Handling Your Baby's Health

Handling Your Baby's Health

When to Call the Doctor, Go to the ER, or Call 911

Pediatricians tell you “if in doubt, call.” At first, it can be difficult to know when to call, so err on the safe side. Over time, you’ll learn just by calling. If you’re concerned about splotchy skin, a cough, sneezing, diarrhea, crossed eyes, not eating, etc., check with your nurse hotline or your pediatrician.

The Mayo Clinic offers guidelines for when to pick up the phone, which includes when there are changes in the baby's appetite or behavior, tender navel or penis, high fever, and more.

It also lists information that the doctor’s office needs when you do call (symptoms, baby's medical history, feeding and bowel movement changes, etc.)

Choking, not breathing, poisoning, falls, blows to the head, etc.

Babies and their bodies give signals when they aren’t feeling well. The most obvious are fever, runny nose, cough or rash. There are also less obvious signals: the baby may seem lethargic or very cranky, not interested in anything or anyone around them, has little or no appetite, spitting up more than usual, or their stools are either very hard or runny. The intensity and duration of such symptoms are also factors that will help you, a nurse, or a doctor determine how to treat them.

Check with your nurse hotline or pediatrician if you're concerned with:

  • splotchy skin
  • cough
  • sneezing
  • diarrhea
  • crossed eyes
  • not eating

Go to an Emergency Room or Urgent Care facility if your child:

  • Has a serious wound, burn or fractured bone.
  • Needs a head injury evaluated.
  • Needs an X-ray of a possible broken bone.
  • Has a cut that may need stitches.
  • Has a high fever or other serious illness.
  • Has fallen more than 5 feet onto a hard surface.
  • Exhibits any condition you feel may need emergent care.

You can also call your pediatrician or nurse hotline for advice, which may save you a costly emergency room visit.

Immediately call 911 if your child is experiencing any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing, such as breathing very rapidly.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Injury in or by a moving vehicle.
  • Serious bleeding or severe burns.
  • Fractured leg or other serious fracture.
  • Seizure.
  • Choking on something you cannot help them expel.
  • Deformity of the skull—a possible skull fracture.
  • Bleeding or clear fluid is streaming from the nose/ear/mouth.
  • A condition you feel is life or limb threatening.

Call 911 or yell for someone else to do so. Push the speakerphone button on your phone so you can hear instructions while treating your child.

Fevers and Colds

Fever is how the human body responds to an infection. A normal rectal temperature in an infant is 99.6°F (37.5°C), and doctors consider 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38°C) a fever, so accuracy when taking their temperature is important. If the baby is less than two months old and their rectal temperature is higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a low-grade fever has lasted longer than a few days, or if there is a rash along with the fever, call your pediatrician. Also call if your baby’s cough comes from deep in their chest, if their breathing is labored, or if they are wheezing.

Normal rectal temperature: 99.6°F (37.5°C)

100.4°F (38°C) and above


A digital thermometer inserted in your infant’s rectum is recommended due to its accuracy. This video (right/below) demonstrates exactly how to take your infant's temperature (1:17).

Taking a Newborn's Temperature (1:17)


A baby cannot blow their nose, so you will need to do it for them by using a nose bulb (looks like a small turkey baster). The baby will hate having the bulb tip stuck up their nose and will thrash around, making it a very difficult maneuver.

Lay the baby face-up on the bed, wrap your arm around their head and place your hand on their chest to keep them from moving. With your other hand squeeze the air out of the bulb, quickly place it gently but snuggly in one of the baby’s nostrils and let the bulb expand. Squeeze out extracted mucus onto a tissue or baby wipe. Repeat in the other nostril. Being quick is the key.

Using an Aspirator Bulb (1:10)


The latest version of the nose bulb that's hit the market (and is being used by a lot of new parents) is the Nosefrida. If you don't mind the idea of literally sucking the snot out of your child using your mouth, this might be for you (see video right/below).

Nosefrida - The Snot Sucker (1:39)

Giving Your Baby Medicine

Don’t give your baby any medicine without first checking with your pediatrician. A small dose of an adult pain reliever or decongestant may seem reasonable, but a baby’s nervous and immune systems are very different from yours and giving them adult medicine can present problems.

If you’re having trouble getting baby to swallow the medicine, you can:

  1. Mix baby medicine with a small amount of milk in their bottle.
  2. Use a medicine syringe. Let them suck on it, or squirt a little medicine in their mouth at a time and let them swallow before the next squirt.
  3. Roll the syringe over their tongue to get them to swallow the medicine.
medicine tools

Giving Medicine to Infants (0:58)

How to Give Baby Medicine Without Spilling a Drop (0:50)

Always give a baby pediatric medicine only, and always measure it with a pediatric measuring device.

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