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Newborn Warning Signs

Newborn Warning Signs

What warning signs may mean a problem with a newborn?

Your newborn baby is going through many changes in getting used to life in the outside world. This adjustment almost always goes well. But there are certain warning signs you should watch for with newborns. These include:

  • Not urinating (this may be hard to tell, especially with disposable diapers)

  • No bowel movement for 48 hours

  • Fever (see below for information about fever and children)

  • Breathing fast (for example, over 60 breaths per minute) or a bluish skin coloring that doesn’t go away. Newborns normally have irregular breathing, so you need to count for a full minute. There should be no pauses longer than about 10 seconds between breaths.

  • Pulling in of the ribs when taking a breath (retraction)

  • Wheezing, grunting, or whistling sounds while breathing

  • Odor, drainage, or bleeding from the umbilical cord

  • Worsening yellowing (jaundice) of the skin on the chest, arms, or legs, or whites of the eyes

  • Crying or irritability that does not get better with cuddling and comfort

  • A sleepy baby who cannot be awakened enough to nurse or bottle-feed

  • Signs of sickness (for example, cough, diarrhea, pale skin color)

  • Poor appetite or weak sucking ability

  • Vomiting, especially when it is yellow or green in color

Every child is different. Trust your knowledge of your child and call your child's healthcare provider if you see signs that are worrisome to you.

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until he or she is at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

Reviewed Date: 07-01-2021

Newborn Warning Signs
Neonatology/NICU
Dr. Rachel Armentrout
Dr. W. Thomas Bass
Dr. Kathryn Colacchio
Dr. Deborah Devendorf
Dr. Susannah Dillender
Dr. Rebecca Dorner
Dr. C W Gowen
Dr. Glen Green
Dr. Edward Karotkin
Dr. Jamil Khan
Dr. Kirk Sallas
Dr. Tushar Shah
Dr. Brett Siegfried
Dr. Kenneth Tiffany
Diseases & Conditions
Anatomy of a Newborn Baby’s Skull
Assessments for Newborn Babies
Baby's Care After Birth
Breast Milk Collection and Storage
Breastfeeding and Delayed Milk Production
Breastfeeding at Work
Breastfeeding Difficulties - Baby
Breastfeeding Difficulties - Mother
Breastfeeding Your Baby
Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby
Breastfeeding: Getting Started
Breathing Problems
Care of the Baby in the Delivery Room
Caring for Babies in the NICU
Common Conditions and Complications
Common Procedures
Congenital Heart Disease Index
Diabetes During Pregnancy: Risks to the Baby
Difficulty with Latching On or Sucking
Digestive Disorders
Fever in a Newborn Baby
Hearing Loss in Babies
Hearing Screening Tests for Newborns
Heart Disorders
High-Risk Newborn Blood Disorders
Infant Feeding Guide
Infant Play
Infant Sleep
Infection in Babies
Inguinal Hernia in Children
Keeping Your Baby Warm
Male Conditions
Megaureter in Children
Micropenis in Children
Neurological Disorders in the Newborn
Newborn Appearance
Newborn Babies: Getting Ready at Home
Newborn Complications
Newborn Crying
Newborn Health Assessment
Newborn Measurements
Newborn Multiples
Newborn Reflexes
Newborn Screening Tests
Newborn Senses
Newborn Sleep Patterns
Normal Newborn Behaviors and Activities
Physical Exam of the Newborn
Preparing for Your New Baby
Preparing the Family
Skin Color Changes
Substance Exposure
Taking Your Baby Home
The Growing Child: Newborn
The Respiratory System in Babies
Thrush (Oral Candida Infection) in Children
Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn
Umbilical Cord Care
Vision and Hearing
When to Call Your Child's Healthcare Provider

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.