Most common infant illnesses

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It is hard when your baby is sick. Common health problems in babies include colds, coughs, fevers, and vomiting. Babies also commonly have skin problems, like diaper rash or cradle cap.  Many of these problems are not serious. It is important to know how to help your sick baby, and to know the warning signs for more serious problems. Trust your intuition – if you are worried about your baby, call your healthcare provider right away.

Illness that could affect your baby

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries could result from the use of the forceps in getting the baby out of the birthing canal. Most babies will recover quickly from the trauma of childbirth. Difficult labour and breech babies (presenting shoulders or feet first) may suffer fractures of the tender bones due to the pressure exerted in birthing, instruments used but the doctors will evaluate and treat the baby if such injuries are severe.


Jaundice is the excess of bilirubin causing yellowish pigmentation of the skin. This is a fairly common problem with many babies born with neonatal jaundice. Neonatal jaundice normally resolves with time. If serious, it is best left to the doctors to evaluate and treat the baby, as the liver is immature and unable to handle the bilirubin from the gallbladder.


Colic is when the baby cries continually for no apparent reason. Normally, the baby feels discomfort and is unable to express it. This should disappear by the time the baby is 3 months of age. If colic persists, milk formula intolerance should be ruled out and the underlying condition diagnosed.

Abdominal Distention

Newborns have protruding and soft bellies. Mothers need to observe the belly of the infant. When the belly feels hard and swollen to touch, gas or constipation could be the causes. As the baby’s body begins to adjust to feeding, the problem should get resolved. If a bluish tinge persists and much distention of the abdomen is present, it could mean a serious underlying problem with the internal organs.

Bluish Skin and Apnea

Normally newborn children do have bluish hands and feet. This fades in time as the blood circulation improves. But bluish tinge around the mouth or bluish tinge refusing to fade away could mean you need to see your paediatrician. Apnea is the stoppage of breathing for 15 to 20 seconds with resultant bluish skin. Underlying condition indicated is a heart problem that needs medical attention and intervention.


Vomiting of the feed is a very common infant problem. Mothers are encouraged to burp the child to prevent throwing up of the entire feed. A serious issue is indicated if the colour of the vomit is greenish and when vomiting persists. Infants can get dehydrated very quickly and medical help and treatment may be needed. Lactose and breast milk intolerance is also a fairly common problem that needs medical support and monitoring. Frequent vomiting and spitting up of milk could be due to infection or digestive problems.


The baby normally coughs when feeding, if the milk flows too fast. Persistent coughing and gagging when being fed could indicate a problem with the lungs or the digestive system. Coughing at night continuously may indicate whooping cough or respiratory problems.

Respiratory Distress

This occurs when there is insufficient oxygen for the baby due to blockage in the nasal passage. It takes a few hours for the newborn baby to learn to breathe normally. Once normal breathing is established, there should be no more bluish colouration. If wheezing, grunting, nostril flaring and bluish colour persist, medical help may be advised.


Anaemia is the lack of haemoglobin, indicating the level of oxygen in the blood is low and that the blood is thick. Children of anaemic mothers are born anaemic. Untreated anaemia can be serious and fatal.


Fever is an indication that the body is fighting an infection. However, high and persistent fevers of above 101 degrees in newborns and infants, can lead to serious or fatal seizures and brain damage. Medical treatment for the infection must be sought urgently.

Skin Problems

Problems like diaper rash and cradle cap, are common skin issues which are painful for the baby. These are reactions of the skin to the diaper, its dyes or diaper contents. Frequent changing of diapers and use of a good diaper cream is recommended. The baby’s hair should be washed with mild shampoo, on a daily basis, if the baby suffers from cradle cap.

Ear Infections

Ear infections are common infant diseases. Babies tug at their ears and are very fussy when they have ear infections. Viral infections are common and run their course, to fade away in a few days. However bacterial infections can lead to loss of hearing and may need antibiotics.

Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is a fungal infection of yeast occurring in the mouth of babies. Check with the doctor if it is serious enough to administer anti-fungal medication.


  1. WebMD. Illnesses. Accessed on 17th October 2018.
  2. Medline. Common infant problems. Accessed on 17th October 2018.
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