Your Baby & Toddler

Newborn Q&A

- Dr Hanneke Heyns Paediatric­ian


My little boy was just a week old when his tummy turned rock hard and he started crying inconsolab­ly. I went to the doctor the next day, and he diagnosed colic. I didn’t really agree with the diagnosis and spent the afternoon reading up about reflux, which to me felt closer to the truth. That evening though, he was so much worse that we went straight back to the doctor. He gave him one look and had him admitted to hospital. Turns out he had septicaemi­a. This diagnosis was confirmed with a blood test. He got antibiotic­s immediatel­y, and after a few days in hospital he was much better. What keeps me awake at night now is the thought of what could have happened if I hadn’t gone back that evening. He could have died! How can a mother know when her newborn has septicaemi­a when the symptoms are so close to those of colic or reflux? And what is the cause? A:

Dr Heyns says: Septicaemi­a is a bacterial infection of the blood and one of the most common infections that babies get.

The infection is usually transferre­d from the mom just before or during birth. Often, the mom doesn’t have any symptoms, which makes it even harder to diagnose.

These infections usually occur in the first month after birth.

Septicaemi­a can also occur at any time after that, but then the cause would be something different, the symptoms would be different and the condition would not look the same.

The problem with little babies is that unfortunat­ely they have very few symptoms, and the symptoms can be rather vague and also overlap with many other conditions.

Babies with septicaemi­a are usually lethargic, don’t want to nurse, don’t nurse well, cry more, can even vomit and just aren’t their usual self.

But all these symptoms can also be signs of an “off” day due to overstimul­ation, or because Baby has jaundice, colic or a whole host of other conditions.

With little babies you often have to see the doctor a few times before the correct diagnosis will be made. Conditions like colic and reflux usually take a while to develop, and the symptoms don’t pop up overnight.

If symptoms arise quickly, over the course of a day or two, and the symptoms worsen quickly, the condition is usually serious, and you should consult the doctor immediatel­y.

Don’t wait for fever, as little babies often don’t just get fever. If you are uncertain, ask questions and go back. Trust your motherly instinct.

Septicaemi­a can’t be diagnosed without the necessary blood tests, and that is why it is so important for blood and urine tests to be done if there is even the slightest possibilit­y that this could be the cause of the symptoms.

If the diagnosis is confirmed, intravenou­s antibiotic­s will most likely be administer­ed, treating the condition effectivel­y. With a quick diagnosis and the right treatment, there shouldn’t be any long-term effects.

Remember, you akways know your baby best, so go see the doctor if you are feeling uneasy.

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