When to Worry – what to look out for when your baby is sick

It is natural to be anxious when your baby becomes unwell.  Often things can be managed safely at home but there are times you need to seek help.

Understanding some of the signs and symptoms of more serious illness will give you confidence in what to watch out for and when to seek more urgent medical attention.

Alertness and Irritability

When your baby is unwell, they can often become drowsy and sleep more.  It is concerning if your baby is weak and floppy, not wanting to make eye contact or interact with you or if their cry is just a whimper. The saying “beware the quiet child” is so true.  When a baby is seriously unwell, they will often not have the energy to cry.

Equally concerning would be if a baby was extremely irritable and unable to be settled or had a high-pitched cry.


It is a good idea to watch your baby’s breathing when they are well and their breathing is normal.  This will help you recognise when there is a change from normal.

When your baby is unwell you may notice some of the following changes:

  • Breathing becomes laboured and the muscles will pull in around the ribs and at the top of the chest.
  • Nostrils flare
  • Head bobs up and down
  • Persistent cough or wheeze
  • Noisy breathing including grunting, snoring and stridor
  • Unable to cry or make a noise

It is important to note that decreased breathing effort may indicate the infant is exhausted rather than their condition is improving.

All these changes would warrant urgent medical attention.

Skin colour and appearance

If your baby is unwell, they may look pale or perhaps flushed if they have a fever.  It is concerning if they are extremely pale or are looking blue or ashen or their skin is purple or mottled.  Cold extremities can indicate circulation is poor and your baby is unwell.  Also concerning is a purple or dark red rash that does not fade when you press on it.

Fluids In and Fluids Out.

If your baby is unwell they can become too tired to feed.  If they also have diarrhoea or vomiting, they can become dehydrated quickly.  It is important to monitor their intake and encourage fluids. A decease in the number of wet nappies and increased lethargy can indicate your baby is becoming dehydrated.


Fever is a very common symptom and is generally a result of your baby fighting off an infection.  Often fevers are mild and can be managed at home. When assessing your infant don’t just focus on the fever.  If they have a fever and are alert and feeding this may be less concerning, then for example if they had a fever and were floppy or having difficulty breathing.

If your baby is less than three months old and has a fever you would seek immediate medical attention.

Other symptoms that may indicate your child needs medical attention include:

  • Green or blood-stained vomit
  • Seizure or convulsion
  • Severe pain

This information is just an overview of what to watch out for.  You know your baby better than anyone and if you are at all concerned then seek medical attention or call 000 if an emergency.


Healthdirect 1800 022 222

Phone Healthdirect to speak to a Registered Nurse.  Go to the Healthdirect Website for health information, to do a symptom checker and to search for options for Doctors, hospitals and allied health providers.


Royal Melbourne Childrens Hospital

RMCH has an excellent website with great resources that have accurate and easy to understand information.  Includes fact sheets but also great podcasts and videos.  There is also an app you can download.

Royal Melbourne Childrens Hospital – Kidsinfo

Breathing Distress.

This follow is a short video of a babies displaying signs of breathing distress.

Signs of breathing distress