A Nurse’s Guide to Knowing When to Take Your Baby to the ER

As a mother of two and a Registered Nurse, I know how hard it can be for new parents to know when take their child or baby to the ER. While you don’t want to spend countless hours or subject your infant to further contagious illnesses while waiting to see a doctor only to be turned away, you also don’t want your baby’s serious illness to go unnoticed and worsen, either.

When I saw this infographic made by Top Nursing Programs, I thought it was a great easy-to-read checklist that parents can Pin or download to keep on hand for future use. If you are taking your baby to the ER or doctor’s office, don’t forget to read this article about ways to entertain your child while visiting the doctor.take baby to the emergency room

When to Take Your Baby to the ER

  • Babies under 3 months with a temperature >100.3 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Changes in skin colour (pale, mottled, blue or yellowing)
  • Changes in muscle tone or they feel different
  • Changes in their normal cry
  • Changes to their sleeping pattern, hard to wake
  • Changes to their breathing pattern (slow or laboured)

If you are concerned about your baby, you should call your family doctor through his/her on-call number or the crisis line available in your area right away.

When to Take Your Child to the ER

  • If your child has difficulty breathing. Signs include:
    • Breathing faster than normal
    • Visible ribs or collarbone when breathing in
    • The belly moving outward when breathing in
    • The nostrils flaring when breathing in
    • Blue lips or tongue
  • If your child has a fever and stiff neck, dehydration or a condition that makes them more susceptible to infections
  • If your child has ingested a toxic chemical or medication that was not prescribed to them
  • If your child has a broken bone, a bone that looks out-of-place or obviously deformed, an open wound where a bone may be broken, or the child reports the area to be numb, tingling or weak

Bad Reasons to Go to the ER

  • Sprains
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Minor cuts
  • Sunburns or minor burns
  • Rash
  • Fevers (unless immuno-compromised)
  • Insect stings (unless breathing is impaired)
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) or complications
  • Ear ache
  • Cold/flu symptoms unless severely dehydrated
  • Toothache (dentist would be better suited)

All of these issues should still be looked at if they persist, but can be done in a non-urgent setting.

In addition to working on a rural medical floor that encompasses everything from obstetrics to end-of-life care, I often am called to the emergency department to help out when it gets busy. Waiting rooms are often full of people with non-urgent illnesses that could have been seen at their family doctors.

Unfortunately many family doctor’s offices are so busy, same or next days appointments are more of a dream than a reality. There may be other options in your community that you may not know about. For example, until this year I was not aware of a nurse practitioner clinic below my doctor’s office. It can normally provide same day appointments for non-urgent matters, with little-to-no wait times. Score!

Check your local areas for:

Do you find this infographic helpful? Do you have any stories to share about our current health care system and/or experiences with taking your baby to the ER? Please share in the comment section below!


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Hi! I am a Registered Nurse on a unit that encompasses labour and delivery, postpartum, medical, surgical and palliative care in a rural hospital in Ontario, Canada. I am a mom of two and am passionate about women's rights, mom and infant care, parenting and nursing. I hope to create an educational, entertaining and highly relatable resource for women around the world. Thanks for stopping by! Xo, The Mama Nurse

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