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When to Call the Pediatrician

Dehydration, Diarrhea, and Vomiting

Dehydration can easily be caused by vomiting and diarrhea, especially in babies, so always call your pediatrician if you think your child is dehydrated, says Tolcher. Signs of dehydration include:

  • Dry lips
  • Lack of tears when baby cries
  • Wetting fewer diapers than normal
  • Going six hours or more with a dry diaper
  • Lethargy or weakness

Mild diarrhea warrants a call if it lasts more than ten days. Diarrhea is considered severe and worthy of a call to the doctor when:

  • There are more than eight stools a day
  • Stool has blood or mucus

Vomiting is a pretty common part of childhood, but call your doctor if:

  • Vomiting lasts more than 24 hours
  • An infant throws up more than 8 or 10 times
  • An older child throws up 10 or 20 times
  • The vomiting seems unusually severe

"Again, if any illness ... is associated with a weak, lethargic, or dehydrated child, you should always call sooner," Tolcher tells WebMD.


It's all about the poop, writes pediatrician Tanya Altmann, MD, in her book Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers, who says questions about constipation are some of the most common a pediatricians hear.

While newborns should poop daily, older babies can have a wide range of normal poop behavior. Call your doctor about constipation if your baby:

  • Is newborn (up to 4 weeks old) and hasn't pooped every day
  • Is more than 4 weeks old and has not pooped in a week
  • Has a distended or swollen belly
  • Starts vomiting
  • Has a fever
  • Is lethargic
  • Uninterested in feeding

Coughs, Colds and Other Respiratory Problems

Coughs are an expected part of having a cold and serve a purpose, Tolcher says, clearing mucus from the airways. Coughs are worrisome and rate a call to the pediatrician when they're severe, meaning:

  • When they're constant
  • Are associated with labored or noisy breathing
  • Are painful
  • Cause vomiting
  • Make a child uncomfortable
  • Keep a child up at night
  • Last more than two weeks  

For colds, Cohen suggests calling your doctor if there is:

  • Problems with breathing
  • Fever for longer than three days
  • Signs of dehydration (see above)  

Remember, no cough and cold medicines are recommended for infants and young children, Tolcher tells WebMD. "It's OK to treat fever and pain with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but not with aspirin, which isn't recommended for children because of the risk of Reye's syndrome."


Lots of things cause rashes, says Altmann, such as infections, hormones, and irritations like soap, drool, and, of course, wet diapers. Call your doctor if your child:

  • Is bothered by the rash
  • Starts acting sick
  • If the rash doesn't improve within 2 or 3 days
  • The rash looks like bruises and does not lighten in color when you press on it
  • The rash is associated with fever


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