Everyone gets the sniffles, but what should a mom do if her baby gets a runny nose? Is it safe to make an appointment at the doctor's office or should she rush to the emergency room? When is it serious? Just about every mom has overreacted when her baby has seemed sick. Some bother the doctor at ever strange sound or smell, while others find out too late that they should have taken things more seriously.
It's hard to figure out how the baby is, especially since he can't tell you himself if he feels sick. A crying baby can be a clue, but babies cry a lot so it could just as easily be a sign of a dirty diaper as a sore throat. There are other symptoms that parents can pay attention to that might help along the way.
The sound of a baby's cough or breathing can alert you to the need for medical attention, and the baby's skin can also hold a sign either through rash or color. Colors do a lot to help doctors diagnose a problem, so parents should also pay attention to the hue of the baby's poop or puke.
From even before they arrive, babies can be a mystery to parents. They are so dependent on mom and dad for every need, but many parents don't feel confident in knowing that those are when the mode of communication is so limited. We hope this guide can help.
Here are 16 signs the baby is seriously sick and needs attention.
16 Excessive Crying
The first indication is the only way that a baby can communicate his feelings to anyone — crying. As we mentioned, babies cry a lot and for a lot of different reasons, but their cries can become a sort of language, if mom and dad pay close attention. Sometimes the cries take different tones for different issues, such as a more mewling tone for hunger and a more urgent one for a dirty diaper.
Even if a parent can't distinguish a difference in baby's everyday cries, most parents can tell when the baby lets out an unusual sound, and that can happen when the baby is sick. Sometimes the crying can also be a cue because it doesn't stop when the regular tricks are performed. Sure, there are times when a baby cries for no particular reason, and in those cases, a parent should trust their judgment as to whether to call the doctor.
Usually, it takes more for a doctor to figure out if anything is wrong, but a parent should also act cautious if they truly believe something is wrong.
Every new mom wonders when she will gain the magical ability that her own mother possesses to be able to detect a fever simply from feeling a forehead. It doesn't happen overnight, but over time a mom can begin to sense her baby's normal temperature because she holds her so much. She will surprise herself when she notices a change, but most moms have no problem in doing just that.
In the first few months of a baby's life, any fever is a big deal, so moms and dads should contact the doctor even with the tiniest of elevated temperatures. Later on, once the baby's immune system grows a bit, then many fevers will be no big deal. A baby aged 6 months to 2 years old can have a fever of 101, and a doctor won't be worried. After all, a fever is a sign that the baby is fighting the infection. Anything 0ver 102 F, can be cause for concern, and that is the time to call the doctor. But it isn't necessarily time to rush to the emergency room.
Some doctors don't recommend an emergency room visit until the temperature rises to 106, although some become concerned at 104. Check with your pediatrician about when to go to the hospital.
Babies' skin is rarely as smooth as we all think that it should be, and sometimes rashes develop simply because of dry skin. But a bad rash can be a sign of a big problem. It's important for parents to understand when a skin issue is no big deal and when it means the baby needs medical attention right away.
Rashes can be caused by something as simple as bad case of drooling or an ill-fitting diaper. If the doesn't break the baby's skin and doesn't spread quickly, it's probably OK. Other rashes can be caused by infected wounds, by allergies, a fungus or a serious infection.
Allergic rashes are called hives, and they can be characterized by red welts on the body. They can be caused by food, medicines or bug bites as well as plants or pollen. They may last a few days, but most of the time it doesn't constitute an emergency, unless the baby starts to struggle to breathe. A doctor can help find the source of the allergy, but generally the hives go away on their own.
Fungal rashes can happen when the baby gets thrush or due to the baby's moist skin. Usually fungal rashes don't go away without treatment, but they aren't a reason to rush to the hospital. Set a doctor's appointment to figure out how to get it taken care of.
13 Rash Plus Fever
Parents need to take quicker action when a baby has a rash along with a fever. That can be indicative of a virus, and some of those infections can be very serious. It could be chicken pox or measles, scarlet fever, Fifth disease or hand-foot-mouth disease. All of these can be very dangerous early in a baby's life, but it isn't necessarily a cause for panic.
Because many of these diseases are caused by viruses, there are often few choices for a doctor to give treatment. But sometimes antibiotics can help with something like scarlet fever, and the doctor may be able to help control the fever and provide ointments for the rash.
One thing that we want to note here is that many parents who are following a vaccination cycle think their baby can't get chicken pox or rubella or measles, but that is not the case. The first vaccinations for those diseases do not occur until after the first birthday, and it takes a series of shots before the baby is fully inoculated. Regardless, a baby who has a rash and a fever should be seen by a doctor, who can diagnose the issue and figure out a treatment.
12 Pale Complexion
Whether a baby has a creamy complexion or beautiful dark skin, parents should look out for changes in the skin tone because it could be a sign that the baby is seriously sick and needs medical attention.
