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Illness & When To Call The Healthcare Provider

Did you know?

  • You should check your child’s temperature using the armpit until they are 2 years old.
  • An ear thermometer is not accurate until your child is 2 years old.

When symptoms appear

The healthcare provider may ask:

  • when the symptoms first appeared
  • what seems to decrease them
  • what makes them worse
  • whether any medications or home remedies have been tried

You should also tell the healthcare provider about:

  • recent injuries if any (e.g., falls)
  • exposures to illness (e.g., chicken pox)
  • any existing medical conditions your baby has (e.g., asthma).

You may wonder how you will know if your baby is sick and when to call the healthcare provider. You know your baby best. Over time you will gain confidence in recognizing illness in your baby.

Babies can become very sick very quickly. With some careful observations of any change in your baby's behaviour and routine you will be able to provide the healthcare provider with useful information to help assess your baby.

When to see a healthcare provider

Take your baby to see a healthcare provider if your baby has one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Is less than 6 months old and has a temperature higher than 37.3°C/99.14°F (taken in the armpit)
  • Has a fever for more than 72 hours
  • Diarrhea:
    Frequent, watery, liquid stools within a short period (6-8 hours of time); may be green and foul-smelling
  • Vomiting all or most of his feedings (emptying the stomach, not spitting up)
  • Signs of dehydration, such as loss of tears or saliva, sunken eyes, decreased wet diapers, sunken fontanels (soft spots on the head)
  • Excessive crying or irritability beyond your baby’s usual fussiness
  • Difficulty waking up or is lethargic (less active than usual)
  • Changes in breathing pattern or persistent cough
  • Refusing more than one feeding

A normal body temperature for a baby ranges from approximately 36.5°C/97.7°F to 37.5°C/99.5°F (when taken in the armpit).

A fever:

  • Means that your baby's body temperature is higher than normal.
  • Is the body's normal response to fighting an infection.
  • Is a symptom, not a disease.

Your baby's body temperature is important. However, how your baby looks and acts is more important than the number on the thermometer.

Vaccines, teething and fevers

Your baby might develop a low-grade fever after a vaccination, so it's important to follow your healthcare provider's directions for fever-reducing medication after your baby is immunized.

Teething can cause a slight increase in body temperature, but not a fever.

Checking your baby's temperature - Use the armpit!

An axillary temperature is when the armpit (axilla) is used to check body temperature.

  • The axillary method is the safest way to take your baby's temperature.

To check your baby's axillary temperature:

  • Use a digital thermometer.
  • Clean the thermometer with cool, soapy water and then rinse.
  • Place the tip of the thermometer in the centre of your baby's armpit.
  • Tuck and hold your baby's arm snugly against her body.
  • Leave the thermometer in place until you hear the "beep."
  • Remove the thermometer and read the temperature.
  • Clean the thermometer with cool, soapy water, then rinse, dry and store.

Temperature-taking do's and don'ts


  • Do use a digital electronic thermometer. This type of thermometer is a fast, accurate and safe way to check your baby's temperature.
  • Do remove some of your baby's layers of clothing before taking his temperature for a more accurate reading.


  • Don't use a mercury thermometer. Mercury is toxic: if the thermometer breaks, you and your baby risk being harmed by leaking mercury and broken glass.
  • Don't use fever strips: they don't give accurate readings.
  • Don't use an oral thermometer until your child is 5 years old.

Febrile seizures

A small percentage of children will have a seizure caused by only a fever (febrile seizure). For more information see About Kids Health (external link).

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Observe your baby

Change in behaviour & routine Remember that your baby may show only a few of these signs when sick
Change in sleep Drowsy, wakeful, trouble falling or staying asleep
Change in cry Sound, intensity, frequency
Change in appetite Refusing breast, bottle, solids; decreased amounts
Change in activity From playful and responsive to irritable or lethargic
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Shaking can:

  • damage your baby's brain
  • cause death

No child of any age should EVER be shaken.

Babies sometimes cry for no reason

Having a baby who won't stop crying doesn't make you a bad parent.

Why is my baby crying?

Crying is the only way that your baby can let you know how he feels.

Some reasons your baby might cry are:

  • Hunger
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Too hot / cold
  • Tired or over-stimulated
  • Needing a diaper change
  • Illness
  • Loneliness
  • Just because

It can be difficult to figure out why your baby is crying and it is normal to feel upset when you do not know why. If you feel like you might lose control, place your baby in a safe place and leave him for a few minutes.

Your baby may... You can...
Need food or need to be comforted
  • Breastfeed your baby
  • Try rocking or walking
  • Burp your baby
  • Check and/or change your baby’s diaper
Need to be held
  • Hold your baby – try skin-to-skin against your chest
  • Carry your baby in a sling or wrap
  • Massage your baby
Need a calm and quiet place
  • Turn down noise
  • Turn down lights
Need comforting sounds
  • Sing to your baby
  • Play music
  • Try some “white noise” (dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, fan, hair dryer, white noise machine)
Need movement or change of pace
  • Take your baby out for a walk
  • Rock your baby
  • Go for a car ride
  • Give your baby a bath
  • Encourage your partner to have some baby time
Need to be warm - not too hot or too cold
  • Dress your baby as warmly as you are, and add 1 more layer
  • Your baby’s chest, tummy and back should feel warm (not sweaty or cool)
Be sick

Normal crying

Babies have a regular fussy period which can sometimes happen in the late afternoon or evening. It can start at about age two to three weeks, may increase until about six weeks and goes away by three to four months.

When your baby cries, pick them up and comfort them. Carrying your baby skin-to-skin or in a sling can help. Doing so teaches them that you are there to meet their needs. Studies show that carrying your baby may reduce crying. You cannot spoil your baby.

Is your baby hungry?

Crying is usually a late sign that your baby is hungry.

Watch for early signs of hunger:

  • Sucking and licking his mouth
  • Touching his mouth with his fingers
  • Making small sounds

Babies go through growth spurts around three weeks, six weeks, three months of age and other times as they get older. Babies often feed more at these times.

Remember... babies need to suck

Sucking is comforting to babies and helps them to relax. Put your baby to the breast to soothe and comfort. Avoid using a pacifier in your baby's first few weeks of life as it can interfere with breastfeeding.

Babies sometimes cry for no reason

Having a baby who won't stop crying doesn't make you a bad parent.

Help for parents

Listening to a baby cry for long periods of time can be very frustrating. Ask a family member or a friend that you trust to look after your baby and give yourself a break.

If you feel depressed about your baby's crying, talk with a healthcare practitioner or a Public Health Nurse.

Are you looking for someone to talk to about your baby's crying or being a parent in general? Call HaltonParents at 311 to speak to a Public Health Nurse Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm.

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Listen to your instincts. You know your baby best.

  • Call your healthcare provider when your baby is sick. It will be up to your healthcare provider to see your baby and diagnose the problem.
  • If your baby is ill, and your healthcare provider is not available, seek medical care at your nearest walk-in clinic or hospital Emergency.
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