When you have a baby, every sniff, cough or snuffle can cause alarm. That said, not every sniff, cough and snuffle requires a doctor’s appointment. Here’s when you need to make that call, and when you don’t.
Colic is probably one of the most common conditions affecting babies, but it’s also one of the most uncomfortable. In general, that crying (and the pain that comes with it) should dissipate, but if your baby is constantly niggly, it’s time to phone the paediatrician. What constitutes niggly? Listen out for either a shrill cry (as if she’s in pain), a low, ongoing moan, persistent irritability, fussiness during feeds, vomiting or a change in stools (diarrhoea or constipation).
Many of us have memories of being kept out of the sun, and warned not to scratch, until our chicken pox scabbed over. Be on the lookout for a fever accompanied by a headache and loss of appetite and, most importantly, a rash that occurs about a day later, starting out as flat, pink spots appearing on the head and torso before they spread and turn into fluid-filled blisters. If your child is displaying these symptoms, a visit to the pharmacist may be all that’s required to confirm a diagnosis – a doctor’s appointment isn’t strictly necessary.
A cough can be caused by anything from allergies to post-nasal drip, but if the cough starts up around bedtime and follows in the wake of a common cold, it could be croup. Croup isn’t as scary as it sounds, as most cases are harmless. However, if the cough is accompanied by a rasping, gasping sound every time your child breathes in (a symptom known as stridor) that doesn’t subside, it’s time to call a doctor, as this might indicate an obstructed airway. You should also contact your doctor if your child is younger than one year of age, has had a fever for more than three days, or has a fever that disappears and then returns after one day.
A baby who passes hard, dry pellets is constipated, but it is normal for some babies to have only one bowel movement a week – as long as this stool is normal, your baby is not constipated. You might be able to treat the condition by bicycling her legs or, if she’s just switched to solids, giving her some water or diluted fruit juice – but, if the condition is ongoing, if there is blood in the stool or if her abdomen is swollen, you should call the doctor.
This is a particularly nasty one, as diarrhoea can quickly dehydrate babies and toddlers, and with drastic consequences. Don’t hesitate to make a doctor’s appointment immediately – especially if your little one is younger than six months. Other warning signs are blood or mucus in the stool, pain in the abdomen, vomiting and a fever.
Nappy rash may be sore and unsightly, but it isn’t dangerous – unless there are also blisters, open sores and raised red bumps along with the rash. Look out, too, for seeping skin and a fever. If the rash spreads, or doesn’t disappear within a few days, book an appointment.
Colds and flu
Unless an infection has been caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics, there’s little a doctor can do. Remember, too, that your baby will catch at least six colds a year. You can’t visit the doctor every time, but you should if she’s still very young, if she’s not eating, if she has a fever of 38°C, if she is terribly cranky or sleepy, or if her symptoms don’t improve after a few days.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.