7 Most common baby health concerns

As we head into winter, the sniffles and coughs are everywhere. While moms and dads try to up their Vitamin C intake and keep themselves and their children protected from colds and flu, there are also a number of minor ailments that can affect young babies. While most of them are easily treatable, these 7 common baby health concerns can still be a bit scary for new parents.

Here’s a helpful guide to the 7 Most common baby health concerns:

Unsettled babies and colic – many young babies have a period during the day when they are unsettled and cry with discomfort – but don’t appear to be hungry. This is often referred to as colic, and commonly occurs in the late afternoon and evening. Babies usually grow out of it by about the age of five months. However, because the causes of colic are unknown it can be difficult to treat and often just soothing, comforting and massaging your baby can help.

Posseting – is a very common baby health worries and is seen in most young babies. A small amount of milk from their stomach regurgitates back up into their mouth. It doesn’t have any harmful effects and babies with mild posseting will gain weight, thrive normally, and eventually grow out of it.

Vomiting – When your baby vomits, large amounts of milk will come up. This may be because of overfeeding, or an infection. If your baby projectile vomits you should seek advice from your healthcare professional.

Reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux – If your baby has reflux, the stomach contents will come up into the windpipe, but not always into the mouth. This will cause discomfort, but you may not realise that it is reflux causing the problem. More severe reflux/regurgitation is called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and can lead to screaming episodes in your baby. GERD usually resolves with time, but does continue throughout your baby’s first year and beyond in some children.

Smaller feeds more frequently throughout the day can help with GERD, so try smaller feeds every three hours rather than feeding every four hours. In breastfed babies, better positioning and attachment may help improve GERD.

Your healthcare professional may suggest a thicker feed if your baby is taking formula milk, or may prescribe a mild anti-reflux medicine. GERD can sometimes be caused by intolerance to cows’ milk protein and a paediatrician may consider trialling a milk protein-free diet.

Tummy bugs, diarrhoea and gastro-enteritis – Diarrhoea is common in babies, especially babies who are experiencing pain during teething. The tummy bug gastro-enteritis is caused by either a bacterial or viral infection. It is seen more often in formula fed babies, as there is more chance of bacterial contamination when their feeds are being made up. Babies under six months are particularly vulnerable to gastro-enteritis and dehydration and may require hospital admission.

Gastro-enteritis is rare in babies who are exclusively breastfed, but if they do contract it, it is important that breastfeeding is continued, as they may become dehydrated. Severe cases may require the addition of oral rehydration fluids.

Continued diarrhoea after acute gastro-enteritis may be linked with a temporary intolerance to lactose. Breastfeeding should continue but formula-fed infants can change to a lactose-free milk formula. Advice on excluding foods containing milk and lactose would be needed for babies who are being weaned. This should only be undertaken under the supervision of a medical practitioner and following the advice from a dietician.

Constipation – In the first three to four months babies should pass frequent, loose, bright yellow stools, at least two to three times a day. From three to four months, stools will become less frequent and it’s not unusual for a baby to go several days without a bowel movement. As long as the baby is well and happy, there’s no need to worry. After the introduction of solid food, stools may change in frequency and colour.

Constipation is rare in breastfed babies, but if your baby is constipated they may not be getting enough milk because of poor attachment or positioning. Check with your midwife or health visitor to see that your baby is positioned properly and that they are able to attach when breastfeeding.

Constipation is a more frequent problem in formula-fed babies. Babies changing from breast milk to formula often develop constipation. One cause may be the calcium salts in the formula that can harden stools in some babies. Other causes may be:

  • Over concentration of the formula
  • Inadequate fluid intake, including under-feeding
  • Cows’ milk protein intolerance

So make sure your baby is getting enough food and check the formula is being made up according to the manufacturer’s instructions. A change from casein dominant (number 2 milk) to whey dominant (number 1 milk) formula may also help or change to a modified formula for minor digestive problems – the fats in these formulas are different.

Faltering Growth – Regardless of how babies are fed, newborns lose weight during the first 3 – 4 days after birth. This is due to the shedding of excess fluids in the baby’s tissues and the passage of meconium (baby’s first black stool).  A weight loss of about 5 – 10 % is considered normal. A weight loss of more than 10% indicates that the mother may need additional help if she is breastfeeding.

  • Most babies regain their birth weight by 10 days to 2 weeks after birth but the mother should remember that babies who are sick or premature take longer to regain their birth weight than healthy, full-term babies.
  • Average weight gain for the first 3 – 4 months is about 150 – 200 gm per week but the mother should not panic is the baby doesn’t gain weight quickly
  • Growth in length averages 2.5 cm per month
  • Growth in head circumference averages 1.27 cm per month during the first 6 months
  • It is interesting to note that length and head circumference (indicating brain growth) should develop at the same rate for both bottle-fed babies and breastfed babies.
  • Babies grow rapidly during the first three months, after which is typically slows down during months 4 – 12
  • The average breastfed baby doubles his birth weight by 4 – 6 months. Generally, breastfed babies put on more weight initially than bottle-fed babies, but then become leaner and lighter at around 3 months. Some even show a dip in weight gain.

Babies should not be weighed more frequently than every two weeks, as shorter intervals are not necessarily indicative of accurate weight gain or loss. Signs of faltering growth include:

  • Poor and erratic weight gain or no weight gain
  • Your baby is apathetic and cries weakly
  • Poor muscle tone and skin distension
  • Concentrated urine, a few times a day
  • Infrequent bowel movements
  • Fewer than eight short breastfeeds a day

It’s natural to worry as a parent but often times a few adjustments can help with these common baby health concerns. Having said that however, it’s essential that you watch your baby, their reactions to food, their weight and of course if they are in any pain or discomfort to ensure you can consult your medical practitioner to check thar your baby’s start is a healthy, happy one.

*This article is an exclusive column from Dr Diana Du Plessis, spokesperson for Philips Mother and Child Division.

Dr Diana du Plessis

Dr. Diana du Plessis is the Breastfeeding Consultant and spokesperson for Phillips Avent South Africa. She obtained a B.Soc.Sc (Hons) at the University of the Free State, after which she worked as an operating room registered nurse in the Universitas and National Hospitals in Bloemfontein, receiving the Diploma in Operating Room Technique in 1978. She commenced her academic career in the Department of Nursing (UFS) in 1982 and holds diplomas in Nursing Administration (cum laude), Nursing Education and Community Health Nursing (cum laude) while being employed in the Department of Nursing at the University of the Free State. Later she obtained M.Cur and D.Cur in Midwifery and Neonatology from the University of Johannesburg. Dr du Plessis is in private midwifery clinical practice for the past 19 years.

  1. I have learnt a lot from this article. Very helpful for first fine parents who get very stressed out if their child shows the slightest sign of sickness

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