Recognizing Signs of Illness

Parenting in the Early Years

Recognizing Signs of Illness

At some point, all infants will experience a cold. As a parent, it is important to recognize common signs of illness and know when to contact your child's pediatrician.

Trust your instincts. If you suspect your infant is ill, seek advice from your doctor.

Common Signs of Illness in a Newborn to Report

Rapid or Changed Breathing Pattern

Infants frequently have irregular breathing patterns. It can be normal to take several rapid short breaths followed by a short pause of up to 10 seconds.

Longer pauses of non breathing-especially those associated with color changes- should be reported.

A consistent respiratory rate of more than 60, and grunting or flaring of the nostrils can indicate difficulty, and also needs to be reported.

Difficulty Arousing

Newborns tend to be sleepy and you may have to wake them even to feed. If they sleep for more than four or five hours and you are unable to wake them with reasonable stimulation, call your doctor.

Poor Feeding

Infants vary in their frequency, duration and interest in feeding. If you feel that you are having problems, refer to theĀ feeding section for helpful hints. Notify your physician if there is a sudden change in your child's ability to feed or the feeding does not improve when you try some of the recommendations.


A reduced amount of movement or loss of muscle tone needs to be reported.

Repetitive vomiting

Frequent forceful vomiting can indicate an illness such as an infection or an obstruction in the gut. This needs to be distinguished from common spitting which may be effortless or forceful, and is frequently associated with burping. This is usually a single spit-up and not serious.


Infants may have frequent loose, seedy stools as frequent as every feeding but if the stool is bloody or completely watery, contact your physician. This may indicate an intestinal infection or feeding intolerance.

Color Changes: The Following Need to be Reported

Blueness of Lips, Gums or Tongue

Blueness of the lips, gums or tongue (called central cyanosis) should be reported as this can indicate a heart problem.

However, a blue color to the hands and feet (peripheral cyanosis) is very common, not dangerous and is produced because infants have thick blood and poor circulation.


Paleness can be caused by illness or anemia (low blood count)


Yellow coloration called jaundice is common and starts at the head and progresses downward. If your child is yellow down to the lower abdomen and thighs, this needs to be reported.

Boils, Pustules, Blisters

These can be seen with significant skin infections that need to be evaluated and treated

Foul Smelling or Inflamed Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord is a possible entrance into the body for serious infection. The first signs of this are redness and swelling around the umbilicus and a foul smell. See the Umbilical and Circumcision Care section for instructions on appropriate cleaning of the cord to minimize the likelihood of a cord infection.