Blue Baby Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Baby Crying With Doctor

Blue Baby Syndrome



Welcoming a baby into the world is one of the most rewarding and joy-filled times in many people’s lives. Keeping infants safe is a top priority and one of the scariest things in a new parent’s life is finding out their baby is sick. Some sicknesses are mild, like colds, but there are also more severe diseases that parents need to be vigilant about.

One of the more serious illnesses is Blue Baby Syndrome. Despite the intimidating name, many people don’t know what the sickness is and what it can mean for their babies. To learn more information about Blue Baby Syndrome, read our article below.


What is Blue Baby Syndrome?


Blue Baby Syndrome, or methemoglobinemia, is a condition that occurs when an infant’s skin turns blue due to a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin in the baby’s blood.

When a baby is exposed to Blue Baby Syndrome, their skin enters a state of cyanosis or the bluish discoloration that occurs when the mucous membranes near the skin surface have low oxygen saturation.

Blue Baby Syndrome generally only affects infants under 6 months of age in developing countries or those in developed countries who are exposed to private water sources like wells.

Infants this young haven’t had the chance to produce methemoglobin reductase, an oxygen-carrying molecule.

Baby Wrapped in Swaddle


What are the Causes and Symptoms of Blue Baby Syndrome?


Private water sources are not government-regulated and can have higher levels of nitrates, one of the leading cause of Blue Baby Syndrome. So, if a baby is consuming formula made with nitrate-rich water, they have a higher chance of getting Blue Baby Syndrome.

There are many symptoms of Blue Baby Syndrome. The most common symptom is, as the name suggests, a blue discoloration of the skin around the mouth, hands, and feet.

Because the only visual marker of the condition is skin discoloration, it can be hard to detect in infants with darker skin tones. Other potential symptoms of Blue Baby Syndrome to keep an eye out for include:


  • Difficulty Breathing

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Lethargy

  • Increased Salivation

  • Loss of Consciousness

  • Seizures


In very severe cases, Bue Baby Syndrome can even cause death.


How Does a Doctor Diagnose Blue Baby Syndrome?


Doctors will generally diagnose Blue Baby Syndrome during a regular check-up, but if you notice that your baby has a bluish discoloration to their skin, make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.  

The doctor will begin the diagnosis by taking a thorough medical and family history and asking about any symptoms, feeding patterns, and conditions at home. They will then perform a physical exam by looking at the discolored areas and listening to the baby’s heart and lungs.


How Is Blue Baby Syndrome Treated?


If the cause of the Blue Baby Syndrome is nitrate-rich water, the best way to treat the condition is to avoid the source of nitrate contamination.

Your baby’s doctor will likely continue monitoring your baby to make sure that they don’t develop any further health problems that can result from this condition.

They will also need to consult with a toxicologist or local poison control center to find the best course of action for additional treatment.

Luckily, in most cases, babies who have been diagnosed with Blue Baby Syndrome go on to live normal, healthy lives.

How To Prevent Blue Baby Syndrome?


The best way to prevent Blue Baby Syndrome is to be hypervigilant in avoiding using water sources that may be contaminated with nitrate. If a private water source is your only option, consider buying bottled distilled water from your local grocery store.


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