Red flags to look out for when baby is sick

When it comes to babies, they can’t tell us when they don’t feel well. Being aware of the ‘red flags’ to look out for when baby is sick is essential knowledge for every parent. These red flags are signs and symptoms that can indicate serious illness, and that your baby needs medical attention.

Always remember to trust your gut –  if you are worried about your baby’s health, seek medical advice!

Here are the general red flags to look out for:

Difficulty breathing

You know what your bub looks like when they are breathing normally. If their breathing seems different to usual, for example, their breathing noises are different, they are breathing faster than normal, or they are sucking in at their neck or around their tummy and ribs, you need to seek urgent medical help.

Unconscious or difficult to rouse, floppy

If bub is difficult to wake from sleep or is floppy, call 000 ambulance immediately.

Skin colour  – pale, blue or mottled (different to usual)

When a baby becomes unwell, they will often become more pale than usual (this is true for babies of all skin colours). If your baby becomes very sick, their skin colour might become extremely pale, mottled or blue. Call 000 ambulance immediately if this happens.

Feeding less than usual

Often one of the first signs parents notice when their baby is unwell is that they are feeding less than usual. If your baby is having difficulty feeding, refusing feeds or having less than half their normal feeds, seek medical help. Babies can become dehydrated very quickly.

Less wet nappies than usual

If your baby is passing urine less than every 6 hours (4 times per day), seek medical help.

Non-blanching rash

If your baby has a fever and a rash, seek medical help. If your baby is unwell with a rash that does not turn to skin-colour (blanch) when you press on it (non-blanching rash), seek urgent medical help.

Less than 3 months of age with a fever above 38 degrees celsius

Babies under the age of 3 months can’t fight infection like older babies and kids with more mature immune systems can, so it is important to seek urgent medical help if your baby has a fever of 38 degrees celsius or higher.

Pain that is not getting better after pain relief medication

If your baby seems in pain and isn’t improving after pain relief medication, seek medical help. It may take up to 40-60 minutes for pain relieving medication to take effect, and ALWAYS follow the directions on the bottle. If in doubt, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

They seem to be becoming more unwell

Even if you have already seen a doctor, if your baby is becoming more unwell you need to seek medical help.

You are worried

Trust your instinct. If you are worried about your child (you may not be able to say why you are worried, but you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right) always seek medical help. Here is a list of places you can get medical advice:

  • Nurse on Call 1300 60 60 24 (Victoria)
  • 13HEALTH 13 43 25 84 (Queensland)
  • Health Direct 1800 022 222 (All other states and territories)

Children’s Health Fact Sheets:

  • Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service

  • The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne

  • Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network

In an emergency always call 000  and ask for an ambulance.

Also, download the Emergency Plus app  –  The app uses GPS functionality built into smart phones to help a Triple Zero (000) caller provide critical location details required to mobilise emergency services, because you won’t always know the exact address of where you are in an emergency!

The most important thing is to know how to help your baby in an emergency – you’ll never regret the 3 hours you spend learning baby specific CPR and first aid so you can act calmly and confidently in an emergency.

But what about the minor injuries that you can treat at home? Having a family first aid kit is essential.

So what does a first aid kit need? Where should it be kept?

You should have a first aid kit available in the home, and one in the car for when you are out and about.

This list is what we suggest for a comprehensive, child-friendly family first aid kit:

  • Noisy, bright toys and books that are exclusive to the kit – this means they will work well in distracting your little patient as you administer the first aid that they require
  • A kitchen timer – Children are more likely to cooperate if they know that there is an endpoint. Set a timer and explain that once it goes off, you will stop what you are doing
  • A cold pack – kept in the fridge or freezer for bumps, swelling, bruising
  • Band-aids or plastic strips in assorted shapes  – for minor wounds
  • An antiseptic cream of your choice – for wounds
  • A digital underarm thermometer
  • A rescue blanket – to keep an injured person warm
  • Adhesive tape – to keep dressings in place and hold bandages together
  • Eye pads – for eye injuries such as cuts
  • Paper cup – for eye injuries such as foreign bodies
  • Saline – for flushing eyes and cleaning wounds
  • Gloves – to protect yourself, and blown up like a balloon they provide great distraction
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Splinter probes – to make removal of splinters easier
  • A light stick – for use in the dark to attract attention, for instance, when camping or bushwalking
  • Wound closure strips – good for holding lacerations together
  • Zip-lock plastic bags – for amputated parts
  • Safety pins – to hold triangular slings in place
  • Assorted bandages
  • A triangular bandage – a sling for arms or for splinting limbs
  • Sterile gauze swabs – useful for everything!
  • Non-stick dressing – for grazes and/or minor burns until you get medical help
  • Heavyweight bandages – pressure bandages for snake and funnel-web spider bites (if you have snakes around, make sure you have at least 4 snake bite bandages)
  • Vomit bags + wipes
  • A CPR guide
  • Freezing (ether containing) spray for ticks (available from your pharmacy)
  • A first-aid guide – such as ‘A Life. A Finger. A Pea Up a Nose.’ CPR KIDS essential First Aid Guide for Babies and Children
  • Unused spray bottle for cooling burns


And remember, it is important to:

  1. Keep first aid kits out of reach of children
  2. Keep medicines separate from your first aid kit as they expire quickly
  3. Regularly check your first aid kit to replace expired items
  4. Pack first aid kits for holidays, too.
  5. Know what to do in an emergency and do a paediatric CPR and first aid course!
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