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Sick baby: When to call the pediatrician and when to wait?

mom checking on her sick baby

It’s late at night, your baby is sick, and you and your partner start to panic. You start to ask yourselves: Should we call the doctor? Should we go to the emergency room? What if my baby just needs to take their allergy medication? 

Most parents have been in this situation before and struggled with these questions. Sometimes it’s hard to know how sick your baby is and whether it is serious enough to go to the doctor. While you should always feel comfortable calling your pediatrician, whether it’s 11 a.m. or 11 p.m., this guide will help you determine when to call and when to wait.

Below are some of the top scenarios when parents tend to wonder whether they should make the call:


One of the most worrisome health issues for parents is a fever. We’ve been taught that fevers are bad and mean a serious illness, but that’s not the whole truth. In fact, a fever is one of the body’s biggest weapons against illness. When our body detects a virus, it increases its temperature in order to fight the viral infection. So, while a fever does mean that your baby has a virus, it also means that their body is actively fighting against it. 

So, when should you call your pediatrician because of a fever? Here are a few guidelines:

  • If your baby is younger than 3 months and shows any signs of a fever, call their pediatrician immediately. When babies are this young, their immune system is still maturing, so it’s better to be safe and consult with your doctor.
  • If your baby is older than 3 months, has a fever and shows other symptoms, such as drowsiness or vomiting, call their pediatrician. 
  • If the fever lasts more than 3 days. This could mean that your baby’s immune system is compromised and they need more help fighting the virus. 
  • If your little one has a high fever, above 104 degrees, call your pediatrician right away. This is especially important if they show other symptoms such as trouble breathing, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Vomiting or diarrhea:

Vomiting or diarrhea can sometimes be signs that your baby ate something that didn’t sit well, ate too much, or they can be symptoms of another issue such as car sickness. Here are some guidelines if your baby is having stomach problems:

  • If the episode only occurs once, there is no need to worry. Give your baby something to settle their stomach, such as electrolyte solutions. You can buy these at any pharmacy; just make sure to buy the pediatric version.
  • If the vomiting or diarrhea continues for more than a few hours or becomes more severe, it’s time to call your baby’s pediatrician. They will be able to examine your baby more closely to determine the cause and what the next steps will be.
  • Call your pediatrician if your baby shows signs of dehydration or can’t keep fluids down. This could be a sign of a bacterial infection that needs further treatment. 

Respiratory/Sinus problems:

Depending on the severity of the symptoms and your baby’s age, respiratory issues can sometimes turn into more severe problems. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind before calling your pediatrician:

  • If your baby is younger than 3 months, call your pediatrician at the first signs of a cold or a cough. At this young age, colds can quickly turn into a more serious illness like bronchitis or pneumonia. 
  • If your baby is older than 3 months, there is no reason to call the pediatrician for a cold.
  • If your little one has trouble breathing, their ears hurt or has a stuffy nose for more than 10 days, or a cough that lasts more than a week, it’s time to call the pediatrician. These could also indicate a more serious illness in older children. 


Most rashes in children are temporary skin reactions that do not indicate a deeper issue and can quickly go away with topical, over-the-counter treatment. However, call your pediatrician if:

  • Your little one has a lack of energy.
  • Feels pain at the site of the rash.
  • Has a rash that goes deep into the skin.
  • Has a rash that looks purple (like a bruise) that does not disappear with over-the-counter treatment.

I’ve called my pediatrician… Now what?

Once you’ve made the decision to call the pediatrician, keep these things in mind:

  • Symptoms: Make sure to have a list of the specific symptoms you’ve seen and when you began to observe them. Write down details such as specific temperature/temperature changes, amount of times your little one vomited, or changes in a rash.
  • Medical issues: Remember that your pediatrician has a lot of patients! Make their job easier by having your baby’s medical history at hand and reminding them of any issues in the past that might be relevant or related to this episode. 
  • Medications: Have at hand a list of any medications that your baby might be taking, including the ones given with prescription, the ones you buy over-the-counter, any herbal or home remedies. 
  • Allergies: Even if they don’t seem relevant in the moment, always have a list of your baby’s allergies. This will help your pediatrician find the cause more easily and quickly.
  • Immunizations: Keep your baby’s immunization records handy. These will help your pediatrician determine whether new immunizations are necessary for this episode. 
  • Pharmacy: Make sure you have the name, address, and phone number of your preferred pharmacy in case your pediatrician prescribes something for your baby.

Whether your little one is in a medical emergency or you just don’t understand why they won’t stop crying, it’s important to remember that your pediatrician is your ally and you should never feel embarrassed or afraid of calling them.

It is important to keep your baby healthy and happy, and it is easy as new parents to panic and overreact to small health issues. This article is meant as a guide and not a rule book; you should always go with what you believe is the right choice and follow your health professional’s advice.

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