One of the most challenging times in parenthood, especially for new parents, is handling an unwell child. The occasional infections and fevers are inevitable with babies as they are more exposed to infectious agents over time. These are a normal part of a child’s development.
Since babies cannot verbalize their feelings, parents must stay alert and watch for any warning signs of illness. Sometimes even experienced parents have trouble distinguishing mild illness and fussiness from serious problems. Here are some warning signs to watch out for, so parents can understand when something is amiss.
Warning Signs in Babies
Irritability or Persistent Crying
Crying is the only mode of communication for babies. Babies cry when they’re sleepy, hungry, lonely, need a diaper change, or when they’re in pain. At first, parents might not be able to interpret their baby’s cries. If the baby is crying or fussy for a long time, check if anything is causing the baby pain. Some examples are binding clothing or soiled diaper. If the baby is crying or fussy for a long time, or the baby’s cry sounds unusual, call the doctor.
Change in Behavior
If the baby seems tired, sluggish, or low in energy, let your doctor know. Sometimes babies may show other signs of lethargy, like sleeping longer than usual. It may be harder to wake the baby for feedings, or they won’t be alert or attentive to sounds and visual stimulation. If the baby becomes lethargic or isn’t active, it’s best to talk to the doctor. (Nationwide Children’s Hospital, 2010)
Fever is one of the most recognizable warning signs that parents can learn to identify. Some of the causes of fever could be cold, pneumonia, ear infections, stomach bugs, etc.
A fever can be checked with a digital rectal thermometer. It’s important to remember that fevers can mean different things for babies at different stages of their development.
A temperature of 100-degrees or lower is considered normal.
- If the child is three months or younger, contact the doctor for any fever.
- If your baby is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature up to 102 F and seems unwell, or if the baby has a temperature higher than 102 F, contact the doctor.
- For babies between 6 to 24 months old and have a temperature higher than 102 F that lasts more than a day without showing any other symptoms, contact the doctor.
- If the baby has a fever that lasts for more than three days, contact the doctor.
(Mayo Clinic, 2019)
Change in Appetite
If the baby refuses to eat, misses several feedings, is losing weight, doesn’t seem hungry, or is having difficulty sucking at the breast or bottle, contact the doctor. These could be signs of a more severe illness.
Spit-ups and dribbling milk with burps after feeding is normal. Suppose the baby spits up an unusual amount of milk after feedings or experiences forceful, projectile-like vomiting. In that case, it could be a sign of a more severe problem.
Diarrhea or Vomiting
Diarrhea and vomiting are signs that the baby could have a viral or bacterial infection of the intestine. It could also signal an obstruction or another problem related to the digestive system. Viral infections usually resolve on their own in about a week and may not need any treatment.
If the baby’s stools are especially loose or watery, contact the doctor as persistent diarrhea could lead to dehydration. The doctor may request an examination of the baby’s stool for bacteria.
Contact the doctor if the baby cries with fewer tears or has fewer wet diapers, or has a dry mouth as these are signs of dehydration. In dehydration, the baby’s stool may also be hard or dry, and the baby could appear uncomfortable.
When to Seek Emergency Care for a Baby
Seek emergency care for a baby in case of:
- Bleeding that can’t be stopped
- Increasing difficulty breathing
- Large or deep cuts or burns or smoke inhalation
- Skin or lips that look blue, purple, or gray
- Not waking up or not interacting
(Mayo Clinic, 2019)
How to Take Care of a Sick Baby
If the child is in distress, hold and console the baby as much as possible. Keep the baby away from those with infectious diseases. Do not allow family members who are sick to share food and drinks with the baby and prevent them from handling the baby and their toys.
Check in with your pediatrician as soon as you have concerns. Ask the doctor what to do and where to go if your baby’s health worsens and is in need of emergency care. Also, learn about basic first aid and CPR and keep emergency phone numbers and addresses handy. Always ensure to adhere to the baby’s check-up and vaccination schedules.
Parenting is always uncharted territory. Having a good pediatrician is valuable as new parents should feel comfortable approaching them for advice. If your baby has a health emergency, or needs emergency care after hours, our facility is equipped with board certified ER Physicians who will treat your baby quickly and with compassion. You’ll both be feeling better in no time!
Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Babies’ Warning Signs.” Nationwide Children’s Hospital, 2010, www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/family-resources-library/babies-warning-signs.
Mayo Clinic. “Sick Baby? When to Seek Medical Attention.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 Aug. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/healthy-baby/art-20047793.