After your baby is born, it can be difficult to tell whether every cry or symptom is a sign that something is wrong. Here are 14 danger signs in newborns to look for.
Being able to identify when something is and isn’t cause for concern can help you seek treatment and prevent delayed or compromised development.
14 danger signs in newborns
- Persistent vomiting: Vomiting can have causes, such as gastrointestinal system abnormalities. Make you note the color of your newborn’s vomit, which can indicate the presence of blood or bile.
- Difficulty breathing and nasal flaring: Breathing problems are common in the first few hours of a baby's life and require appropriate treatment to prevent potential death due to suffocation. Conditions that can cause breathing problems in newborns include:
- Rapid breathing: Rapid breathing (tachypnea) in a newborn occurs when breaths occur at more than 60 breaths per minute. Causes may include pneumonia, sepsis, and metabolic acidosis.
- Chest retraction: Chest retraction or indrawing of the lower chest and upper abdomen during respiration is a symptom of a respiratory issue, such as pneumonia or metabolic acidosis.
- Grunting: Grunting is normal for most newborns. However, in some cases it can indicate underlying health issues, such as breathing problems or acid reflux. Consult your doctor if the grunting is accompanied by other concerning symptoms or if your baby looks ill.
- High or low temperature: Fever in infants is less common, even when they have an infection. They are more prone to hypothermia (lower body temperature), which could be a symptom of hypoglycemia, sepsis, or shock.
- Poor feeding: If your newborn feeds poorly or refuses to be fed, this requires prompt medical attention.
- Convulsions (seizures): Convulsions can be caused by hypoglycemia, meningitis, sepsis, or intracranial hemorrhage. However, symptoms may be subtle and include:
- Eyes rolling
- Blank gazing
- Repeated blinking
- Paddling movement of limbs (involuntary)
- Sudden bluish discoloration with cessation of respiration
- Head dipping
- Yellow skin discoloration and sclera: Yellowish skin is a sign of excess bilirubin in the body (jaundice). Physiological jaundice, which shows up 2-3 days after birth, is common among newborns. Treatment may include phototherapy, exchange transfusion, fluid resuscitation, and intravenous immunoglobulins. Pathological jaundice shows up within the first 24 hours of birth and requires active management.
- Lethargy or unconsciousness: If your newborn shows the following signs, seek medical treatment as soon as possible:
- Excessive drowsiness
- Less activity than normal
- Staring blankly
- Uninterested in surroundings
- Not awake and alert as they should be
- Cannot be roused even when touched or shaken
- Irritability: If your baby is extremely irritable or crying inconsolably, they may need medical attention.
- Bulging in the anterior fontanel: Fontanels (soft spots on the head) are open portions of the cranium that are only covered by skin and soft tissue. They can be found in both the front and posterior parts of the scalp. If these areas are bulging, it could be a warning sign of meningitis or an intracranial hemorrhage.
- Skin rashes: Rashes on the skin may be due to allergic reactions, insect bites, or infection.
- Umbilical discharge: Umbilical discharge may occur due to infection or an umbilical granuloma. It is critical to determine the cause because remedial surgical intervention may be required.
What causes neonatal death?
Every year around the globe, 10 million children die before reaching age 5. About 66% of these deaths occur during the neonatal period (first 4 weeks after birth). Nearly 33% of neonatal deaths occur on the first day of birth, 50% within the first 3 days, and 75% within the first week. Causes include:
- Sepsis: 52%
- Asphyxia: 20%
- Preterm: 15%
- Others: 13%
Danger signs in newborns are often overlooked due to ignorance or lack of knowledge. In order to prevent complications or serious consequences, seek medical treatment immediately if your newborn exhibits worrying symptoms.
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University of Rochester Medical Center. Newborn Warning Signs. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=90&contentid=P02674
Yitayew YA, Tadele AS, Yalew ZM, Mamuye SA, Jember DA. Knowledge of neonatal danger signs and associated factors among mothers attending pediatric immunization clinics in Gidan District Health Centers, North Wollo, Ethiopia. Heliyon. 2021 Jul 12;7(7):e07553.
United States Agency for International Development. Percent of audience who know at least three warning/ danger signs of newborn complications. https://www.data4impactproject.org/prh/womens-health/newborn-health/percent-of-audience-who-know-at-least-three-warning-danger-signs-of-newborn-complications/
Adem N, Berhe KK, Tesfay Y. Awareness and Associated Factors towards Neonatal Danger Signs among Mothers Attending Public Health Institutions of Mekelle City, Tigray, Ethiopia, 2015. J Child Adolesc Behav 2017; 5(6): 365.https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/awareness-and-associated-factors-towards-neonatal-danger-signs-among-mothers-attending-public-health-institutions-of-mekelle-city-2375-4494-1000365-97737.html