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When to Take Baby to the Pediatrician, Urgent Care or ER

by Health Tip

When your baby is sick or injured, the last thing you want to do is worry about whether to take them to the pediatrician, ER or urgent care. Here are a few tips to keep on hand and a guide you can follow when you need it most.


Going to the ER, Urgent Care or Pediatrician

The first rule you should always follow when baby is sick or injured is “better safe than sorry.” That means call 911 and get baby to the ER immediately if the illness or injury is serious or if you think it might be serious at all. The 911 operator can instruct you on the best course of action.

Other reasons to call 911 and get baby to the ER:

  • Head injury
  • A high fever that won’t go down (rectal temperature above 100.4°F or 38°C)
  • A temperature that drops too low (rectal temperature below 97.8°F or 36.5°C)
  • Extreme tiredness in baby, including difficulty waking
  • Bloody urine, stool or spit-up
  • Deep cuts or potentially broken bones
  • Unexplainable swelling, especially on the soft spot on top of baby’s head
  • Breathing problems such as rapid breathing or struggling to breathe

ER Locations


You can call your pediatrician or go to the ER, but you could also elect to go to an urgent care if you suspect baby has:

  • An ear infection
  • A severe cold or flu
  • Dehydration or diarrhea
  • Constant cough

Urgent Care Locations


You can go to an urgent care if you feel it’s necessary, but it’s generally okay to call your pediatrician and wait for an answer if baby:

  • Appears to feel unwell in general, with or without other symptoms such as a rash or runny nose
  • Is vomiting (not spitting up, which is common)
  • Does not have regular bowel movements
  • Has signs of a common cold
  • Has blood or pus around the navel, or if circumcised, around the penis
  • Is not responding normally to sounds or visual cues
  • Needs routine tests, shots or vaccinations
  • Requires a standard health exam

Find a Pediatrician


Stay prepared

Regardless of what you decide to do when baby needs medical care, preparation for the situation will help you feel more in control and make the best choices. Here are some tips to stay prepared:

  • Keep copies of key information in your bags, cars and house with the names, phone numbers, addresses and directions to your pediatrician’s office, local urgent care and local ER.
  • Know what to do if you call your pediatrician’s office and the office is closed – for example, do they have an on-call doctor?
  • Have a pen and paper on hand for medical visits to the doctor, urgent care or ER – writing down instructions is a good way to remember the information during a stressful time.
  • Finally, make sure caregivers know where to find this information, too, and what you expect them to do in case of an emergency situation.

It’s also an important part of being prepared to talk to your doctor in advance about suggestions for what to do in emergency situations with baby. Your doctor will know baby’s special situation, allergies and care needs and will give you the best advice.


Follow-up with your doctor

Remember, if you take baby to the ER or urgent care, you need to call your doctor as soon as possible and report what happened. Give your baby’s pediatrician all the information you can, and ask him/her if you need to make a follow-up appointment for baby. This ensures your doctor can help you make the best healthcare choices for baby in the future.

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