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Abnormal Behavior in Newborns

author image Sharon Perkins
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.
Abnormal Behavior in Newborns
Newborns often display what seems like odd behavior but is actually normal. Photo Credit newborn image by jodi mcgee from Fotolia.com

It's often difficult for novice parents to accurately judge whether their newborn baby's behavior falls within the range of normal. Even perfectly normal newborn movements, sounds and behavior can seem odd to nervous first-time mothers and fathers. Abnormal behavior in a newborn can indicate neurological damage, illness, genetic diseases or disorders such as cerebral palsy. Ask your baby's doctor to assess any behaviors in your newborn that don't seem normal to you.

Unusual Crying

To a new parent, even normal newborn crying can sound abnormal. Newborns often have a loud, piercing wail that goes through a new parent like a knife. But normal crying is designed to get your attention, and it does. A shrill, high-pitched cry, on the other hand, can sometimes indicate a neurological problem, such as increased pressure on the brain from disorders such as hydrocephalus or infections like meningitis. Severe jaundice can also cause a shrill cry. A weak cry, or a cry that sounds like a kitten, can indicate a genetic problem called cri du chat syndrome. It's normally not hard to make a newborn cry; have your pediatrician evaluate your baby if you think his crying sounds abnormal.

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Low Muscle Tone

Newborns normally have a certain amount of muscle tone. Unless they're premature, their arms and legs don't just flop out to the side; the baby holds them close to the body. Both low muscle tone -- unusual floppiness, a weak suck or hand held open rather than fisted -- and overly tight muscle tone can indicate problems in a newborn. Genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome, muscle diseases and brain damage can cause low muscle tone. Cerebral palsy often causes hypertonia, or increased muscle tone. Infection in a newborn can cause increased floppiness; let your pediatrician know immediately if you notice a change in your newborn's muscle tone, Seattle Children's Hospital advises.

Abnormal Feeding

Full-term newborns are born with reflexes that allow them to breathe, suck and swallow in a coordinated fashion. A baby who can't do this won't be able to take in enough nutrition to grow properly. A normal newborn has a rooting reflex, so that he turns his head and mouth towards whatever touches his cheek. This allows him to find the breast and latch on. Your newborn should awaken every two to three hours for feeding without being woken up and should be able to suck for 20 minutes or more without tiring. He should also eat without gagging or choking. If your baby doesn't appear to be eating normally, let your pediatrician know.

Breathing Changes

The way your newborn breathes can sometimes seem alarming. A newborn breathes irregularly at times. He might also breathe faster than adults, around 40 breaths per minute and up to 60 breaths per minute when he fusses, according to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Newborns also might seem to stop breathing for short periods of time, up to 10 seconds, which is a condition known as apnea. An occasional grunt, squeak or periods of noisy breathing are also common in newborns.

However, if your baby turns blue during apneic periods or the periods last longer than a few seconds, seek medical attention. Coughing frequently or grunting with each breath, especially if accompanied by nasal flaring or a sucking in of the chest or area around the collarbones, is abnormal and needs immediate medical evaluation, suggests Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Sneezing and hiccups, on the other hand, are common and generally harmless.

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