I vividly remember the first moment that I experienced a health scare as a parent. My first born was only 18-months-old and sitting in his high-chair as my husband and I chomped down what I had made for dinner that night: broiled flounder. (I was dieting and on a fish kick, but it hit the spot.) I cut some up and gave it to our little man along with the rest of whatever I had prepared with it. He loved it, nomming it down.
When I had finished my plate, I got up to clear the dishes and passed by my little guy on the way there and instantly noticed he was covered in hives from head to toe.
“Crap! It must have been the fish!” I shouted, pulling him out of the high-chair. My husband had a slight shrimp allergy, so we knew that something could stir in the seafood family with our son, but nothing else had ever caused him to react before. I, of course, called my mom immediately, who recommended getting him kid’s Benadryl as long as he was breathing normally and just monitoring him. So I took a big breath, had my husband run to the store and we followed my mom’s instructions. And you know what? He was fine.
Had it not been OK, we would have made a trip to the emergency room that evening — a move that sounds sensible and proactive until you spend four hours at the hospital, only to be seen by an attending for a maximum of 60 seconds, missing bedtime and exhausting everyone. Hospitals are great for a life-or-death emergency, but a little bit of first-aid knowledge can go a long way.
This was a pivotal moment for me as a mom because it was the first time I really had to think on my toes and make a snap judgement about my son's health. It was a moment that showed I was a chiller mom than I thought.
Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, pediatrician, author and mother gives me her patented "Should I take my kid to the hospital?" flowchart by email. “It’s really not always necessary to run into the doctor’s office at first sign of illness or symptoms," she writes, noting that "many first-time parents may be unsure at first and that’s OK (there is a learning curve) or if you strongly feel your child is getting worse quickly then call right away. It is better to be safe than sorry.”
This is pretty much it. I try my hardest to really evaluate at home to see how severe the problem is before lugging the kids out of the house.
When I imagined motherhood, years before kids were even in the picture, I figured that everything would just come to me. Most of that is true. It’s as if this little teeny tiny being gets placed in your arms for the first time and your mother’s intuition takes over and you just know what’s right and wrong for them and how to navigate the world being their voice — until they’re able to develop their own. It’s magical, really. But there is also a big chunk of that “knowing” that was often murky waters for me. The health part.
When they are tiny, especially, and can’t talk and tell you what’s wrong, it can really mess with your nerves knowing whether or not a visit to the doctor is in order, or if it’s just something as simple as gas (as painful as that can be). My mom is a nurse, so I always pick up the phone and call her with any questions that are beyond my gut instincts or Dr. Google’s comprehension.
Since my first “mom scare,” I’ve encountered moms like me and moms the complete opposite of me who take their kids straight to the emergency room with any and every ailment. I'm mostly just amazed that they have the time for it. Yes, of course I worry and get a pit in my stomach when my kids strike a fever, but if it’s something manageable that can be easily cared for at home, I just don’t have the time to sit in the doctor’s office or hospital waiting room all day.
I don’t rush my kids to the doctor because the doctor’s office just isn’t the place that they always need to be. I fear that sometimes all they need is a little relaxation time, living in this overworked world. My son is out the door by 6:45 a.m. every morning for the bus and doesn’t get home until 5:15 p.m. — it’s a long day. Sometimes he just needs to recover, and dragging him to the doctor’s office where there are more bugs and germs floating around isn’t the best choice.
Dr. Jen says that the times when you do indeed, actually need to rush your baby to the doctor, are when a baby under three months of age develops a fever 100.4 degrees farenheit or greater. She says, "Young infants are more likely to develop severe infections (bacteremia, meningitis, urinary tract infection) quickly as their immune system is still developing. Don’t wait when it comes to infants.”
For older kids, it’s a little different. If their fever leaves them irritable, cranky, or lethargic and doesn't improve with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or the fever lasts more than three days, it's a good idea to see a pediatrician. Dr. Jen advises looking out for dehydration, which can be occur if your child vomits for longer than 24 hours, refuses fluids for 24 hours, has no tears, produces less than three wet diapers in 24 hours, or has profuse diarrhea and vomiting. She also notes the following warrant seeing a doctor: "blood in stool, fever with a rash (especially purple), respiratory distress, difficulty breathing, wheezing, rapid breathing, severe abdominal pain, headaches not responding to pain relief, sore throat and fever, seizure, fainting/loss of consciousness and ear pain not relieved by pain reliever.” If all of those things gave you a panic attack, then your instincts are probably pretty well calibrated.
I think that to me, trusting my instincts as a parent has been the biggest takeaway for when to actually make an appointment and has not only helped my trust myself more, but I feel has always been the best choice for my family as a whole. Sometimes, taking my child out of the warmth of our home when they aren’t feeling well and dragging them into cold weather is a poor choice for us, but sometimes it’s necessary. Over the years, more than anything, I’ve learned that I need to call the shots by really tuning into what it is my child really needs in that moment.
“If you feel something needs to be checked out, then by all means make an appointment,” Dr. Jen says.
Obvious it all boils down to personal preference and I’m a firm believer that you have to do what’s right for you — this is just my take on the whole thing. If you’re the kind of mom who can’t sleep soundly unless your child has been seen by their pediatrician — then go — because that’s what’s best for you. For me, making a quick call like that adds to my stress and the evaluation method with monitoring will always be where I stand.
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