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Signs and Symptoms of Illness

Infants demonstrate illness in various ways. The following are some indicators to watch for:

  • Your infant refuses feedings or eats less than usual
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent watery stools
  • Your infant passes small amounts of dark urine
  • Unusual crying or irritability - not responding to the usual comfort measures
  • Changes in sleeping habits:
    • your infant is unable to sleep, although exhausted
    • he or she exhibits a decreased activity level by sleeping more
    • your infant is difficult to wake or appears weak
  • Changes in your baby's respiratory pattern such as faster or difficult breathing
  • Pale or mottled skin color

Temperature Taking

Always take your infant's temperature before calling your pediatrician. We recommend taking axillary temperatures on small infants; please check with your pediatrician for their preference. Place the thermometer high in the infant's armpit, making sure that the tip is touching skin on both sides and not resting in the folds of the infant's clothing. Hold the arm close to the body for the amount of time recommended on your thermometer’s directions. Report temperatures over 100.3°F to your pediatrician, making sure to tell the doctor that you took an axillary temperature.

Your pediatrician may request that you take a rectal temperature. To use a rectal thermometer, apply a lubricant before insertion. Insert thermometer about one-half inch into rectum for the time recommended. Wash thermometer with soap and water and store in a clean container.

Keep in mind that when they are ill, small babies may actually have a lower than normal temperature.

Normal temperature ranges:
Axillary - 97°F to 99°F
Rectal - 98°F to 99.5°F

Body temperature can be affected by the temperature of the environment, type of clothing being worn and activities such as crying. Try to take your infant's temperature while he or she is calm to get an accurate reading.


Any significant decrease in your infant's urinary output may indicate dehydration. If the baby is producing small amounts of concentrated (dark) urine, notify your doctor immediately, because infants become dehydrated quickly.

Be ready to report:

  • number of wet diapers in 24-hour period
  • number and consistency of stools
  • amount of fluid taken in 24 hours
  • amount vomited
  • presence of fever

If diarrhea is frequent, or if there are watery stools or stools with a water ring around them, this may be a symptom of illness or food intolerance. Infants get dehydrated quickly when they have frequent watery stools, therefore, notify your doctor to discuss appropriate methods of fluid replacement.

Bulb Syringe

A bulb syringe may be used to clear your infant's nose or mouth of mucus or formula. To use, squeeze the bulb until it collapses. Place in one nostril, then release quickly. Repeat as necessary. When using the syringe, be sure to clean it daily using hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly.

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