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What to Do When Baby's Sick: A Parent's Quick Guide

Katlyn Joy |17, October 2012


Nothing is quite as scary as a sick baby. Babies can't tell you what's wrong and you are the judge as to whether it's time for a call to the nurse, an appointment with the doctor or a run to the ER. Here are some guidelines on how to handle illness in infants.

Display the number for your child's doctor prominently and in a place that is easily accessible. Also include the number to call during off-hours. Keep the number to your local poison control on hand.Trust your instincts. Despite guides such as these, only you can determine whether your child's situation is a possible emergency. Always err on the side of caution. Get a good thermometer that is easy to read. Nothing is worse than struggling to decipher whether baby has a fever at 3 in the morning while baby is crying full blast. Note all conditions, such as what baby has eaten recently, how baby is wetting and soiling diapers, whether baby is sleeping normally and if there have been any environmental changes such as travel, guests or activities that are new.

When to Call During Regular Office Hours

- Baby has a rash. This doesn't include simple baby acne or milia. Note the type of eruptions, how big they are, how close, the color and shape.

- Baby has had a cold for days, and is not improving. Runny nose, cough, mild fever are all signs of a common cold.

- If your child is vomiting more than a few times a day, call. Note if baby is throwing up milk, or bile. How many times and when did baby vomit?

- If baby's bowel movements become noticeably loose or watery and that is a significant change in consistency, call the doctor. Note any changes in diet with doctor.

- Baby has a change in appetite. Especially concerning is when baby refuses nursing or bottles.

- Any signs of infection, such as redness, oozing, heat radiating from the area, or yellow or greenish discharge warrants a call. This may be seen with infection following circumcision or in the umbilical area.

- If baby appears dehydrated, call the doctor. Signs include fewer than six diapers in a day, sunken eyes, pale skin, fussiness, lethargy or lack of tears.

- Significant change in behavior such as constant crying, lethargy, a loss of baby milestone such as if baby was sitting up alone, baby no longer is able to balance in a seated position.

- Fluid is draining from one or both ears. Baby may also pull on ears when they are hurting.

- Blood in urine or in bowels.

- An oral temperature of over 102 degrees in babies older than newborn. Any fever in infants three months or younger.

- Respiratory problems that seem to hamper the baby's breathing require a call to the doctor. These may include wheezing, coughing, severe congestion or an audible rattle in the chest.

When to Take Baby to the Emercency Room

- Anytime you see your child appear distressed, whether struggling to hold his head up, or she hasn't keep any milk down all day, or his breath seems labored, you should head to the emergency department.

- If baby spikes a high fever, and the behavior or appearance seems changed, you may go to the hospital.

- If baby is screaming and is inconsolable and you think it's from pain, go ahead and take baby to the hospital if you feel something is wrong or that is atypical behavior for your baby.

- If baby has a seizure, go to the ER immediately.

- Should you suspect baby ingested poison, call the poison control number and follow their instructions. You may need to seek emergency medical attention or you may be directed to do something as simple as give baby some milk.

- Sudden changes in senses. If baby becomes unresponsive to sounds, or appears to not see things as before, or cannot control muscles as before you should seek medical attention.

- Lips or skin tone changes. For instance if baby's lips get bluish or skin gets pale, it may be a medical emergency.

- Baby seems unresponsive or unconscious. If baby seems to have lost consciousness, get to the ER or call the ambulance.

What to Remember

Know all the vitals, weight, temperature, doctor's number, pharmacy number and answers to questions about baby's recent diet, appetite, wet and soiled diapers, sleep habits and any changes.

You may be worried ironically enough about worrying too much, calling too often or too late for silly reasons. You are a parent. It comes with the job to worry too much. Your child's doctor is an expert and will be able to diagnose your child only when seeing him. Everything else is only an educated guess. You while probably not possessing a medical degree, are an expert. No one knows your baby like you do. Trust your instincts and call when worried. Let your doctor hopefully tell you it was a false alarm. Better to be a little embarrassed, although you shouldn't even be that. than to have regrets of not calling.

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