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Infant emergencies

When to take your baby to the emergency department.

Article Author: Juice Staff

Article Date:

A bear with bandages representing infant emergencies

Being a new parent can be pretty overwhelming at times. It may feel like every peep or squeak your baby makes is the first sign of something serious. And, while most rashes, upset tummies and yucky diapers are just part of raising a little one, there are certain signs and symptoms that should prompt parents to head straight to the emergency room.

Just like routine well-child visits help keep your child healthy and track their development, emergency care can detect underlying issues you may not see with the naked eye after a fall, vomiting spell or high fever. And with some symptoms, it's best not to wait to seek care.

Fevers in infants vs. children

Daniel Thimann, MD, is a board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialist with Emergency Resources Group who practices at Wolfson Children's Emergency Centers. When asked what parents should be looking for, he said that most usually worry about fevers, which can be a sign of a complex condition that needs treatment right away.

"Definitely, in babies 2 months old and younger or those who are not immunized against certain illnesses, the recommendation would be to bring them to the ER for any fever," he said. "A fever in an infant is more likely to be an indicator of something serious than a fever in an older child. Basically, if you vaccinated your child, you have protected them from most serious conditions, so the only things remaining are more common viral infections."

Common reasons for infant ER visits

Other reasons Dr. Thimann would recommend seeking infant emergency services include:

  • Animal bites or scratches
  • Falls, drops and other types of trauma
  • Hyperthermia (overheating)
  • Near-drowning (known formally as "submersion injuries")
  • Skin rashes that cause discomfort or pain
  • Vomiting or diarrhea, especially if it has a red or black appearance

"We do see a fair share of babies who fall from beds, the car, counters or down the stairs, or who are dropped by someone who was holding them, and the vast majority of these kids are going to be OK, but you really need a professional opinion from a pediatric trauma expert to make sure," said Dr. Thimann. "If your child falls and hits their head, especially if they have a large bump or you're concerned, bring them to the ER. Chances are they'll be fine, but we are here when you need us."

Dr. Thimann added that vomiting and dehydration are serious concerns for infants.

"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 said. "With skin rashes, our general train of thought is that if it doesn't bother the child, he or she is probably OK. If the rash bothers the child, that could be different."

When to call 911

Parents may wonder when it's best to take their child to the nearest children's ER instead of calling 911. Dr. Thimann said that, in most cases, taking your baby yourself is a perfectly safe option.

"It's almost always OK to bring your child by private vehicle, and may even be safer because you can strap them into their own car seat. 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."

Ultimately, Dr. Thimann urged parents to listen to their gut instincts. If they think their child may need to go to the ER, 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 so many different people. Just bring them in. We'll make sure your child is OK. After all, we have spent six years training to specialize in kids; this is all we do, and we see kids all day every day."

When in doubt, it's always best to see a doctor

If your baby is experiencing symptoms that concern you, please take him or her to the nearest children's ER. Visit wolfsonchildrens.com/emergency to find the Wolfson Children's Emergency Center nearest you and see current wait times.

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