Bringing a newborn baby home can be an exciting but frightening time, as new parents are not used to caring for such small, fragile people. Once mothers and babies are released from hospital, the midwife will visit regularly (usually every couple of days for the first week or so and then once a week until needed) to ensure the baby and mother are both healthy and the baby is developing well and eating and sleeping properly; mothers should take advantage of visits from the midwife to ask any questions they may have or chat about any worries or concerns they may have about looking after their baby. Health visitors will also visit the mother and baby; they will be able to discuss the local services available to new mums, including baby weight clinics, immunisation programmes, parenting groups and sources of support for new parents.
Babies are vulnerable to illness because their immune systems are underdeveloped; this can be worrying for parents but there is a great deal of information and advice out there to help parents keep their babies as fit and healthy as possible. The following articles will outline some of the most common infant illnesses, provide information about symptoms to look out for and offer advice on how to help prevent babies from developing an illness.
Recognising the signs of a serious illness
Having a seriously ill child is every parent’s worst nightmare; if your child does fall ill, it is important to be able to recognise some of the signs as this will help you to get them treated as quickly as possible. Some common signs to look out for include:
- A soaring temperature, which is over 38 degrees
- A change in the baby’s normal cry: usually, babies with serious illness have a much weaker and more high pitched cry
- A bulge in the baby’s fontanelle (this is the soft area on the top of the baby’s skull)
- Cold hands and feet even when the baby has a high temperature
- Paler skin than usual (hands, feet and lips may also appear slightly blue in colour)
- Stiffness in the neck
- Limp arms and legs
- Breathing difficulties
- Drowsiness and a lack of concentration
- Vomiting (sometimes with yellow or light green vomit- this indicates the presence of bile)
- A purple or red rash the doesn’t fade when pressure is applied to the affected area of skin (this is symptomatic of meningitis)
- Seizures, fits or convulsions
What to do if your child falls ill
If your child has any of the symptoms listed above you should seek medical help; in many cases, it may seem a lot more serious than it is but it is always advisable to get your child checked out by a medical professional as quickly as possible. You should not hesitate to ring 999 or take your child to an Accident and Emergency department if your child displays the following symptoms:
- If your child falls unconscious or you cannot wake them up
- If your baby stops breathing
- If your baby is having breathing difficulties (you may be able to see them trying to suck in air under the ribcage)
- If your baby has a fit or seizure
- If your baby has a persistent high temperature which cannot be controlled by medication
- If your child has come into contact with harmful or poisonous substances
- If your child has abdominal pain which is obviously causing them significant pain (they may bring their legs up towards their stomach if this is the case)
- If you notice a rash developing
Some of these symptoms may indicate a life-threatening condition so it is always best to seek emergency medical help as quickly as possible; the sooner your baby can be treated, the more likely they are to survive.
Common infant illnesses
Babies are prone to mild illnesses because their immune system is still developing; some of the most common illnesses amongst very young children are outlined below.