Pneumonia in the Newborn

Close up of newborn baby's feet
A newborn baby lies on a bed made up with white linens. (Image: JGI/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Your newborn is likely exposed to several contaminants and germs. A mother’s antibodies are still inside her newborn, actively working at fighting off infections and illness until his immune system is developed at around 6 months of age. One complication from exposure to a bacteria or virus is the development of pneumonia, a serious infection that occurs inside the lungs.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia occurs when germs and bacteria from another illness reach the lungs. The result is an infection of the lung tissue that causes a buildup of fluid and pus pockets that make it difficult to breathe. With pneumonia, one lung is generally all that is infected. In severe cases, both lungs can be affected; this is called double pneumonia.

One of the most common types of bacteria leading to pneumonia is pneumococcus. Pneumococcal disease is caused from pneumococcus; it's a leading cause of bacterial pneumonia in infants. This type of pneumonia is serious because it can also invade your newborn's bloodstream and cause bacteremia, a serious bacterial condition that leads to meningitis.

Signs

As you care for your newborn, if she develops pneumonia, you may notice some tell-tale signs and symptoms. Two of the most common signs include cough and fever, notes Baby Center. If your infant sounds like she has a large amount of fluid in her lungs or chest congestion, she could have pneumonia. A fever is generally a sign of infection; any time she has a fever, ask her pediatrician how he wants to treat it specifically.

Feelings of general malaise, tiredness or weakness are also signs of pneumonia. In serious cases of advanced pneumonia, your infant may turn blue or begin choking on think mucous and phlegm; seek emergency care at once and do not wait to see her pediatrician because it could be life threatening. Many of these signs may also indicate another type of respiratory disorder or medical condition; it is important to seek medical advice to get an accurate diagnosis.

Causes

The symptoms of pneumonia are often similar, even though different kinds are caused from varying sources. A common type with newborns is respiratory syncytial virus. If he has this virus, your infant starts off with cold-like symptoms, but they can gradually progress into pneumonia if treatment is not instituted right away. Other types of viruses that cause pneumonia include parainfluenza virus, common flu virus and adenovirus.

The most dangerous type is bacterial pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia comes on suddenly with infants who have weakness and troubled breathing present. Your infant may also develop pneumonia if he's in the hospital for an extended length of time, has an underlying medical illness, has had a recent surgery or has been on a breathing machine.

Treatment

Treating pneumonia begins with targeting the infection. Strong antibiotics are often used; fluids are instituted in order to prevent dehydration and encourage mucous flow. Acetaminophen may be used to help reduce fever, discomfort and pain. In severe cases, when oxygen levels are affected, your infant may receive oxygen support via a nasal cannula or face mask. The pneumococcal vaccination can help prevent most types of pneumonia in newborns and children. Ask your health care provider to discuss the best options to prevent pneumonia.

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