Common illnesses for babies

Your baby is bound to get sick, but don’t sweat it. Here are some common kinds of illnesses and expert tips on how you can help be a great Dr. Mom.

Respiratory infections

These are the most frequent cause of illness
in babies. Even a healthy infant can have as
many as six respiratory infections in the first
year. Here’s what you can do:

  • Keep your infant away from crowds and
    children with runny noses or coughs. 
  • Make sure there is enough moisture in the
    air in your home. Reduce dust as much as
    you can and don’t allow cigarette smoking.
  • Take your baby out in fresh air.


A baby catches the cold virus from other
people, not from being left in a draft.

Be careful when you try to clear your
baby’s nose. Repeated use of cotton swabs or
suction bulbs is not recommended. Sometimes
nose drops can be prescribed.

Call your doctor if there is fever, persistent
coloured nasal discharge, cough or chest congestion,
difficult or rapid breathing, swollen
glands or a painful cry.


Croup starts suddenly in the
middle of the night and has
a characteristic “crowing” or
“croupy” barking cough.

Try holding your baby in a
steamy shower or bathroom.
Cold, moist air from a vaporizer
can help.

Danger signs include fever,
an inability to make sounds,
fear of swallowing or eating,
flushed face and drooling.
These symptoms are a serious
medical emergency. Call
the doctor or visit your local
emergency department.


If your baby’s temperature is
above 38.5°C (102°F), if it
continues for more than 24
hours or if it resists treatment
with anti-fever medications,
call your doctor. There could
be a middle ear infection,
pneumonia, convulsions or

The younger the infant
and higher the temperature,
the greater the reason
for concern. If your baby’s
temperature goes above 40°C
(104°F), call a doctor.

Fevers often occur
in the
middle of the night, so it’s
important to know how to
treat a fever. Ask your doctor
for help ahead of time.

Do not use anti-fever medications
unless your doctor
recommends them. Remove
your baby’s extra clothing,
keep the temperature in your
home comfortable, and give
plenty of fluids.

Baby measles (roseola

One cause of a prolonged
fever of 38.5° to 40°C (102°
to 104°F) in small children
is baby measles, which is
caused by a virus. The rash
appears as your baby’s
temperature normalizes. The
short-lived rash is usually
pink on the face, neck and
trunk. Fever and irritability
are the only symptoms. Treat
the condition as you would
a fever and speak with your

Skin conditions

The sudden switch from the
womb’s fluid environment to
air often results in short-lived
infant rashes. Most require
no medical treatment, but
talk to your doctor if you are

Erythema toxicum

Many newborns have white
spots with surrounding redness
on the face, trunk and
limbs. This condition appears
shortly after birth and goes
away on its own in five to six
days. The cause is unknown.

Sebaceous hyperplasia

These small white spots
on the forehead, nose and
cheeks (sometimes called
baby acne) are an overgrowth
of the sebaceous (oil-producing)
glands caused by maternal
hormones transferred to
the baby. The spots, felt as
bumps on the skin, go away
gradually without treatment.
Do not squeeze them.

Miliaria rubra (sweat rash)

Newborns are sensitive to
overheating because their
sweat glands are immature.
This causes a generalized
red pinpoint
rash, usually on
the neck, armpits and chest.
Keep the room temperature
comfortable and dress your
baby in cotton.

Diaper rash

This rash affects the diaper
area, sparing the skin creases
in the groin. It often affects
the penis in circumcised boys.
The rash appears as redness
on the skin then becomes
scaly and rough. Finally,
cracks appear, caused by
the breakdown of urine into
ammonia, which acts as an irritant.
Almost all infants who
wear diapers develop
a rash
sooner or later.

Cradle cap (seborrhea)

To prevent cradle cap, wash
your baby’s hair with a good
quality shampoo.
Scrub well,
dry briskly with a terry cloth
towel, and comb the hair (no
matter how little hair your
baby has).
There is no specific
treatment for mild cases.
You can smear some baby
oil on the scalp in the evening
and comb thoroughly.
Loosened scales come off
easily. Don’t pick scales off
with your fingers.

Healthy babies

Most of these conditions can
be managed at home with
information and advice from
a doctor. Most healthy babies
recover quickly from minor
illnesses, but be sure to contact
your health-care provider
if you ever have concerns
about your baby’s health.

Dr. Tom Paton, MB, ChB, MPH,
FRCP(C), is a paediatrician in

Originally published in ParentsCanada: Best Wishes, Spring 2012.

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