What is sepsis in newborns?

Sepsis is a serious medical condition caused by the body's response to an infection. A newborn who has an infection and develops sepsis can have inflammation (swelling) throughout the body, leading to organ failure.

What causes sepsis in newborns?

Bacterial infections are the most common cause of sepsis. However, sepsis can also be caused by fungi, parasites or viruses. The infection can be located in any of a number of places throughout the body.

How do newborns get sepsis?

Newborns can get sepsis in several different ways:

  • If the mother has an infection of the amniotic fluid (a condition known as chorioamnionitis)
  • Premature birth (premature babies are at a higher risk for sepsis)
  • Low birth weight of the infant (risk factor for sepsis)
  • If the mother’s water breaks early (more than 18 hours before the baby is born)
  • If the baby is being treated for another condition while still in the hospital
  • If the mother’s birth canal is colonized with bacteria

What are some symptoms of infections in newborns?

Symptoms of infections in newborns include:

  • Not feeding well
  • Being very sleepy
  • Being very irritable
  • Rapid breathing or breathing pauses (apnea)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Fever (temperature over 100.4 degrees F or over 38.1 degrees C)
  • Inability to stay warm -- having a low body temperature despite being clothed and wrapped in blankets
  • Pale appearance

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/02/2018.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sepsis. Accessed 10/3/2018.
  • MedlinePlus. Sepsis. Accessed 10/3/2018.
  • Sepsis Alliance. Definition of Sepsis. Accessed 10/3/2018.
  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Sepsis. Accessed 10/3/2018.
  • Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Children. Accessed 10/3/2018.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy