When Should You Seek Emergency Care for Your Baby?

Thank you to Wolfson Children's Hospital for providing first-time parents with these symptoms that may signal an emergency in infants, age birth to one year.

baby emergency

Being a first-time parent can be equal parts exhausting and extraordinary. You might struggle to decipher every strange squeak or noise your newborn makes, wondering if it’s totally normal — or something more serious. While the majority of skin rashes, gassy tummies, and diaper mishaps all come with the territory of bringing baby home, there are some symptoms and signals that may actually require an urgent visit to the doctor or even emergency room.

Due to recent coronavirus concerns, some parents are opting out of routine well-child visits (a move not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics), and even emergency care in some situations. Much like how these necessary doctor’s visits help keep your child healthy and on track developmentally — especially during the first two years of life — emergency care, when needed, can detect any underlying issues you may not easily see right away after a serious fall, severe vomiting spell, or high fever.

A Parent’s Primary Concern

According to Daniel Thimann, MD, a board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Wolfson Children’s Emergency Centers, the main concern for worried moms and dads should be a fever. In babies, a fever constitutes any temperature over 100.4 F when taken rectally. This can be a sign of a more complicated underlying condition that may need immediate treatment.

“Definitely, in babies 2 months old and younger or those who are not immunized, the recommendation would be to bring them to the ER for fevers,” he says. “Infants are at increased risk of having fevers that are the sign of more complicated conditions than older kids or those who received their vaccines. Basically, if you vaccinated your child, you have protected them from more serious conditions. In immunized children with a fever, they typically have a virus or a UTI.”

When to Take Your Baby to the Doctor

Aside from fevers, there are many other situations where you may want to bypass an urgent sick appointment with the pediatrician and head straight to the ER. Reasons Dr. Thimann would want to see your baby include:

  • Animal scratches or bites
  • Any types of falls, drops or other types of trauma
  • Hyperthermia (overheating)
  • Near-drowning
  • Strange skin rashes that are bothersome for your infant
  • Vomiting or diarrhea, especially if the color is red or black

“We do see a fair share of babies who fall from beds, from the car, somebody holding them, counters or down the stairs, and the vast majority of these kids are going to be just fine, but you really need a professional opinion from a pediatric trauma expert to make sure your child is okay,” explains the emergency specialist. “If your child falls and hits their head, especially if they have a ‘goose egg,’ bring them to the ER. Chances are they’ll be fine and we won’t need to do anything, but we want to see that child.”

Dr. Thimann added that dehydration and vomiting can be serious concerns for little ones. Skin rashes may also be worrisome, but only if they seem to cause your baby any discomfort.

“With infants, persistent vomiting and inability to take in fluids are causes for concern. Abdominal pain is also very important for us to examine because it could indicate appendicitis, intussusception (intestinal obstruction), or malrotation (intestine is positioned incorrectly). Or it could be as simple as colic or milk protein allergy. Bleeding from the rectum in infants is not common, and it’s always something that needs to be addressed,” he says. “With skin rashes, our general train of thought is that if it doesn’t bother the child, he or she is probably okay. If the rash bothers the child, that could be different.”

When Is It Truly an Emergency?

Parents may be curious as to when it’s a good idea to take their infant to the closest pediatric ER versus dialing 911. Dr. Thimann notes that in most cases, driving your baby yourself is generally a completely safe option.

“It’s almost always okay to bring your child by private vehicle, and may even be safer because you can strap them into their own car seat,” he says. “However, if your child isn’t acting like themselves, falls from a great height, or if you’re concerned about your child receiving life-sustaining care, definitely call 911. It’s never wrong to call the ambulance.”

The Concern for COVID-19

Naturally, your child getting ill during a global pandemic adds an extra layer of worry and stress. What is the most responsible move to make? Should you instead try to manage your baby’s symptoms at home rather than chance possible exposure to the virus? Dr. Thimann says not to fret.

“Our hospital is very well prepared to care for COVID and non-COVID patients,” he shares. “We’re doing everything we can to prevent the spread of disease and following all the CDC guidelines. If a parental concern is there and you want to bring them into the ER, the last thing you have to worry about is the spread of COVID to your child. I feel very confident we can keep your kids safe.”

Ultimately, the specialist urges parents to pay attention to their first instinct. If you think your infant may need to go to the emergency room, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

“It’s hard for parents to know what to do because every child is so different, and you get advice from the grandparents, someone you know who is a nurse, or your sister, brother or friend,” he adds. “Just bring them in. We’ll talk and make sure your child is okay.”

If your baby is experiencing symptoms that are worrisome to you, please take him or her to the nearest pediatric ER. Visit wolfsonchildrens.com/emergency to find the Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center nearest you and view current wait times.

Wolfson Children’s Hospital is the only hospital just for kids in the North Florida and South Georgia region, providing care for children of all ages with congenital heart conditions, cancer, neurological disorders, orthopedic conditions, behavioral health disorders, and more.


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