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How Do Newborns Develop Infections? Here Are 8 Most Common Causes
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  • The most awaited and exciting day for any parent is the birth of their child. It dampens the mood when an infant develops infections that require medical attention. 

    Arriving into this world exposes your little one to a whole new environment. Your newborn's immune system is still developing and not yet adequately developed to fight bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause infections.

    When newborn baby infections happen, the infants need to spend more time in the hospital to receive adequate treatment. It's unfortunate to go home without your baby, but it should be for the best. 

    Symptoms of newborn baby infections

    As soon as your baby is born, doctors will check for any sign that may tell doctors that your little one has a possible infection. These include the following:

    • poor feeding
    • excessive sleepiness
    • unusual irritability
    • breathing difficulty
    • listlessness
    • irregular temperature
    • decreased (below 36.6 degrees Celsius) temperature
    • elevated (above 38 degrees Celsius) temperature
    • rapid breathing at a rate of 60 breaths per minute
    • unusual skin rash
    • unusual change in skin color (bluish tinge around the mouth, pale or grayish skin)
    • persistent crying

    Doctors may order tests such as a complete blood count, blood culture, urine test, chest X-ray, eye or skin swab, or a spinal tap to help diagnose the baby and start adequate treatment.  

    8 possible causes of newborn baby infections

    Often, newborn baby infections are caused by bacteria passed from the mother to their babies during birth or acquired from the environment. But there are also infections that babies develop while still in the womb and are born with it. 


    Here are the most common ones, according to John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital:

    Group B Streptococcal Disease (GBS)

    Pregnant women are often unaware they carry the bacteria Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in their urinary tract, rectum, or vagina and can easily pass it to their newborn if not treated. 

    Babies with GBS often show symptoms within the first week of life, although some develop symptoms weeks or months later.  (Read more about GBS here and here.)


    The most common sources of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are contaminated food that was not adequately cleaned, pasteurized, or cooked. The bacteria is found in soil and water and can end up on fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products. 

    In severe cases, listeriosis may lead to premature delivery or even stillbirth. If left untreated, listeriosis can develop complications such as pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis. 

    E. Coli Infection

    Everyone carries E. coli in their bodies. Most babies who get sick from E. coli infection already have fragile immune systems, to begin with. The condition can lead to urinary tract infections, sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia.


    Meningitis causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can be due to viruses, fungi, and bacteria, the latter being a severe infection in newborns. Babies who have weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to it. 

    Newborns diagnosed with bacterial and fungal meningitis are treated with antibiotics, while viral meningitis may be treated with antiviral medication. (Read more about it here.)


    Sepsis can be caused by viruses, fungi, parasites, or bacteria, which may have been acquired through birth or the environment. It’s a severe infection that involves the spread of germs throughout the body’s blood and tissues. 

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    Once diagnosed, babies with sepsis receive antibiotics and are closely monitored in the hospital. 


    Also known as pink eye , it’s a viral or bacterial infection described as the inflammation of the eye’s covering membranes (or conjunctiva). It presents symptoms such as redness and swelling in the eye, usually accompanied by a discharge. 

    Conjunctivitis is also very infectious, so you may have to isolate your baby. It’s treated with antibiotics, eye drops, or ointment.


    A yeast infection or vaginal candidiasis is one of the most common vaginal infections during pregnancy. It’s caused by an overgrowth of an otherwise healthy vaginal fungus called Candida albicans.

    In newborns, candidiasis presents as diaper rash or, sometimes, thrush in the mouth and throat. Thrush also causes cracks in the corners of the mouth and white patches on the tongue, palate, lips, and insides of the cheeks. Liquid antifungal medicine is used to treat thrush. 

    Congenital Infections

    Some viruses and parasites are transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery and are born infected. These are called congenital infections. 

    More likely, babies in the womb get infected when mothers get infected while pregnant. Congenital infections include HIV (which causes AIDS), rubella (German measles), chickenpox, syphilis, herpes, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus (CMV). 

    Preventing newborn baby infections

    The mother’s health during pregnancy, so prenatal checkups and tests are essential to you and your baby’s health. Pregnant mamas can do the following to ensure they’re not exposed to any pathogens:

    • Be up-to-date with the necessary vaccines before and during pregnancy.
    • Prepare food properly; avoid raw food, or cook food thoroughly.
    • Personal hygiene is a must when going to the toilet.
    • Avoiding all contact with cat and other animal feces
    • Practice safe sex. 

    It’s crucial to err on the side of caution and take all necessary measures not to get sick when you have a budding life inside you.

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