In this article, we’ll cover baby symptoms that are completely normal, including several potentially terrifying symptoms such as irregular respiration and constipation. Here, a pediatrician at an emergency hospital explains when these symptoms are typical and when to call a doctor.
Have you ever made a panicked call to your pediatrician only to learn that a concerning symptom was harmless? There is no cause for embarrassment. It occurs to even the best of us! Being a pediatrician in the emergency room and a mother of two, I empathize with parents who phone me to ask if their infant should visit the doctor.
Obviously, children can experience genuine emergencies, but you’d be shocked at how many problems are not actually life-threatening. Symptoms that signal a serious medical problem in a baby, such as uncontrollable shaking, may be normal in an adult. Due to physical immaturity and quickly changing hormones, an infant’s body reacts in unique ways.
To help make your mind at ease, I’ve developed a list of the most common scary yet normal infant symptoms I’ve witnessed. If you have any doubts about your child’s health, you should always consult a doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
1. Twitching Legs During Sleep
The infant’s parents took her to the family doctor after observing uncontrollable jerking during sleep. After watching the video of her spasms, the doctor recommended that they go to the emergency room of a small hospital.
The emergency room physician admitted the infant to the critical care unit (ICU), but a visiting pediatrician diagnosed her with benign sleep myoclonus, a harmless condition. It was no more harmful than hiccups, another type of myoclonus.
The pediatrician was so confident that this infant was healthy because her seizure-like movements only occurred during sleep and stopped as soon as she awoke. Dr. Michael Zimbric, a pediatric neurologist, explains: “Infants have an undeveloped neurological system, and their motions during sleep are even less coordinated than when they are awake. These jerky movements resemble those adults experience as they fall off to sleep.”
Doctors do not know why benign sleep myoclonus occurs, although they have discovered that loud noises or contact can trigger it. According to research, these movements are harmless.
When to be concerned about sleep twitching.
In addition to irregular body movements, aberrant eye movements are a vital symptom of a genuine seizure. If you observe these frightening signs, or if your infant has difficulty breathing, turns blue, purple, or gray, or if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.
2. Nose Congestion and Irregular Breathing
A mother brought her 2-week-old daughter to the emergency room because she consistently sounded congested. Mom had a cold, and she was originally concerned that she had passed it to her daughter, although the infant exhibited no additional cold symptoms. The mother thought that her infant had a condition worse than a cold when her daughter’s respiration got quite noisy at night.
Evidently, the hormone estrogen, which stimulates the nasal passageways, is responsible for this common form of congestion. Estrogen is transferred to the infant during gestation and breastfeeding or chestfeeding. (You may have had comparable discomfort during pregnancy.)
Whether you’re breastfeeding or using formula, this problem usually goes away after the first two months. And by six months, when a baby’s nasal passages have doubled in size, this congestion is barely evident, if at all.
When to be concerned about congestion and breathing.
Go to the emergency hospital if your child is flaring their nostrils while breathing (it indicates that this is the only method for them to open the airway) or if their chest or stomach is invaginating. These symptoms indicate respiratory distress.
These are some other symptoms of respiratory distress in infants and toddlers requiring prompt medical attention:
- Fast respiration may indicate that your youngster is not receiving enough oxygen.
- Your toddler is exhaling with a grunting sound.
- Sweating, especially when the skin is chilly or clammy to the touch.
- Sounds such as wheezing or whistling, which may suggest constricted airways.
3. Breast Lumps
The parents of a 6-week-old kid who awoke one morning with a warm, red lump exactly beneath his right nip brought him to the emergency hospital. Again, estrogen was the culprit. As a newborn’s level of excess estrogen decreases, the milk-producing hormone prolactin momentarily rises and can promote breast development.
In actuality, at least fifty percent of healthy babies experience this, typically on one side. In addition, five percent of newborn boys develop a milk-like fluid known as “witch’s milk,” which occurred in this case and explained why the lump swelled so rapidly. Usually, the enlargement disappears after a month, but it may persist for three months or longer.
When to be concerned about infant chest lumps.
