If your baby's ill

There will be times when your baby's ill. This can be worrying if you’re not sure what to do, especially if this is your first baby. 

If your baby's ill, it’s most likely to be a cough or cold and nothing serious, so you may just need help to make them comfortable. 

There's always help available

Very young babies sleep and feed a lot and it can be difficult to tell what's usual. You know your baby best, so remember:

  • the most important thing is to trust your instincts
  • there’s always help available for you and your baby, you’re never completely on your own

If you're not sure you may have family or friends who can help you decide what to do. There are lots of professionals who can reassure and advise you too.

Crying

Screaming and crying loudly isn't uncommon for babies. It’s usually their way of telling you they need something, rather than being ill.

You’ll probably soon get to know what the different cries mean, such as whether they’re hungry or need a cuddle.

In general, babies who are seriously ill are more likely to whimper and moan than to cry loudly.

What to do if your baby's crying

When to phone 999 immediately

Phone 999 for an ambulance immediately if your baby:

  • is working hard to breathe and is making grunting noises
  • has skin that is pale, cold, blotchy or turning blue
  • is stiff and making jerky movements or rolling their eyes (having a fit or seizure)
  • is floppy or drowsy and has no energy
  • isn't responding to you or is difficult to wake up
  • has spots or a rash that doesn’t fade under pressure - test this by pressing a clear glass against the rash to see if it fades and loses colour. If the colour stays bright, phone an ambulance

Life-threatening illnesses are very rare in babies.

When to phone or go to your GP practice immediately

Phone or go to your practice and ask for an urgent appointment that day if your baby's less than 8 weeks old, and:

  • they've a high-pitched whimpering or moaning cry
  • they've a temperature above 37.5°C or feel uncomfortably hot
  • the soft patch on the top of their head (the fontanelle) is bulging
  • they look like they’re having difficulty feeding
  • they've blood in their nappy
  • they've any bruising, swelling or bleeding
  • they’re being sick again and again – the vomit might be an unusual colour
  • they seem less bright and awake than usual or are sleeping for an unusually long time
  • they’re irritable when you pick them up and you can’t settle or comfort them
  • they've fewer wet nappies or nappies that seem drier than usual

Not all babies will develop all of these signs and symptoms.

You should also tell the receptionist and GP if you’ve already seen a pharmacist, especially if they told you to take your baby to your GP.

GP appointments

Most practices are very supportive of parents with young babies and will always do their best to see babies under a year old as soon as they can. 

Many will:

  • fit you in without an appointment
  • see you at the beginning of surgery hours
  • give advice over the phone

GP opening times

It’s a good idea to know the opening hours of your GP practice. Some are open in the evening or at the weekend, while others close for public holidays or for training.

Find your GP practice opening times

If your GP practice is closed

If your GP practice is closed, phone the NHS 24 111 service. 

It can feel scary if you're worried about your baby and your GP practice is closed. It's always OK to phone NHS 24 for reassurance or advice. If they think your baby's seriously ill and needs to go to hospital, they'll phone an ambulance for you.

Always trust your instincts.

When to see your pharmacist

Your local pharmacy's a great place for help and advice about everyday illnesses that are likely to get better within a few days. This includes:

  • baby acne
  • coughs and colds
  • cradle cap
  • colic
  • nappy rash
  • oral thrush
  • sticky eyes

Your pharmacist can:

  • see you without an appointment
  • give you advice
  • suggest treatment
  • refer you to see a health professional within your GP practice

Taking photographs or videos on your mobile phone of what’s worrying you can be really helpful.

Find a pharmacy in your area

Minor Ailment Service

You can use the Minor Ailment Service (MAS) yourself for the first year after your baby's born.

You can get advice or medicines for your baby from MAS until they're 16 years old.

If you’re registered, your pharmacist can give you or your baby medicine for a minor illness and you won’t need to pay for it.

More about the Minor Ailment Service


Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.