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When a Baby Has Difficulty After Birth

Nurse tending to a newborn in the hospital

All of a baby's body systems must work together in a new way after birth. Sometimes a baby has a hard time adjusting to life outside the mother’s body. Health checks can help determine if a baby is doing well or having problems. These include the Apgar test, done 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth.

If there are signs the baby isn’t doing well, treatment can begin right away in the delivery room. The members of the healthcare team work together to help the baby with any difficulties. For example, they may:

  • Clear the baby's airways of fluid or mucus

  • Give the baby oxygen

  • Help the baby breathe

Newborn babies who may have trouble at birth include those:

  • Who are born early (premature)

  • Who had a difficult delivery

  • Who have birth defects

  • Who have a mother with a health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or an infection

Fortunately for these babies, special care is available. Newborn babies who need intensive medical attention are often admitted into a special area of the hospital called the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The NICU combines advanced technology and trained healthcare professionals to provide specialized care for the tiniest patients. NICUs may also have intermediate or continuing care areas. These are for babies who are not as sick but need specialized nursing care. Some hospitals don’t have trained staff or a NICU. In that case, babies may need to be moved to another hospital.

Having a sick baby is upsetting. Most parents don’t expect to have problems with pregnancy. They don’t expect their baby to be sick or premature. It is quite natural for parents to have many different emotions as they try to cope with the difficulties of a sick baby. But it is reassuring that today's advanced technology is helping sick babies get better and go home sooner than ever before. Being separated from your baby when he or she is in the NICU is painful. But it helps to know that it doesn’t have to harm the relationship between you and your baby. Most NICUs today pay special attention to supporting this relationship. 

Medical Reviewers:

  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
  • Lee, Kimberly G., MD, MSc, IBCLC