One Call, That’s All: When you should bring your child to the pediatrician

{38946b32-783d-456f-af5a-048936520e68}_4BWAs a new mama and family nurse practitioner, I am often torn about my role in my home. I frequently have to remind myself that I am just Mama. It is hard to forget my medical knowledge and let nature take its course in schooling me about motherhood. But how do I ignore that barking cough or the clear, now yellow, snot on my son’s face?

When should I call his pediatrician or can I handle this myself?

This is a question that plagues many households. Many parents are fearful of being characterized as the one that calls for everything. But wait! This is your child! Who cares? Make the call, right? So in an effort to take the pressure off of myself and my mommy friends, I combined both of my super powers as a mom and a nurse to devise an acronym, CALLS, for when to call your health care provider.

C: Can’t breathe OR Can’t stop the bleeding

In either of these situations, Lord forbid they occur at the same time, you need to call 911. Children, especially those under the age of 1, usually become unconscious as a result of a respiratory issue. If a child has difficulty breathing where he is gasping for air or cannot catch his breath, this is a medical emergency – call 911. The same is true for excessive bleeding, whether from the nose or a large open wound. If you cannot stop the bleeding, please visit the ER or call 911.

A: A high fever

You should call your pediatrician if your child has a fever greater than 100.4F that does NOT respond to Motrin or Ibuprofen in 24 hours. Infants less than 6 months old should not receive Motrin. Additionally, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborns less than 3 months old should always see a health care provider for fevers greater than 100.4F. A fever higher than 103F, or some providers even say 104F, requires immediate attention and warrants a trip to the ER. Febrile seizures can be very scary for both the parent and the child. Time is of the essence! Febrile seizures occur not because of how high the fever gets, but rather is a result of how quickly the child’s temperature moves from 99F to 104F. Make sure you have an accurate thermometer on hand.

L: Liquid stools OR Lots of vomiting

Whether these two things occur simultaneously or separately, they can lead to serious dehydration. If your child experiences these symptoms for greater than 24 hours, you should contact your pediatrician. Often these symptoms are the result of a stomach virus or eating something that didn’t quite agree. Try to keep your child hydrated and use the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apple sauce, toast) to put something in their bellies.

L: Loss of appetite or Loud cough

While these two may not occur at the same time, they are both reasons for concern. Loss of appetite is especially important in DSC_0016 - Copynewborns. Milk is their only source of nutrition, so if they refuse to eat, they cannot grow; call your pediatrician. It could be something as simple as a milk allergy or reflux. Similarly, a child can cough for a variety of simple reasons: reflux, postnasal drainage or mild choking. The garden variety cough turns serious when a child has difficulty breathing, experiences pain when coughing or coughs up tons of thick phlegm. A dry barking cough or a cough that causes a child to vomit also warrants a call or even a visit to your pediatrician.

S: Something just isn’t right

Whether you are a new mommy or a seasoned mom, you have supernatural-like instincts. You will know when something doesn’t feel right. “Hey that rash looks suspicious” or “that isn’t the normal white sleepy crust around my child’s eye,” call the doctor.

Never be afraid to call you child’s health care provider. There are no dumb questions. The dumb question is the one you didn’t ask. However, when you call the pediatrician, be able to answer a few simple questions: when did the symptoms start, how high was the fever, what medicines or therapies did you try, and is anyone else in the house sick? The provider may also ask you about wet diapers, dirty diapers and formula/breast milk intake.

Remember, never doubt your instincts. Trust your maternal super powers and call it in.

Nikki Hunter Greenaway

Nurse NikkiNikki Hunter Greenaway is the proud mother of an awesome little man named Joseph. She is married to her best friend of 13 years, Jason. A native of Dallas, Nikki has a Bachelor’s in Sociology from Northwestern University Chicago, a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Loyola University Chicago and a Master’s in Nursing from LSU. In addition to being a mom and wife, she is the proud owner of Nurse Nikki LLC. She provides postpartum home visits to new moms and their babies during the first week, 2 weeks and 2 months after delivery. She also provides private and public CPR classes to families, schools and businesses. She is currently completing her studies to become a certified lactation consultant.


  1. This was one of the best and most helpful posts NOMB has done. I am married to a doctor, but I am often questioning when we should call the pediatrician. These tips were easy to remember and really helpful! Thanks so much Nikki.

    PS – Do you have gift cards for your services? I think a consult with you or a CPR class would be the very best shower or new mom gift!!!


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