Wondering When to Call the Pediatrician?

Use this guide to determine when to pick up that phone and when to wait

Doctor examining baby
A doctor examines a baby. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The debate over when to call the pediatrician is a familiar one for new parents, especially within that first year. You may wonder: Am I being overly cautious? Or is it really necessary to talk to the doctor about my child's illness or health condition?

While you certainly don't want to ring your doctor regarding every little sniffle and sneeze—it is okay to call if you're unsure how to handle the health situation.

Perhaps the best motto: When in doubt, call. At the very least, talking to your pediatrician can help ease your fears or confirm whether you need to have your child seen by a health professional.

Here we take a look at some common pediatric illnesses—and help you determine whether to immediately pick up that phone, wait until the next morning or call 911.

Again, if you're debating whether or not to call, err on the side of caution. Additionally, if you can't reach your pediatrician, be sure to seek out other medical attention (call 911 or the emergency department of your local hospital).

When to Call Immediately

If your baby has any of the following conditions, phone your doctor right away:

  • Fevers
    1. At or above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38.1 degrees Celsius) in babies under 3 months old
    2. At or above 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius) in babies 3 to 6 months old
    3. At or above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) for babies who are 6 to 12 months old who do not respond with fever reducing remedies
    4. If the fever is accompanied by an inability to drink liquids, rash, labored breathing, continuous crying, seizures, persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Severe chills
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Unexplained, hysterical crying that can't be soothed

When to Wait 24 Hours

It's not always necessary to call the doctor immediately. For example, if the illness begins at night and isn't as alarming, you may be able to wait until the office opens in the morning.

Touch base with your pediatrician within 24 hours if you have remaining concerns about:

  • Feeding problems
  • Constipation
  • Pulling on ears or fluid discharge coming from the ears
  • Nasal discharge that is oddly discolored or smelly
  • Issues with unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Skin rashes or yellowing of the skin
  • Persistent cough
  • Any other concerns you have with your baby's health or development

When to Call 911

Unfortunately, there may be instances when you should bypass calling your doctor and connect with 911 instead. However, calling 911 is serious business and shouldn't be done for minor health concerns but a clear threat to your baby's well-being. This could include:

  • Difficulty breathing or turning blue
  • Seizures not accounted for by a diagnosed seizure disorder
  • Loss of consciousness or inability to rouse from sleep
  • A wound or injury with profuse bleeding
  • Any occasion where you believe your baby's life is in jeopardy