5 baby health symptoms to watch for

Little ones have a habit of coming down with nasty bugs, but how do you know when to treat symptoms at home and when to get help?

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  • Temperature

    What causes it…

    You can normally blame an infection of some sort for your little one’s temperature as it’s the most common cause. You’ll know if he has one if he’s irritable and sweating, or feels hot to touch. You can confirm it by checking his temperature using an electronic thermometer under his armpit.

    “If the thermometer shows his temperature is above 38ºC, he has a fever,” says Dr Knut Schroeder, NHS Choices GP and author of Diagnosing Your Health Symptoms for Dummies, £13.99 from Amazon.

    Treat at home…

    “Use infant ibuprofen or paracetamol to bring your baby’s temperature down and make sure he isn’t over or underdressed, or that his bedding isn’t too heavy or light,” says Knut. Don’t resort to the age-old remedy of using a tepid sponge to cool your baby down as it’s actually no longer recommended. Cooling the skin too quickly can result in shivering, which in turn can raise your baby’s temperature.

    Contact your GP if…

    “Your baby has a temperature of 38ºC or higher if he’s younger than 3 months, or 39ºC or higher if he’s older than 3 months,” says Knut.

    “As soon as I discover Jacob has a temperature, I monitor it every four hours and give him Calprofen to bring it down. I also make sure he gets plenty of fluids, and if he’s not interested in water or milk, I can normally persuade him with an ice lolly. If it hasn’t improved within a couple of days, I phone NHS Direct (0845 4647) or take him to the GP," said Briony Ross, 27, from Lanarkshire, mum to Jacob, 11 months.

  • Vomiting

    What causes it…

    There are heaps of reasons why your baby throws up. It could be a full stomach, or prolonged crying or coughing. But it could be a tummy bug, or if it’s alongside diarrhoea, and sometimes a fever, it might be gastroenteritis. You may also notice your baby bringing up small amounts of curdled milk after feeding, this is known as posetting. “Possetting is different to vomiting as vomiting will bring up his stomach contents more forcefully,” says Knut.

    Treat it at home…

    You normally don’t have to worry if your baby throws up forcefully once or twice without showing any other signs of illness. “Carry on feeding your baby as normal, unless he’s vomiting frequently, but if he’s eating solids, don’t force him if he’s not interested,” advises Knut. “Keeping your baby hydrated is more important than giving food, so offer him either water, or breast or formula milk.”

    Contact your GP if…

    “Your baby is vomiting for longer than 12 hours, or he’s vomiting with great force,” says Knut. As your baby loses vital fluids when he’s sick, look out for signs of dehydration – a dry mouth, sunken soft spot on the head, less urine passed, crying without tears, or skin that’s lost its elasticity. If you spot any of these you’ll need to speak to your GP. “If you notice a rash that doesn’t fade when you press your baby’s skin, or he has a temperature too, these will need checking out,” adds Knut.

    “To cope with vomiting at night, I put a terry waterproof sheet under my baby’s cot sheet so it’s soft on his skin while protecting the mattress.I make sure he’s getting enough fluids and give lots of cuddles for reassurance, and I try to keep calm when he’s sick. This is much easier if you’ve got things in place like the terry sheet and easy-to-remove clothes, which makes clearing up quicker, too," said Carla Newey, 28, from West Sussex, mum to Elijah, 4 months.

  • Crying

    What causes it…

    “Crying is a sign your baby wants or needs attention,” says Knut. “It could be because he’s feeling hungry, tired, thirsty, is wet, too hot, too cold, needs to bring up wind, is craving attention or just needs a cuddle.”

    Colic is another possible cause and if your baby cries excessively on average for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, and for longer than three weeks, he could be suffering from it.

    Treat it at home…

    As you get to know your baby you’ll discover how to interpret his different cries so start working through your usual checklist of what could be wrong. “If there’s no obvious cause for your baby’s crying, check for fever or other signs of serious illness,” says Knut.

    Contact your GP if…

    “He’s in pain. You can normally tell by his crying, which usually sounds different and goes up a pitch,” says Knut. If you can’t work out why he’s crying, take him to be checked over by your GP, too.

  • Oversleeping

    What causes it…

    “This isn’t always something to worry about as babies’ sleep patterns can change and oversleeping might be down to something simple like a growth spurt, or if your baby didn’t get enough sleep the night before,” says Knut. That said, babies tend to sleep more when they’re sick so it’s important to look out for any signs that he’s poorly.

    Treat it at home…

    It’s normally best to let your baby sleep when he needs to, as long as he isn’t showing any signs of being unwell.

    Contact your GP if…

    “You can’t wake your baby, or when you do, he doesn’t stay awake,” says Knut. Also, if he’s less active, doesn’t look content or smile, or you notice anything else out of sorts, get on the phone.

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  • Diarrhoea

    What causes it… 

    You can usually blame an infection on your baby’s runny tummy. “But it can be down to gastroenteritis, which happens when a virus infects the lining of the gut,” says Knut. One of the ways the gut tries to get rid of the virus is by speeding up your baby’s bowel movements, which unfortunately means diarrhoea. “Other possible causes include food allergies, formula feeds not being made up correctly, antibiotics, food poisoning and a change to your baby’s diet,” adds Knut.

    Treat it at home…

    If your baby is well apart from having diarrhoea, it’s normally nothing to worry about. “Unless your baby is vomiting frequently with the diarrhoea, keep offering him food. If he’s old enough, starchy foods like mash and pasta are good, and try giving him things he normally likes,” says Dr Schroeder. “If he’s not interested in eating, don’t worry, as giving fluids is more important, but don’t use over-the-counter rehydration solutions as they aren’t suitable for babies.”

    Contact your GP if…

    Your baby has diarrhoea with a temperature, or has loose, watery stools for more than a day in a young baby, or a few days in an older baby. As with vomiting, the biggest concern with diarrhoea is fluid loss, so don’t delay in calling your GP if your baby shows any signs of dehydration.

  • 5 Need-to-know danger signs

    1. For younger babies: any temperature. For older babies: even a slight temperature if it lasts for longer than five days.

    2. A baby who looks pale and doesn’t respond in the normal way.

    3. Fast breathing (more than 60 breaths a minute in under 5 month olds, or 50 in 6-12 month olds).

    4. Refusal to feed or prolonged poor feeding, which can result in dehydration – a dry mouth and fewer wet nappies are signs of this.

    5. A swollen limb or joint, or a lump of more than 2cm anywhere on the body.

    For more advice, see NHS Choices at www.nhs.uk.


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