Sick baby: When to go to the doctor

When should you take your sick baby to the doctor? Here are some doctor-recommended guidelines.

By Jamie Noguchi

Sick babies: When to go to the doctor
©iStockphoto.com/Dean Mitchell Photography
Your baby's first cold or influenza (flu) can be a frustrating and tiring experience for both you and your little one. If your infant is sick and feverish, you're probably losing sleep over what to do next. Should you seek medical help or simply offer TLC at home? Canadian Living Moms consulted with a pediatrician to find out when you should take a sick baby to the doctor.

When to call or visit the doctor
Some infants should be immediately checked out by a doctor, says Dr. Michael Dickinson, chief of pediatrics at Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. Consult your pediatrician or family doctor, or head to the emergency room if:

your baby refuses to drink fluids, is only taking small sips, is vomiting every time he or she drinks and/or isn't wetting diapers --  all signs of dehydration

your baby's fever won't go down, even after a dose of infant-formula acetaminophen or ibuprofen (a dose should control fever for three or four hours, says Dickinson)

your baby vomits more than three times in a 24-hour period ("Use a three strikes and we're out approach," explains Dickinson. "Don't go to the doctor on the first or second vomiting episode, but if he or she pukes three times, it's time to call or go in.")

your baby has severe diarrhea

your baby is having difficulty breathing and is gasping for air, breathing rapidly or wheezing

there's a large rash on your baby's body, which could be a sign of measles, chicken pox or meningococcal disease, rather than cold or flu

Serious symptoms you shouldn't ignore
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, these exceptional symptoms require immediate emergency hospital care. Call 911 or head to a hospital emergency room if your baby: has severe breathing difficulties, or his or her lips are turning blue; can't move or is unresponsive; has a stiff neck; or has a seizure or convulsion.

Babies who need extra attention
Cold and flu pose serious health concerns to certain high-risk babies. If your child fits into one of the groups below, seek advice from your doctor "at the first sign of fever, vomiting or reduced drinking," says Dickinson.

High-risk babies include:
premature babies
babies under three months of age
babies who have heart conditions, such as past heart failure, or who are taking cardiac medications, had or need cardiac surgery, or are being monitored by a pediatric cardiologist
babies with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or cystic fibrosis
babies with diabetes

Treating cold and flu at home
If your baby doesn't require a doctor visit, you can provide TLC at home. Start by figuring out what is ailing your child.

"It's not always easy to tell the difference between cold and flu in this age group. Flu tends to be more severe in its symptoms, but a mild flu could look like a common cold," says Dickinson.

Common infant flu symptoms include a fever of 38.5°C or higher (especially if it is over 39°C), vomiting, not drinking well, lethargy and irritability.

Common infant cold symptoms include low-grade fever (under 38.5°C), congestion, runny nose, cough and regular fluid intake (even if your baby isn't drinking as much as normal, he or she is able to keep fluids down and wet diapers regularly). When it comes to mood, "a child with the cold may not be feeling well, but he isn't down in his boots, either," says Dickinson.

The good news is that with proper care, both illnesses will usually pass within one week, although tenacious symptoms may stick around for up to two.

All rights reserved. Transcontinental Media G.P. © 2014