When to Call the Pediatrician
Daniel Brennan, MD
Whether you’re a new or veteran parent, a sick baby can leave you confused and afraid. Is the baby's fever dangerous? Should you call the doctor for a cough? Vomiting? Diarrhea?
It helps knowing that most common issues aren't an emergency. A touch of stomach flu, a little fussiness, and a minor diarrhea usually resolve in a few days. Yet sometimes these can be signs of something else -- or critical in their own right. So when should you talk to your doctor? WebMD talked to the experts and found out when to get your pediatrician's help with common baby illnesses.
When to Call a Pediatrician: The Ironclad Rule
If you're worried, call your baby's doctor, period. That's the recommendation of Chris Tolcher, MD, a pediatrician in private practice and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. "Trust your instincts," Tolcher stresses. If your child is weak, lethargic, or if you have any questions, always call.
"With so many of these illnesses, we go by the child, not by a number," Tolcher says, "so always pay attention to your child's energy level, how they're doing overall. ... Call your doctor when you're worried."
And when should you worry? The following are good guidelines for when to pick up the phone.
Fever: When to Call a Pediatrician
To get a handle on fevers, it helps to know your numbers. Generally, a low fever is under 102 degrees, a moderate fever is 102-104 degrees, and a high fever is 104 and over, says Tolcher.
Fevers aren't dangerous to the brain unless they're over 106, Tolcher says. "The only thing a fever means is that the body is trying to fight an infection. So fevers aren't themselves bad, but we treat them because they make you feel miserable." Tolcher recommends that you call your child’s doctor:
- For any fever in an infant under 3 months, even a temperature as low as 100.4 degrees.
- For babies older than 3 months, call your pediatrician for a low fever if your child is acting weak, sick, or if the fever lasts for more than three days.
- For fevers 105 degrees and up, your child should see the pediatrician the same day or go to urgent care.
If the fever is also accompanied by an inability to drink, confusion, rash, trouble breathing, seizures, constant crying, difficulty waking, persistent vomiting, or diarrhea, call your doctor right away.
Stomach Flu and Other Intestinal Issues
Intestinal issues are a common cause of vomiting, diarrhea, and even cough and cold symptoms in kids. Usually caused by a virus, intestinal problems can happen no matter what age your baby is.
When should you call a pediatrician? Scott Cohen, MD, attending physician at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and author of Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Complete Common Sense Guide to Your Baby's First Year, recommends calling when there is:
- Blood in your child's stool or vomit
- Abdominal pain located in one spot
- A fever for more than three days
- If your child has diarrhea and pees fewer than three times in 24 hours