Your Baby's Cold: When to Call a Doctor

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 19, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

It's a pretty safe bet that your little one is going to get a cold 6 to 12 times a year. Usually a few remedies and plenty of TLC will get them feeling better.

Sometimes, though, you may need to get some expert advice. Keep your eye out for symptoms that need a doctor's care.

What to Watch For

Call your doctor if your baby shows signs of one of these things:

Not feeding. Check with your pediatrician if the cold symptoms are so bad that they don't eat.

"A good rule of thumb is to make sure your baby is wetting a diaper at least every 6 hours or so," says Claire McCarthy, MD, a pediatrician in the Primary Care Center at Boston Children's Hospital.

Breathing problems. "If your baby is making strange noises when taking a breath in, or making loud noises during sleep, that's a concern," says pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

You should get the doctor on the phone if they are having trouble breathing or doing it fast for more than a few moments.

Fever. If your baby is 3 months or younger, call the doctor right away for a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher.

"Babies under 3 months are at higher risk for more serious problems when they get sick, so we like to see them right away," Swanson says. For older babies, call about any fever of 102 or higher, as well as any milder fever that lasts longer than 72 hours.

Extremely sleepy or cranky. Nobody likes feeling sick, so you can expect your little one to be a bit grouchy. But if they seem especially sleepy or irritable, it's a good idea to give the doctor a call.

Bad cough. Coughing helps clear mucus from your child's lungs. But call the doctor if it doesn't go away after 72 hours, or if it's so bad it makes them vomit.

Another red flag: Your baby has cold symptoms and there are cases of whooping cough in your community. Call the doctor if they have noisy or troubled breathing, or don't seem to drink enough.

A cold that doesn't go away. If your child's symptoms don't get better after a week, call the doctor to make sure it's not some other type of infection.

Runny nose that doesn't get better. Call your doctor if it doesn't go away, or if your baby is sneezing and has red eyes along with it. It could be a sign of allergies.

Other symptoms. Also call your doctor if your child has serious ear pain, blue lips, or a sore throat with a swollen neck and a fever. These could be signs of another type of illness.

Follow Your Instincts

When in doubt, don't be afraid to pick up the phone. "A lot of parents want reassurance when their child is sick, and that's totally normal," Swanson says. "Follow your instincts and call if you think there's a problem."

Talking to your doctor can also help give you peace of mind. "Colds can be really frustrating for parents, because in most cases there aren't any medicines that will help," Swanson says. "But we can talk to parents and reassure them that they're doing everything right."

Show Sources


AAP News: "Simple Remedies Often Best for Common Colds in Young Children." "Children and Colds."

KidsHealth: "Your Child's Cough."

Claire McCarthy, MD, pediatrician in the Primary Care Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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