How to Know When to Take Your Child to the Doctor

How to Know When to Take Your Child to the Doctor

Especially for new parents, it can be incredibly challenging to determine what your child wants and needs. Particularly when children are very young, there are not very many ways for them to express their needs to adults. It’s quite understandable, then, that parents may be worried if their child begins to show symptoms of an illness. While you don’t want to go overboard and take your child to the doctor an excessive amount of times, you should always contact your pediatrician if you suspect that something is wrong. 

In this article, we discuss some symptoms that may indicate that your child needs to be seen by a doctor. We also talk about how you can go about choosing a pediatrician in the first place. Hopefully these tips help your child stay safe and healthy!

Choosing a Pediatrician

A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in providing care to infants and children. They are well-trained to understand the social, physical, and emotional needs of a developing child. Particularly when your child is too young to communicate verbally, having a skilled and empathetic pediatrician in your corner to advocate for your baby’s well being is essential. 

When it comes time to choose a pediatrician for the first time, you should consider:

  • Whether the doctor’s office accepts your family’s healthcare plan 
  • Recommendations from friends and family in the area that have children
  • How the doctor’s office handles billing and what the estimated cost of a check-up would be
  • How well the doctor’s personality meshes with those of your family members that will interact with them the most
  • Whether the doctor has beensued for medical malpractice in the past or has a history of disciplinary actions against them 

What Symptoms Necessitate an Immediate Call to the Doctor?

As a parent, it’s natural to want your child or children to be healthy and happy. While not every symptom of illness is an emergency, a parent’s instincts can be a good indicator as to whether or not a child needs medical care. In the following sections, we discuss some of the symptoms that may require a call to your pediatrician.


A fever may just be a sign of your body fighting a mild cold or illness, or it could indicate the presence of a serious health problem. In general, the proper way to handle a child’s fever depends on their age. If you have an infant under two months old, a fever of 100.4 F or higher is a significant warning sign. You should visit an emergency room immediately, as your child may have an infection or other serious condition. Unvaccinated infants should be seen by a doctor if they have a fever of any degree. 

For older children, the length of time the fever lingers and other factors can help indicate how serious the situation is. If a child has a low fever but displays other symptoms such as reduced energy, a smaller appetite, or drastic behavior changes, they should be taken to a doctor as soon as possible. When a feverlasts for three days or longer, you should call your child’s pediatrician. At that point, there is a chance that a bacterial infection has developed. 

Colds & Respiratory Infections

Children are particularly prone to getting common colds and respiratory infections. A child can potentially experience up to eight common colds a year, typically due to viruses. A cold or respiratory infection may last longer than a week and usually begins with a fever. If your child has a fever for more than three days or displays worsening symptoms, they shouldsee a pediatrician for their cold. They may have a bacterial illness, such as an ear infection.

If your child demonstrates any signs of breathing difficulties, call your doctor immediately. A child that is struggling to breathe may:

  • Suck in their ribs with each breath
  • Make a wheezing noise as they take air in 
  • Have flaring nostrils

In particularly serious cases, you may notice a blue color around your child’s lips or nails. This means that they are not getting enough oxygen. Call 911 for assistance immediately. 


It can be challenging to determine the cause or severity of a rash. A rash that doesn’t cause your child pain or discomfort is likely not a reason to worry. If the rash does not go away on its own after a few days or is accompanied by a fever, call your pediatrician. You should also notify your pediatrician of a rash that:

  • Oozes or weeps
  • Bubbles or blisters
  • Looks like a target or bullseye
  • Causes swollen bumps, face swelling, or difficulties breathing
  • Is accompanied by drastic behavioral changes

Diarrhea & Vomiting

When a child suffers from vomiting and diarrhea, they may be experiencing a viral infection. In most cases, the symptoms will alleviate as the child recovers from the illness. Both diarrhea and vomiting are capable of causing dehydration, which can cause serious problems. Some signs of dehydration include:

  • Less pee than usual
  • Dark urine
  • Crankiness
  • Dry or cracked lips
  • Sunken eyes
  • A sunken soft spot on the top of a young baby’s head

Most stomach viruses that cause bouts of vomiting and diarrhea last for twenty-four hours or less. If your child suffers from an upset stomach for longer than a day or has a fever as well, call your pediatrician. You should be alert for any signs of blood in your child’s stool. Blood may be visible as red or black spots or as dark flecks that look similar to coffee grounds. Any sign of bloody stool is a medical emergency.

When to Visit an Emergency Room

In most cases, your pediatrician will be able to offer advice on how to handle your child’s situation. However, there may be situations in which animmediate visit to the emergency room is necessary, particularly if your regular pediatrician is not immediately available. Call 911 at once if your child:

  • Loses consciousness for any length of time
  • Is choking or struggling to breathe
  • Is not breathing or shows signs of blue fingertips, toes, or lips
  • Is bleeding uncontrollably
  • Has been burned or electrocuted
  • Has suffered a head, neck, or spinal injury
  • May have been poisoned (contact a poison control center before calling 911)
  • Suffered a severe allergic reaction
  • Suddenly cannot walk, talk, see, or move
  • Was bitten by an animal or snake
  • Is coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Has a broken bone
  • Has nearly drowned

Please note that this isnota definitive list of all urgent medical conditions that may require immediate treatment. When in doubt, it is better to err on the side of caution and call 911 for guidance. 

When in Doubt, Call a Doctor

We hope that this article has provided good guidance as to when you might need to call a pediatrician or take your child to the emergency room for a medical condition. Remember that it’s never a bad idea to call your doctor or contact 911 to request advice during an urgent situation. It’s always better to seek help too early than too late.