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Gray Baby Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Gray Baby Syndrome Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Every parent desires to have a healthy baby. Hence, the expectant mother’s health becomes the first priority. To ensure that, usually a balanced diet is maintained along with several supplements and medications, as prescribed by the doctor. The mother is strictly advised not to consume medicines without consulting the doctor. Gray baby syndrome is a health complication arising from medication side effects. Read on to learn in detail about the condition and grey baby syndrome treatment.

What is grey baby syndrome?

Gray baby syndrome is a serious health condition that occurs in reaction to the antibiotic chloramphenicol, especially in case of an overdose. The  dose may have been administered to the infant or to the mother. Babies cannot break down this drug, which leads to the accumulation of the antibiotic in the blood. Hence, it is clear that grey baby syndrome is caused by abnormally high levels of chloramphenicol.

Toxic levels of chloramphenicol in the bloodstream may prove to be fatal to the baby. Babies who are underweight or premature, are more prone to the development of this syndrome.

Symptoms of grey baby syndrome 

Usually, the grey baby syndrome symptoms are visible within a week of administering the medication. These include:


Although vomiting is a common occurrence in babies and may have reasons such as diarrhoea or indigestion, it should be considered a symptom of grey baby syndrome.

Grayish skin colour

Premature newborns suffering from grey baby syndrome, experience a kind of cardiac collapse that is linked to abnormally high blood levels of chloramphenicol. This leads to greyish skin colour, owing to a lack of sufficient oxygen supply. 

Limp body

Having a limp body means that the baby will not be moving or feel lacking firmness, unlike other babies. Usually, this occurs due to some neural damage. 

Low blood pressure

The elevated levels of chloramphenicol in the baby’s bloodstream lead to low blood pressure. This often reduces the normal blood supply to vital organs, leading to their failure. 

Blue lips and skin

This observation means that sufficient oxygen isn’t being supplied or available in the blood. Parents should immediately contact the doctor in such a situation. 


Hypothermia refers to the falling of body temperature below 36.5 degrees celsius in a newborn baby. If the situation persists long enough, other complications will arise in the body.

Pressure or distension in the abdomen

Abdominal distension refers to the feeling of stiffness in the baby’s abdomen. Often the size seems bigger and extended than in normal abdomen conditions. 

Green stools

Green stools are generally nothing to worry about since it’s caused by indigestion or some greenish agent in the milk fed to the baby. But it can be a sign of the grey baby syndrome. 

Irregular heartbeat

Such high levels of chloramphenicol in the blood often give rise to irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) in the baby. 

Difficulty breathing

Due to the prior mentioned symptoms such as lack of oxygen and irregular heartbeats, the newborn may experience difficulty in breathing.

How to treat grey baby syndrome

Gray baby syndrome can be treated by doctors if parents get help as soon as they discover any signs. The mother must first cease feeding the infant chloramphenicol, if still continuing. If she is taking this drug to treat an infection, she must stop breastfeeding the baby.

The greyish complexion and blue lips are indications of grey baby syndrome, which the doctor can identify after doing a medical examination. Generally, two treatment procedures are followed:

  • Blood transfusion: Here a large part of the baby’s blood will be replaced by that of a matching donor, to get rid of the toxic drug. 
  • Hemodialysis: A process to eliminate toxins and help maintain the sodium-potassium balance in the body. 

And it must be noted that hospitalisation is required for the treatment. 

Preventing Gray Baby Syndrome

The preferred technique for avoiding this problem is to avoid using chloramphenicol as an infant drug and to avoid taking it while pregnant or breastfeeding. If your doctor prescribes chloramphenicol when you are at risk, request an alternative drug. Lookout for the symptoms of grey baby syndrome and seek a doctor’s help if noticed. 


In addition to being a joyful adventure, having a baby may also be a period of uncertainty. As they adjust to all the alterations that pregnancy offers, many parents have queries and worries. It might be challenging to decide who to listen to when advice is offered by almost everyone.
Ayu Health is here to support and make the entire journey comfortable. With a team of the best doctors, technology, and care, it’s the place to be for would-be parents. Reach out at 636-610-0800 for more information.

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About the Author

Dr goel
Dr. S. Goel
MBBS PGDCM FID MBAHHM at Ayu Health | Website | + posts

Dr. S. Goel  is a renowned Internal Medicine Specialist currently practicing at Ayu Health, Bangalore.  He is a Specialist in Internal Medicine, Diabetes HTN, Paediatric Care, and Family Medicine.

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