Sometimes babies are pale by nature — especially when they spend a lot of time inside, like babies born in the winter. Sometimes, though the pale tone can be an indication that there isn't enough iron in the baby's blood. That can happen a lot to premature babies who often develop anemia before they reach six months.
Anemia can also happen because of a condition like sickle cell anemia, a severe infection, kidney disease or even leukemia. It can be a very serious sign, so parents should pay attention. It can also indicate dehydration, especially if the baby has vomiting or diarrhea, and dehydration can be dangerous. If you notice that your baby is pale, it's important to bring it up to the doctor.
11 Other Color Cues
A baby's skin tone can change to other shades that can also be indicative that the baby is seriously sick. The hue can be an important part of diagnosing the issue, so it is a good reason to talk to a doctor.
If the baby gets a yellow skin tone — or worse, if the eyes turn yellow — that is an indication of jaundice. While jaundice is common in the first two weeks of life, it is important to get a handle on the situation because if too much bilirubin builds up in the blood it could cause brain damage. And if the yellow tone comes months later, that could be a sign that the baby's kidneys or liver aren't working properly.
A gray or bluish skin tone is an indication that the baby isn't getting enough oxygen. Babies can have a bluish tone in their limbs in the first few weeks of life, when the circulatory system is still getting used to its job. But if the lips or chest are blue, it's worth a call to the doctor to investigate if the heart and lungs are working properly. If the baby is having trouble breathing and the lips are blue, it's worth a trip to the emergency room.
10 Croupy Cough
Lots of babies get colds — just like adults do. And many times there isn't much to worry about. But the sound of a baby's cough can indicate whether the sickness is serious and needs medical attention right away.
If a baby's cough sounds like a bark from a dog or a seal, that is a sign of croup. That means that the infection has gotten to the voice box, and many times it isn't dangerous. However, croup can happen if a baby has the flu or the measles or even RSV, one of the most dangerous viruses that is common in the winter.
If the baby is struggling to breath or has a blue tinge to his lips or skin, a trip to the emergency room is a good idea, but otherwise parents can help the situation at night by taking the baby into a steamy bathroom. Then it is worth a call to the doctor the next morning, as some of the illnesses that lead to croup can require some strong medication.
Another troubling sound that a baby can make when he is sick is a wheezing noise. The sound happens when a child is having a hard time getting air in out of his lungs because they have narrowed, and the noise can be heard when he breathes out.
Wheezing can happen even when a mom and dad doesn't notice. In fact, mild to moderate wheezing can be picked up by a stethoscope, but if it becomes audible it may have already reached the severe stage. That's why it's a sign that the baby is seriously sick and needs to see the doctor.
Yes, wheezing can come with a viral sickness like a cold or cough, and it can go away on its own when the virus goes away, but doctors can prescribe some breathing treatments that can help open up the airway and lessen the problem. Wheezing can also be a symptom of asthma, which is hard to diagnose in babies, but if the doctor sees it at a young age, he may be looking for the symptoms and pick up on asthma quicker.
8 Other Signs Of Breathing Difficulty
When a baby's noise gets congested, they inevitably breathe a little differently than normal, doing their best to get air past all the gunk in their nose or their swollen throats. But a little open-mouthed breathing isn't a cause for alarm. Newborns always breathe noisily, so that isn't necessarily an issue either. But there are a few more signs that can help parents know if the baby is truly struggling for air.
If the chest is sinking in and the belly is expanding, that can be an indication she can't catch her breathe. Also, you can watch for rapid breathing. An infant breathes faster than a child anyway, but if the baby takes more than 60 or 70 breaths a minute for a period of time, that is an emergency, especially if the baby is turning blue. The breathing should slow with age, so between the first and second birthday, anything faster than 40 breaths per minute is too fast, and after that look out for breathing faster than 30 breaths per minutes.
Just about every baby spits up — it can happen several times a day for some little ones and cause a big mess. But for the most part spit up is just an every day digestive issue and not a cause for alarm. Even with extreme reflux, it's no reason to call the doctor unless the baby can't keep any nutrients down and doesn't gain weight.
Puking is different than spit up, which comes out in a dribble. Vomit is forceful, usually because of an irritation or an infection in the gut. It can scare the baby as much as it scares mom and dad. For the most part, it doesn't mean you need to rush to the hospital, though. It can be a simple stomach bug or food poisoning, and some kids can even vomit if they have a lot of drainage from a cold or cough.
But if your baby has smelly urine and a fever, that could be a sign of a bladder infection. And if the baby has severe and sudden pain, it could be an intestinal obstruction that requires surgery.
The time to worry is when there is blood in the vomit, if the pain is severe, and if the child continues to puke over and over again for more than eight hours. Otherwise, work to make sure the baby stays hydrated, and he should be OK.
