When to Call the Pediatrician



There are times as a mom when you know that your child is sick and you need to call the doctor ASAP, and then there are times when you your child is having some issue that is concerning but you are not really sure if it warrants a call to the pediatrician. 

The question is what do you do under the latter circumstances?  You can drive yourself batty by not making the call and instead obsessing over your kid’s cough, runny nose, poor appetite, rash, or whatever the case may be.  You can spend hours staring at the computer googling your child’s symptoms over and over again not always knowing if the information you are getting is trustworthy.  You can stay up all night worrying about whether you are doing the right thing.  But why would you do any of these things when chances are that a quick call to the doctor would put your mind at ease? 

Trust me when I tell you to make the phone call if something is really bothering you and please  try not to worry about inconveniencing your child’s pediatrician.  I am certain that a doctor choosing to practice pediatrics was aware that the job would not only be very rewarding giving him or her the opportunity to help sick children feel better but it would also involve reassuring the minds of worrywart moms and advising new parents on all things baby.

A good rule of thumb is that if you are wondering whether you should call your pediatrician, then you should call.  My mom taught me that and I’m grateful for the lesson.  I used to call my mom before I called our pediatrician to ask my mom if I should call the doctor but now I just call the doctor’s office.  Thanks Mom! Our pediatric nurse is exceptional and always has great advice.  Just talking to the nurse puts my mind at ease and she never makes me feel like I am bothering her no matter how small the issue.

But what if it’s the weekend or a holiday?  There should always be an on-call physician available and while you may feel hesitant to bother a doctor on the weekend, I am here to remind you that this is part of their job and if they are on-call, they are technically working.  Why spend your whole weekend wondering and worrying when you can take a few minutes to speak with a doctor and know that you have done all that you can for your under-the-weather cutie.  The doctor will tell you what you need to do (or that you don’t need to do anything) and you won’t be worrying about whether you are caring for your child appropriately.  This is important because it can be hard to be on your mommy A-game if your mind is preoccupied about your child’s well-being.

I once “bothered” the on-call doctor for a diaper rash on Easter Sunday.  Yes, a diaper rash.  The doctor was not annoyed and I felt so much better after talking to him.  He calmed me down and told me what I needed to do to help my poor baby’s bottom.  It was honestly the worst diaper rash ever, fire red and extremely raw, and my poor little girl was inconsolable during every diaper change.  Guess what?  I don’t regret making the call.

So please don’t hesitate.   Pick up the phone and dial up that doc when in doubt.  A good pediatrician won’t mind taking the time to help you out.

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11 comments on “When to Call the Pediatrician”

  1. My pedi has always say, when in doubt, call! Fortunately I haven’t had to do that too much but I did call a few times when my daughter was a baby because I didn’t know how to handle certain situations when she was sick. If my pedi ever made me feel badly for calling I’d definitely find a new one. Great post Patty!

  2. I am also a pediatrician and I have always told parents, if it’s going to keep you up, then you should wake me up!! We all have parts of our jobs that we dislike, but if calls from worried parents are going to irritate you, being a general pediatrician is probably not a smart job choice!

  3. I love our pediatrician and the nurse who is responsible for answering the phone. I call her everytime I have a question about my children…health, developmental, emotional, social…and she is responsive and caring. Of course, I always send her an edible arrangement during nurse’s week and I catered lunch for the office at Christmas. 😉 Great post!

  4. Of course use good judgment about calling in the middle of the night if it’s not an emergency, but otherwise, that’s part of their job. Of course they may get annoyed (in the same way that we get annoyed about parts of OUR jobs), but it’s still their job. You should not be made to feel bad for calling. That’s one of the criteria that we used when we chose our practice before the birth of our first child — what kind of backup do they have on nights and weekends? I’m guessing that when pediatricians join a practice or create their own, they have some idea what the backup coverage and on-call situations are going to be and so they know what they are getting into. There are lots of other jobs where you aren’t paid for on-call coverage, either, so it’s not like doctors are alone in this.

  5. I think I have a tendency to be a little more lax than my peers about this stuff. The general rule of thumb I’ve used about nighttime/weekend calling is: high fever, major injury, completely unresponsive/acting weird, or puking uncontrollably, then call. Otherwise, wait it out until the next day when I can call the front desk at the ped’s office. That’s resulted in my calling twice in 2.5 years during off hours – once because of a super bad reaction to food when we were introducing new foods, and the other because my son fell out of his car seat before he was clipped in and banged his head REALLY hard on my daughter’s carseat. But I agree with Dena – I appreciate a doctor who understands that YOU are not a medical professional and does whatever is in their power to help you through what’s inevitably a stressful situation.

    1. Thanks for sharing Vivian! I have only called after hours a handful of times, I would say less than 5 times in 4 years with 3 kids, one of them being the Easter diaper rash debacle so I definitely don’t think a call needs to be made for every little thing but if I’m worried or something is really concerning me or if I simply don’t know what to do, it’s really nice to have a doctor that is receptive and helpful to call upon.

  6. I absolutely LOVE my pediatrician because he has always told me that being a parent is never 9-5, so his job shouldn’t be either. He understands that a parent knows their child better than anyone else, and even though the symptoms are not textbook, that a parent’s gut is the best indicator of something being wrong. I do try to use some more caution on weekends or nights and try to not call immediately if it can wait until the morning, but I appreciate a professional who does not make me feel guilty about making that call if my fatalist scenarios get the best of me at 3am. Thanks for the post Patty!

  7. Thanks for this! Our pediatrician, whom I love, told us from the day we went in for our new parent Q&A night, to ALWAYS call when in doubt. I once apologized for calling for what I thought was a silly question (could I give Tylenol along with an antibiotic to my 18 month old?), and he said “Don’t apologize! This is my job to know this!” I really appreciate that which is why I now drive 45 minutes to go to this practice after moving out of the area.

  8. As a former pediatrician, I am going to have to disagree with you. I took call for about a year and I received the most ridiculous calls. I was always pleasant and calming for my patients as every pediatrician should be to their patients but I was annoyed. FYI, many practices do not have a triage nurse so EVERY call goes to the pediatrician. That pediatrician most likely has children and a life as well. Pediatricians receive NO extra money to provide call (pediatricians earn the lowest salaries of all doctors which after college and medical school loans, isn’t a lot-really). Call is considered part of the job (yes we know that) and generally, we try and educate our patients on what an appropriate call is after hours. Call at 4 am for tylenol dosing? Your child has been constipated for 10 days and you decide at 3 am that you want to know why? You gave your child a bath and they swallowed a little water with Johnson’s shampoo in it? Your child has had a rash for 2 weeks and at 2 am, you are worried about it? Yes, these are all calls that I received and are not appropriate. Your child has a high fever and looks lethargic? Your child has been vomiting non stop and is not tolerating any liquids? Yes, please call us. There ARE appropriate and inappropriate calls and I would recommend being considerate. And I thank God every day that I no longer take call…..

    1. Thanks Alison for sharing your perspective. I probably should have added something about using judgment as to whether the call can wait until morning or even until Monday morning if it is a weekend. I think we all should be considerate of others, ofcourse.

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