Baby illnesses and ailments are all part of the initiation to parenthood, but it’s helpful to know what to expect and how to treat them. In the first year, your baby may suffer from one or more of the illnesses and ailments listed below. While it’s difficult to watch your baby be sick, remember that all your baby wants is for you to be there to comfort him. In many cases, there isn’t much you can do until the illness passes. Comforting your baby with lots of snuggling, rocking and patting are usually the best medicine for many of the baby illnesses and ailments listed below.
Upon Leaving the Hospital
These baby illnesses and ailments are common occurrences that you’ll need to take into consideration upon taking your baby home from the hospital. Thankfully they are easy to care for and, in some cases, resolve themselves very quickly.
The Healing Umbilical Cord
Overview: When your baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, what’s left behind is a little stump. Eventually, the stump will heal and fall off.
Treatment: Keep the stump clean and dry. You don’t need to keep the stump covered with a bandage. Diapers should be folded down below the belly button until the stump falls off. Let the stump fall off on its own – there may be a little bit of blood when it does, but not much. If it starts to look red, swollen or ooze pus, there may be an infection. Check with your doctor.
The Healing Circumcision
Overview: You may choose to have your son circumcised. If you do, it will take 7-10 days for the penis to heal. In the meantime, the tip may appear raw and have a yellow appearance.
Treatment: It is important to keep the penis clean of any poop and it’s best to use a warm washcloth to do so (avoid using wipes). Change diapers often to prevent infection. Opinions vary, but your doctor may instruct you to keep the tip of the penis covered in a layer of petroleum jelly and gauze while it’s healing. This also prevents it from sticking to and rubbing against his diaper. Contact your doctor in case of fever, swelling or persistent bleeding.
Overview: Caused by an excess amount of bilirubin in the blood, babies with jaundice may have a yellowish skin tone. You may also notice a yellow tinge in the whites of your baby’s eyes.
Treatment: As long as your baby’s bilirubin level isn’t too high (as determined by a blood test) frequent urination helps your baby clear the excess bilirubin in the bloodstream. Breastfeeding on demand or ensuring your baby takes a good formula feeding will help. Jaundice may take several days or weeks to clear up and if it gets worse it may require phototherapy (a treatment under special fluorescent lights).
Overview: A heart murmur is a sound heard between your baby’s regular heartbeats.
Treatment: Many babies are born with heart murmurs and many go away on their own. Your doctor will know whether or not your baby’s heart murmur is something to be concerned about it. If it is, he’ll refer you to a pediatric cardiologist for additional tests.
Colds and Fevers and Ear Infections, Oh My!
The most common baby illnesses and ailments are colds and fevers. Your baby will likely have multiple colds each year during the first few years of her life. Until your child builds up some immunities, any cold germs that come along are likely to cause cold symptoms. Note that breastfeeding offers some great natural defenses against contagious diseases!
Overview: it’s almost impossible to keep your baby clear of the germs that cause a cold and your baby may get several of them in the first year. Colds are viral and cause stuffed noses, coughing, sneezing ad sometimes fever.
Treatment: Try sitting with your child in the bathroom with a hot shower running – the steam from the shower will loosen the mucus. You can also use a nasal aspirator and saline spray to clear mucus. Call your doctor immediately if your baby gets sick and is under 3 months old. For babies older than 3 months, give the cold a week to run its course unless your baby is having trouble breathing or running a fever.
Overview: If your baby feels hot to the touch or looks flushed, take her temperature to confirm a fever.
Treatment: If your baby does not have any other symptoms and has a good temperament, there’s no need to call the doctor. You may administer infant pain reliever as indicated by your pediatrician and try sponge baths to lower the fever. Call your pediatrician if your baby is:
- under 2 months old and develops a fever above 100.2 degrees.
- between 3-6 months and the fever goes above 101 degrees.
- older than 6 months and the fever goes above 103 degrees.
Overview: When fluid builds up behind your baby’s eardrum, a nasty ear infection may erupt. Ear infections sometimes follow colds, as a result of the buildup of mucus in your baby’s ears, nose, and throat. If your baby has an ear infection, she may not want to lay down, as it causes her to feel additional pain and pressure in her ear. Babies with ear infections may also have a fever and tug on their ears. The intense pain also can cause significant crying.
Treatment: If the ear infection hits in the middle of the night, give your baby some infant pain medication and get to the pediatrician in the morning. Keep your baby upright while snuggling to help alleviate the pain. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to clear up the infected fluid. Studies show that breastfed babies have less ear infections. Also, try not to feed your baby in a laying down position as this can cause fluids to settle into the ears.
Digestive disorders are probably the most troubling of all baby illnesses and ailments. These are the ones that will likely make your baby the most uncomfortable (and be the messiest for you!) Thankfully these usually pass quickly.
Overview: Watery, frequent bowel movements usually caused by a viral infection; but in some cases, it can be bacterial. Diarrhea may also be caused by medication or an allergy.
Treatment: Your baby can quickly become dehydrated, so the most important thing to do is to make sure your baby is retaining enough fluids. Obvious signs of dehydration include not enough wet (urine) diapers, lethargy, dry mouth and a lack of tears when your baby cries. You have to wait for this one to pass – keep your baby comfortable and ward off diaper rash by slathering on the diaper cream. Call your pediatrician if your baby is vomiting, has a high fever or bloody diarrhea. If your baby is on solids, the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Apples, Toast) can help settle the digestive system too.
Overview: Your baby should have soft bowel movements. If your baby’s bowels are firm or hard or she is not having bowel movements at all, she may be constipated. In the early months, it’s very helpful to track your baby’s bowel movements to ensure she’s having them regularly (usually once a day or more).
Treatment: If you give your baby formula, try switching formulas to see if your baby has softer stools. Transitioning your baby to cow’s milk may also cause constipation – switch back to formula to see if that helps your child. If your baby is on solid foods, avoid constipating ones like bananas and rice cereal. Try high fiber foods like prunes and pears. Reach out to your pediatrician If your child doesn’t have a bowel movement for 4 days.
Overview: Reflux or GER (gastroesophageal reflux) is caused when your baby regurgitates some of the acidy contents of his stomach into his throat, which is painful. This happens because the muscles between your baby’s stomach and esophagus haven’t developed enough yet to prevent it. Your baby may have wet burps, make gagging noises or cry out as fluids rise into his throat.
Treatment: Try to keep your baby in an upright position for 1/2 hour after meals. Feeding smaller meals more frequently may also help. Nursing your baby may also help, as breast milk is digested more quickly than formula. Contact your pediatrician if the GER impacts your baby’s ability to keep food down and gain weight. Usually, reflux will subside when your baby spends more time in an upright position at around 7 or 8 months of age when he starts sitting up.
The first year of your baby’s life will be filled with many happy moments. Just remember that all babies get sick, just as we do. And they usually get sick at very inopportune times – like when you have planned your first evening out in 3 months! This list of baby illnesses and ailments will help prepare you for what lies ahead.