When to Take Baby to the ER

Signs Your Child Needs Immediate Medical Care

One of the more challenging responsibilities of parenting is being the primary decision-maker. When your child is in pain, it’s natural to want to do almost anything to make her feel better, quickly. But when is it appropriate to tough it out at home, wait until you can get to the doctor’s office or take your baby to the ER? It’s always best to call the pediatrician if you’re in doubt, but if the doctor is unavailable, look for the signs that your baby needs immediate medical care.

When to Be Concerned about Your Baby's Fever

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A fever isn't necessarily a cause for concern; it can flare up when your baby has a minor cold or other infection. Call your primary care physician for instructions if your child shows any of these symptoms:

  • Your baby is younger than 3 months old and has a fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher. A child this young has a less mature immune system, and a fever can indicate a serious problem.
  • Your baby is 3–6 months old and has a fever of 101.1 degrees F or higher.
  • Your baby is 6 months old or older and has a fever of 103 degrees

    F or higher. * Your child is exhibiting other symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, difficulty walking or a rash.

Sometimes, babies will get a fever following routine immunizations; if so, follow this same protocol. The pediatrician should provide additional information about which side effects to look for after shots and when to be concerned. Ask her if you’re not sure.

What to Watch for After Falls and Injuries

It happens to the best of parents; sometimes, your baby will fall or get injured in some way in spite of all your precautions. You’ll want to immediately check your baby’s entire body for noticeable bumps, cuts and bruises. Call the pediatrician for advice if you see any bumps on his head, clear liquid from the ear canal, bleeding from his head, black eyes or bruising behind the ear. Go directly to the ER if your baby:

  • has an open wound;
  • has a broken bone;
  • seems dazed or confused;
  • vomits more than once; and/or
  • exhibits prolonged irritability or other out-of-character behavior.

Call 911 immediately if your baby loses consciousness following a fall or other injury and has trouble waking, or if you are unable to move your little one without risking further injury.

How To Tell When Croup and Respiratory Issues Need Treatment

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Because your baby has difficulty breathing during an episode, croup, a bark-like cough, can be very scary for parents. Usually, it happens at night. If your child is younger than 3 months old and exhibiting respiratory problems, call the doctor immediately. If your baby is older, try to open her respiratory system by taking her to the bathroom and running a hot shower for about 20 minutes with the door closed. Try to keep your baby calm and relaxed. If your child’s breathing doesn’t improve within that time, take her to the ER.

If the baby can’t breathe at all or is unresponsive, call 911 immediately. If you or someone in close proximity knows pediatric CPR, assess the situation while you wait for emergency personnel to arrive.

How to Respond to Rashes

Rashes and other skin conditions are very common in babies because of their sensitive skin, so they aren’t necessarily cause for concern. Call your pediatrician if you notice a rash that won’t subside after a few days, is itchy, oozing, or is dark purple and deep in the skin. In most of these scenarios, you don’t need immediate care, so follow your pediatrician's instructions.

Occasionally, a rash will be an indication of a severe allergic reaction, which is a medical emergency. Call 911 if the rash appears quickly and is accompanied with swollen lips, wheezing, breathing difficulties, trouble swallowing or loss of consciousness.

When to Watch for Dehydration

If your child has persistent vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than a few hours, he could be at risk for dehydration, especially if he's unable to keep down fluids. Call your pediatrician for advice. If it's outside of office hours and your child’s condition is severe, you may need to take him to the ER for IV fluids.

When to Be Concerned about Colds and Common Illnesses

Babies can be very uncomfortable when they are sick, but unless they are very young or exhibiting severe symptoms, the best you can do is to take measures to ease their discomfort. Follow the guidelines for fevers, respiratory problems and dehydration, and call your pediatrician if you simply need peace of mind or want at-home treatment advice.

Other Considerations

You know your child best, so you know when something isn’t right. Call your child’s doctor any time you want medical advice, even if it seems silly. In general, it’s best for your child to see her primary care physician who knows her, rather than going through the ER and receiving unnecessary treatment. Save ER trips for real emergencies and if your child's doctor isn’t available. If it's an acute emergency and your child’s life is in danger, always call 911.