An infection, trouble digesting certain foods, or too much fruit juice are among the causes. If your child gets it, keep her at home and hydrated. If she's on solids, avoid high-fiber and greasy foods. Call the doctor if she isn't better in 24 hours, is under 6 months old, or has other symptoms, such as a fever of 101 or higher, vomiting, peeing less than usual, fast heart rate, bloody or black stool, or belly pain.
Call the doctor immediately if:
- A baby under 3 months has a rectal temperature of 100.4 or higher.
- A baby 3 to 6 months old has a temperature of 101 or higher.
- Or if an infant is crying, irritable, and can't be comforted.
Watch for ear pain, a cough, lethargy, a rash, vomiting, or diarrhea. Soothe your little one with fluids, a lukewarm bath, and by dressing him in lightweight clothes. Ask your doctor about safe ways to lower a fever.
Some babies poop several times a day; others go a few days between bowel movements. Don't worry if your baby or toddler doesn't go as often as you'd expect. True constipation is when stools are hard and painful to pass. Your doctor may suggest adding a few extra ounces of water or a little bit of prune juice to your child's bottle or sippy cup. If constipation continues or your baby has other symptoms, such as abdominal pain or vomiting, call the doctor.
Babies have sensitive skin. Rashes can range from pimples to little white bumps (milia) to red, dry, itchy patches (eczema). To avoid diaper rash, change diapers often, and apply an ointment for protection. For eczema, avoid harsh soaps and keep skin moisturized. Most rashes aren't serious, but call the doctor if your baby's rash is painful or severe, or if he also has a fever or blisters.
Babies' coughs come in many varieties. A seal-like barking cough could be croup. Coughs with a low-grade fever are often from a cold, but a higher fever may mean pneumonia or the flu. Wheezing with a cough could be asthma or an infection. Babies with pertussis -- whooping cough -- make a "whooping" sound. A cool-mist humidifier and fluids can ease symptoms. Cough medicines should not be given to babies or children under 4.
Uncontrollable crying, back arching, and spitting up are all symptoms of an upset tummy. It could be caused by colic, gastroesophageal reflux, food intolerance, virus, or other reasons. Toddlers can also have problems as they try different foods. Most stomach aches aren't dangerous and will go away. If it doesn't improve, or your child vomits, has diarrhea, becomes lethargic, or runs a fever, call the doctor.
By about the sixth month, baby's first teeth will start poking through her gums. Sore gums can make babies very cranky. Relieve teething pain by giving your baby something to chew on. A rubber teething ring works well. Gently massaging baby's gums with your finger can also help.
Burping, crying, and flatulence can be signs of infant gas. Gas isn't the same as colic, which can lead to inconsolable crying. Because gas is often caused by swallowing air, feed your baby slowly and burp often. Toddlers can get gas from high-fiber or fatty foods, or by drinking too much juice.
When babies have colds, their noses can get very stuffy. Over-the-counter cold medicine should not be used in children under 4 years. Instead, use saline drops to thin out mucus and then suction it out of baby's nose with a bulb syringe. Turn on the vaporizer to help your child breathe easier at night.
Babies often spit up after eating, but forceful or persistent vomiting needs a doctor's evaluation. Vomiting with diarrhea may signal a virus. Fluid loss from vomiting can lead to dehydration. Keep your child hydrated with small, frequent amounts of an electrolyte solution. If vomiting doesn't stop in a few hours, or is accompanied by a fever in an infant, or your child can't keep down fluids, call your doctor.
There's nothing more distressing to a new parent than a sick baby. Try not to lose your cool. Trust your instincts, but stay alert for signs that you need to call your health care provider or seek emergency care. Some warning signs include changes in appetite, extreme fussiness, lethargy, breathing problems, rash, neck stiffness, seizure, high fever, and a lack of wet diapers.
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- American Academy of Family Physicians.
- American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Baby Center web site.
- Behrman, R., Kliegman, R., and Jenson, H. (eds.). Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th edition, Saunders, 2004.
- Children's Physician Network.
- Florida Health Finder.
- Journal of the American Medical Association, March 10, 2004.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
- Texas Children's Hospital.
- The Nemours Foundation.