It's normal for new parents to worry about their baby's health. Even if you can see that your newborn is strong and sturdy, babies are small and vulnerable and need our protection. But how do you know when something's really wrong?
You know your baby best, so trust your instincts -- and call the doctor if something doesn't feel right. Here are some key areas to keep an eye on.
If your baby seems like his usual playful, happy and is feeding well, he's probably not seriously ill. A baby who has a runny nose and a big smile is probably not as sick as a baby who has a runny nose and is lethargic.
If your baby suddenly starts crying more than usual and you can't comfort him in the usual ways, or if his cry is weak or unusually high-pitched, he may be seriously ill. The opposite is also true -- if your baby seems unhappy and doesn't cry but is unusually inactive and difficult to wake up, call your doctor.
How hungry your baby is will vary from day to day. But if he's hungry he should feed vigorously. A baby who tires easily from sucking or loses interest in nursing or feeding may be sick. Also, if you notice your baby spitting up more than usual, with more effort, or if the spit-up is greenish in color, call your doctor.
Abnormal bowel movements:
Young babies, especially breastfed babies, often have very soft or liquid bowel movements. But if the stools become extra watery, your infant may have diarrhea. Monitor his bowel movements and see whether the diarrhea continues. Make sure he's breastfeeding or bottle-feeding as often as usual so he doesn't get dehydrated.
Your baby should wet a minimum of six diapers a day. If he seems lethargic and stops having bowel movements or begins to have small, hard, or dry bowel movements or if his stool is streaked with blood or mucus, or has the consistency of jelly, call the doctor.
Although fever in a baby is a signal that he's sick, the fever alone usually isn't worrisome. A baby can have a low-grade fever and be seriously ill, or a high fever and be only mildly ill. But if a baby under 3 months of age has a fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher, he should be examined. If an older baby has a fever but appears completely well otherwise, observe him for a day to see whether he develops other symptoms.
If you're still in doubt, call your healthcare provider anyway. It's important for you to get peace of mind, and it never hurts to check with your doctor.