Should You Take Baby to the Hospital?

How to determine if you have an emergency on your hands.

Dealing with Possible Emergencies

crying baby dressed up

It was 3 a.m. on a Saturday, and my 9-month-old daughter, Mira, had been vomiting for hours. My husband called his sister, a veteran mom. "It's a stomach bug," she said. "You just have to ride it out." But wasn't there more we could do? We called the pediatrician to find out. The answering service paged the doctor on call, someone I didn't know. "How old is she?" he asked. "What's your insurance company?" His remedy: Go to the emergency room.

When the ER's doctors gave us my sister-in-law's advice, I felt ashamed. Weren't there more questions that the on-call pediatrician could have asked to prevent the hours-long wait at the ER? Telephone triage has its limitations, and doctors readily admit that if they can't make a confident diagnosis over the phone, sending patients to the ER may be the safest solution. "Most pediatricians err on the side of caution," says Sara DuMond, a pediatrician in Morrisville, North Carolina.

Why Should You Call Your Doctor First?

Contacting your pediatrician should be your initial step, says Thomas Krzmarzick, MD, medical director of The Children's Medical Center's emergency department, in Dayton, Ohio. "Many ER visits could be avoided if parents called the family doctor and he said, 'Give him Tylenol and I'll see him at 8 a.m.,'" he says.

Studies back up his experience. Fever, colds, sinusitis, ear infections, and stomach bugs are some of the conditions most often seen in infants who are brought to the ER, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And researchers at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, found that nearly half of the patients under age 18 who visit the ER have illnesses that could have been treated in a doctor's office. Kids ages 1 to 4 were the most commonly treated group.

Information to Have on Hand

Always call your pediatrician if you think you're dealing with an emergency, but before you dial, write down this information:

  • Your child's temperature and when his fever began.
  • Over-the-counter medications you have given him, when you
    started, and when he had his last dose.
  • When and what he last ate and drank.
  • Time of his last wet diaper or trip to the bathroom.
  • How much and how often he is vomiting and/or experiencing
    diarrhea.
  • Any other symptoms that concern you.

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