There are many reasons why babies might be sick. They need to get medical attention if they truly need it. However, a visit to the doctor’s office means exposing yourself and your baby to germy kids, having an extra expense, and more. Hence, if you’re trying to avoid doctor visits for a young baby (less than 6 months old) read on.
Here are some of the top reasons for sick baby doctor visits, and ways delay, minimize, or avoid doctor visits.
- Fever and upper respiratory symptoms: Cough, sore throat, runny nose, cold, flu, allergies
- Ear infections
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
- Skin irritations, insect bites
- “Constipation,” colic, tummy troubles
The bigger question is what, exactly, are you looking at? What needs immediate medical attention? What can you take care of at home and avoid doctor visits?
Fever and Upper Respiratory Symptoms
What about the cough and sore throat, and runny nose? Is it the flu, a cold, or the COVID-19 virus? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has coronavirus symptom checker. The CDC also has symptoms for influenza (flu) listed.
Indicators for medical help
Here are some indicators that you need to get medical help for common situations with babies who are symptomatic:
- Fever. Some sources say that if your baby is less than 3 months (12 weeks) old, call the doctor right away for a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher. Other sources say that any fever in an infant less than 3 months old requires medical evaluation. The same source warns about how long the fever is lasting, and fever in a baby who is 3-6 months old.
- Not eating at all: symptoms are so bad the baby refuses food.
- Breathing problems or making strange breathing noises while sleeping.
- Persistent milder fever, runny nose or cough that lasts more than 72 hours, or the signs/symptoms don’t show signs of improvement.
- Low urine output: We have all been taught that after the first few days of life, breastfed babies should have 6-8 wet diapers in a 24-hour period. Many sources say that if the baby is sick, you should see a fairly wet diaper at least every 6 hours. If you don’t, it’s time for medical follow-up.
Maybe the runny nose is due to an allergy. An infant or child (or an adult) can develop allergies at any time. In general, the culprits are from the environment (pollen, flowers, etc.), medication, materials (e.g., metals), insect bites or animals (dander, urine) and — ah yes, foods! (Check out my post on allergies here.)
Runny nose, sniffling, the nose-in-the-air “allergic salute” tend to be more ongoing. Conversely, a cold, the flu, or any other virus that affects the upper respiratory tract resolves within several days, or certainly within a week or so.
Remember, though, that allergies can manifest in the digestive system, or on the skin.
Formula-feeding infants are at least 3 times more likely to get an ear infection than breastfeeding infants. Therefore, it’s important to keep breastfeeding your baby.
If you’re wondering if your baby has an ear infection, here’s an excellent resource that describes typical symptoms and suggestions on when to get help.
If you’re a breastfeeding mother, you may notice that your baby wants to breastfeed more often. Swallowing probably helps the baby “feel” better. But swallowing opens the Eustachian tube (that small tube that connects the ears, nose, and throat) which therefore helps to relieve the pressure.
On the other hand, they may nurse less because ear infections often occur in conjunction with or after a cold. And babies with an ear infection often can’t nurse in their usual position. Try changing positions — you might need to try more than one position — to see what will help your baby to nurse.
Here are some ideas for home remedies to avoid doctor visits.
Is it pink eye, or seasonal allergies?
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, just means that there’s an inflammation in the eye area. Hence, whether it’s infectious or just an allergic reaction, what you see might look very similar. Here are adult photos.
It’s easier to figure out which is which in an adult, because adults can tell you if they feel “itchy” (which points to an allergic reaction) whereas an infectious virus or bacteria will feel more like there is a foreign object in the eye.
In a young baby, beware of these observations, which suggest an infectious situation:
- One eye is affected before the eye is affected
- A thick gooey discharge is in the more-affected eye
- Associated with a common cold
There are many home remedies suggested on the web to avoid doctor visits, including putting human milk into the eye. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology discourages that. Some mothers, and people in other cultures, believe it works. I honestly don’t know what to think.
The big one here is diaper rash.
If you leave a disposable diaper on your baby’s bottom too many hours, there’s a high likelihood that diaper rash will follow. The pros and cons of cloth-versus-disposable diapering is a debate that has raged on for at least 3 decades that I know of; maybe more.
My biggest concern is the presence of dangerous chemicals that are in the diapers. Most disposable diapers are bleached white, with dioxins. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, dioxins are among the most dangerous chemicals we can encounter. In addition to skin irritations, these have been linked to respiratory ailments such as asthma.
Having “more absorbent” disposable diapers mean that babies are sitting in their own excrement for longer periods of time. Therefore, they are exposed to chemicals for longer periods of time.
Using fresh, clean, breathable cotton diapers, and changing them as needed, is one simple way to avoid diaper rash, and hence avoid doctor visits.
Mothers of breastfed infants often get confused about a baby not “going.” Knowing how often to expect your baby to pass stools will help to avoid doctor visits. During the first month of life, breastfed babies should have at least 3, preferably 4 stools (poops, poos, Number Two, turds, or whatever you call it in your part of the world) in a 24-hour period. After the first month of life, breastfed babies might go several days before passing a stool.
I’ve had more to say on constipation here.
Get expert advice in my interview with pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Bryan Vartabedian. For more expert advice and a few good laughs, pick up a copy of Dr. V’s book, Looking Out for Number Two. His lighthearted and somewhat irreverent tone makes this book a true delight to read.
You might also like see how chiropractic treatment might help your baby who isn’t “going.”
Final thoughts on avoiding doctor visits for sick babies
At least some of these “sicknesses” are conditions that can be prevented, minimized, or treated at home. The key is to identify what requires immediate medical attention, what you can do to help the baby and still avoid doctor visits.
You can always call your child’s healthcare provider. Many providers are offering telemedicine appointments, especially in cases such as now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurse advice lines are often available to help determine when you need to bring your baby in, or when home treatment is possible.
As usual, this post is only for information, not advice. And, if your gut says to get medical help for your child, do it. Over the years, I’ve learned to never underestimate a mother’s intuition.
How do you decide when it’s time to call the doctor? What remedies have worked to avoid doctor visits for your young baby?