When to call the doctor

It’s so easy to panic as a new parent. Every sniffle and cough can seem like the end of the world, and it’s not always easy to know when to seek medical attention.

If your child displays any of the following symptoms, it’s time to give your healthcare provider a phone call to discuss the next steps of treatment. They will be able to tell you whether to wait it out, come into the office, or go to the emergency room.

  • Vomiting: This isn’t the usual baby-spits-up-on-your-shirt-right-after-you-got-dressed category of throwing up. If your baby vomits forcefully (not dribbling) after feedings or can’t keep food down, call the doctor.
  • Diarrhea: Similar to vomiting, diarrhea won’t look like the typical diaper blowout. If your baby’s poop is more watery or loose than usual, it’s time to pick up the phone. For sustained diarrhea (or vomiting), it’s best to head straight to the emergency room.
  • Constipation: If your baby is uncomfortable pooping, appears to be struggling, or starts pooping less than usual, you should contact the doctor.
  • Colds: A little sniffling or a runny nose isn’t cause for concern, but a cold that interferes with breathing, causes ear pain, or leads to a sustained cough means you should call the doctor. If your baby has a snotty nose for more than 10 days, you should also give the doctor a phone call.
  • Rash: Diaper rash is normal, but if a rash becomes infected, you should reach out to your doctor. Also, if a rash appears without an explanation or obvious cause, go ahead and call the doctor.
  • Discharge from the eyes: If discharge appears from one or both eyes (or any other place out of the ordinary), it’s time to call the doctor.
  • Changes in appetite or behavior: Contact the doctor if your baby is refusing feedings, eating poorly, or sleeping or crying more than usual.
  • Fever over 104F (40C): Some doctors may give different recommendations for when to contact them about a fever, so it’s worth having this conversation. It also never hurts to ask your doctor about a fever that is slightly lower, though a trip in probably isn’t necessary.

There are some conditions that require an automatic trip to the emergency room, not a phone call. These include dehydration, head or neck injuries, heavy bleeding, potential poisoning, difficulty breathing, serious burns, or a broken bone.

If you’re looking at these or any other urgent symptoms, skip the doctor and call 911 or go to the emergency room. Other urgent symptoms include difficulty waking your child, unusual and serious headache or chest pain, or an unusually fast heartbeat.

Your doctor may have different recommendations for when to make a visit or a call, so it’s always worth checking with them to see.

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