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Advice on when the doctor needs calling

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Advice on when it is best to seek medical advice and how to recognise an emergency

Young babies suffer more from minor illnesses such as coughs, colds and tummy upsets than older children and adults because their immune system is still immature.

While many illnesses won't require medical attention, it's important to remember that a baby’s condition can change quickly, so if your baby’s condition worsens or you are at all worried it is best to seek medical advice.

How to recognise an emergency

You should seek urgent medical help and asking for an ambulance if your baby:

  • is finding it difficult to breathe
  • makes grunting noises with each breath
  • has a blue tinge around the fingernails, toes and lips
  • feels floppy and limp
  • has a raised soft spot on her head (fontanelle)
  • has a high-pitched cry which is different from normal
  • has been burned or seriously injured

Signs of meningitis

The early signs of meningitis are similar to the symptoms of other childhood diseases, but your baby will usually become much worse faster.

If you think your baby has meningitis get medical help immediately from your doctor or take your baby to the nearest hospital emergency. Tell them you are worried it could be meningitis.

The symptoms of meningitis – which can appear in any order and your baby may have some or all of them – include:

  • a high temperature
  • a high-pitched moaning cry
  • refusal to feed
  • vomiting
  • cold hands and feet
  • tense/bulging soft spot on the head
  • abnormal drowsiness, a staring expression
  • floppiness or stiff, jerky movements
  • a ‘pin-prick’ rash or purple bruises that won’t disappear when you press a glass on it
  • pale or blotchy skin which gets paler or turns blue
  • extreme shivering
  • dislike of bright lights
  • a stiff neck (more common in older children)

When to call your doctor

Some health problems need to be checked out by your doctor straight away. Call the doctor if your baby:

  • Has diarrhoea or vomiting for 12 hours or more
  • Develops a high fever which may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as a rash
  • Cries persistently or her cries sound abnormal
  • Has an unexplained rash
  • Coughs so that her breathing is affected
  • Has signs of dehydration – sunken soft spots, less than six wet nappies a day and a dry mouth
  • Gets something stuck up her nose or in her ear (don’t try and remove the object yourself)
  • Has blood stained vomit or bowel movement

If you need advice

If you are unsure whether your baby needs to see a doctor there are other health professionals you can talk to.

Call your local hospital. They will advise you whether your baby should see a doctor.

Your doctor will help with any concerns you have about your baby’s health and will tell you if your baby needs medical treatment.

Your local chemist. A chemist can advise on minor ailments and on the over-the-counter medicines that are suitable for your baby and will tell you whether your baby should see a doctor.

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