Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Management of newborn illness and complications

The most common causes of neonatal deaths are preterm birth complications, newborn infections and birth asphyxia. They account for over 80% of all global neonatal deaths. A newborn baby who is born preterm or has a potentially life-threatening problem is in an emergency situation requiring immediate diagnosis and management. Delay in identification of the problem or in providing the correct management may be fatal.

Preterm and/or low birth weight infants need special care, including additional attention to breastfeeding and breast-milk feeding and to keeping them warm at home and in health facilities. Those with preterm birth complications, including respiratory problems, need appropriate treatment in hospitals.

Appropriate care during labour and childbirth combined with neonatal resuscitation, when needed, can substantially reduce mortality due to birth asphyxia. Newborns with severe asphyxia need post-resuscitation care in hospitals.

Early identification of newborn infections with prompt and appropriate antibiotic treatment will substantially reduce mortality due to newborn sepsis and pneumonia. Newborns with serious infections need intramuscular or intravenous antibiotics and supportive care in hospitals. Where hospital referral is not possible, intramuscular antibiotics delivered by skilled health-care providers will save lives.

Other common newborn problems are jaundice, eye infections and diarrhoea, which may be managed at health facilities or hospitals depending on their severity.

The Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) training materials and Essential Newborn Care Course aim to improve skills of health-care staff for managing newborn illness at first level health facilities. The Pocketbook for Hospital Care for Children and Managing Newborn Problems aim to improve case management of severe newborn illness in hospitals.