Bringing your newborn baby home from the hospital is such an amazing moment. My kids are now 6 and almost 3 and I still remember every detail of bringing them home. Having to go back to the hospital because you have a sick newborn can quickly turn that joy and euphoria into a full-out panic and fear.

When you have a sick newborn

Our Experience

Both our boys were born full term and perfectly healthy. They aced their APGAR scores, passed the hearing tests and were deemed ready to go home a day or two after their births. Unfortunately, they both ended up in the hospital within a week of their birth with infections. For our older son, the hospital stay was over a month long and with our younger one, it lasted about three weeks. When I think back to that time, as traumatizing as it is, I am so grateful that we had pediatricians, nurses and lactation consultants who knew what they were doing and picked up that something was wrong with the babies. As new parents, we would have had a really hard time picking up on those cues because newborn illnesses don’t manifest themselves as you’d imagine.

The Warning Signs

Like I said previously, figuring out the warning signs for newborn illnesses is hard because a lot of the signs are also things that typical newborns do such as losing weight, being extra sleepy and having trouble nursing. This is why it is SO important that they’re seen by their pediatrician within 24-48 hours of being discharged from the hospital and then as per your doctor’s plan.

With our oldest, we were young and inexperienced parents. It took us a lot longer to figure out something was wrong and that’s why he also was a lot sicker and spent a lot more time in the hospital. With our younger son, we were aware of what could go wrong, hyper-aware after our last experience and therefore caught his illness a lot faster. Looking back, however, we realized that there were warning signs both times that helped us figure out something was wrong and today, I’m going to share those warning signs with you.

When you have a sick newborn

Warning Sign #1: Fever

Your newborn should NEVER be running a fever, especially in the first month. With both our kids, we were advised that a rectal temperature over 100.4 constituted a fever and needed to be seen by a doctor. If your baby feels warm, don’t just write it off as them being overheated or anything else. You need to call your pediatrician ASAP and have your baby be seen. Fevers in newborns generally signal an infection and given their delicate immune system, these infections can prove very dangerous.

Warning Sign #2: Excessive Sleepiness & Not Nursing/Drinking Formula

If your baby isn’t nursing or having trouble staying awake for feedings throughout the day, it can be a warning sign that something is not completely right. It’s hard to differentiate between normal newborn sleepiness and something else. However, both our babies were excessively sleepy. It was almost impossible to wake them up and keep them up to nurse. They would literally fall asleep within a minute despite being undressed down to their diapers and us using cold washcloths and everything else they recommend in lactation class. If your baby is having trouble staying awake, call your pediatrician. It might be nothing but better safe than sorry.

When you have a sick newborn

Warning Sign #3: Sunken/Bulging Soft Spot

If your baby’s soft spot is bulging/pulsing or if it’s sunken, contact your healthcare provider immediately. A sunken soft spot, combined with a lack of urination, crying without tears, a dry mouth and really smelly pee can signal a dehydrated baby and needs to be seen immediately, especially if they’re also not nursing or drinking properly. Dehydration can be very dangerous for babies and this is especially relevant for new moms who are breastfeeding. Your baby should have at least as many wet diapers as how many days they are: so if your baby is one day old, he or she should have one wet diaper, if they’re 3 days old, they should have 3 wet diapers.

I’m not an expert so please don’t go into a panic after reading this and think your baby is not doing well. What I share here, I share based on my experience as a mom of two boys who spent time in the hospital when they were newborns. The lesson I’ve learned is that always follow your pediatrician’s advice and never take anything lightly with your newborn, including something as simple as a cold. These little ones are so new and their immune systems are so delicate and it’s just best to take everything seriously rather than risk the babies getting more sick.

Thank for reading part 1 of this 3 three-part series. Part 2 deals with how to survive as a newly postpartum mom while your baby is in the hospital. I will be sharing that shortly.

Have you had a baby who was sick as a newborn and spent time in the hospital? If you’d like to share your experience, please share in the comments below so other moms can find your advice helpful.