How to Know If My Newborn Is Sick: Early Signs

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As new parents, it’s natural to worry about your baby’s health. Knowing the signs of illness in a newborn can help you take fast action and ensure they get any care they might need. Let’s explore how to know if my newborn is sick, include the key signs to watch for and what they might mean.

Recognizing the Early Signs of Illness in Newborns

Newborns are still developing their immune systems, so even minor illnesses can be more serious for them. Here are some symptoms that might give you insight into how to know if my newborn is sick:

1. Fever

When your baby’s immune system detects an invader, like a virus or bacteria, it responds by increasing the body’s temperature. The body is trying to make the environment less favorable for those pathogens. You’ll notice this rise in temperature as a fever.

You might notice that your baby feels unusually warm to the touch, especially their stomach and trunk area. Or maybe you notice that your little one has a flushed face or feels sweaty. These would be signs that you should check baby’s temperature.

  • Temperature Check: A rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher is considered a fever in newborns.
  • Action to Take: If your newborn has a fever, especially if they’re under 3 months old, contact your pediatrician right away.

Learn more: How to Check a Newborn’s Temperature

2. Changes in Feeding

Sick babies generally have less energy, which in turn can make them less interested in feeding. If they have stuffy nose or respiratory issue, it can make breathing while breastfed or bottle-feeding more challenging, leading to shorter feeds. And a sore through or any GI discomfort would further decrease your baby’s desire to eat.

  • Less Interest in Feeding: If your baby is refusing feeds or eating much less than usual, it could be a sign of illness.
  • Dehydration Signs: Watch for fewer wet diapers, dry mouth, or sunken soft spots on the head.

3. Altered Sleeping Patterns

When a baby is sick, their body is working hard and using energy to fight off the infection. This can cause your baby to be more lethargic and sleepy than normal. On the other hand, fever, congestion, or pain can make a baby restless and have trouble sleeping.

  • Excessive Sleepiness: If your baby is much sleepier than usual or difficult to wake for feeds, it could indicate sickness.
  • Restlessness: Conversely, being unusually fussy or unable to sleep could also be a sign.

4. Breathing Difficulties

  • Respiratory Signs: Wheezing, grunting, rapid breathing, or prolonged pauses in breathing are all red flags of potential illness.
  • Nasal Flaring or Chest Retractions: Struggling to breathe is a serious symptom and needs immediate medical attention.

Nasal flaring is when a baby’s nostrils widen while breathing, a sign they are struggling to take in more air. It’s often most noticeable when they’re breathing in. Chest retractions happen when a baby pulls their chest inward during breathing, particularly around the ribs, sternum, or neck. This lets us know that breathing is difficult because they’re having to use extra muscles to help out. When wondering how to know if my newborn is sick, these signs would lend to immediate care or an emergency visit.

5. Changes in Skin Color

  • Pale or Blue Tinge: Poor circulation or inadequate oxygen levels can cause pale, bluish, or gray skin, especially around the lips. You would want to contact your pediatrician right away.
  • Yellowing of Skin or Eyes: This could be a sign of jaundice, which is common but sometimes requires treatment.
  • Mottled Skin: Patchy, red, or blue mottled skin can be a sign of temperature instability. This is common in newborns but can also suggest infection, especially if accompanied by a fever.

6. Unusual Cry

  • Weak or High-Pitched Cry: A change in the cry’s pitch or strength can be a sign of illness or discomfort.

7. Vomiting or Diarrhea

  • Frequent Vomiting: Occasional spitting up is normal, but frequent, forceful vomiting is not. Vomit often has more volume than spit-up, too.
  • Diarrhea: Watery stools, especially if accompanied by vomiting, can lead to dehydration. Diarrhea is more frequent bowel movements than are typical for your baby. And it’s also more volume than their normal soft stool and the stool lacks any form.

How to Know if My Newborn Is Sick: What to Do

  1. Trust Your Instincts: You know your baby best. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician. As a mom, I value the peace of mind of just going in and having my newborn get checked out.
  2. Documenting symptoms: Writing down baby’s temperature and symptoms can be helpful for your healthcare provider.
  3. Seek Medical Attention: If your baby shows any concerning symptoms, especially if they’re under 3 months old, call your pediatrician or go to the nearest emergency room.

How to Know If My Newborn Is Sick: Conclusion

Caring for a newborn is a big responsibility, and it’s normal to worry about your baby’s health. Many new parents worry about how to know if my newborn is sick. By being aware of the signs of illness and knowing what actions to take, you can ensure your baby gets the best possible care. Remember, you’re doing a fantastic job looking after your little one. Your attention and love are the best medicine your baby could have.


Cook, Walter, Klass, Kelsey (2020). Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, 2nd edition. pgs 406-449.

Davidson, M. , London, M., Ldewigh, P. (2012). Olds’ Maternal-Newborn Nursing & Women’s Health, 9th edition. pgs. 1063-1064.

Meet Katie Griffin

I’m a registered nurse, Lamaze certified childbirth educator, and the mother of 7. I help women realize their dream of a natural, intimate, and empowering hospital birth.

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