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When should you call your baby's doctor for a minor illness?

To call or not to call the doctor? That's the question on the minds of many new parents when they hear their infant's first cough or suspect their baby's first ear infection.

On the one hand, you don't want to bother your doctor for the small stuff.

On the other hand, it's only natural for you to worry about your baby. Sweating the small stuff is what new parents do—especially since a baby can't talk and tell you the problem.

So—call or don't call? Here is some general advice.

When to call your doctor

It's easy to say "you should call the doctor whenever you think you should." And it's true. You should feel free to call your baby's doctor anytime you're concerned, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

It's also true that babies can get fussy for no reason. They spit up after eating. And they can get cranky. You don't need to call a doctor for every problem.

According to the AAP and March of Dimes, it's worth giving the doctor's office a call if your baby:

  • Looks paler than normal.
  • Is eating less than normal or has other appetite changes.
  • Isn't as active as usual.
  • Is often crying, irritable or not able to be comforted.
  • Has bloody diarrhea or diarrhea that won't go away.
  • Is constipated.
  • Vomits for more than a few hours.
  • Has a cold that hangs on or gets worse after a few days.
  • Has a rash.
  • Has signs of dehydration, such as no tears when crying or fewer than six wet diapers in 24 hours.
  • Has fluid draining from the ears.
  • Has a tender navel or penis. Check for redness, bleeding or pus.

Fever is another reason to call a doctor—right away if it's 100.4 degrees or higher, or if it comes with other symptoms, such as a rash, repeated vomiting or diarrhea.

What if your doctor isn't available?

Your first step should be to call your child's doctor. But if the doctor is not available, consider taking your baby to an urgent care center. The providers there can treat most minor illnesses and injuries—look for one with expertise in caring for babies.

Don't hesitate to call 911 or take your child to the emergency department for any serious illness or injury. Uncontrolled bleeding, possible poisoning, trouble breathing and head injury all are considered emergencies.

Trust your instincts

Here's a simple rule to keep in mind when debating whether to call the doctor for your baby: When in doubt, call. Even if it turns out to be nothing, a call can give you peace of mind. And for a new mom or dad, that can mean a lot.

Reviewed 1/3/2022

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