How to Tell If Your Child Is Sick

A lot of parents ask me, “how do I know if my child is sick?” They’re worried that they may miss the signs and I can understand why that is. A lot of times, parents worry that their baby is going to throw a surprise at them or they’re going to miss something.

First and foremost, I urge parents to drop that worry and line of thinking. As a parent, you have great intuition and you WILL know if something is going on with your baby that’s outside of the normal.

Beyond your gut feelings and parent’s intuition, you’re also going to notice changes in baby’s behavior more than anyone because you’re the one around them most. I find this is especially true in those first few months when parents are especially worried about the baby getting sick. Moms and dads are going to be around baby a lot and notice that one isolated thing that is different, that one bad feeding, or one big blowout diaper that is out of the ordinary but usually isn’t indicative of anything worrisome.

Still, parents worry that they won’t know when their baby is sick, so I I give them three specific things to ask themselves.



The first thing I tell parents to keep an eye on is feeding. Sick babies generally don’t feed well, so if baby is feeding well and normally, then that decreases the likelihood that they’re sick or that there’s something going on with them.



if your baby is breathing normally— having breaths that you can hear, making plenty of noise, not breathing too fast persistently or too slow persistently—there’s a good chance they’re feeling okay. they Remember, babies can occasionally have periods where they breathe fast and then periods where they breathe slow, but it always evens out. If they’re breathing really hard persistently or if they’re barely breathing and not rousable, then those are two things that would give you more pause for concern. Of course, you will notice those kinds of changes and you’ll absolutely know it’s time to give the pediatrician a call.



The last question I ask parents when they think their child may be sick is, “are they vigorous?” By vigorous, I mean, do they have some spunk in them? Do they have some fight in them or are they just a limp noodle that doesn’t really do much and sleeps all the time? When babies are a bit vigorous, you pick them up and they scream—that’s a good sign that they aren’t sick. If you can hold them up and they hold their bodies up a little bit on their own, you know they have some vigor. Remember, though most babies are not very strong and they’ll kind of sway or fall to the side when you hold them up, but you’ll know the difference between true weakness and generally underdeveloped muscles.

In contrast, if you have a baby that’s more limp and harder to rouse, maybe you tickle them or push on the and they don’t do anything, then those are more concerning things.


Now, remember to look at the constellation of things. You don’t look at just one category and worry when one behavior is off. If you’ve got a baby that’s feeding poorly, that seems to be breathing differently, that’s not vigorous, then those are things that require more immediate attention. If every worried or wondering if something is normal, always call your pediatrician.



One thing that I tell all parents is that regardless of how they may look, if a baby under the age of one month has a fever over 100.4 taken rectally, then a trip to the doctor’s office (or emergency room if the office is closed or doctor orders it) will be required. The reason for that is because babies under a month of age have very underdeveloped immune systems so they’re at higher risk for serious bacterial infections.



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