6 The Diaper Sign
Babies can have some explosive poops, and if they are breastfeed, it should always be pretty loose, which can make it hard to determine if the baby has diarrhea. A diaper blowout is really gross, but it isn't a sign that something it wrong, other than maybe the fit of the diaper. It's just a fact of life for a newborn.
Most of the time, a change in the color of the baby's poop is more of an indication of what she ate recently than of any sickness — and this is especially true once a baby starts eating solid food. In other words, bright orange poop shouldn't be a concern if the baby had carrots yesterday, and dark green could be a symptom of green beans, not indigestion.
But there are a few colors that could indicate a big issue. Tarry black poop is normal in the first day of a baby's life, but after that it could be an indication of blood in the intestines. Red bowel movements could also mean blood, although certain medicines and foods could account for the color. Chalky white poop could indicate a liver problem. Those are all signs that the baby is seriously sick, so talk to a doctor right away.
5 Another Diaper Sign
Believe it or not, another big sign that a baby is seriously sick comes when the diaper isn't gross at all. Babies are supposed to pee and poop — in the beginning they can fill a diaper eight to 10 times a day. So if they aren't doing that, it can be a big cue that the baby needs medical attention.
If the baby isn't filling his diapers, you should tell the doctor immediately. Less than six wet diapers in a day — or more than a six hour stint staying dry — is a bad sign and could indicate that the baby is dehydrated. That happens a lot when the baby has a virus and is throwing up. Diarrhea can also leave the baby dehydrated, so watch for wet diapers after the messy ones.
Other signs of dehydration include sunken eyes and a sunken soft-spot, cracked lips and dry eyes. When the urine does come, if it appears darker or more concentrated, that is also a sign. If the baby can't keep down her food, she may need to go to the hospital to get an IV, so be sure to let the doctor know right away.
4 Ear Issues
One of the most common ailments for a baby is an ear infection. For some babies it can happen multiple times in the first year of life, as baby's small Eustachian tubes don't drain well and easily get infected.
Babies with ear infections can be extremely fussy, and they can have a fever. One of the signals that point to an ear issue is pulling at the ear — and some parents can even smell the infection in the ear or a discharge can come out. It's important for a baby with an ear infection to get medical attention because she needs antibiotics to get better.
A baby who has persistent earaches may be able a good candidate for getting tubes in the ears, which can help keep the fluid from building up and causing infections so often. Usually the procedure can stave off the symptoms until the ears grow a bit and drain on their own.
3 Eye Discharge
While pinkeye is a pretty common ailment for kids, especially after they start school, it's a big deal if a newborn gets it. The eyes can get red and irritated from allergies or chemicals in the environment, as well as coming along with the other symptoms of an illness such as an ear infection. But it can also be a sign that the mother had an STD she didn't know about and accidentally passed it along to the baby in the birth canal — those issues can cause blindness, so the baby's eyes need to be checked immediately.
Most of the time, though, kids get itchy, swollen eyes and a discharge that can sometimes stick the eyelids together because of a more common illness, such as a cold or an allergy to pollen. Many times it goes away on its own, but sometimes if a bacteria is involved, eye drops or antibiotics can help. It usually doesn't impact the eye sight, but a baby's organs are fragile and it is more serious for them.
Eye discharge and redness is a sign that the baby needs medical attention, although seeing the doctor is a better idea than going to the hospital.
2 No Appetite
Babies need a lot of nutrition, and most of them time they want to eat every few hours. But a sick baby can lose his appetite, and that can be a sign that something is wrong. A baby who doesn't wake up to eat or who doesn't show hunger signs for hours could have something wrong. And if a baby tries to eat but cries and rejects the food could also be in trouble. That could mean that he has pain in his throat or his belly, and unfortunately he can't tell you where. That's why it's important to talk to a doctor and find out what is going on.
Of course, some babies go through cycles and reject bottles or get too busy to eat, but it isn't normal to go for long periods without food. And it can be dangerous. Without nutrition, the baby can lose weight or get dehydrated and eventually the organs can start to shut down. Parents should talk to the doctor and watch for signs of dehydration.
1 Extra Sleepy
It's true that babies sleep a lot, but there is a difference between a normal baby sleep cycle and a lethargic infant. Normally, a baby will be easy to rouse and will act upset at being awoken, but a lethargic baby doesn't even have the energy to really cry.
A baby who is limp and lethargic is seriously sick. It can be a sign of a cold or stomach bug, but if the baby is lethargic without other symptoms of an illness it could be a real sign of trouble. It could mean that the baby has a heart condition or blood disorder that saps his energy.
Sometimes babies who have a true problem can become more lethargic over time. They seem drowsy even when they are awake after a long nap. They don't respond to sounds or sights, and they don't seem alert. They don't wake up on their own to eat and show little interest in the world around them. It can be harder for a parent to spot, but it is a critical issue and something that requires medical attention.