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When to Call a Doctor, 911 or the ER for Your Baby
Updated on
September 29, 2022

When to Call a Doctor, 911 or the ER for Your Baby

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When to Call a Doctor, 911 or the ER for Your Baby

Written Dr. Seran Kim, board-certified Emergency Physician

“Making a decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” -Elizabeth Stone

New parenthood is beautiful—as well as exhausting, exhilarating and emotionally tumultuous. It can also be incredibly scary to realize that you can’t always shield your new little one from harm.

As an emergency physician, the number one question I receive from fellow parents and caregivers is: “When should I take my baby to the emergency room?” The ER (or ED, Emergency Department, as we refer to it) can be a frightening prospect for many reasons.

Each year, there are over 30 million ER visits for children, for injuries ranging from respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms to poisoning and falls, but the majority of these children (over 95%) are discharged home.

Knowing when to go to the emergency room in the first place, however, can help avoid an unnecessary visit or more efficiently direct you to the best place to receive medical attention.

When Should You Call 911 for Your Baby?

You should call 911 if your baby:

  • Is limp, can’t wake up or has a seizure
  • Has any respiratory distress, such as grunting, blue lips or rapid breathing
  • Has had a significant fall with subsequent head or neck injury

When Should You Go to the ER with Your Baby?

You should go to the emergency room if your baby:

  • Is less than or equal to 12 weeks old and has a fever greater than or equal to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Has a rectal temperature less than 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Does not have urine production for greater than 8 hours
  • Is not eating, drinking or tolerating feeds
  • Has a bulging soft spot on its head
  • Is lethargic or irritable, despite comforting measures, or is incessantly crying for over 2 hours straight
  • Has bright green vomit
  • Has blood in vomit or stool
  • Has any skin color changes (e.g. blue, yellow, or pale)
  • Has bleeding that will not stop after 5 minutes of direct pressure, or has any large or deep cuts
  • Has any poisoning
  • Has been burned or experienced smoke inhalation
  • Has had a near-drowning experience

When Should You Call the Doctor with Your Baby?

You should contact your pediatrician, if your baby:

  • Is 3-6 months old and has a fever up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit and seems sick, or has a temperature greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Is 6-24 months old and has a fever greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, for longer than 1 day, without any other associated symptoms
  • Is 6-24 months old and has a fever greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit,with other associated symptoms such as severe diarrhea or cough
  • If baby has any fever for more than 3 days
  • Has cold symptoms that interferes with breathing, nasal mucous greater than 10 days, ear pain or cough greater than 7 days
  • Has redness, bleeding or discharge at the umbilical area or penis after circumcision
  • Has especially loose stools or diarrhea
  • Has forceful vomiting
  • Has constipation, or fewer bowel movements than usual, or appears uncomfortable when passing stool
  • Has a rash associated with a fever, or a rash that looks infected or any unexplained rash
  • Has eye discharge or redness

Remember, your intuition as a parent or caregiver is invaluable, as you know your baby best. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. It’s all you can do when your heart is out walking outside of your body.

Factually reviewed by Dr. Seran Kim, board-certified Emergency Physician, on May 12, 2021.

Disclaimer: The medical information provided does not substitute for medical advice and is for educational purposes only.

Seran Kim

Dr. Seran Kim is a board-certified Emergency Physician, cancer survivor and mom to three rambunctious boys, and she’s one of the doctors who helped develop the Babylist First Aid Kit. When not working, she can be found hiking, reading or embarrassing her kids with her hip-hop dancing. She has a weakness for milk chocolate and succulent plants that don’t need regular watering. She cannot live without GooGone and her power drill. She is adamant about helmets and seatbelts—and coffee. She believes the key to parenting survival is surrounding yourself with other families and raising kids as a village.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.