Being a new parent is rewarding, but it’s not without its challenges. From learning how to decipher your child’s cries to settling into a reasonable sleeping pattern to making decisions as they grow, there’s another aspect of parenting that can catch us off guard — a sick baby. Babies, like all humans, can contract any number of maladies. How can you tell when your baby is just fussy or tired or when they may have a little cold virus starting? And even more important, how can you tell when your baby is really sick and needs prompt medical attention? Let’s find out.
First, a word of caution
Physician Dr. Jennifer Miles with St. Tammany Pediatrics tells SheKnows that while we can discuss this topic and there are warning signs to look for, this subject is really quite broad. The notes below are definitely not all-inclusive — that is, if your baby is exhibiting symptoms that don’t match what we have here, that doesn’t mean your child is A-OK, so make sure you have discussed with your doctor what to look out for and contact them if you have any questions.
“Parents should contact their pediatrician for instructions regarding an acute illness,” she explains. “Having a ‘medical home’ with a pediatrician that knows your child will provide the best care.”
That being said, here are some symptoms you should look out for.
Reasons to seek a visit in a doctor’s office setting
Miles listed some of the signs and symptoms that would warrant a doctor’s visit. They can include:
- Repeated diarrhea or vomiting
- Blood streaks in the stool
- Irritability (“It is normal to have short periods of crying, but prolonged crying can be from pain,” Miles explains.)
- Unusual fussiness or drowsiness
- Signs of ear infection, including pulling on the ears, irritability or fever
- Persistent green or yellow nasal discharge for more than seven days (“If there are signs of more severe illness — such as decreased feedings, wheezing, excessive coughing or irritability — come in as soon as possible,” Miles says.)
- Decreased breast milk or formula intake
- Persistent cough or mild wheezing (Again, Miles notes that if there is additional distress, an ER visit may be needed.)
Reasons to seek urgent or emergency care
While some illnesses can be treated during office hours, some signs and symptoms should be a red flag — a warning sign that your infant needs urgent medical attention. Again, Miles emphasizes that this list is not all-inclusive, but if your baby is exhibiting these worrisome signs, you may want to take them to the ER.
- New-onset seizures or convulsions
- Respiratory distress (That is, if your child has difficulty breathing or rapid breathing. This means more than 60 breaths per minute from birth through 6 weeks and more than 45 breaths per minute from 6 weeks through 2 years of age.)
- Lethargy (This is defined as not waking with stimulation or appearing groggy and weak, says Miles.)
- Signs of severe dehydration, such as not having a wet diaper in eight hours (If a child has prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, dehydration can occur.)
- Inability to keep down oral hydration solutions such as Pedialyte when vomiting.
- Blood in the stool (Miles notes that if there are only streaks, this can be addressed in the office, but larger amounts probably require prompt medical attention.)
- Acute onset of tongue or lip swelling
- Rash with purple spots accompanied by fever
Have a plan of action
Yes, sometimes infants exhibit symptoms that may worry you. Sometimes, these signs really mean nothing serious, but other times, your pediatrician should evaluate your baby. As a parent, it’s a good idea to not only go with your gut, but also to have a plan of action with your child’s pediatrician before these issues crop up.
Also, it’s a great idea to know how to best get ahold of your pediatrician for questions and what other methods you may be able to use to get your questions answered.
“If a parent has any question about whether something they observe may be important, they should feel free to contact their pediatrician,” Dr. Linda Keefer, a physician, tells SheKnows. She also notes that many pediatrics practices have an online portal through which a parent can communicate with their child’s doctor and can often upload photos of suspicious rashes or anything else they have a question about.
Not every illness is serious, but when it’s your baby, you definitely want to know when something may need to be looked at. While this list is definitely not all-inclusive and you will want to contact your pediatrician for some real-world advice from someone who knows you and your child, the lists above can give you an excellent starting point.