infection. Newborn bodies are not equipped to localize infection, so it spreads easily. What once was a UTI could easily become a blood stream infection. (This is why it’s so important for you to consider having a visitation policy that limits visitors in the beginning!)
I don’t mean to scare anyone. I simply want to put moms and dads on their guard. It’s important to pay attention to your newborn. No one knows them better than you, so if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
So if you notice any of these signs of infection in newborns, get your baby seen, whether in the ER or by your pediatrician.
Most people know that a fever usually means something nasty is brewing. But did you know that a low temperature can be just as concerning?
If your baby’s temperature falls outside the range of 97.7° F – 100.3° F (36.5-37.9 C) in the first three months of life, there’s probably something there there.
A couple of things to note about temperature
Think smart about keeping your baby warm. I have seen it on both ends of the scope where parents wrap their babies in too many or too few blankets.
Your newborn should be able to maintain his or her temperature with a set of clothes, and a light swaddle blanket or two. Hat and socks are a good idea if it’s a bit drafty in your home. Big fluffy blankets are cute but usually not necessary. They can lead you to believe your little one has a fever when really they are just too hot under that blanket!
You don’t have to take a temperature all the time. If your baby feels hot or cold, or has other worrisome symptoms such as those below, it’s a good time to check!
If you’re concerned your baby has a low temp or fever but you get a normal reading on your thermometer, always do a double check with a rectal thermometer, which is more accurate than anything else. Yes, your baby is likely to fuss at you for doing this, but it’s for their safety!
Irritability alone is not an indicator of infection, but it is another sign that when coupled with others, can mean your LO is having trouble. They don’t feel good – so they fuss. You would too, wouldn’t you?
They aren’t eating as much
If your baby is refusing to eat, or isn’t eating as much as normal, they should be seen soon. While this isn’t a single indicator of infection, it often accompanies infection. Dehydration in newborns can happen fast because they have/need a lot more fluid volume than bigger humans.
Vomiting and diarrhea
Vomiting or diarrhea alone don’t mean much, but together, they’re usually a sign of illness. & again, they can lead to dehydration quickly if that volume isn’t being replaced by eating, so get them in to see a pro.
If your LO isn’t waking up like normal to feed, or doesn’t respond easily to being woken up, something is going on.
You’ll probably know it when you see it. Your newborn might be head bobbing or flaring his or her nares. Your LO might be gasping, or “pulling” around the rib cage. These are never good signs – take them in as soon as possible.
Something just isn’t right
Maybe you don’t know exactly what it is that’s bothering you, but it’s something. It doesn’t hurt to have your baby seen by the pediatrician just to be on the safe side!
What will happen to your baby?
Putting the signs all together is what your pediatrician or other doctor will do. They will do an exam to see if they can figure out what is wrong without putting your child through too many unnecessary tests.
If the symptoms are non-specific, they may need to run several tests to rule out dangerous things like meningitis, blood stream infection, and UTI. Your baby may get a course of antibiotics or other medication while the tests are brewing, which usually takes 1-2 days.
If anything is found that requires further monitoring, you may get admitted to the hospital for as long as needed to treat your baby.
So just remember, don’t second guess yourself in the newborn phase. You are your baby’s advocate, so speak up if you’re concerned that something is wrong!
Want more easy care tips for your newborn? Check out my newborn care series!