What do I need to know?

Cartoon of baby with a runny nose

If your baby was born premature or sick, find out what you need to know about common infectious illnesses and what to do if you are worried.

All adults, children and babies experience illnesses. We become protected from infections by catching them and getting better, or through vaccination.

It takes time for babies and young children to build up their resistance to infections (antibodies). This means they can get more viruses than adults. A baby born at full term gets antibodies from their mother towards the end of the pregnancy. A baby born premature will receive fewer antibodies, so they may be more likely to catch infections and the risk of serious illness can be higher.

Babies born full term with respiratory or lung conditions can also be at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell from common infectious illnesses. These can include respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and chronic lung disease (CLD).

The winter months (October to March) can be challenging for those born prematurely (before 37 weeks) and who have lung problems or a congenital heart condition.

Seeing your premature or sick baby unwell, especially for the first time, can be worrying and upsetting. This information is about the most common infectious illnesses, what you can do to help protect against them, and what to do if you are worried.

This information, provided by Bliss, should not replace the advice given to you by your baby’s healthcare professionals such as your GP or your health visitor. It is extra information. If you are worried about your baby’s health, you should contact a healthcare professional.

This information will be relevant for all parents of premature or sick babies, but probably most useful after you have taken your baby home. This is because the neonatal units will have their own processes for limiting the spread of infection, and for spotting the signs of possible illnesses in your baby.

Who can help?

  • Your GP or health visitor
  • Your community neonatal nurse, or family care nurse
  • Your neonatal unit
  • Your neonatal or paediatric consultant (if your baby has been discharged from hospital and visits a clinic)
  • Pharmacists
  • NHS 111
  • 999 in an emergency

We will refer to a baby’s gestational age in this information. This figure will be the age they were born (eg 28 weeks) and not how old they would have been if they had been born when they were due (sometimes called corrected age).