Worried about how to know when your baby needs to see or doctor, or if you can treat that sniffle yourself? Registered nurse and midwife, and owner of Bumps & Bundles of Joy Baby and Family Clinic, Louise Archery tells us what to look out for.
Infants are more prone to minor illnesses such as coughs, colds, and tummy upsets. On the bright side, although babies can get ill quickly, they also recover quickly if treated appropriately. Of course you can’t run to the doctor for every little sniffle.
In general, the younger your child, the sooner you will need to get him checked out. Infants have a limited ability to fight illness because their immune systems aren’t yet fully developed.
When to see the doctor
Young babies can’t tell you when they are really sick and there are some serious bacterial infections that they are more prone to. For this reason, certain symptoms should be soon to by a doctor as soon as possible. Here’s when you contact your child’s doctor:
- Under three months:Any fever of 38°C or higher, even if he shows no other symptoms of illness.
- Three months and older:A fever of 39°C or higher with unknown origin, or any fever lasting more than three days consecutively (one after the other). This is usually a sign of infection. Please note: If your child has a low-grade fever but is otherwise behaving normally—eating, sleeping, playing—most doctors recommend not treating it because the elevated body temperature is actually helping to fight off the infection.
- A fever in a child of any age that measures between 40°C and 40.5°
- Not feeding, for example, cold symptoms that are so bad that he or she doesn’t eat.
- Your child is lethargic or extremely sleepy.
- Any problems berathing.
- A bad, persistent cough or a barking cough with a loud, high-pitched gasping sound when he breathes in.
- Signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth or a sunken soft spot (fontanelle).
- Diarrhoeaand vomiting for more than 12 hours, and especially if accompanied by fever.
- Any burn larger than a 50c coin, particularly if the skin is blistering (this includessunburn).
- Persistent crying and crankiness. As a parent, you know your baby’spattern of crying better than anyone. If he is crying more than usual, or if his cry sounds high-pitched, seek medical attention.
- An unexplainedrash accompanied by a fever.
If your baby experiences any of these symptoms after office hours or on a weekend, go to the emergency room. You could also call your local baby clinic to ask for advice, as many baby clinics offer services over weekends.
What you can treat at home
Some common ailments can be dealt with these useful tips and:
- Vomiting and Posseting. Most babies tend to bring up a little milk during or after feeds, when they are being burped, or after they have been lying in their cots. This is called posseting and is no cause for concern. This can happen up to six months of age. If your baby is well and gaining weight, there is usually no need to worry. If your baby is vomiting constantly, refuses feeds, or if a large amount of feeds are lost (projectile vomiting), speak to your doctor.
- Wind in the stomach is a common feeding problem. All babies take in some air with their feeds, but some suffer more discomfort than others. Your baby may prefer to take the entire feed without stopping, others may need to pause halfway into the feed to bring up some trapped wind. To help release it, hold your baby upright against your shoulder, or seated on your knee with your hand supporting under the chin. Pat the baby on his lower back, just along the nappy line, to encourage the trapped air to be released.
- A blocked nose interferes with feeding. A baby cannot suck and breathe at the same time when their nose is blocked, because they are “nose breathers”. Using a saline nose spray regularly can help. You can also try putting a few drops of breastmilk in each nostril before a feed to induce sneezing or clear blocked passages. Make sure to elevate the head of your baby’s pram or cot to allow drainage from the sinuses and respiratory tract. A blocked nose is very normal in newborn babies.
- Hiccups. Most babies have hiccups from time to time, and these seem to be a greater worry to parents than to babies. No treatment is needed.
- Infrequent bowel movements and uncomfortable stools that look like dry, hard balls indicate constipation. Frequency is not a symptom at this young age. Passing one stool every seven to eight days is normal from eight weeks of age when a baby is exclusively breastfeeding – if weight gain is normal, there is no need for concern. Fluid intake between milk feeds is encouraged (cooled, boiled water). If the baby has true constipation, you can offer one teaspoon of pure olive oil, or one teaspoon of brown sugar dissolved in 25ml of boiled cooled water.
- Cradle Cap. This is an inflammatory condition of the scalp, face and occasionally other parts of the body. It appears as greasy, yellowish scales most usually on a baby’s skull, but it can also appear on the eyebrows, around the nose and behind the ears. This may appear within the first month of life. Natural oils such as olive oil or coconut oil will help to loosen the scales. Apply this every night and comb the scales off gently each morning. Baby’s hair and scalp do not need to be shampooed every day. Instead, shampoo once a week with a soap-free, cream-based shampoo. Don’t pick the scales off with your fingernails, as you could break the skin open easily.
Stock your medicine cabinet
It’s helpful to keep the following items at home to help treat minor illnesses or ailments:
- Thermometer – to asses for fever.
- Plasters and bandages – for cuts and abrasions.
- Saline nose spray – for blocked noses.
- Natural oils (olive, coconut, almond) – for dry or cracked skin.
- Paracetamol (paediatric syrup) – for pain and fever.
- Antihistamine (paediatric syrup) – for allergic reactions and hayfever.
Remember, always use the correct dosage according to your baby’s weight and/or age. Do not give your baby aspirin, as it can lead to a serious condition called Reye’s syndromes.
Trust your gut
Young babies can also get worse suddenly when they are ill, so rather be extra cautious than leave things to clear up on their own. If you have a sense or feel that something is just “not right” with your baby, it’s best to get him checked by a doctor. Mothers tend to have a natural born instinct’ for this kind of thing, so follow your gut. If you are a mom with a young baby, best get used to the trips to your baby clinic or doctor’s rooms. You’re going to be doing it quite a few times over the next few years!