FAQs Baby and Child Health

Paediatric Nurse Practioner, Lynn Guengerich, from Access Midwifery and Family Care Victoria BC, answers the basic questions around the health of your child and baby.

What do I do when my child is sick?
Regardless of what symptoms your child has when sick, always look at the whole child and be careful not to become too worried about one symptom. If your child is drinking and making urine and is overall acting normal, you can probably be assured that this illness will pass with time. Most infections in children are caused by viruses. The only treatment is to make them comfortable until the virus ends. If your child has stopped making urine or is acting very unusually, is crying and cannot stop, or is having difficulty breathing then you need to see a health care provider.

What do I do when my child has a fever?
First, make sure it is actually a fever.  Many parents and health care professionals measure fever by touching the child but this is a very inaccurate way to measure. The body’s temperature is always changing so use a thermometer if you have one. A temperature over 38.3 Celsius or 100.4 Fahrenheit is considered a fever.

Next decide if the fever is bothering your child enough to warrant giving medication. A fever is a positive response by the body when it finds a virus or bacteria that can cause an infection- the body raises its own temperature because those infection-causing germs don’t like the heat.  If the fever is making your child uncomfortable or they are sleeping excessively, or if it is very high and your child has had seizures from a fever in the past, then you want to consider giving medication to bring the fever down to a more comfortable level.

If you are unsure of which medication to give or the dose you can call the Nurse’s Line at 811 or ask your local pharmacist. If the fever does not respond to medication, if it lasts longer than 3 days or if your child has other worrisome symptoms in addition to the fever, you should see a health care provider.

What do I do when my child has a cough?
There are many reasons a child will cough. Simply needing to clear the throat, allergies, infections and asthma are just examples of some reasons. Before you take your child to a health care provider, look at the whole child to see what else is going on. Are they having difficulty breathing? Are there other symptoms like a fever? Is it keeping them from drinking and playing? If the cough or other symptoms are interfering with sleeping, eating or breathing then you should see a health care provider.

There are no longer any cough medicines that you can buy for children under 6 years of age. But there are still things you can do to make your child comfortable. Drinking lots of fluids keeps a child well hydrated and it is easier to move secretions when coughing. Cool air is easier to breath than warm air. And vaporub has also been shown to increase comfort in a coughing child.

What do I do when my child is vomiting?
Children can vomit for many reasons but usually they vomit because of a virus, sometimes called a stomach ‘flu’ or they may vomit following a coughing spell. In the latter, you can take measures to decrease the coughing and the vomiting will also ease.

If your child is vomiting because of a virus or food poisoning, then it is important to keep them hydrated. While vomiting seems more violent, they really don’t lose many electrolytes through vomiting but instead lose them through diarrhea. If your child is vomiting only, you can give them small sips of water, diluted juice or ginger ale every few minutes. While some of the fluid may come back up they usually will retain enough to stay minimally hydrated.

If you are worried your child may be dehydrated, if the vomiting does not cease or they have other symptoms that worry you, you should see a health care provider. If they have tears or a runny nose then they are still well hydrated. Other signs of a dehydrated child include lack of urine or if their lips and tongue become dry and sticky.

What do I do when my child has diarrhea?
The two biggest reasons for diarrhea in a child are because of an infection or too much juice in their diet. If the diarrhea is sudden in onset and occurring very frequently it is a good chance they are ill and you need to watch for signs of dehydration and other symptoms. In this case, it might be helpful to give your child an electrolyte drink such as Pedialyte to drink. Please note though that electrolyte sports drinks come in the wrong mixture of electrolytes for children and should not be used in young children. If the child develops other symptoms or the diarrhea does not improve over the course of several days, you want to see a health care provider.

If the diarrhea is more chronic in nature it is first treated by changing the diet. Remove all juice and sugary drinks from the diet because they contribute to diarrhea. They can drink just water or milk or milk substitutes like soy or almond milk. Generally the foods given to someone with diarrhea are foods that tend to be constipating such as bananas, cheese, applesauce and white rice. You can also give foods that are high in fiber because fiber helps to bulk up stool as well. You should avoid medicines that stop diarrhea in young children because they can be dangerous as well. It is a good idea to consult a health care professional for chronic diarrhea as it could be a sign of another underlying health condition.

What do I do when my child is constipated?
How often people have bowel movements can be very different. A child might be constipated if the stool is hard to pass and if it comes out in little hard balls. Treatment for constipation usually involves changing the diet, taking out foods that contribute to constipation and adding foods that are high in fiber. If your child is constipated infrequently, simple changes to the diet usually works best. But if a child is frequently constipated, or if you see blood in the stool, you should see a health care provider to rule out other conditions.

What should I do when my child is crying and won’t stop?
Children cry for a reason, either because they are sick or scared or in pain. But most of the time you should be able to comfort your child even if it is only for a few minutes at a time. If a child won’t stop crying and cannot be comforted for even short periods, you should seek medical attention. The Nurse Line at 811 will be able to discuss the situation with you and provide guidance about caring for your child.

What do I do when my child has a rash?
Rashes are an extremely common condition in children. Some of the causes include viruses and other infections and allergic reactions or sensitivities to something they have eaten or come in contact with. If you child has a rash but is otherwise behaving normally you can feel fairly certain it is a self-limiting condition. If the rash occurs and your child is acting sick or behaving in an unusual way, you should see your health care provider for more information. Most rashes though are not an emergency and you only need to go to the emergency room if your child has other conditions that make it necessary to go to the emergency room.
What do I do when my child is breathing heavily? Coming Soon
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For other FAQs from Victoria’s local health and wellness experts


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