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8 Signs Your Infant Is Ill

Here are eight signs of illness for infants under the age of six months, and general guidelines for when you should call the doctor.

1. Fever
Fever itself is not an illness, but rather the baby's response to an illness most commonly an infection. Call the doctor if your infant is less than three months old and has a rectal temperature above 100.3 F, or if your baby is between three and six months and has a temperature above 101 F. Even if the temperature is lower than these general guidelines, call the doctor if your infant appears ill with such signs as a rash, irritability, poor feeding, trouble breathing, a stiff neck, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, signs of dehydration or is lethargic or difficult to arouse.

2. Dehydration
Dehydration can happen if the baby is feeding poorly, has a fever, is in too warm an environment, or has persistent vomiting or diarrhea. You can recognize dehydration if your baby has a dry mouth and gums, wets the diaper less frequently, sheds no tears when crying or the fontanel (the soft spot on the top of the head) appears to sink slightly. If you think your baby is dehydrated, call the doctor.

3. Diarrhea
Diarrhea is common in infants, but call the doctor if there is blood in the stool (which can appear bright red or, more serious, black), the baby has more than six watery stools a day, is not taking fluids or shows signs of dehydration.

4. Vomiting
Infants commonly "spit up" but frequent vomiting is reason for concern. Vomiting may not be serious if it happens only once or twice. However, if it happens more frequently, contains blood or is green in color, or if the baby looks dehydrated, call your doctor.

5. Difficulty breathing
If your baby is having trouble breathing, you need to call the doctor immediately. Signs of difficulty breathing include:

your baby is breathing much more rapidly than usual. the tissue between the ribs, above the collar bones, or in the upper abdomen is sucked in when your infant inhales. your baby grunts while exhaling. your infant's head is bobbing. your baby's lips or skin develop a bluish tinge.

6. Redness, oozing or bleeding

If your baby's navel (or umbilical remnant) or penis turns red, is oozing or bleeding, call the doctor immediately. These are signs of an infection.

7. Rashes
Rashes are common in babies, but call the doctor if the rash covers a large area, especially the face, or is accompanied by a fever, oozing, bleeding or swelling, or if the rash looks infected.

8. Colds
Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are caused by a virus and are very common in infants. They usually last one or two weeks with an associated runny nose, fever and poor appetite for a few days, and a cough which can last as long as two to three weeks. More serious symptoms require doctor's care. Call your doctor if:

your baby's temperature is higher than 100.3 F for infants under three months or higher than 101 F for infants between three and six months. your baby has a rash or difficulty breathing as described above. your infant is unusually fussy and cries a lot. your baby's cough is severe and almost nonstop or brings up any blood. your infant is vomiting. your baby's symptoms last more than two weeks.

Finally, under all circumstances, if you're very worried that your baby looks really ill, trust your instincts and call the doctor!