How to Tell If Your Infant Is Sick

How to Tell If Your Infant Is Sick | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Dealing with a sick child can be difficult on any parent. It can be especially hard, however, for parents of infants.

As babies cannot yet communicate by speaking, the only way for a parent to be able to tell if their child is unwell is by noticing any abnormalities or unusual changes in their behaviour. For example, if your child is general quiet and well behaved but becomes fussier, more irritable, and cries more frequently, this may be an indicator that something is wrong. Constant crying could be a sign of something as simple as needing a diaper change, feeding, or wanting to be held; it could also be a sign of infection (viral or bacterial), constipation, or something more serious.

If your baby is normally quite active and alert but becomes lethargic, appears to have less energy, sleeps for longer periods of time, has difficulty waking and trouble paying attention to visual sounds and stimulations, this could be a sign of a common cold or an infection such as influenza or meningitis, both of which can be serious and life-threatening. A blood condition known as thalassemia can also contribute to lethargy, as can many other medical conditions. It is a symptom associated with many different health problems not just in infants, but in individuals of all ages.

Fever is another tell-tale sign that your child is sick. Fevers generally occur whenever a viral or bacterial infection is present and they happen as a result of the body trying to fight that infection. The type of infection present could be anything from influenza to an ear infection. Sometimes you can tell your infant has a fever simply by looking at them or by feeling the temperature of their skin with your hand. However, you should always check your infant’s temperature with a thermometer, as this will provide you with a definitive answer. There are two different ways in which you can check an infant’s temperature: Rectally, which tends to provide a more accurate reading (though can cause the infant to fuss), or under their armpit. When a temperature is taken rectally, the normal range is 36.6°C to 38°C. When a temperature is taken under the armpit, the normal range is 36.7°C to 37.5°C. A temperature of 37.2°C (99°F) or higher is considered a fever.

If your child’s fever is caused from a viral infection, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often the only recommended treatment in order to help reduce the fever. If the infection is bacterial, it should be treated with a course of antibiotics. While taking antibiotics you may notice that your infant has looser stools. If this persists, speak to the prescribing physician. If a rash develops, this could be a sign of an allergic reaction, so before giving your infant their next dose you should have them checked out by a medical professional to determine whether or not the rash is a true allergy.

For more information on the health of newborns and children, including common illnesses, BC Children’s Hospital offers a wide range of information via their website at

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your newborn’s health, do not hesitate to seek the advice of a medical professional – either in an emergency room or at a medical clinic. If, for some reason, you are unable to see your regular physician or pediatrician, Dr. Ali Ghahary is available to see walk-ins at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby.