Neonatal Sepsis: A Complete Guide


Neonatal sepsis is a serious bacterial infection that can affect newborns. It occurs when bacteria enter the baby’s bloodstream and cause an inflammatory response in the body. Left untreated, neonatal sepsis can be fatal. Early diagnosis and treatment of this condition are critical to saving the life of an infant. Risk factors include prematurity, low birth weight, prolonged rupture of membranes, and maternal infection during labour. Fortunately, with advances in medical care and technology, many cases of neonatal sepsis can be successfully treated.

What is neonatal sepsis?

Neonatal sepsis is a serious infection that affects newborn babies. It occurs when bacteria or other germs enter the baby's bloodstream, often as a result of an infection in another part of the body. Symptoms may include fever, poor feeding, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and jaundice. If left untreated, it can be fatal. Treatment typically involves antibiotics and supportive care such as fluids and oxygen. Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are essential for preventing long-term complications or death.

What are the causes of neonatal sepsis?

Neonatal sepsis happens when bacteria get into the baby's bloodstream through the umbilical cord, placenta, or vagina while the baby is being born. Bacteria can also enter if a baby has an infection in their skin, lungs, urinary tract, or digestive system, or from a contaminated device such as a catheter. Premature babies are most at risk for sepsis because their immune systems are not fully developed yet. Antibiotics given to mothers during labour and delivery can prevent some cases of neonatal sepsis.

What are the symptoms of neonatal sepsis?

The symptoms of neonatal sepsis include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Poor feeding
  • Fever
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Irritability or inconsolable crying
  • Seizures
  • Swollen extremities and abdomen
  • rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low white blood cell count 

When should one see a doctor for neonatal sepsis?

If a baby is displaying symptoms of neonatal sepsis, such as fever, irritability, lethargy, difficulty feeding, or rapid breathing, a doctor should be seen immediately. Parents should also monitor for other signs such as vomiting and diarrhoea, apnea or bradycardia, mottling of the skin or redness in areas on the body, and an abnormal heart rate. In all cases where any of these symptoms are observed, medical attention should be sought right away.

What are the risk factors for neonatal sepsis?

Risk factors for neonatal sepsis include:

  • Bacteria from the umbilical cord or an infection in the mother's uterus, vagina, or urinary tract can get into the baby's bloodstream.
  • Prematurity
  • Low birth weight
  • Prolonged rupture of membranes before labour begins
  • History of maternal infection or fever during labour
  • Healthcare providers may be at risk of transmitting infections to newborns during delivery.
  • Prolonged contact between healthcare providers and babies in the NICU can increase the risk of sepsis.


Neonatal sepsis is a serious and life-threatening infection that can occur shortly after birth. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to reducing the risk of death or long-term complications. To diagnose neonatal sepsis, healthcare providers need to consider the clinical presentation as well as take into account laboratory tests such as blood cultures and metabolic panels. With prompt treatment, most cases of neonatal sepsis can be resolved without causing long-term health issues for the newborn. Therefore, healthcare providers need to remain vigilant and act quickly when diagnosing neonatal sepsis to provide the best possible outcome for the infant.

Request an appointment at Apollo Cradle, DELHI-NCR - Chirag Enclave. Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

1. How is neonatal sepsis diagnosed?

Neonatal sepsis is usually found through blood tests that look for bacterial infections and check how well organs are working.

2. What are the possible complications associated with neonatal sepsis?

Complications of neonatal sepsis include meningitis, pneumonia, hearing loss, delays in development, and in the worst cases, death.

3. How can neonatal sepsis be prevented?

Neonatal sepsis can be prevented by washing hands before handling newborns, avoiding unnecessary medical procedures on the baby during labor and delivery, and making sure that those caring for the baby have up-to-date vaccinations against certain bacteria that can cause sepsis in newborns.

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