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Newborn Infections

Newborn babies can get infections easily because the immune system is not well developed. The immune system is the body’s defense against infection. Premature babies are more likely to get an infection.

A baby can get sick very fast. If an infection is found and treated early, your baby should do well. If your baby is not treated until later, she may get very sick and need intensive care at the hospital to recover.

What is the cause?

Babies can be infected before, during, or after birth from bacteria or viruses.

Most newborn infections are caused by bacteria that normally live in the mother's birth canal. The baby may swallow or breathe in the fluid in the birth canal and then the bacteria may get into the baby's lungs and bloodstream.

Sometimes newborns catch a viral infection. Viruses cause colds, flu, and some diseases such as herpes and chickenpox. A virus may travel into a baby's bloodstream before birth if the mother is infected. Sometimes a newborn catches a virus after birth from contact with someone who has a viral infection.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms depend on the type of infection. Babies often have short periods of fussiness or not feeding well. However, if these symptoms continue or your baby has the following symptoms, it may mean that your baby has an infection:

  • Changes in behavior, such as being more sleepy or being very fussy
  • Fast breathing (over 60 breaths a minute) or trouble breathing
  • Pale or greyish skin or bluish color around the lips and mouth
  • Fever or a low body temperature even when wrapped in clothes or blankets
  • Drainage, redness, swelling, pain, or warmth on some part of your baby’s skin
  • Swelling around the eyes or yellowish discharge from the eyes
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Poor feeding

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your baby’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:

  • Blood or urine tests
  • X-rays
  • Lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap, which uses a needle to get a sample of fluid from the area around the spinal cord

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on how sick your baby is and what type of infection she has. If your baby is not very sick, you may be able to give her medicine to treat infections at home. If your baby is very sick, she will be treated in the hospital. She will be given medicine and fluids through an IV. Your baby may be fed through a tube, and may need oxygen to help her breathe.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take your child to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid with your newborn
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when you should bring your child back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-02
Last reviewed: 2014-12-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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