Newborn health basics for first-time parents

Having a newborn baby can make any new parent a little anxious, especially when it comes to protecting your little bundle from germs. Midwife Pippa Hime highlights some of the most common concerns experienced by new parents - and when to worry.

A newborn baby’s immune system is immature. During pregnancy, the mother passes antibodies on to the foetus, which provides some protection at birth. As baby grows, it begins to develop an immune system to help defend the body against germs. One of the most important ways you can help to protect your baby, and establish a healthy strong immune system in the first few months of life is to breastfeed. Breast milk gives your baby a healthy start and helps to protect your baby from germs. It is also very important to make sure your newborn receives all his immunisations on time. Despite your best efforts, babies can get sick from time to time.

ALSO SEE: Vaccinations: the top 16 available in SA

Newborn health – when to worry or not?


In a newborn, vomiting is not always an indicator that your baby is sick. Babies tend to posset or oops after a milk feed, especially if they are moved around or they break winds. If your baby is persistently vomiting and not managing to keep down a feed then you need to take him to a doctor.

ALSO SEE: Vomiting after breastfeeding – when to worry


A fever of anything over 37.5°C in a baby under 6 weeks needs to be treated by a doctor. Babies over 6 weeks can get fevers from vaccines or an illness. If a baby over 6 weeks develops a temperature you can treat it with paracetamol and ensure they are taking in feeds. If a fever persists for longer than 48 hours, or their condition changes, you should have the baby looked over by your doctor.

ALSO SEE: Has baby got a fever? Here’s what to do 


Newborn babies can get all kinds of rashes. Heat rash, dry skin, baby acne and eczema are all quite common. Be cautious about using new or perfumed products on your baby. Any rash accompanied by a temperature should be investigated.

ALSO SEE: Your guide to identifying and treating newborn skin rashes

Eye discharge

Most babies have a little “sleepy dust” in their eyes from time to time. Often, this can be a result of a blocked tear duct, which is common. However, if your baby’s eye appears red or swollen, and the discharge increases, you will need to have it checked out.


It is very unlikely that a newborn baby that is breast fed will become constipated. They can go for a few days without passing a stool. When they do, and it is a normal soft consistency, there is nothing to worry about. It is concerning if your baby is very uncomfortable, has a descended abdomen and passes out hard balls of stool. This will need further investigation.

ALSO SEE: 7 ways to relieve baby constipation

Lethargy, inconsolable crying, and change in appetite

Any of the above will need to be investigated by a doctor.


If your newborn baby doesn’t drink and has dry nappies, you need to be concerned about dehydration. Babies can dehydrate quickly, so if you are concerned, it is advisable to seek medical attention promptly.

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