Knowing when your child is ill
Most parents are so closely tuned in to their children and so used to their normal behavior and appearance that they can usually tell the moment that their child starts to become unwell. If you believe that your child is sickening for something, follow your instincts – you’re almost certainly right. Indeed, many parents find they know if their child is going to become ill even before symptoms are apparent.
This ‘tuning in’ to your baby is a natural part of learning about being a parent and explains why so many new parents feel jumpy or anxious about their babies. It’s quite normal and it’s far better to be over-concerned than over-confident when it comes to babies, because a slightly unwell baby can become rapidly worse. It’s much safer to seek medical help sooner rather than later if you’re in any doubt. In fact, if you have a young baby, it is probably sensible to consult your doctor in person or by phone any time that you are worried. You owe it to yourselves and your baby to hand over the burden of medical decision-making to the doctor, rather than to try to shoulder it alone and wait until illness is all too obvious and perhaps more difficult to treat.
Your health visitor (qualified nurse) is also a very important source of help and advice about babies and young children and will help you to learn to distinguish what is normal and to be expected from what is not. Regular clinic visits and discussions with the health visitor will soon give you more confidence in your judgment.
Where to take an ill child
If your child is acutely and seriously ill, or has an accident and needs emergency care, he may have to go to the hospital. The quickest way to get him there is by car if he is well enough to travel and if you are not too anxious and can drive safely, or a friend can drive you. If not, phone emergency services for an ambulance. If you take your child yourself, always phone to check that the accident and emergency (casualty) department is open, unless you know that it offers a twenty-four-hour service.
If your child is too ill to be taken to your doctor’s surgery, but doesn’t need to go to hospital as far as you can tell, phone the surgery to ask for a home visit. Make sure the receptionist understands if you think that the doctor should come urgently. If necessary, the doctor will send your child to hospital to see a specialist either at once or later by appointment.
If you are very concerned about an ill child, but you can’t contact your doctor and don’t think it’s safe to wait, take your child to the local hospital casualty department. It might be sensible to phone the casualty department and speak to a doctor or nurse first to explain the situation.
If your child is well enough to be taken to the surgery, but you think that he may have an infectious illness, phone and tell the receptionist. You may be asked to come when few people will be about or to wait somewhere apart from the main waiting area, to avoid spreading infection. Alternatively, the doctor may visit your child at home.
If you are not sure whether your child needs to see the doctor, phone him or ask your health visitor for advice.
What to do at night
Sometimes a child who has been well or only slightly off color all day becomes worse during the evening or night. The doctor should always be contacted as soon as possible if a baby is ill, but you may find it difficult to know what to do about an older child. A child who feels unwell at night often feels frightened -perhaps of the dark, or of waking you up, or of whatever it is that’s keeping him awake. This is the time to stay with him and give him as much cuddling and physical comfort as he wants, and this reassurance may make him feel a lot better. However, if you are still worried and your child’s symptoms seem to be getting worse, don’t hesitate to contact the doctor. He may be able to reassure you over the phone, but if he’s in any doubt he’ll certainly visit. If for some reason you cannot get hold of the doctor and you’re alarmed about your child, take him to the local hospital casualty department.
When you’re with the doctor
Sometimes when you take your child to see the doctor, or when he comes for a home visit, you forget to ask all the things you wanted to know, either because you’re nervous or because they simply go out of your head in the heat of the moment. You may find it helpful to write down your questions so that you can check you have all the information you need.
It’s equally easy to forget what your doctor has told you. You might like to go over what he has said again, or even jot down a summary of his advice. If you haven’t understood something, say so and ask him to explain it again. Good communication is essential when you’re responsible for a sick child. If you disagree with the doctor’s ideas or advice, have the courage to air your point of view. A good doctor will accept your concern and your child’s interests will be best served by a joint discussion of any problem.