When To Call the Baby's Doctor

Father soothing his baby
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OK, Dad. You think you know it all, right? But nothing dissolves a dad's self-confidence more than knowing that your baby is sick and you don't know what to do. It sort of melts all that testosterone away, doesn't it?

Particularly for new dads, knowing when to call your family doctor or your pediatrician can be tough.  We tend to want to think we know what we need to, but there are lots of things that can happen to  a baby that are beyond our limited parenting skill set.

 So, when is the baby "sick enough" to need a doctor's attention?

It can be tough to make the call as to when your baby needs to be seen by the family doctor or pediatrician or when you and your baby's mom can handle a health issue on your own.  Even experienced parents with several kids who think they have seen it all will have questions about when to call or not call.  

These key health indicators are good places to start in assessing whether you need to involve your baby's doctor in any given circumstance.  Running through this checklist can help you make the right decision about making the call to the doctor or the clinic.

Does the baby have a fever?   The rule of thumb for babies is if his or her rectal temperature is more than 100.2 degrees for a zero to three-month baby or more than 101 degrees for a three to six-month-old baby, call the doctor. Also, if the baby has a fever of any level and his or her behavior is unusual, call.

Has the baby's eating habits changed?   If the baby won't eat for two consecutive feedings, it's a good warning sign and should elicit a call to the clinic. Babies can't sustain long periods without food or water without the risk of dehydration.

Has the baby had a significant mood change?  This is a tough one because babies are often moody by nature.

But if little Junior is dull or unresponsive to people, sights, or sounds, it is an indicator of trouble.

Has the baby's breathing patterns changed?   All babies breathe, and sometimes in unique ways (many times during the night!) But if you notice particularly labored breathing - particularly repeated or unusually rapid heaving breathing, it's a bad sign. Pick up the phone and call.

Is the baby having serious vomiting or diarrhea issues? If your baby has three or more episodes of vomiting or watery diarrhea, or if there is blood in baby's vomit or stool, it is time to make a call. Lots of vomiting and diarrhea are precursors of dehydration, and blood in vomit or stool can mean lots of things, none of them good. Also, if the little guy or girl has eaten or ingested any medication, household product or foreign object, make the call.

Is the baby crying more than usual?  Many dads think all babies do is cry and make you change diapers. But if your little one is crying continuously and uncontrollably for two or more hours, there is something definitely wrong.

Has the baby had an accident or injury?   If the baby has suffered a burn or another serious injury, call the doc. Babies don't react to things like older children do, and a burn, sprain, large bruise or another injury can be pretty dangerous if not treated promptly.

Other Stuff.  Becoming aware of either an inflamed eyeball or a soft spot on the baby's head that either bulges out or sinks in is a good reason to call. These symptoms need to be examined further by a qualified medical professional to prevent more serious problems.

Remember, when in doubt, make the call. Even if your gut just tells you something is wrong, it is better safe than sorry. One of the biggest responsibilities of a dad is to protect his child from avoidable problems, and calling the pediatrician can be the best thing you can do when you don't know what else to do.