here to help:
who to call when your baby is ill

understanding when your baby is ill

Seeing your baby poorly for the first time can be a little scary, especially for first time parents. The best thing you can do for your little one is to stay calm, check for symptoms and trust your instincts if things don't feel quite right.

If anything is out of the ordinary, it's always good to consult a specialist. There are so many medical professionals available to lend a hand and help you and your little one – you just need to decide the level of assistance you need.

Here's a guide to what help is available for you and your poorly baby. Don't be alarmed that it starts with the worst-case scenario – if you think you have an emergency, you need to know sooner rather than later. Happily, most cases aren't emergencies, but always be completely sure before writing it off.


when to call an ambulance

Dialling 999 brings medical assistance straight to your door, quickly. Call for an ambulance if your baby:

  • has difficulty breathing
  • is unconscious
  • has a convulsion or fit
  • has blue lips or face
  • may have swallowed something poisonous
  • has symptoms of meningitis (a spotty purple-red rash that doesn't fade when you place a glass against it)
  • has an anaphylactic/allergic reaction
  • has a serious injury


when to go to casualty
or a walk-in centre

It's easier for a nurse or doctor to assess a baby in person, rather than over the phone. Go to a centre if your baby:

  • is breathing differently
  • has grey or blotchy skin
  • is listless or confused
  • won’t stop crying
  • has signs of dehydration such as dry nappies and a sunken fontanelle (the anterior fontanelle is the soft spot on the baby's head, which gradually disappears before toddlerhood as the head bones meet and fuse)
  • is producing greenish vomit
  • has a high temperature (up to 3 months old – 38°C or higher). This may be less of a problem with older babies, but still worth checking out
  • has a physical injury


when to see the doctor

Booking an appointment with your GP surgery is very different when you're phoning about a young baby – they'll always see you as soon as possible. Book an appointment with your GP if your baby:

  • is generally under the weather – grumpy, tired, off their food...
  • vomits persistently, or has had diarrhoea for over 12 hours – or has blood in either
  • has a raised temperature (over 38°C). There is conflicting advice about raised temperatures, so make sure you phone your GP surgery to check
  • has a rash (that isn't meningitis)
  • has a minor injury

  • The GP (or practice nurse) can advise, treat, or refer, depending on the diagnosis. They can also speak with you over the phone to establish whether you need an appointment, and may also suggest a house call.


when to call NHS 111

This is a 24-hour helpline staffed by healthcare professionals, which is particularly appreciated by parents in the middle of the night. You'll be asked a series of questions, given an initial assessment, and advised what to do next. It could be to make a GP appointment the next day, take your little one to a walk-in centre, or simply give a small dose of infant paracetamol

Call NHS 111 if it's out of hours and it's not an emergency.


when to visit the pharmacist

As a new parent, the pharmacist will quickly become one of your best friends. He or she will be the one to explain how to give your baby any treatments prescribed by the GP, and often has some tips for getting meds into reluctant little ones!

Most medicines will be on prescription. However, your pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter treatments for minor conditions (colic, dry skin, that sort of thing).


when to have an informal chat

All new mums are assigned a health visitor. He or she is an expert family nurse who is there to help and advise you on feeding, the growth of your baby, and small health niggles like nappy rash. If you have any general baby worries, the health visitor is a great person to talk to.

Make sure you have all the medical contact numbers you might need either written down or saved to your phone. And remember, no medical professional will treat you as overreacting when you say that your baby seems poorly. Trust your instincts – nobody knows your baby as well as you do.