The A-Z of Common Baby Conditions

How to spot the symptoms of common baby conditions

It can be very upsetting to notice signs of infection or ailments in your baby, especially as a new parent. But rest assured that most conditions are easily treatable if you catch them early enough. Learn about the most common conditions and what action you may need to take.

If you are worried, contact your doctor. This information should not replace advice from a trained healthcare professional. It is important that if you have any concerns about your baby’s health, you contact your Health Visitor, Practice Nurse or GP as soon as possible. 

Cradle Cap
This is a harmless, crusty patch of skin that appears on a baby’s scalp or eyebrows to form a white or yellow ‘cap’. Although the cause is unknown, cradle cap is extremely common and nothing to worry about. Your baby won’t feel any irritation or discomfort, and the scales will eventually rub off by themselves.

You could try to hurry things along by gently rubbing a small amount of mild baby shampoo or a treatment shampoo from your pharmacist into your baby’s scalp and combing through with a soft cloth or brush to loosen the scales. Alternatively, olive oil or baby oil can be massaged into the scalp and left for at least thirty minutes (or overnight) to soften the skin before gently washing the scales away.

Whatever you do, you should never pick at the scales as this can cause infection.


Babies with colic typically have long periods of high-pitched inconsolable crying that often begins at the same time each day. Starting just a few weeks after birth and continuing for 4-6 months, colic affects one in five babies and can be a distressing time for the parent, although there is no evidence of long-term damage to your baby’s health.

Although the cause is unknown, some people believe colic may be due to trapped wind. If your baby is otherwise well and you can eliminate other likely reasons for your baby’s crying, such as being cold, wet or hungry, then it could well be colic. If so, there is little else you can do but try to comfort your baby.

Earache and Ear Infections
Inflammation of the middle ear is caused by a bacterial or viral infection (known as Otitis media). It is the most common cause of severe pain in small children.

Babies and children are more prone to ear infections because the Eustachian tube (which connects the throat to the ear) is relatively short. This allows any germs to spread easily from the throat, via the Eustachian tube into the middle ear. Eczema (skin inflammation) or an object stuck in the ear can also cause discomfort and earache. 

Typically, ear infections start with a cold or viral infection (such as mumps or measles), which means that other symptoms such as a sore throat may also be present. A build-up of fluid and pressure behind the eardrum then leads to earache.

Your baby will be in pain and is likely to cry for long periods of time. You may also notice a discharge coming from the ear.

Most ear infections resolve themselves without further treatment. However, if the symptoms don’t get better within a couple of days, you should see your Health Visitor, Practice Nurse or GP.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is an itchy, red pimply rash that can appear on your baby’s skin if he or she gets too hot. While heat rash isn’t harmful to your baby, it is a sign that they need to cool down before they overheat and risk becoming dehydrated. Babies are less able to regulate their temperatures as adults can, so you can help by dressing them in loose, cotton clothing and keeping them in the shade to help prevent overheating.

Heat rashes usually disappear within a few days. A cool bath or calamine lotion may help to soothe the skin.

Nappy rash
Sometimes the skin in your baby’s nappy area can become red and inflamed. It’s not usually serious but it can be painful and distressing for both you and your baby.

The most common cause of nappy rash is wetness. Urine and faeces can irritate your baby’s delicate skin, so the longer it is in contact with the skin, the more irritation and possible infection can occur.

The rash normally starts with red spots or patches, or a general redness of the skin that may look sore to touch. It can develop into red, cracked, sore blisters that become ulcerated. Make sure you change nappies promptly to avoid this becoming an issue. By keeping your baby regularly changed and dry, you should be able to prevent rashes.

Sometimes however, sensitive skin can be irritated by using strong soaps or toiletries; baby wipes with alcohol; by rubbing too vigorously when changing; by diarrhoea or a change of diet. To prevent this;

  • Keep your baby’s skin clean and dry and change nappies frequently 
  • Ensure the baby’s skin is exposed to the air by leaving the nappy off for a while 
  • Wash your hands before and after nappy changing 
  • Clean the skin of the nappy area thoroughly with warm water and cotton wool or a non-astringent water-based wipe and dry thoroughly with cotton wool or a clean towel 
  • Always clean girls from the front to back and do not attempt to pull back the foreskin in boys

If necessary, you can apply a thin layer of barrier cream to soothe and protect your baby’s skin from further irritation. If the rash does not settle or improve with treatment, ask your Health Visitor, Practice Nurse or GP for advice.
Oral Thrush
"Oral thrush is very common in babies and young children. It’s caused by a yeast infection that produces a white coating inside your baby’s mouth. It’s usually harmless and clears up without any treatment, although if the symptoms persist, you may need to seek advice from your GP.

Although your baby may not seem to be in any discomfort, he or she may become reluctant to feed, or regularly stop feeding.

If you are breastfeeding, you may need treatment to avoid re-infecting your baby. To help prevent oral thrush;

  • Carefully sterilise all equipment that goes into your baby’s mouth or comes into contact with their feed
  • Always wash your hands before feeding your baby

Posseting is very common, especially during the first few months after bringing your baby home. It happens when a small amount of milk comes out of your baby’s mouth after feeding – the milk they have swallowed is bought back up. It isn’t painful, although it can cause some discomfort.

If your baby is feeding normally and gaining weight, posseting should not pose any serious problems. However, if it persists or you have any concerns, seek advice from your Midwife or Health Visitor.

To help reduce posseting:

  • Hold your baby semi-upright whilst feeding 
  • Always handle your baby gently, especially when winding 
  • Ask your Midwife for the proper technique for breastfeeding or bottle feeding
  • When bottle feeding, make sure you use a teat that flows easily and keep the bottle tilted so that there milk is always available in the teat
  • Try giving smaller feeds more frequently
  • Avoid changing nappies soon after feeding 

Sticky Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Conjunctivitis, sometimes known as sticky eye, is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. There are several common types of conjunctivitis – some go away by themselves, while others may need medical treatment.

Bacteria or viruses cause some conjunctivitis; these varieties are contagious. Other (non-contagious) varieties are caused by allergies or environmental irritants, such as airborne pollutants, smoke or fumes.

Your baby’s eyes can become and red, sore and watery. If there is an infection, they may become itchy and you will notice a yellow discharge that clogs up the eye.

You can soothe your child’s symptoms using a cool or warm compress. In addition, gently clean the infected eye(s), working from the inner corner outwards with a clean gauze or cotton pads dipped in warm water.

To avoid spreading the infection, make sure you use a fresh piece of cotton wool for each eye and make sure you wash your hands before and after treating your baby’s eye.

Sticky eye usually improves within a couple of days if you keep the area soothed. However, if your baby develops a fever and increased swelling, redness, or soreness in or around the eye, contact your GP immediately. Your baby may need to be prescribed antibiotic eye drops or an ointment.

If your baby develops sticky eye within the first couple of weeks after birth, tell your Midwife as soon as possible as your baby may have picked up an infection during birth.

Jaundice is a common condition in newborn babies and is known medically as neonatal jaundice. You will notice a slight yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

Symptoms usually develop within two to three days after the birth and usually get better without treatment by the time your baby is about two weeks old. If you notice symptoms developing after this time, contact your midwife or GP to check whether any treatment is needed.

Other symptoms of newborn jaundice can include a dark, yellow urine (which should be colourless) and pale stools (faeces), which are a yellow/orange colour in healthy babies.