See your pediatrician if the breast is red, painful, or if your child has a fever to establish whether an infection is present. Likewise, while breast tissue formation is quite frequent in infants and during puberty (even in boys), occurrences at other times may signal a hormonal imbalance.
4. Bloody Vomit
One concerned parent brought their 5-month-old baby to my emergency room after he vomited blood after breastfeeding. They suspected that he had an adverse reaction to the milk or maybe experienced internal hemorrhage.
Normal-acting infants with bloody spit-up, however, rarely cause for concern. It’s either owing to traces of blood ingested from the breastfeeding parent’s painful nipples or a minor rupture in the esophagus produced by vigorous vomiting. Even a slight esophageal tear will heal quickly, so neither condition is cause for concern.
Her mother acknowledged that she had broken nipples due to her infant’s recently erupted teeth and that they were the source of the blood.
When to be concerned about bloody vomit.
See a physician promptly if your newborn appears ill, vomits a considerable amount of blood, spits up blood after receiving formula, or vomits projectiles.
5. Orange Skin
Their 10-month-old daughter was brought to my emergency room because her skin had become orange. She was born with jaundice, and her parents were instructed to return if she developed yellow skin again. Yet, I knew this infant did not have jaundice because her eyes remained white, and her complexion was orange rather than yellow.
This is a frequent condition known as “carotenemia,” produced by consuming an abundance of beta-carotene-rich veggies. Infants like the sweet flavor of beta-carotene-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes and carrots, and many first foods that are not orange are also rich in beta-carotene. (You simply cannot see it in vegetables like spinach and broccoli due to the chlorophyll pigment.)
Carotenemia, which does not affect adults, occurs due to the manufacturing process of baby food. The lengthy heating, mashing, and pureeing of vegetables split plant fibers open in a way that our teeth cannot, allowing the baby’s intestines to absorb more carotene.
Hence, when a baby consumes too much beta-carotene, the excess is expelled through sweat and colors the skin. In fact, you’ll first see the orange hue where kids have the most sweat glands: on the nose, palms, and soles of the feet.
When to be concerned about orange infant skin.
Honestly, never. As your infant’s nutrition evolves, the orange hue will gradually decrease. If you continue to feed them beta-carotene-rich meals, their skin will remain orange, but it is harmless.
6. Mildly Erratic Respiration
A babysitter contacted an ambulance after her 3-week-old granddaughter’s breathing was continuously interrupted. The contented, sleeping infant would breathe vigorously for around 20 seconds before stopping breathing. The mom feared that her child had acquired her husband’s obstructive sleep apnea.
Although this sporadic respiration may appear scary, “periodic breathing” is common in infants. Infants typically breathe faster than older children since their lungs are proportionally smaller than their bodies.
Researchers hypothesize that a newborn’s erratic breathing is caused by the immature development of chemical sensors that sense carbon dioxide. This means that infants are occasionally unaware that they need to breathe, and they hold their breath until carbon dioxide levels trigger these sensors.
When to be concerned about a baby’s irregular breathing.
Watch out for signs that your infant is having trouble breathing, such as a change in skin tone (especially in the lips and nail beds) and mucous membranes (such as the gums) that seem bluish, grey, or purplish. These symptoms require emergency medical attention.
A mother took her 2-month-old daughter to the emergency room after five days without a bowel movement. She would grunt, grow red in the face, and her stomach would harden, but only a small amount of mushy feces would emerge.
It can be unsettling to watch your infant struggle to defecate, but keep in mind that they are lying down, which makes it more difficult to remove the waste. Dr. Rebecca Preziosi, a Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Center pediatrician in San Diego, explains, “Young infants are unable to coordinate and maintain their anal sphincter, the muscle that holds feces in the rectum.” The feces must be pushed and grunted in order to pass this muscle.
I explained to the mother that it is acceptable for a baby to defecate once a week. After 6 to 8 weeks, as the gut becomes more effective and adept at digestion, it takes the body longer to produce large quantities of feces.
When to be concerned about infant constipation
See your physician if your baby’s stool is firm or looks like pellets (signs of constipation) or if they do not defecate every day during the first month of life. It may indicate an uncommon issue with the nerves that control the rectum.