Infants: Judging the Severity of Illness

During the first 2 years of a child’s life, most parents feel uncomfortable and inadequate in determining how sick their child is during a cold or other infection. Since the child can’t talk, he or she can’t help much with the diagnosis. How sick your child looks or acts is much more relevant than the level of fever. Also, a child may look much better 30 to 40 minutes after the fever is reduced with medicine.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?


  • Your child is a newborn (less than 1 month old) with any sign of illness. (Exception: You don’t need to call your healthcare provider if your newborn has just mild nasal congestion.)
  • Your child looks or acts very sick.
  • Your child cannot be made to smile or hardly responds.
  • Your child refuses to play.
  • Your child acts strange or confused
  • Your child is too weak to sit up or stand.
  • Your child cries constantly for more than 3 hours.
  • Your child cries when you touch him or hold him.
  • The cry becomes high-pitched and strange sounding.
  • The cry becomes a weak whimper or moan.
  • Your child cannot sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Your child cannot be comforted for more than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Your child cannot be fully awakened.
  • Your child’s breathing becomes labored.
  • Your child’s mouth and lips turn bluish.
  • Your child’s skin becomes grayish.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-19
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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