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Common Health Concerns in Babies' First Year


doctor putting stethoscope on baby's chest



The first time your baby gets a cold, fever or upset stomach, it's normal to worry. But knowing the symptoms of common baby illnesses, and learning how to deal with them, can help you breathe easier. Here's some advice, organized by symptom.


Coughing and Sneezing 

Newborn babies often cough or sneeze to clear stuffy nasal passages. This doesn't mean they have a cold. In fact, it's uncommon for a newborn to develop a cold within the first six weeks.

If you're concerned about coughing or sneezing, check with your healthcare provider or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1. Don't give your baby any cough or cold medications unless they're recommended by a health professional. Many over the counter medicines are not safe for children under six years old.


Diarrhea is often caused by an infection, illness or irritation. Your baby's stools will be watery and foul smelling. Diarrhea is serious because it can cause dehydration, which can make babies very sick, very quickly.

Most cases of mild diarrhea can be treated at home. Your baby should be taking in enough fluids and nutrients, peeing normal amounts and seeming to improve. 

If your baby has signs of dehydration, see your healthcare provider or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 right away. Signs of dehydration include:

  • decreased urination (fewer than four wet diapers in 24 hours for a baby older than four or five days)
  • increased thirst
  • no tears
  • dry skin, mouth and tongue
  • accelerated heart beat
  • sunken eyes
  • greyish skin
  • sunken soft spot (fontanelle) on baby's head
  • irritable or extremely sleepy and difficult to wake up


Vomiting involves the forceful throwing up of large amounts of liquid. Vomiting is usually caused by a virus or bacteria and, like diarrhea, it can lead to dehydration. See your healthcare practitioner if your baby can't keep any fluids down or appears dehydrated (see signs of dehydration above).


A high temperature, or fever, is usually caused by an infection. The source of the infection can be a bacteria or a virus. Babies less than 3 months old who have a fever need see a healthcare provider. If your baby is 3-6 months old and has a fever, call your healthcare provider or Healthlink BC at 8 1 1 to get advice on what to do.

Keep in mind that your baby’s temperature changes throughout the day. It’s lowest in the early morning and highest in the early evening.

A “normal” temperature depends on what kind of thermometer you are using.

Method Normal temperature range
Armpit 36.5°C - 37.5°C (97.8°F - 99.5°F)
Mouth (not recommended for children younger than 2 years) 35.5°C - 37.5°C (95.9°F - 99.5°F)
Ear (not recommended for children younger than 2 years) 35.8°C - 38°C (96.4°F - 100.4°F)
Rectal (Bum) 36.6°C - 38°C (97.9°F - 100.4°F)

If your baby has a fever, do not offer Aspirin or other drugs with acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).  ASA may cause Reye’s syndrome - a serious condition that damages the brain and liver.

Signs of fever in your baby are:

  • the back of the neck feels hot, even when extra clothing is removed
  • having no interest in usual things
  • looking ill or overly sleepy
  • looking flushed or pale
  • may be sweaty
  • may be extra thirsty

The most common way to take a baby’s temperature is under the armpit. The most accurate way to take a temperature is in the bum (rectal method), but only use a rectal thermometer if you are comfortable doing so and a health care provider has shown you how to do it safely. When taking your baby’s temperature, use an easy to read thermometer, such as a digital unit.

Here’s how to take your baby’s temperature in their armpit:

  • Put the tip of the thermometer in the centre of the armpit.
  • Tuck the arm snugly against the body, then comfort and distract your baby.
  • After about one minute the thermometer will beep if it’s digital. If it’s not digital, wait about five minutes. Gently remove the thermometer and read the temperature.
  • If you find your baby has a fever by checking under the arm, re-check it to be sure.


Thrush is a common infection in infants. It appears as a whitish gray coating on the tongue and the insides of the cheeks and gums that doesn’t wipe off easily. Babies may also develop thrush on their diaper area. Most babies don’t experience pain or complications with thrush, however thrush can be passed to mothers through breastfeeding. If you think your baby has thrush, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Resources & Links:

HealthLink BC: Cough Symptoms in Children 
HealthLink BC: Diarrhea, Age 11 and Younger 
HealthLink BC: Nausea and Vomiting, Age 11 and Younger 
HealthLink BC: Fever or Chills, Age 11 and Younger 
HealthLink BC: Thrush

Last Updated: January 26, 2018