5 newborn health concerns you shouldn’t ignore

Use this checklist to spot the newborn health concerns that should raise a red flag. By Tammy Jacks


If you’re a first-time parent, caring for your baby can feel quite daunting as there are so many factors to take note of.

The good news is, most newborn babies whose basic needs are met, are generally healthy, and not every cry is worth worrying about. Luckily, there are only a handful of newborn health concerns that require medical care and attention.

ALSO SEE: 5 things first-time moms shouldn’t worry about

We asked clinic sister and co-author of Baby Sense, Ann Richardson, to elaborate on some of the more serious symptoms you should watch out for.

Breathing changes

According to Stanford Children’s Health, babies breathe much faster than older children and adults, and this is completely normal. Periodic breathing, where your little one might take a few quick breathes, followed by a few slow ones, is also normal.

However, if your newborn is grunting often and struggling to take in air, or you notice that your baby is using her tummy or other muscles and parts of the chest to suck in a lot of air while trying to breathe, then you should see your doctor immediately, says Ann.

Standford Children’s Health also outline the following breathing problems to take note of:


Occasionally, coughing or choking may occur when a baby takes in milk too quickly during a feed. Persistent coughing or choking may indicate a breathing problem, or a problem with digestion that should be examined.

Continuous rapid or slow breathing

Rapid breathing that’s more than 60 breaths each minute is a sign of a problem. Also, breathing that stops for longer than 20 seconds, called apnoea, can be a serious issue that requires medical attention.

ALSO SEE: Baby sleep apnoea – everything you need to know

Body temperature changes

We know that babies struggle to regulate their body temperature and can lose heat rapidly if not dressed correctly – especially after a bath. While this is a normal part of your baby’s development, Standford medical experts warn that sudden changes in your baby’s body temperature should raise alarm bells.

For a newborn, a fever is considered 38°C or higher and your little one’s temperature is too low if it’s under 36.5°C. Both extremes warrant a call to the doctor, says Ann. Also, a fever that doesn’t respond to medication after 20-30 minutes is also serious and shouldn’t be ignored, she adds.

ALSO SEE: 8 signs that your baby is overheating 

Skin changes

A newborn’s skin is different to an adult’s, in the sense that it’s more delicate, fragile and porous. This means it will naturally be more sensitive to climate changes or the type of washing powder you use etc. This might result in the occasional skin rash or irritation.

ALSO SEE: Baby skin rashes – what you need to know

However, if you notice that your newborn’s skin (or white of her eyes) is looking yellow, especially after a week or so after birth, it’s important to take her to the doctor immediately. This could be a sign of jaundice which is easily treated but shouldn’t be ignored. Extreme cases of jaundice can result in brain damage.

ALSO SEE: Jaundice explained

Other skin changes to watch out for include:

  • Blue lips or ears when feeding or on exertion.
  • Infection, redness and swelling of the umbilical cord area.
  • Yellow discharge from the eyes or ears.

Behaviour changes

In the early days (for at least the first 12 weeks), newborn babies should be sleeping often, with naps lasting anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours, and they should be feeding in between.

Sometimes your baby might sleep for a longer stretch, around 4 to 5 hours, but some experts suggest waking your baby for feeds, especially in the first two to three weeks after birth.

“If your baby experiences any extreme behaviour changes which deviate from the scenario above, it’s always a good idea to see your paediatrician who can rule out any potential health problems,” says Ann.

Also watch out for the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme lethargy
  • High pitched crying
  • Not settling to sleep at all
  • Crying for three hours a day, for more than three days a week for more than three weeks.

Nappy changes

According to health experts at the Mayo Clinic, it’s perfectly normal for breastfed babies to have mushy, yellow-looking poop. Also, shortly after birth your baby will more than likely have a black, tarry type of poop – which is called meconium. Loose, watery poops are also considered normal – but if your little one’s poop suddenly becomes too watery, this could be diarrhoea and should be treated immediately. Bowel movements which resemble hard, little pebbles could also mean constipation, which should also be treated if it persists, says Ann.

ALSO SEE: Everything you need to know about baby poo, pee and spit-up

It’s important to take note of how many times your baby poops and wees in the first 12 weeks to ensure she’s getting enough milk and isn’t dehydrated.

These symptoms should ring alarm bells for newborn babies says Ann:

  • Lack of urine or poop output for longer than 6 hours
  • Pale coloured poop
  • Strong smelling urine
  • Dehydration from vomiting or diarrhoea (it’s important that your baby doesn’t become dehydrated as this is a serious condition in infants).
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