Understanding common newborn ailments

Six common newborn ailments explained

Bringing back a baby from the hospital can be an exciting but anxious time for new parents. Time Out Family asks Dr Nelia Malubay from Parkway Health to explain six common newborn ailments.

Dr Nelia Malubay has more than 15 years of experience in paediatrics. She sees patients at Parkway Health, Jinmao Medical Center and Parkway Health Specialty & Inpatient Center.


What should I expect in my newborn?

Jaundice is the yellowish discolouration of the skin, sclera and mucous membrane. Jaundice in newborns is quite common and in most cases it’s a benign problem.

Babies often get jaundice because of an accumulation of a substance called bilirubin in their blood. With their livers not being mature enough to filter the bilirubin from the blood, increased amounts of the substance in the blood case jaundice. Newborns will typically first show signs of jaundice in their faces, then their chests, abdomens, legs and feet. These symptoms usually take place 24-hours after delivery.

Jaundice that occurs in this time frame is called pathologic jaundice and it will subside after two weeks. During this period, your baby’s overall health shouldn’t be affected and he should be able to remain active, with a normal appetite. Be sure to keep them constantly hydrated with breast or formula milk.

When should I seek medical advice?

Non-physiological signs of jaundice include a poor appetite, with your baby refusing to breast or bottle feed, in addition to vomiting and lethargy. He may also be irritable and fussy and unable to sleep properly. If your newborn’s stools are light-coloured, if they have any problems with breathing or if they are experiencing a slower heart rate, contact a paediatrician immediately. If your child is suffering from any of these symptoms, they may have a viral or bacterial infection, internal bleeding, liver disease or abonormal red blood cells. In this case, it’s best to consult a paediatrician at once.


What should I expect in my newborn?

Newborns experience diarrhoea for a few reasons: they may have a sensitivity to something in the breast or formula milk they’re consuming or it may be a reaction to any antibiotic medication they’re being treated with. Diarrhoea can also be a symptom of overfeeding. If you want to be sure your child is suffering from diarrhoea, look out for watery, runny or liquid stools. You should still keep up with regular feeding times if your newborn has diarrhoea but make these feeding times more frequent and with a smaller amount of food, particularly if your child has been vomiting. If you suspect the diarrhoea is down to formula, change the type of milk powder you’ve been using.

When should I seek medical advice? If your baby has had diarrhoea for 24 hours or if they’re displaying other symptoms like fever, lethargy, irritability or if their stools contain blood, seek the advice of a medical professional. Diarrhoea in a newborn can lead to more serious conditions, as the infection can become more severe in a short time. Dehydration can then become an issue. Babies may need even intravenous fluid to help with this. Be sure to take your child to a paediatrician immediately if any of these symptoms persist.


What should I expect in my newborn?

Unlike diarrhoea, where babies frequently pass stools, constipation is when newborns have difficulty or experience pain when passing stools. A baby with constipation will groan or cry when attempting to complete a bowel movement. Their stools may also be streaked with blood, due to anal fissures or cracks in the anus caused by the passing of very hard stools. If your baby is formula-fed, you can try to offer them extra water in between feedings, to reduce constipation. Do not dilute milk formula, as doing so reduces the milk’s calorific content. In addition, parents can try to gently stimulate their child’s rectal movement with a rectal thermometer or with a cotton bud doused in petroleum jelly. Doing so may help your newborn to relax their bottom.

When should I seek medical advice?

If the baby continues to have hard stools, blood in the stools or experience pain or difficulty passing stools, bring them in for an appointment where you can talk to a doctor and see if it’s necessary to give them oral laxatives. If administering laxatives isn’t an option, your doctor will help you find the best way to relieve the constipation and calm the newborn.

Blue skin

What should I expect in my newborn?

While many newborns are pink, a baby with acrocyanosis or a bluish discolouration on their hands, feet or around their mouth is nothing to be worried about. This isn’t unusual, especially if your baby’s extremities are a little cool. Newborns’ skin takes on a bluish tinge in part due to their circulatory systems not yet being fully developed.

When should I seek medical advice?

Cyanosis is when there’s blue discolouration on the tongue and in the mouth. Blue skin here, which persists beyond your child’s first few minutes of life, is abnormal and may mean your newborn has a significant cardiopulmonary disease, in which case you should schedule an appointment with your paediatrician as soon as possible.

Constant crying

What should I expect from my newborn?

If it seems like your newborn is constantly crying for no reason, take a look at their crying habits before consulting a doctor. Studies have shown that newborns’ crying displays a developmental pattern in the first three months of life. While a newborn’s regular crying and pleas for attention can at first seem overwhelming and anxiety-inducing to parents, in most cases you’ll soon start to differentiate between and understand what your baby’s crying means. As a rule, babies develop different cries for their different needs. They may have a certain cry that lets you know when they’re hungry and another for when they’ve soiled a nappy. If you want to make sure your baby isn’t crying out of pain or hasn’t accidentally hurt themselves, examine them as they’re crying to ensure there are no sharp objects or items pinching or causing them any discomfort.

When should I seek medical advice?

A newborn in pain will usually emit a high-pitched, sharp cry. Short and loud, these sounds are up to three times higher than normal infant cries and are considered abnormal. One that is low and continuous is also not normal. These sounds can indicate that your child has a meningeal infection or an abdominal problem.


What should I expect in my newborn?

Newborn babies may sleep up to an average of 16-18 hours a day during their first few months. It’s completely fine if your baby starts sleeping a little more or a little less, as long as they’re active and alert during waking hours. Regarding what’s normal in a newborn, watch out for listless behaviour during the day and outside sleeping times, as they should be more active then.

When should I seek medical advice?

If your baby’s behaviour changes, it’s a sign that they may be suffering from an illness. A newborn is lethargic if he starts sleeping for much longer, has little to no energy and is difficult to wake up for feeding time. When awake, your baby may be drowsy and unresponsive to any stimulation, like noises or favourite toys. After waking he goes back to sleep immediately. There are a few conditions a lethargic baby may have but they include heart problems, low blood sugar or severe brain damage. If your baby exhibits any of these signs, make an appointment with a paediatrician as soon as possible. Oxygen deprivation to a newborn’s brain during a long and prolonged labour can also occur, causing lethargy later on. Treatment will depend on the condition.