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  • Pediatricians Explain Lethargy in Babies and Why It Needs a Doctor's Appointment

    These are the signs and symptoms to look for when you suspect your baby is lethargic.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Pediatricians Explain Lethargy in Babies and Why It Needs a Doctor's Appointment
  • Nothing makes a parent more anxious than a sick infant and for good reason. Apart from crying, they have no way of letting you know about any pains or aches they may be feeling. You have to pay extra attention for any signs and symptoms that may merit a trip to the doctor or emergency room.

    One of the things you should look out for is lethargy — your baby has little to no energy, is drowsy or sluggish, and may sleep longer than usual, according to Stanford Children’s Health. But even parents who have experience with sick babies may find this symptom hard to spot. How do you differentiate it with, say, exhaustion or sleepiness?

    What other parents are reading

    A telling sign that your baby is lethargic is when he is difficult to rouse, according to Dr. Danelle Fisher, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, USA. “Babies who are in a deep sleep or sleepy will respond to stimulus, whereas lethargic babies will not,” she says in an interview with Romper.

    Another sign of lethargy is if your infant is unusually quiet, is extremely sleepy and does not move much. They may be hard to wake for feedings and even when awake, are not alert or attentive to sounds and visual stimulation, according to Stanford Children’s Health.

    What other parents are reading

    “True lethargy is persistent,” says Dr. Faith Buenaventura-Alcazaren, a pediatrician at the Marikina Doctors Hospital and Medical Center. “A sleepy or tired baby will be energetic again after a nap.” If the baby has a fever, he may feel better after taking medicine, but will become sluggish again if the fever comes back.


    A good way to check your infant for true lethargy is to check for limpness. Raise the baby’s arm and let go. If it falls down quickly and heavily, it may be a sign that the baby cannot control his arm. Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren also advises to look at baby’s legs — if the legs are not in its usual frog position, the baby may be limp and has low muscle tone.

    Lethargy may happen slowly and not manifest right away so parents might not notice the gradual change. But it is typically a symptom of a more serious illness such as infections, according to Stanford Children’s Health, so it’s important to consult with your pediatrician for any drastic changes in your baby’s activity level.

    What other parents are reading

    “Always consider the circumstances so you can correlate it with the baby’s lethargy,” says Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren. Check if your baby has fever, cough, and colds, or diarrhea. Poor appetite and poor suck may also be related to lethargy.

    “If the baby is limp, persistently lethargic, and his extremities are cool to the touch, it is best to bring him to the emergency room (ER),” Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren says. “A doctor’s clinical eye is more trained to recognize subtle signs.” Vomiting and losing fluids from diarrhea, followed by lethargy, also merits a trip to the ER.

    Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren, who is a mom herself, says that when it comes to baby’s health and safety, a mother should always trust her instinct.  “Observe first but recognize the red flags,” she says.

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