Caring for Baby

Sick Baby? When to Call the Doctor

Sick Baby? When to Call the Doctor

When your baby is sick, you want to fix it — quick. But how do you know if you should wait it out at home, visit the doctor or go to the ER? It's always best to follow your instincts and get medical care if you believe something is wrong. However, there are times when a quick call to the doctor's office or nurse's line can put your mind at ease.

When to Call the Doctor

Sometimes it's hard to know what's wrong with your baby. If she's crying more than usual it could be due to pain or illness, teething or normal fussiness. Call the doctor if your baby shows signs of:

  • Changes in appetite. If your baby refuses to eat for several feedings in a row or has difficulty feeding, call the doctor.
  • Changes in mood. If your baby will not stop crying, won't make eye contact or is usually lethargic.
  • Fever. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends calling the doctor if your child:
    • Is younger than 3 months old and has a temperature of 100.4°F.
    • Has a fever that rises above 104°F at any age.
    • Looks very ill, unusually drowsy or very fussy.
    • Has other symptoms such as a stiff neck, unexplained rash, trouble breathing, repeated vomiting or diarrhea.
    • Has had a seizure.
    • Has a fever that persists for more than 24 hours (for children under age 2) or more than 72 hours (for children 2 years and older).
  • A cold that worsens or doesn't improve, with severe coughing, colored phlegm or mucus.
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting. If baby's stools are loose or watery, or if baby vomits for more than 12 hours.
  • Dehydration. If baby has a decreased number of wet diapers, doesn't shed tears when crying, has sunken eyes or a sunken soft spot on top of the head.
  • Constipation. If baby has fewer bowel movements than usual for a few days and seems to be uncomfortable.
  • Ear problems. If you notice ear drainage or baby doesn't respond normally to sounds, contact the doctor.
  • Eye discharge. If one or both eyes are pink, reddish or leaking discharge.
  • Rash. If your baby has an unexplained rash or a rash that covers a large area, get it checked out.

When It's an Emergency

When in doubt, trust your instincts as a parent. You know your baby better than anyone else and can share information that may be the key to helping doctors identify if something is wrong. Seek emergency care for:

  • Bleeding that can't be stopped
  • Poisoning
  • Seizures
  • Increasing difficulty breathing
  • Head injuries
  • Unconsciousness or decreasing responsiveness
  • Large cuts or burns
  • Skin or lips that look blue, purple or gray

When Rest is Best

Does your child have a cold, cough, mild fever? With colds and flu, the quickest road to recovery is through rest and plenty of fluids at home. Always read the labels when giving fever-reducing medications or other over-the-counter children's medications to your baby and contact your child's doctor if you have questions.