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Baby on mother's lap

From colic to croup, family GP Dr Carol Cooper helps with some common baby health concerns.


This yellowish tinge of the skin (and/or whites of the eyes) is caused by a pigment called bilirubin, produced in the normal breakdown of red blood cells. A new baby’s liver is often too immature to handle bilirubin, so may become jaundiced at two to three days old. Although this usually subsides within two weeks, premature babies are more prone to jaundice. In some cases, jaundice can be serious.

What to do

If there’s jaundice within 24 hours of birth, or it lasts longer than 14 days, your baby needs tests to check there’s nothing wrong with his liver.


If your baby doesn’t seem himself, check his temperature – ear thermometers are popular, but you can also use a digital thermometer under his arm. Normally a baby’s temperature (taken under the arm) is 36.4°C, but an infection will cause a fever – a temperature of over 37.5°C. The NHS Choices website recommends contacting your GP if your baby is under three months old and has a temperature of 38°C or higher, if they’re three to six months old and their temperature is 39°C or higher or they have other signs of illness as well as a raised temperature.

What to do

Take him to the doctor as it’s often impossible to tell what’s wrong without an examination. Don’t give ibuprofen or paracetamol to a baby under three months without medical advice. However, you can help cool him by taking off excess clothing and give him frequent drinks of breast milk, formula or cooled boiled water to help keep him hydrated.


Colic often comes on at two weeks and can last for three months. Typically, your baby will cry every evening, often for prolonged periods and may draw his legs up towards his tummy as if in pain. Although colic is common, the cause is unknown. It may be an extreme version of normal crying or it may be something that happens while a baby’s gut matures.

What to do

Easier said than done, but try not to let the crying get to you. Ask for advice from your health visitor, who may suggest this trick: hold your baby face down along your arm, while you rub his back with your other hand. Infant colic drops may also help.


Croup is a harsh barking cough, often coupled with noisy breathing and hoarseness. It’s more common over three months of age, but can happen at any time. The usual cause is a virus, but it can also be brought on by a bacterial infection.

What to do

See your doctor without delay if you think your baby has croup. If he appears to be fighting for breath, call an ambulance and go straight to A&E.


In babies, the valve at the lower end of the oesophagus (gullet) hasn’t fully developed, so milk and stomach acid can come back up during or after feeds (known as possetting). With reflux, your baby may have pain while feeding, or may vomit profusely (much more than ordinary posseting). Symptoms don’t necessarily start at birth but they almost always improve as your baby’s stomach develops.

What to do

Hold your baby upright during feeds and for at least half an hour after. If that doesn’t work, see your doctor, who may prescribe something to relieve symptoms. Alternatively, drugs are sometimes prescribed to reduce stomach acid.


Colds are caused by a large number of different viruses and they’re very common in babies and young children. Their tiny nostrils easily become blocked, making it difficult to feed and breathe.

What to do

Give your baby plenty of time to feed. Wipe his nose gently – cotton wool is softer than tissues. Saline drops can help ease a blocked nose, but not all doctors recommend them. If your baby seems irritable or unwell, has a fever or refuses feeds, take him to the GP to rule out complications – remember, a young baby can get dehydrated very quickly.

Nappy rash

When your baby’s skin comes into contact with wee and poo in his nappy, the skin can become sore, with pink or red spots or blotches.

What to do

Try cleaning your baby’s bottom with just cotton wool and water as wipes may make irritation worse. Also try to give your baby some nappy-free time each day and apply barrier cream before you put a nappy on. If the rash persists and there are small red spots outside the main area, see your GP as it could be thrush.


Candida is a yeast infection that can cause thrush in the nappy area, where it’s moist and warm, as well as in the mouth. You might notice a nappy rash that doesn’t improve, or has white or red spots within it. In the mouth, thrush can cause white patches or a sore, red tongue. Your baby may also have pain when feeding.

What to do

Over-the-counter anti-fungal cream can treat thrush in the nappy area, but see your health visitor or GP to make sure of the diagnosis first. If your baby has oral thrush, your doctor will give you a prescription.


It’s normal for babies, particularly those who are breastfed, to alternate between frequent motions and very few. The colour of their poo can also vary, depending on what you eat. But a constipated baby passes dry, hard poo like rabbit droppings; babies fed formula milk are more prone to constipation.

What to do

You only need to worry if your baby seems unwell, cries a lot, or is off his feeds. You’ll have an instinct about your baby’s symptoms, so learn to trust yourself when you suspect he’s unwell. If symptoms persist consult your doctor.

Easier said than done, but try not to let crying get to you.