If you've got a baby, you'd best get used to the trip to your doctor's surgery. Chances are you're going to be doing it quite a few times over the next few years!
The reason for this is that your baby's immune system is still maturing. So she's more prone to minor illnesses such as coughs, colds, and tummy upsetsthan older children and adults.
Young babies can also get worse suddenly when they are ill, so always err on the side of caution. Even if you think your baby is just "not right", it's best to get her checked by a doctor. The good news is that while babies can get ill quickly, they also recover quickly once they get the right treatment.
When should we see the doctor?
Some health problems need to be checked out straight away by your doctor, while others can be left for a few hours or so.
See a doctor as soon as you can if your baby has:
- Diarrhoea for more than 12 hours.
- Repeated vomiting, or vomiting for 12 hours or more. Or if she has other symptoms as well as vomiting, such as diarrhoea, a fever, or a rash.
- A fever. Take your baby to the doctor if she has a fever of 38 degrees C or higher and she's under three months, or 39 degrees C or higher if she is older than three months.
- An object lodged in her nose, ear, mouth, or vagina. Never try to remove objects yourself.
- A burn larger than a 50p piece, particularly if the skin is blistering (this includes sunburn).
- Persistent crying. As a parent you know your baby's pattern of crying better than anyone. If she is crying more than usual, or if her cry sounds high-pitched, or she is whimpering or moaning, see your doctor.
- Blood-streaked vomit or poo. Often this isn't due to anything serious, but it still needs checking with your doctor straight away.
- An unexplained rash, particularly if it's accompanied by a fever.
- A barking cough with a loud, high-pitched rasping sound when she breathes in. This may be croup. Croup is quite rare now thanks to the Hib vaccination, but this needs to be checked by your doctor.
- She has not wanted to drink for more than eight hours. Or she's had less than half of her usual amount to drink over the past 24 hours. This includes breast or bottle feeds for young babies.
- Sunken fontanelles (the soft spots on your baby's head), along with other symptoms, including dry lips, dark yellow urine, and fewer wet nappies than usual. These can be signs of dehydration.
- Your baby has been unusually irritable and moody for no apparent reason in the past 24 hours.
- Your baby has pink, watery, or sticky eyes. This could be a sign of an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis. This can be very infectious and needs treating promptly.
- Discharge from her ears, eyes, navel, or genitals over the past 24 hours.
When is my baby's illness an emergency?
When to call 140 for an ambulance.
If your baby is so ill that you think she needs urgent medical help, don't hesitate to call 999. You'll be asked which emergency service you need and will then be put through to an ambulance controller.
He will send an ambulance immediately and will stay on the line. He will also help you to assess your baby's condition and give her emergency first aid until the ambulance arrives.
Phone 140 if your baby:
- Shows one or more possible signs of meningitis. These include: a fever with cold hands and feet, swollen fontanelles, unusual crying or moaning, drowsiness, floppiness, dislike of bright lights, grunting or rapid breathing, pale blotchy skin, or a purple-red rash that doesn't disappear when you press a glass against it.
- Has an existing infection and shows the following signs of sepsis: cold and clammy or mottled skin, breathing difficulties, drowsiness or loss of consciousness.
- Is unconscious or semi-conscious.
- Is having trouble breathing or is breathing abnormally quickly, particularly if her skin and lips start to take on a bluish tinge. This means she isn't getting enough oxygen.
- Has a seizure (convulsion or fit) for the first time or one that lasts for more than five minutes. Her eyes will roll back in her head, she will be unresponsive, and her limbs will twitch. Seizures are usually caused by a fever, but not always.
- Becomes unwell after swallowing something poisonous or harmful, such as medicine meant for adults. Remember to take the packet or bottle to the hospital with you.
When to go to A&E
If your baby has a condition or injury that is not life-threatening, but needs immediate treatment, it's best to take her straight to accident and emergency (A&E).
Go to A&E if your baby:
- Has a cut that keeps bleeding or one that is deep and may need stitching. Until you get to A&E, do your best to stop the bleeding by putting pressure on the cut with a clean cloth. Also try to keep the injured part raised above the heart to reduce the flow of blood to the wound.
- Has a serious fall, and you suspect she may have a broken bone or sprain.
- Gets a serious bump to the head.
- Swallows or eats anything that may be poisonous or harmful, but seems well.
- Has severe stomach pain.
Just want some advice?
If you can't get an appointment with your doctor, or you're just after a bit of advice, try:
- Your health visitor. She can help with any worries you have about your own or your baby's wellbeing. She can advise you on starting solids, breastfeeding, immunisations, development issues, sleep, and on minor health problems, such as colic and nappy rash.
- Your local pharmacist. He can help if you have a query about a minor ailment, such as nappy rash, or about any medicines your baby is taking. He can also advise you about which over-the-counter medicines are suitable for your baby, and whether or not your baby should see a doctor.
What if the doctor's surgery is closed?
If it's an emergency, take your baby to A&E or phone the out-of-hours service. If you phone your doctor's surgery when it's closed, you will usually be directed to a local out-of-hours doctor service.
If you'd just like some advice before taking your baby to see a doctor, phone Red-Croos Direct on 140 where you can talk to a nurse or other health professional. Or for non-urgent worries, take your baby to your nearest Health walk-in centre.